Friday, December 24, 2010

On the Eve

Christmas hangs just over the other side of the horizon, brought in by incessant music that resounds in my head the rest of the day and shining lights that frame trees and rooftops.

As Christmas approaches, I cannot help but think about materialism and suddenly I hate going to malls. I had to go in to purchase something, and when I walked through the doors I felt bombarded by red and green and massive piles of stuff. Is this Christmas? The clanging of bells, the flashy posters... ugh.

Not that I oppose Christmas presents- I enjoyed picking out items for my friends and family and sending them off.
But the constant pressure to purchase so much and spend so much is frustrating. Does giving just mean wrapping up boxes?

I think about a story that I wrote a long time ago, which is buried with other papers somewhere at my parent's home in Indiana. I cannot re-write that story, but I remember that much of it involved that angels gasping. Adam and Eve had just sinned and heaven was mourning because perfection had cracked.
And then, a promise was made. More terrifying and bewildering than human disobedience. God himself would become human.
He would be subject to physical pain, hunger, and death. God- all powerful, immortal, the creator would be born as a tiny, dependent infant.
It startles me when I consider what God put aside to be human for thirty some years.

As many friends have recently had children, another aspect I considered this year was that of Mary and pregnancy. For us, the Christmas season begins in December, but for her, it began back in March. She had nine long months, probably a list of questions and many fears.
I wonder at her age, her relationship with Joseph. Were they in love? Did she dream of her wedding with Joseph? Did Joseph have frustrations about not being the father? Had he been building a home for the two of them?
We read this story a week or so before Jesus is born, but they had life to deal with long before the night in the inn. Joseph had doubts and rumors swarming around him, did people think he was an idiot? Did he loose business?
Mary ran off to spend time with her cousin, Elizabeth, but did she talk to Joseph first? Did they miss eachother? Did they talk and figure things out? Elizabeth understood, and Joseph learned the truth through a dream, but what of Mary's family? Did they believe her? Or, was she kicked out of the house and had to go to Elizabeths? was she alone and scared?
Nine months is a long time, and we don't read any more about messages from God. Mary was told she would get pregnant, and she did. But after that, did any other angels show up to answer her questions? When she felt judged and discriminated against, did she feel comforted?

November is sort of like that in Edmonton- cold, dirty snow, and just dreary. And then December comes, with the same weather- but lighted streets and cheery music. And there is hope. For a few days, everything changes, people party and share. And then a new year rolls in, with fresh starts and untouched hope.

I wish that we had more information to fill in the blanks, from the first message to Mary, up to the beginning of Jesus' ministry. What about when he was a little boy in Egypt? Was it hard for them to move back to Nazareth? Did they stay with family, or start all over?

What we do know is that Jesus was born in a stable. A modern-day option of being born in the back of a car in a parking garage. There wasn't even room in the hotel lobby for this couple, although the mother was 9 months pregnant. Mary didn't have a doctor or midwife.

In my story, the angels at upset at this- their God- the king, should not enter the world in such a 'ghetto' way. And the people who came to visit weren't the upper-class, famous people. They were average joes, working the night shift. They didn't bring gifts or offer help, they just showed up to see the baby.
It isn't magical, there aren't lights and bells and wrapping paper. It's poor, cold and lonely.

But that was God's plan. He planned this all back when the perfect world cracked. He knew what he was doing. It's not just the new life of one baby, born in a cold parking garage (or stable) that we celebrate. It's the new life we are promised through his life. We have a different life because God lived as a human. It's not immediately visible in the hay or over-full hotel, nor in the red lettering or crowded malls. The real story isn't as flashy as the decorations we use today, but it lasts the whole year instead of a few weeks. The baby grew up into a man; God continued to live in bones and skin to offer us a new life.

So Happy Christmas, and thank you, God for being a human for me. I hope that I keep your sacrifice of so many divine things in mind through the rest of the year; you didn't just give it up for one day.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Seven days long

Seven days on a Caribbean island, enjoying the sun, beach, fresh seafood and smiling locals.
Immigration was a breeze, I simply explained that I was currently living in Canada. For some reason my job was very important and I was to write out my title on a random piece of blank paper, which I did.
I then showed a invalid laminated card of a former travel insurance- which is approximately 5 months expired, this seemed proof enough that I had heath insurance while on vacation. The last question was the last time I had been to my home country, to which I truthfully answered as "three weeks ago". The immigration officer nodded and waved me through.

Each morning whomever cleaned our room left the towels in a creative fashion on the bed- the first day was a heart, then a boat propped up on waves, two hearts, and at last, a swan- using my hat as part of the tail feathers.


We didn't have an all-inclusive package, but ended up eating one or both (we never woke up in time for breakfast) of our meals at the hotel's buffet anyway, as it was good, full of fresh fruit and a changed daily. The first day we realized that the traditional breakfast was either hamburgers or a ham and cheese sandwich- with terrible ham and hamburger meat that Biruk was so optimistic about- trying again and again, even when we sampled some that was so full of fillers it was a lump of gray between two buns.
We took long walks to discover the other restaurants in the area- one called Casa del Miel (House of Honey), which had nothing to do with honey but served some amazing shrimp and lobster. It also had some stray cats that would rub against our legs while we ate and Biruk humoured by tossing bits of shrimp and lobster. A local man approached us, interested in the black and white cat and supposed that he had the sister in his own house- an old wooden structure that appeared to have survived some hurricanes beside the restaurant.


There was also a terrible Chinese restaurant- set in a large house which must have previously been a mansion. It had a huge red door and surprisingly accurate Chinese decorations. We had a romantic table beside windows that opened out to the Caribbean sea and drank cocktails while listening to the waves. Biruk made me laugh when he said the food wasn't good and the soy sauce tasted like a lame imitation. "You didn't really expect top-quality Chinese food here, did you?" Apparently, he did.
Biruk would also rather have vodka than rum- which was hard to find in a country famous for it's rum. Every so often Biruk found a place that served vodka, and then he would request cranberry juice- which no on ehad even heard of and he had to opt for orange juice and have a screw driver.
I liked the light, local beer- Cristal, but Biruk would routinely ask for Heineken and every so often would be obliged.
The national drink was a toss up between a rum and coke, or the mojito. Biruk found that he liked mojitos better sans sucre and I liked mine the normal way- the authentic way, no skimping with using lemon-lime soda.
We visited the open-air cafe across the street from our hotel on an average of twice a day. They served up good coffee and Biruk could relax in the shade and watch the traffic of the main street roll by- as ancient cars, double-decker buses, and horse-pulled carriages.


The beach was beautiful, scattered with people who napped on the lounge chairs. Our hotel was near the town and there were often locals enjoying the beach as well, we were told that further down the peninsula was the higher concentration of hotels, there the beaches would have more people, more children and less locals.
Biruk was able to stand in the ocean for the first time. He didn't think it as profound as I do- he shrugged and says "this one time, when we were swimming in Lake Winnipeg..." To him, lakes that can hold a boat are just as good as any ocean.


Biruk wasn't much for actually swimming in the ocean, but he enjoyed walking with the sand coating his feet and the tide hitting his ankles.
I enjoyed relaxing on the beach- Biruk would grab a lounge chair under the shade of an umbrella crafted from the leaves of a palm tree and I would push mine under the bright sun.
,
We took one day to go to the capital city. We had a walking tour of the old city- which reminded me of Venice in many ways. We also went to the Internacional Hotel, which is famous of sorts and the Revolutionary Square, which really just looked like a large parking lot with office buildings that had murals on them- there wasn't much to see at all. The highlight of the day was going to the Tropicana for a show. The costumes were a hilarious mix of neon green and pink, with head dresses that grew unbelievably larger each time. The outfits varied from barely bikinis, to seventies style disco attire. Besides the dancing, I enjoyed a drumming section and a quartet where the men did some beat-boxing and singing.


They gave us a free bottle of rum and cigar with the show. We gave the rum to our guide as his tip and back at our hotel, Biruk lit the cigar. I tried to smoke it- figuring, when else will I be here, able to partake in the symbol for the country? 
So I attempted a few puffs- and left coughing. It smelled terrible- as Biruk described, like horse shit, and I said like a fire of dry leaves. In either case- not a pleasant smell and it tasted awful. Biruk couldn't smoke all of it, and put it out and returned it to its small case, where we will keep it as a souvenir- but only to look at.

We slept in late, drank cocktails and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
And then, one night we went to bed at 2 am, and woke up two hours later to finish packing and check-out. We waited for our bus, the security guard telling us the shuttle to pick us up with inevitably be half an hour later (he was right) and arrived at the airport just after 6 am. We had a morning snack of pringles and cheese sandwiches (such a wide variety available) and I walked straight through the exit point and Biruk mocked the security measures- saying no matter if you beeped through the metal detectors or not, you were waved straight on.

It was wonderful. Time alone with Biruk was beyond great, the warmth and sunshine put a smile back on my face and the memories from out belated honeymoon have created inside jokes and wonderful photos.

Four days notice

It happened like this:

I don't like Edmonton and the early nights and creeping chill has started to permeate everything in my life- even my smile. There were several options we posed; spending time away- a few months to volunteer, teach overseas, to stay in Edmonton and busy myself in any and every area I legally could. One plan was to go to Vancouver or Victoria, British Columbia for Christmas, and as I increasingly couldn't handle Edmonton anymore, I would go to visit various friends around Canada.

And then Biruk suggested that we just get away, me and him alone together. That seemed like a much better option that me just retreating from Edmonton alone. But then it seemed so unrealistic- he just opened his own business, he can't just leave- right?
And so we played, back and forth- Biruk would insist that we go, that it was important, and I would play the responsible card. And then, I would suggest that when else would this opportunity present itself? And Biruk would say it wasn't a good idea, maybe next year.
And then, one brief half an hour, we decided on the same thing- to just go.
And I booked the tickets, which I managed to get even $25.00 cheaper. We had four days.
A few hours later- Biruk called, doubting out decision. I told him, too bad- we already purchased the tickets. Eventually, I did tell him we bought the insurance which would refund our money if we canceled- but by then, he was set on going.

And then, on Thanksgiving I received some exciting news. I celebrated  a pot-luck Thaksgiving with another American living in Edmonton and her extended family who jumped at the chance to have a big dinner for any occasion. The young woman is also going through the immigration process of sponsorship. I mentioned that we were going on our belated honeymoon in a few days and that the papers were all ready, and even had postage, we were just waiting to submit them until we returned from our trip and I would settle down into a type of hibernation, as I wouldn't be permitted to leave the country until the paperwork came through.
And the woman informed me that that rule was only for people who needed a temporary residence permit to even enter Canada, and that she herself had visited her family in the US several times since submitting the papers.

I couldn't hold back my enthusiasm that I wouldn't have to stay in Canada, unable to travel where I wanted to for about a year. I called Biruk immediately and then, on Friday afternoon, submitted the papers. They would sit at the bottom of a red mail box for the rest of the weekend- but on Monday morning, some postal worker would carry my application off, three hours away to the case processing center, while I would be relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bag of Time

The same afternoon I arrived back from Calgary I got a phone call from my family informing me that my grandfather had died.
On the one hand, this came as a surprise, but on the other hand, he had been sick for a while. He had been very ill and underwent several surgeries pretty recently and there was a point where he was given a very slim chance of living. I had prayed honestly that God's will would be done and that he not remain in pain, for whatever fashion that meant. He had pulled through since that point, but faced several months in the hospital ahead of him. However, while he was 'hanging in' things were not getting significantly better and in the end, while we were sad for him to pass, ultimately we are glad that he is no longer in pain and that his eternal life has begun.

I had one full day in Edmonton- which I spent shopping for a black outfit. The only black dress I owned was a black-and-white pok-a-dot number that I had had since I was fifteen or so and had worn to my cousin's wedding (I haven't grown for a while, so lots of clothes still fit me). I remember dancing with my grandfather in that dress at the wedding, so I figured I should get something else.
 
It was actually very hard to find a fitting outfit. Little black dresses have gotten increasingly shorter and the ones that were border-line long enough were very summer-y and I couldn't find any sweaters to wear with them. I ended up just getting a black skirt and when I saw the time, I was appalled that it had taken me nearly three hours to just find a decent pair of black flats (that didn't have spikes on them or ridiculous bows) and a simple black skirt.

The next night I flew out to Philadelphia.
I hadn't expected to be in the US for at least another year, considering applying for permanent residency to Canada. However, it turned out to be beneficial timing- since being rejected on an extension of my work visa, I had no status in Canada. My 90-day grace period was dwindling and I needed to apply for a visitors visa- have the paperwork sent in within the next week to avoid being on the immigration 'watch list' or leave the country.

There were limited options for flights on such short notice, so I had 13 hours of travel time and arrived tired and with the dirty, grimy, greasy feeling of too many flights.

The funeral was beautiful, decorated with flowers and smiling pictures of my grandfather. No one exaggerated anything about my grandfather- no one had to, because he really was all the things everyone said about him: gentle, generous, kind, Godly, a servant and an optimist. He lived his life for God in every area; even in his own sickness, he reached out to every doctor and nurse whom he had contact with.
I'm glad that I was able to be there with family to say goodbye and remember his life.

Monday, I traveled back to Edmonton. I flew first to Orlando- which was in the wrong direction and a waste of my time. When we reached full altitude, a frightening announcement was made: "If there is a doctor on the plane, please proceed to row such and such." That woke me up from my nap in an instant.
A few rows ahead of me a woman was having a seizure. A doctor quickly came to her aid and a few nurses offered their assistance, as well. I considered offering to help, but when I saw the small crowd (and remember, we are in an airplane, so space is already limited) I decided better of it. Later, everyone who had assisted had to fill out waivers and other forms and I was glad to not have paperwork to do.
I relayed the story to Biruk later who guessed at the procedure to follow when someone is having a seizure and suggested putting a 'bite stick' in their mouth. Note: DO NOT put anything in the mouth of someone having a seizure.

Then I had two more, this time uneventful flights to Denver and finally, Edmonton.
I was nervous to go through immigration, realizing how little paperwork- such as financial forms and what not for crossing back into Canada. However, I had a pleasant woman who asked general questions and wished me the best of luck after printing off a one-year visitors visa. The conditions include that I cannot partake in any formal education in Canada, and I cannot have any paid employment in Canada.

So, for the next 9 months, or until I get permanent residency in Canada, or if I don't get permanent residency and have to leave Canada- I cannot work or go to school.
What if you had around a year with nothing in particular to do, what would you do?
I do have about a year to spend, lots of time to kill, and I love making lists:

Here is my 'what if' list:

- improve my Amheric. I want (*hint to whoever has me as their 'secret santa' in the family gift exchange) some materials to help me more formally learn Amheric- including a dictionary and to begin to be literate in the alphabet. I would just invest in Rossetta Stone, by they don't offer anything in Amheric. Some day, I want to be fluent and when better to start then with an open schedule?

- write a book. I'm loving the novel I've begun. Some days I don't even touch it or think about it and others, I'll type or hand-write until my wrist tires. However, I've decided to stop posting it on the blog, in partial irrational positivism: so that no one else can steal my work and publish it before me. I'm sure that I really should have no such fear, but that's okay. Instead, I plan on completing it, editing it and sending it off to a few close friends whose judgment I admire, including one who htter as worked with youth and is not afraid to critique me and another who herself has a published book and has counseled troubled youth. I'm not going to have Biruk read it- I know that he would smile and tell me it's wonderful no matter what was written. After it's written, I'm really not sure how to pursue publishing, but I'm not considering it too seriously until I actually have the work finished.

-volunteer. I've slowly, slowly begun volunteering with Young Life, which I should admit I'm not taking very seriously. I think the more time I spend with teens, the more I will be serious about it, but for now, it's just been meetings and I'm not feeling very motivated. I want to find a church that I love and help with the youth group. On the bus today I had an idea about a Bible study looking at marriage customs around the world and learning about us as the Bride of Christ through the various cultures. I also wanted to volunteer at the young offender's centre, however not having a car is making that a problem so that's on hold until I have wheels. In the mean time, I'm planning on volunteering at the women's prison. After my internship, I wanted to go back and volunteer, but with Biruk getting hurt, and then working two jobs and then getting everything for permanent residency I just couldn't find time. But now all I have is time.

- add variety to my exercise routine. I used to just go to the gym to lift weights and run. But now I'm wanting to spice it up- go to the climbing gym, ice skate (indoors only!), swim, take a spinning class and maybe join in a cardio-salsa session. I like running and being healthy, but the items I suggested sound like so much fun, why wouldn't I?

-get more crafty. I am my mother's daughter and Christmas is approaching, which is leading me to have 'craft urges' where I just want to paint or draw or sew. Now, I hate using sewing machines- it must be because I have bad memories of learning to sew with my mother and not understanding patterns and just cutting and sewing wherever she dictated. I think another one of my sisters suffers from the same problem. However, I do enjoy sewing by hand- I feel more creative and find it more relaxing.
In December, I should have a god-daughter entering the world, and I'm considering sewing her a small quilt. I have a small project in mind for my niece, Aiden.

It might not fill my free time for the next year, but at least it's a start. I'm sure washing dishes, figuring expenses and helping Biruk out in any other way to run the restaurant should help consume the rest of it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two days in Calgary

I arrived in Calgary on Monday night, and was greeted by my old friend whom I used to live with in Calgary and her two, not-so-little children who are both gorgeous. They remembered me and greeted me with hugs and generously offered to share their Halloween candy with me.
I kept my friend up until too late at night, chatting and she missed her alarm in the morning. I slept in the little boy's room, with toys in the closet and Tupac posters adorning the walls. I asked him if he remembered when we shared a room a few years ago- me on the bottom of the bunk bed and he on the top and I would tell him Bible bedtime stories.
He remembered.
And he asked about Biruk, who is god-like in the little-boy's memory. He asked me so much about Biruk that the little girl got confused and began to call me Biruk, as well.

I woke up early in the morning- early enough to catch the swimming colors of the sunrise- a rare occurrence since opening the restaurant and our late-nights. I had a nice morning walk, looking for transit to take me downtown. I rode on the train with business women in suits and constructions works in muddy boots as we all squished to fit inside.
I was told the court began at 9 am, and scrambled through the security at 8:59 to discover that the witty young man had planned for his friends and relatives who are often notoriously late with their "African Time" and told them the court was a half-an-hour earlier than it really was.
Soon others arrived- most who I did not know and I was surrounded by a crowd of beautiful and tall Sudanese people, each of which greeted me with a hug and thanked me for coming. We chatted and laughed, fifteen or so of us consuming the entire hall-way and making plenty of noise.
We slowly filed in and took up the whole back area of the court-room. We listened to the first cases, one of which was long and boring, concerning a church that had held services in a public park and gave away food without proper permits. Apparently, you are not allowed to give away food in a public place.
There was a bit of a scuttle to begin, as at the last minute the probation officer had been switched. I was frustrated at this, since it was not the young man's fault that his probation officer was changed and since it was known when his court-date was, this should have been arranged long ago- but that's not the point.
The young man I came to Calgary to support for his court had already been convicted, the court was to determine how he would fulfill his sentence- in incarceration or in the community under probation's supervision and house-arrest. I have known this young man since I met him in Winnipeg, I also know his brother, from the same place.
His charges are serious and he should have to address them, to make amends with his family, his community and all others who he hurt and had a negative impact on as a result of his crimes. However, I believe that the best way for him to become a law-abiding citizen, and to move forward to a positive-life is within the community.
Now, while I usually jump towards options other than incarceration for many reasons, I had some substantial reasons for supporting this young man to be released to the community. For one, I believe that incarceration will only serve to further increase the chasm between him and success in the real world. I believe that success for this man is linked to support from his cultural community as well as his family. I think the hardest part for someone under his circumstances is not incarceration- he might be a model inmate, however the translation into the 'real world' would serve to be the greatest test. I think that serving his sentence in the community would better equip him to continue to live crime-free when he has completed his sentence.
Also, his tall, smiling older brother has faced a very similar experience- and it was not his time being incarcerated that proved to be a spring-board for change, it was being in his community and ultimately, moving away from such.
We had lunch ages ago, and always try to catch up when I am in the area, but it rarely happens. On this particular morning, we were able to sit beside one another and hold hands while I watched this older brother's body language shift from anger and nervousness. He is more than just an example for his younger brother to follow, and allowing that influence to be as immediate as possible will only serve to benefit the community and tax-payers.
I am an idealist, and in many senses, therefore I am naive. We originally expected to state for the judge why we felt this young man should be released to the community, or why we were supporting him. Instead, each was sworn in as a witness and cross-examined by the prosecution. I expected the demeanor of the prosecution, but my greatest frustration came from the judge, who I feel was not just. The prosecution continually referred to charges in another province, for which this young man has not yet been tried and therefore not yet been convicted. Such questioning should be ruled as irrelevant in this case and banned by the judge. However, she allowed it.
The prosecution asked me questions only relating to past charges that have not yet been addressed and asked not even one question pertaining to the current conviction or sentencing of the court hearing. I tried to say as clearly as I could with my nervousness of speaking into microphones that I believed that the best option for success and a positive life in the future mean completing his sentence in the community. I would have said more, had I not been so nervous, but perhaps that is for the better, as I may have gone off on a tangent that I am sure none would have appreciated.
When the prosecution questioned me concerning the young man's charges for which he has not yet been tried and are therefore, irrelevant the defense lawyer stepped in to request that further questioning be only in relation to the current conviction. The judge, I believe unfairly, over-ruled it.
The most astounding witness/testimony of support came from the older brother, who was open that he had faced challenges and believed that he could be a particular asset to his brother. However, the prosecution only wanted to discuss this young man's criminal history and details, and the older brother eloquently stated that he had come to support his brother and since the court was about the brother, the questions should focus on the offender and offense, not on the life details of the witness. The defense lawyer also attempted to step in and halt such inappropriate questioning, however the judge again would not heed the defense. It was frustrating, but I was very proud of how calm and cool the brother addressed the situation.
All in all, the judge was unjust and did not follow even very basic court and questioning protocols. And, at the end of the day, do to the switch of probation officers, the young man must wait another 6 weeks before he will know his sentence.
If I were him, I would be very, very frustrated. Either way, it is unfair to him- if he is going to be incarcerated, he at least could be transferred to a real prison where he has the chance to enroll in courses, take treatment programs and begin to focus on the future. If he completes his sentence in the community, those 6 weeks could mean time to enroll in January classes or look for a job. Instead, he must wait out that time in a remand center (which is also unfair to tax-payers because of the cost).

I spent the rest of the day with the older brother, much of which meant sitting on the chilly front steps of his friend's house and talking about his girlfriend. And, at the end he insisted that he take me back to my friend's house, and then I proceeded to get us lost (I've gotten too used to the ease of directions in Edmonton). Strangely enough, our driver used to date my friend's little sister, so we had a good laugh when he realized the house he was at.
I'm not sure how to word this in a politically correct way; but I am amazed at how the world shrinks when in the presence of immigrants. They find connections so quickly- Biruk is forever greeting someone who he knew long ago in Nairobi, Kenya, or hugging a former classmate from Debre Tabor, Ethiopia.
Standing together in front of the close court-room doors, our group was addressed by a passing Sudanese man who just so happened to know several people in the circle.
It doesn't seem to matter the country or origin or the distance between home countries, there seems to be some magnetic pull that links people of the same nationality so that they find one another if they are in the same city.
The next day I spent doing errands for Biruk- collecting lost items and hauling 27 kilos (?? it might have been less- but it was too heavy for me to carry) of meet-meeta (Ethiopian spice) back to Edmonton for him.
I arrived at the bus station exactly 5 minutes before the bus left and nicely asked the receptionist to rush to print me a ticket.
I settled in my seat with my lunch of complimentary crackers just as the bus took off for Edmonton.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Belete quirks

Tomorrow is Biruk's Canadian Birthday! According to Canadian records, Biruk will be turning twenty-two.
I can't remember what we did last year for his birthday, except that I gave him some sunglasses- which a friend of his stole and I gave him another pair for his Ethiopian Birthday (in June). It's like Biruk gets a second chance at everything. He is 22 again- he gets another shot at that age.

Our lives have been somewhat backwards lately. Biruk works until 1 or 2 am most nights. So we sleep in until around 10 am- when someone calls us, thinking we are the most lazy bums. I never imagined that my normal day-to-day life would mean sleeping in every morning with my husband and planning lunch dates when most restaurants are quiet and other people are at work. It took a little while to find the balance, but now that our sleeping hours are settled, I feel that I get time some time with Biruk again.

Not having a work visa is really frustrating me. I want to work and I could get more hours, get an Alberta driver's license, not to mention I could leave Canada if I needed or wanted to if I had that little piece of paper. I still haven't received anything in the mail from Immigration Canada and some part of me believes that they made a mistake and I'll be getting that visa in the mail instead of a denial letter.
I'm trying to be optimistic about this and remind myself that God is going to use this in some amazing way to bless us. Right now it sucks, but I keep reminding myself that God is going to use this for the better. God keeps changing the crappy stuff in my life into something beautiful and new. I have no idea how he's going to do that here. I could guess and I could hope, but really, I just need to trust that he is in control. It would be nice, and it would be a whole lot easier if I miraculously got a visa in the mail tomorrow, but easy isn't always better.

I'm glad that I decided to post the story I am writing on a blog. I think I would have lost motivation otherwise. It's a nice release, writing and concentrating on something besides my own life. I like writing the counseling sessions and all the analyzing angles that I get to consider. I post there more frequently than I do on this blog.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

ThE meSs of WorDS

I know our brain has an area that processes language, studying the human brain and psychology I should actually be able to name the side of the brain and the area- but I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look it up. (My grades are not a reflection of how well I actually learned something). It seems to me that my brain has a compartment, similar to a filing cabinet where any language other than English is shoved. And when a language I am learning leaks through my ears, my brain just unloads the entire filing drawer and I have to sort through all the bits of languages to find the word or phrase I'm looking for.


For example, tonight I was sitting on the bus and two gentleman came on, speaking Spanish. I somehow joined their conversation and spoke a little Spanish in reponse. As we began talking more and more, Swahili words began popping into my head. "No, 'jua' is Swahili for 'know'. Spanish is...." And then I would remember 'conozco.' Ugh!
And then, to say 'Good Night' I nearly told them in Amheric, which sounds similar to Spanish for "It's nothing" that would have been strange.

A few years ago, I was living with a family that spoke mostly Swahili. I was able to understand a lot more then than I do now. But, every Friday night I would attend a Spanish church service. I would spend the evening speaking Spanish to return to a house where Swahili was the language. I felt like I was loosing my mind for an hour each night!
And there have been times where I would be sitting on a bus, or in a room of people and suddenly some word or phrase of a language would just leap out of my mouth. I told someone this once and they asked if I had Touretts- and just to be clear, no I don't.
I just have too many languages in my head.

Here are some of the confusing things:

"si' in Spanish means yes.
"si" in Swahili is a prefix for 'not'.

"no" means no in English and Spanish.
"no" means 'is' in Amheric. So 'harif no' means 'is good'.

"De-na-der" is Amheric for 'good night.'
"De nada" is Spanish for 'it's nothing'

"Semy" is Amheric for 'name'
Similarly sound "semi" is Amheric for 'blue'
"Semi' is Thai for 'husband'.

"Kai" is Amheric for 'red'
"Kai" is Thai for chicken.

"mook" in Amheric means 'hot'
"muk muk" is Thai for 'much' or alot

"ow" is English for an expression of pain.
"ow" is Amheric for 'yes'

"dad" is English for Father
"dada" is Swahili for sister.

And these are just a few of the examples.
Not to mention when I'm trying to remember the Amheric word for something, one of the other three languages (Swahili, Thai or Spanish) is tossed out of the filing drawer and I'm forced to either stand, silently for two or more minutes, shuffling through my random papers or just say the word in English.
Thank goodness I can default back to English. I know it hinders me in becoming fluent in a language, but I feel much better to be understood than to say a puzzle-piece of a sentence with four different languages mixed in.

However, this also plays to my advantage, at times.
When I'm doing well in a language- such as when I was in Ethiopia for a month and I was getting better at communicating to people and understanding the language, Spanish flowed easier for me, as well.
I remember one afternoon when I took a walk by myself and these too-friendly Ethiopian boys wouldn't leave me alone. So I just pretended that I couldn't speak any English and spoke to them only in Spanish. I didn't invent any words, I really did speak Spanish to them. And I properly conjegated all my verbs and my sentences were properly structured. Why on earth would my Spanish improve after I had been in Ethiopia for a month?
Because I had spent time filing away the Amheric words, the Spanish was also neatly tucked away, and easily accessible.
After an hour of internally laughing at these boys who wouldn't give it up, they really wanted to talk to me, I finally said 'good bye' to them in English and blew my whole cover. We laughed for a while and they promised not to pester any more white visitors who might want some peace and quiet.

Some day I will fluently speak Amheric. And then I have to learn how to write in their different characters and alphabet. And hopefully, that will make Spanish and Swahili fall more into place, as well.
Until that time, I will continue to struggle with my messy box of bits of languages.

De-na-der
Buenos Noches
Usiku Njema
Ra-tree Sawat
Good Night

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Snap shots

I feel I should apologize, because these pictures really aren't very good. The lights are dimmed, so with my camera I have to choose between grainy, darker photos, or too bright of pictures when using a flash.

This is the dining area- almost all of the chairs, except the two in the corner of the photo, have been re-covered with a beautiful brown design. When I tell people Biruk and his cousin re-covered them all by themselves they are surprised. Then, if I happen to mention the new coverings are actually from tablecloths, they don't believe me. They did a great job- the chairs are beautiful!


Above are some water pipes (or hookas, or shisha pipes, whatever you prefer to call them) and the next photo, still above, is the shisha lounge area. Biruk ordered the couches from an acquaintance who orders them from Dubai, they are incredibly comfortable. Although not my style, they are just the right firmness to take a nice nap and I would trade-in my couches for these anytime!

The pool area, and the famous orange wall- although it appears red in this photo. 

And there is Biruk, relaxing on the job. With my obnoxious flash blinding in the background.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Legalities and Culture

I feel as though I jinxed myself with my previous post on not working at my husband's restaurant. It seems as though I will be working there more now.
A few days ago I was notified that my work visa extension has been denied and I am being deported next week.

Okay, not deported. That was a joke. When I explained to my boss that my work visa was denied and I am not legally allowed to work, she immediately assumed I was being deported. Which made me laugh and feel a little better.

Actually, I have 90 days to change my status, allowing me to remain in Canada under 'no status' for that time. As long as I am 'in process' before 90 days are up. After 90 days, then the trouble sets in.
My employer likes me, so she is willing to go through the process- which doesn't sound too complicated to get an employer-specific work permit (previously I had an open work permit and could gain employment anywhere, except as a doctor). It takes about 4 months or more to complete the process.
She likes me so much, she's even leaving a 'good-bye' bonus on my last pay check before I can resume working again, legally.
And I like her program so much, I think I'll just volunteer my time without pay for that period of time.
I feel well-taken care of.
But a little bummed, because I was really into trying to get a job in the criminal justice field. But that can wait- it has to. Until then, I can complete my most recent writing project, finish decorating our apartment, and help Biruk at his restaurant. I desperately am hoping that I get the work permit for Christmas, as we wanted to go to Cuba for our honeymoon. We promised that we will, someday take that trip. If it doesn't work this year, we will celebrate in Montreal or Victoria Island.

Permanent Residency? Well, we don't want to apply and them to hold off on the work permit for the 9 months or more the permanent residency process takes. No, we'll just wait a little bit. Besides, I still have to have a full physical exam, including blood work, a chest x-ray and more to determine that I'm healthy enough not to drain their health care system. And, we still need to get tons of special photos and re-do all the application papers- because the other ones are now inaccurate, as Biruk's employment has changed.

In other news- Biruk's family is moving to Edmonton.
I wasn't sure I would be excited about this, as I like the 3 hour distance between us that lets us lead our own, independent lives. However, with Biruk opening an restaurant, it does call for help and his family has been really great about wanting to be involved and wanting to help out.
Also, with Biruk's mom being sick and undergoing radiation therapy on a schedule, he wants to be closer to them to help out. It's sort of a situation where everyone feels that they benefit.
A lot of my worries were quickly put to rest and now I'm getting more and more excited to have my family live in the same city. Biruk and I would love to take Abi (my younger brother) to the water park and ice skating, and I know Biruk would like to spend more time with his dad.

I've been explaining some of the cultural differences to Biruk's cousin, who has been staying with us for a little while. I often feel that I live in a strange, Ethiopian, partially Canadian world- but I'm still American. I'm the one who does things strange, or not strange enough- so that it's taken as odd instead of diverse.
It's frustrating, at times I wish we would just move to Ethiopia because I could handle that better if my mind was prepared for complete Ethiopian culture. Or that perhaps, we lived in a more neutral place- where we are both out of our elements and could recognize the differences. Canada should feel that way, but it doesn't. Maybe because it's because Biruk and I know Canadian culture pretty well, we function in that, but also drift back into our home cultures.
With Biruk it is easy, it's all the other family members and friends that I feel I'm tripping with.
Since Biruk's family is moving here, that is one of my concerns. However, I've decided to just be very frank and address any of these cultural differences clearly. I am not Canadian, I am American and while I don't want to be offensive on purpose, I want to feel comfortable in my own house and with my family. And I'm sure they don't want to continue to do something that I find offensive.
So far, Biruk's cousin has been understanding when I explained that if you have a guest over for dinner, it is expected to eat dinner at the table, not in the living room. In addition, asking someone if they are pregnant is never, ever acceptable. Women will take it to mean that they are fat, even if you were just wondering when we were going to start a family.
I just hope I don't come off as the cranky bitch, hopefully I am nice enough about explaining these differences.

I feel that our life just never slows down- first we got married, then Biruk got stabbed. Then he decided to open a restaurant. Then I had my work visa denied. When will we just be on track? But that's life- nothing ever happens exactly as you imagined it. Sometimes is wonderful surprises, and sometimes it's a bad situation that you get to look for the good in, or experience something even more amazing; when God transforms the bad into something new and good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thursdays at 2

So, instead of thinking or writing about my own life, I've started writing a story about someone else's life. I'm posting it publicly, so please feel free to check it out and continue reading there. There is also a link under "My Links"- Thursdays at 2.
More will come on my exciting life soon. I just have to make some long, long phone calls and take some photos first.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Papyrus Summary

One of the most popular questions I've been asked has been about me waitressing at Biruk's place, from my family, friends and customers at the restaurant.
When Biruk decided to open a restaurant, I told him I would support him and encourage him and help out in some fashions as needed, but it wouldn't be a job for me, as I already have a job and want to pursue something in my own field. That was fine with Biruk, if I could help out as needed, but wouldn't make that my full-time pursuit.

So far, it's worked out well: Biruk and his cousin do most of the serving, which is fine with Biruk, so that he can keep track of who has paid. With those two, and Biruk's mother and another woman do the cooking, everything is covered. I just mostly help Biruk organize paperwork or make tea or coffee. While I was a waitress for several years and have worked in the food industry on several occasions, this is different- it's Ethiopian. What is considered hospitable and nice in a restaurant varies from culture to culture, so I'll let Biruk do it as he wants.

Also, I'm not at the restaurant all the time.
I did quit that job, but stayed until they found a replacement for me. Today was my final day, and I was glad to go. Things continued to get worse every day I stayed: staff given responsibility, but no authority. Finances in the house for youth continued to be a problem. For a about three weeks I juggled a full-time job and a part-time job. Not new for me, as I've done that on several occasions, but this time I'm married and my husband is running his own business, which requires evening and late-night hours. But now that I'm done this job, I'll have much more time with Biruk.

I still work part-time, with the position I really enjoy.
And I have a job interview on Monday as a caseworker at a half-way house for federal offenders.
In my free time, I play soccer. Fall is rushing in, so I am getting as much playing in as I can.
And, I'm looking to start volunteering again.Young Life works at a high school a few blocks away from our apartment. I would like to be involved in a youth ministry again, and from what I've heard and in meeting with the director, they really care about kids and have a whole-person approach that isn't just evangelism, but discipleship and seeing youth succeed in life.

Biruk has been great. When I didn't like my new job, Biruk was the first one to suggest quitting. And in pursuing other employment, Biruk is very encouraging and wants me to put my degree and education to work. We both feel really blessed to be able to pursue our dreams, together, but differently.

The first weekend for Biruk's restaurant went well- it was busy. I should post pictures soon.
It's lots of soft lighting, brown walls, black trim. You'll just have imagine the Ethiopian music in the background and the smell of doro wat (chicken stew) and grape shisha smoke in the air.

This weekend should be busy, as well, since it is the Ethiopian New Year, entering the year 2003.
So, while I don't really work at Biruk's restaurant, I help out when I do have some free time, or after I've played soccer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My life, this week.

I feel like I just need to exhale into the blog... release my thoughts onto the web page, which may or may not seem connected.

I just started a new job. Which I'm not sure that I like. Looking back- I felt rushed into it, but I might just be blaming that the job interview I had been hoping and waiting for came only two days after I started this new job. It's hard, because I thought I really wanted the other job, and now not knowing is frustrating me and I wish I had had more of a chance to weight the two options more unbiasedly.
Maybe it was the first semi-day at work (filling in at a house that I wouldn't be working at usually), working with a girl with extreme needs- who had to have two people working with her constantly (not including the staff for the other house members). It was exhausting and frustrating- someone with specialized training should have been working with this girl- and definitely not two new employees (not to mention the third staff for the rest of the house was also new). I wasn't impressed with how they handled that- three new people in the same, most highly demanding house?
And then when I walked in the house where I will be working. It made me sad more than anything. The house was shabby looking. Posters instead of decorations on the walls. The television was propped on a gigantic office desk and a large crack in the window was left unrepaired. Are the kids supposed to take pride in where they live? Should they respect the house? What types of messages are being sent to the kids with a house in that shape? I understand if there were no finances, but this is an organization that gets contracted from the government- they aren't running short.
What does this say about how the youth should view themselves in the area of dignity and respect? How does a how in poor condition effect their self esteem? Walking into a house with posters about Hepatitis or House Rules has to take a toll on a kid.
I've thought about it, and feel that the three-month probation that most jobs have to determine if the job will be permanent, should work both ways. I'm going to give it a little while, but I refuse to stick with a job that I don't like. I'm sure that any job at some point, I won't like. But having this many struggles in the first two days doesn't propose a positive future. And I don't want to become cynical, have a poor work ethic which impacts the clients or begins to effect the organization- it's better that I leave before that happens. But, I'm also trying to be optimistic and see if it turns around in the next month or so.
As for my other job, my part-time one- I'm loving it more than ever! My boss told me that when I get a car, she will be able to offer me many more shifts (which sounds great if I hand back the job I currently have).

Biruk has made the restaurant beautiful. I'm so proud of him- amazed at him. His only regret is that he didn't take 'before' pictures. Really- my husband could be an interior designer or something with professional renovating- like Extreme Make Over Home Edition or something. The purple ceiling changed to white. The black and white checkered floor now with hardwood flooring. The blinding florescent lights replaced with beautiful lamps and ugly bathroom counters replaced with new sinks and cabinets.

I hate the hate towards Muslims. I lived with a Muslim family for several months, have relatives who are Muslim and several co-workers who are Muslim. My experience? They are caring. They are generous. They are people. I'm not for discrimination in any form. (Should clarify this- I think boycotting on a basis of ethics is more than acceptable- however, discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference or religion is very, very different). Someone the other day said to me that they used to boycott homosexual's businesses, but they've recently stopped -this isn't aimed at them, but it did make me think.
I wonder what good it ever did... Did the business owner know that you were boycotting them because they were homosexual? If they did- what would it change? Would it offend them? Drive them to change their decision? What good things would come out of that discrimination? Rather, what good things would come from building a relationship and getting to know someone on a deeper level?
What about, if we didn't judge people... what about if we pursued relationships with them? What about, instead of boycotting- we did the opposite. Like, loving instead of hating. Forgiving instead of being bitter. Accepting (not tolerating) instead of judging. Turning the other cheek instead of fighting back. Going further than asked or demanded. Giving up more than requested. What if we did that?
What if I did that?
What if I didn't make it about 'Christianity'? But instead, about taking small, slow steps in obedience to what Christ said. What if it wasn't about the end result that I receive, but instead about me at the end- how I am transformed? What if I focused more on myself and was my worst critic than focusing on judging others?

And now, it's time to inhale.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Papyrus

I haven't been very clear about our newest venture- opening our own restaurant, so this post is devoted to giving details.

A few years ago, Biruk talked about opening his own restaurant 'some day'. Off and on since then, the topic has come up, but never seriously. Biruk always had a good income in construction and was about to pursue continuing his education in that field. However, since being injured, working construction was out of the question for a few months. Biruk claims it wasn't a near-death experience driving him to pursue his dreams, but more of a combination of timing and deciding that he really did want to do this, now.
I'm incredibly proud of him- within weeks of being able to stand up straight, he was already plowing away at this new venture. He has been more organized and responsible than I've ever known him to be, making appointments, figuring out legal stuff and arranging a lawyer for some essentials. He's so optimistic, focused and really happy. He might work twelve hours a day renovating the place, but he'll come home with a smile on his face and satisfied with his day. He's great with people, makes friends easily and everyone who meets him, likes him.
We've been blessed- getting a great location at a great price, and wonderful neighbors. I've met more of our business neighbors than those who live in our apartment building. Sharing the same building is a nice Somali lady who already offered to share her garbage bin if ours overflows. Across the street is the most organized pawn shop I've ever seen, run by this Chinese couple with a feisty, funny lady and her skinny, quiet husband. Then, there is the liquor store and the attached burger joint- with an enormous spotted cow as a slogan taking up half the side-walk- both run by the same Lebanese friendly family.
While the location is ideal, its also in a ghetto area of the city. On the one hand, it's in the immigrant area where plenty of Ethiopians and Somalis live, who are the target clientele. Also, it's seven blocks from the main down-town and three blocks from a large university. This also means, that some of the just-off-main problems are also present here- prostitution, drug dealing and homelessness.
The restaurant we bought used to be run as a cover for a drug dealing operation, apparently it was busted with lots of drugs and tons of money. The neighboring businesses all told us how excited they are that we are opening a real restaurant, helping to bring positive, legal business to the area, cleaning things up a bit.
It's a nice feeling, too- knowing that in simply opening our business and doing something for a profit is also helping others.
This also helps to explain our amazing deal for rent and purchase of the restaurant; a combination of hurrying to sell the place because of the former drug-dealing operation, and just being grateful we're doing something legitimate.

Biruk is going to be the owner/operator/manager of the restaurant. And anything else that is needed; dish washing, extra cooking and serving. He is going to hire a cook (or two) and a server for the weekends.

Papyrus Lounge is what we decided to name the place, not wanting to be too exclusively Ethiopian. Papyrus is for the plant that grows in the Nile River, which covers several countries and suggests a type of North African-type culture. We're terming it a lounge because food is not going to really be the focus, but rather shisha and billiards/pool (there are two pool tables). Shisha originated in the Middle East, it's a light fruit-flavored tabacco that is smoked with a water-pipe, it's popularity has moved south and has really taken-on in Ethiopia. There are a few shisha lounges in Edmonton, but none in the area where our restaurant is.
The coffee filters that came with the restaurant are small, individual things for each coffee mug. I wasn't sure how to use them, so I asked a sweet Veitnamese man (as it's for Vietnamese coffee) how to use them, and it turns out, that this is amazing! It was a like the strong, thick Ethiopian coffee, only much quicker and in individual portion sizes. Coffee is a definite must in any business targetting Ethiopians, and this is stuff is really good.

Thought of the day:
It's been interesting, renovating-I've never renovated before. I appreciate better that Jesus was a carpenter. It's not just that it's hard work and a blue-collar job- it's the redemptive value. In putting in the hard-wood floors, Biruk was so careful not to waste anything. A damaged or discolored piece wasn't thrown away, but a way was found to use it- cutting away a flaw, putting it in a different area. Biruk covered over some spots, repainted others. It might have been easier to do things differently, to start fresh, but it wouldn't necessarily be better. And now, our sweat, a little blood and plenty of sneezes have gone into this place, it's becoming more and more 'worth it' when we begin to see the final outcome. I was painting the kitchen this beautiful light orange color- called 'marmalade' -and felt that I understood a little more of our carpenter God, just because we're salvaging, and renovating, and redeeming a restaurant.

We're hoping to open in a few weeks- the health inspector is supposed to be in at the end of this week, as well as all the liscensing. The major renovations, and most of the cosmetic ones have been finished and all that's left is to move the kitchen appliances back in place.
We're planning on having a party for the Ethiopian New Year, September 11.
The sign still needs to be changed, and menus printed up.
Not much advertising is planned- plenty of people already know about it through word-of-mouth, so Biruk is going to see how things go for the first few weeks.
Feel free to ask any other questions, if I've missed any key details.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Persistence

I did it.
I finished!
On Tuesday night, just before midnight, I completed my final assignment for my last class to earn my psychology minor, and thus completing my bachelor's degree and minor requirements.
I feel lighter already.
Yesterday, on my way to work I was reading the paper, which had three pages discussing the benefits of online learning and the local schools which offer online courses. I smiled to myself, because I didn't care about online classes anymore- I am DONE! Stores are starting to offer 'back to school' specials and in a few weeks the college students will return to the city. Thinking of that makes me grin, because I'm not interested.
I graduated high school early and spent six months traveling, doing ministry and working as a waitress or driving a forklift. After that, I became a student. I might have been a full-time, on campus student. Or I might have taken two years, or a semester of school off, but I would still continue with one or two online courses. I remember more than one semester, I was a full-time on campus student, as well as taking a full course load online- I was a double student!
So, for five years now, I haven't had a true break from school, studying, homework and typing assignments.
Now, I can read a book for pleasure on the bus. I can relax and watch television without a text book in front of me.
Right now, it feels almost like I have been granted my freedom, more than as if I have earned or achieved something. I am more excited about being done with school than have learned and earned a degree- I'm just so happy to be free of school!
For the record, I now have a Bachelors of science in Justice and Ministry with a minor in Psychology, to pair with my Associates for Justice Administration of Social Work. I appreciate how long that is to say, because it was a long time to complete, as well.

Now, I'm looking to work full-time. There is one organization I am especially interested in working with, as they work with youth offenders in several settings, including a half-way house, education program and in social services. But, they aren't hiring. However, I'm sure that there are other options for social work in Edmonton and perhaps something involving criminal justice, as well.
As I mentioned before, Biruk decided to open his own restaurant. I'm nervous, but also excited. So far, we're still doing renovations, but Biruk is making the place look wonderful. While the orange wall was concerning me initially, it now is paired beautifully with a chocolate-brown wall and is the most complimented area. The purple ceiling was re-painted white, and the black-and-white checkered tile has been covered with carpet squares and beautiful wood flooring Biruk found at a great price.
Now we just need to clean up a few things, and finalize who is cooking and serving, and we're set to go.
I keep saying 'we' because Biruk and I are both involved, as we're operating the place, but really, I won't be working much there once it opens. I'll help when I have time, but I want to have my own full-time job.
I am looking forward to going on vacation. One of the areas I'm hesitant about is the time that Biruk has to devote to his restaurant. While I want to support him and his dreams, it's hard for me to lose so much time with him. I'll be glad when we can get away and slow down time on some warm, tropical island. Where our busy lives won't be mentioned and well-meaning intruders can't get a hold of us.
So, I graduated, for the third and final time of my life. I'm done with school. It's a wonderful feeling that I'm going to hold onto all week!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mortal Skin

I've wondered something, and presently, it's come to my mind again: why did Jesus keep his scars when he rose from the dead?
Luke and John are the only gospels that reference Jesus' scars.
For Luke, the suspected doctor, it makes sense. Luke picked up on some human elements of Jesus not detailed in other gospels- including Jesus' anger a the injustice at the temple and his weeping over the capitl ciy.
Also, Luke notes one of my favorite stories in the Bible: while Jesus is dying and struggling to even breathe, he cries out "Father forgive them!" and assures the criminal beside him that he is to be with him in paradise.
That story encompasses so much about who Jesus is, and the purpose of his sacrifice.
The forgiveness in that short sentence; it strikes me like a fierce tackle, I need to rest and breath slowly after I read those words.
Luke's version is Jesus on the road to Emmaus, where two lucky individuals get to take a walk with Jesus. As they try to explain what happened, Jesus shows up in the flesh to help them out. As the people may have been frightened that Jesus was a ghost, he assures them that he is not- pointing to his scars as proof.
Ghosts/spirits do not keep their scars. Only human bodies do.
Jesus emphasizes his humanity further by requesting some food- something no ghost would need.

When I read John, the message of Jesus being God in the flesh continues to flash through the pages. Also, John mentions portions no other gospel notes; the night-time talk with the Pharisee where Jesus explains God's master plan so simply- that Jesus must be sacrificed for the redemption of the world and that humans are to be reborn. John also seems to be a bit egocentric, pointing to the 'disciple whom Jesus loved'.
But I find it interesting that the disciple who focused so much on Jesus' deity would also write about an aspect that made Jesus so very human- scarring.
Prior to the story of Thomas, we read that Jesus presents his wounds to be observed by the disciples when he meets with them- did they, too question until they saw the scars? If so, why is it only recorded for Thomas to be reprimanded for his 'unbelief'?
On the one hand, I see the issue of faith, but I'm not sure Jesus said it as harshly as I read it. Jesus invites Thomas, of all the disciples to experience his wounds in a way perhaps no other person ever has- to stick his finger inside the nail holes and see into the spear-stabbing. Yes, it's gruesome. But crucifixion was awful and Jesus' death was not a fairy tale to be painted only beautifully. Jesus had to suffer for us to be redeemed.
I can only ponder at how that experience changed Thomas. He felt where Jesus suffered.
And I think, that that is part of why Jesus kept his scars.
Each story of Jesus presenting his scars is clearly tied to him proving himself, and verifying his death and resurrection. I posed this question to a pastor and his response was simply; to prove that he had risen from the dead. Was that really the long and short of it?
I mean, he was dead and then became alive again- scars or no scars, he's alive! There is no doubt that Jesus could have healed them.

It makes me consider why why want our own scars healed? Is it pure vanity? I have some scars I rather like, and a memory to go with them- a small white line on my hip from falling when I played hide-n-go-seek in Kenya. I consider other scars, like a person who described the brutal scar from shin to ankle because someone intentionally aimed a car to kill. Or from a fight, when a domestic despute went violent and forever her arm holds the mark. Or Biruk, the scars along his chest make me sad whenever I see them.
Why can't those painful scars be healed?

So why keep them? If you are going to rise from the dead, why would it be necessary to hold on to scars?
I think it is not only to affirm that he indeed is alive and did actually die. I think it's deeper than that. It's a connection to humanity, a choice of God Almighty to stay in a broken, human frame. It's for us- a God with perfect features and flawless complexion won't hold me while I cry- a God who willingly kept his scars can brush his hand over mine and remind me that life does go on.
Christ, who while he suffered forgave those who killed him didn't diminish that suffering, but held on to it. He didn't erase the pain. He was resurrected, as he promises for us, but he doesn't take away our scars, instead he tells us to live with them, maybe even live through them.

I think again, about him forgiving while he struggled to breathe on the cross. He suffered, and still forgave. It commands that we, too, must forgive. I would prefer to forgive when my life is in order, when the struggle has stopped. I want to forgive when I don't continue to feel the impact of the wrong against me.
Jesus forgave admist his pain, and when he rose again, he kept the scars.
Forgiveness doesn't mean the scars go away.
And right now, that's hard for me.
My husband will always carry scars- four on his chest, three on his back. Although we forgive  the pain, or consequences of pain aren't taken away. Forgiveness would be easier if it meant a ticket to prosperity and health. Forgiveness would not be negotiated if the benefit to the inflicted were clear.

I think that's part of why Jesus kept his scars; the expensive love that offers even when you're hurting, and doesn't wait indefinitely for the pain to subside. He kept his scars, because humans do, too. And he forgave, even while he bled and slowly died.
And so, he calls us, with the authority of his own experience, to forgive despite our pains, wounds and marks. To extend some part of the Kingdom of Heaven to those in reach, admist our own suffering. It sounds beautiful and reads lovely in the Bible, but in reality, it sucks.
Forgiveness sucks.
I want to know that it will make a difference. I want that assurance that my husband will be safe, that his scars will blend into his skin until they disappear and those we forgive will be changed for the better. But God doesn't bargain with us when he demands that we forgive. He only flashes the image of his own son dying- screaming out our forgiveness.
And all my excuses fall empty at my feet.
I still don't want to obey- the desire isn't there. I don't want to do something that costs so much from me, but may never meet their ears.
But, maybe, after saying the words enough times, the emotion will follow.
Maybe, as I force myself to remember Jesus' forgiveness of me, something will change.
Maybe, as I remember and that he kept his scars on purpose, I will want to forgive.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hope and Fear

Last month, my husband was stabbed multiple times by complete strangers- and their motive is still unknown. We don't know why they wanted to attack Biruk.
Biruk is mobile again, and can run and laugh like normal.
However, the police have still not arrested his assaulters. It's not just frustrating that the police seem so slow-but it's also frightening. Twice now, Biruk has seen the people who attacked him. Of course he contacted the police and even at one point was able to show police which apartment building they entered.
Biruk had gone to our favorite donair place (a donair is a Middle-East version of Greek gyros) because the owner had offered for Biruk to work there for a day to learn how to make donairs and have an insider's view at operating a restaurant. It was just as Biruk arrived that he saw the same people, same car of the individuals who attacked him that night. Biruk's not seeking out trouble, he really is trying to be safe.
So many questions and worries rush through my mind when Biruk tells me he's waiting with the police, or that he just dashed inside because he saw someone who could have been the one who stabbed him.
We're just trying to go about our life, but in doing so, we are continually faced with life-threatening risks until these people are apprehended.
At this point, I'm not even thinking about justice- I realize that that criminal trial might be a year away. All I am focusing on is safety, and wanting to not worry if my husband will be attacked again.
I don't know how better to express this fear... it's so tangible and immediate.
I just want them arrested.
That's all.

Oh. And Biruk is opening his own restaurant/lounge.
I love him- he's so brave. He's pushing forward, and turning a tragedy into a dream.
Our motto is: we're blessed.

And we are. There's no arguement there. But I would feel more at ease when I know there is no one running around our city who randomly attacked my husband and might do so again. However, I should remember Biruk has had a hair cut since then, so maybe they won't recognize

Friday, July 02, 2010

But isn't that true of all Christians?

1. The Rastafarian religion believes that Hale Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia was a descendant of Jesus Christ.
2. Biruk is a distant relative of Hale Selassie (like 5th cousin twice removed or something).
3. I am married to Biruk.
=
4. I am related to Jesus (through marriage).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Like a pregnant lady

While we no longer have a rental car, Biruk noted how nice it was for me to drive around on my own (as his car is a standard and I only drive automatics). I'm back to taking the bus, but the option of having my own car in Edmonton was nothing I had considered before. Thankfully, for a few weeks I will have my own personal chauffeur, which should help in that respect. I really don't mind the bus; I can sit and read, do a few errands like update some things or write reports.

Biruk is going to be off work for a while; 1- doctor's orders, 2- he cannot bend his back. He bends his knees and reaches his arms as long as they will go, similar to a heavily pregnant woman, which is humorous to watch. Not that I watch- I pick up whatever is one the ground for him. So, I asked my boss for extra shifts, which I have gladly been offered. Putting the baby to bed (which is easy), getting the 3-year-old to sleep (which is incredibly challenging), cleaning the house, and taking the kids to the park have been added to my regular work meeting with clients one-on-one. It's been great, I feel just busy enough without being over-whelmed.

I'm not sure what was the turning point: the independence of having a car for a week, more hours at work, the change in weather or a mental shift from what I want in the future and want I have in the present. But, suddenly, I am beginning to enjoy living in Edmonton. It feels like my home and I actually am enjoying it here.
To be truthful- I think the summer weather is playing a HUGE part. When the snow starts I will be ready to cut this city and up down. But in the summer- oh! There are parks, and the river and it seems that the entire city is either riding a bike or having a barbecue. And the farmers' markets with purple and white bell peppers and the flowers flooding out onto the streets. So I'll enjoy it and soak as much in as I can before I begin hating anything touched with cold.
I noticed the shift one night as I returned from work; I was driving home in our rental car and the sun had already set- the sky was a light purple color and driving down the winding hills, about to cross over the river and head toward the vertical light rows of downtown when I smiled at how pretty the city looked and realized I liked Edmonton!
It seems inappropriate to begin liking my home amidst my husband's attack, while he is in the hospital. I'm a mover, and as the title of my blog suggests, I have trouble staying 'put' for a while. Since I began moving, I haven't stayed in any one place for more than 2 years. I've been in Edmonton for almost one year now, which I know is not a long time, but for me it is. I am looking forward to our honeymoon, future vacations and the next country we will live in.
I joke that I have 'commitment issues', but only with cell phones and locations, never with people. Only, it's proving more and more true. And I do, even as I enjoy living in Edmonton, have a queasiness about living here for 3 or even 5 years.
But- suddenly as I drove down the hill in the purpled sky I liked Edmonton.

My husband is going to be just fine, soon he will be able to run and bend down again. But my dreaming of the future and constant looking forward was halted and now has been slowed; the present is precious and unless you hold that in importance, the future will never be reached. So, while I do still hope for a move in the future, and I am excited for our vacations and adventures, I am enjoying now in a way that I didn't before.
And that mental shift is bringing me to like Edmonton instead of survive it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

rainbows form when there is sun and rain together

Biruk's name means 'blessed' in Amharic. I think it's a namesake that truly speaks of his life.



This past week has been intense, hard and really wonderful. The picture of the past week and a half might seem bleak, but every edge is bright in blessings and I can't focus on the dark areas, because all I feel is God's movement in our life.


Thank God we got in a car accident. It was such a blessing in every way. We were side-swiped by a little old man who was not paying attention. The bumper and headlight were ripped off, but that's about it. On the little old man's car, his hubcaps flew off and he jumped out of the car, dashing around the highway to put them back on and then asked Biruk to 'go to auto body shop now?' Biruk said no. Thankfully as the man got into his car and attempted to drive away, a police officer arrived and made him remain at the scene of the accident.
We quickly managed to get a rental car and, being an automatic, I was able to drive it. Having a car with the hecticness of the past few days, and driving Biruk around has been great. Not to mention- our car was determined a write-off because parts are too expensive; which is exactly what we wanted! So now, we get to go car-shopping with the money we get from the insurance company.


I can't explain the fear of the next incident; its a different type of fear than I ever felt. The most scared I've ever felt was when I woke up to a crashing and pounding in a remote area in Northern Uganda and all I could imagine was that the world was about to end- or we were being bombed, turns out it was just a heavy rain on a thin, tin roof. I wasn't scared when I visited my sister and we had to move away from the windows and she pointed out which 'boom' was the grenade. Or yesterday, when I fell asleep in my hammock and woke up to a squirrel running around my legs- I screamed in panic and my heart raced.
But this? I simply woke up to the phone ringing. There was little information given and I dashed out of the apartment in a blur, as I literally was not wearing my glasses. But everything was blurry and there was little explanation, except that an ambulance was on the way.
I still felt asleep and that all of my responses were delayed, like I was looking at my life through a piece of clear plastic wrap. When I was really awake, there was nothing gradual about it, I was suddenly alert. I remember exactly where I woke up; 111th street and 116 Ave. The siren was blaring over my head as I sat in the passenger side of the ambulance and a paramedic was calling out my husband's vitals. He had a heart rate of 140 and his blood pressure contained the number 118 in it.
But I didn't feel scared. Not in the way I've felt frightened before. My heart rate didn't fluctuate and my breathing was normal. I didn't cry or feel the need to cry. I was calm, truly and really calm. Maybe it was my background and training taking over about staying calm for the sake of the injured person, and I do remember talking calmly and telling him that everything was going to be okay and that I was right  here with him. I don't remember praying, in the way that people address God and finish with an 'Amen'. Actually, I don't remember uttering a thought-out prayer in my mind, but more of a focus without articulated words. Even without my prayers, prior to my knowledge of the incident, God had already intervened and done his saving work as stabs avoided spleen and spinal chord, to the right of the heart and shallow.
After we arrived at the emergency room, I felt even more at ease; he was at the hospital now and any damages would be taken care of.
The only fear I had was of being alone. I felt that I would fall apart completely if I sat alone. So I talked with the intoxicated girl and the two police officers supervising her, as she continually asked me if I had a cigarette. I just couldn't be alone.
I asked the police why they were still there, hovering over him in his small Trauma 1 room. I wasn't even frightened when they explained it was because if he did end up dying, they would have to make adjustments for the investigation of the crime. I really wasn't afraid, I knew it would all be okay.


And today, we have a fridge full of left-over birthday cake and far too much juice that friends have brought. My husband is walking, and even took a few steps running yesterday. He laughed so hard I saw tears form in his eyes.
We're blessed. People need not feel sorry for us, because we are truly blessed. Not only in the big things; such as living and breathing-free of machines. But we're blessed in the small things, which we can see and feel and won't step over lightly as we once did.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Smoking Hiccups

This is my last week at my internship- back at the women's institution. I'm really glad to be back, its such a more relaxed and welcoming environment compared to the men's institution. I can't even really believe that I just said any prison was 'relaxed and welcoming'- but in comparison to the men's maximum, yes, it surely is more relaxed and welcoming.

Yesterday I did my first supervised visit; observing the family interaction for a client. It was interesting and draining- so mentally exhausting. On the surface, I enjoyed being a guest at a birthday party. However, I was trying very hard to make things feel relaxed for the family so that they could interact naturally, as is the point of a supervised visit. I listened in on and watched family interaction, but not only did I observe, but I was constantly analyzing everything- that was what was so draining.
What I observed was that the parents really and genuinely love their kids, but just don't understand how to care for their kids. Parenting skills are what they need, and if the love is there for their kids they are going to be motivated to learn those skills.
I went home, tired but happy. Contented with my job, that I am making a difference and helping kids. And glad that it wasn't a negative visit; but that there is alot of hope for this family to be reunited.

This morning I got the hiccups. Biruk heard me sqeaking from another room. He came in, with a strange grin on his face and announced: "Did I tell you that I smoked weed last night?"
My breathing halted and I glared at him, "You did WHAT?!"
Then he laughed and proudly stated "Your hiccups are gone!"
I laughed for nearly a minute straight. If my hiccups weren't gone from that, the laughing sure made them go away.
Now he just has to think of something more extreme next time I get the hiccups.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Endings

The past few weeks have been a blur- so packed with activity and new surprises. There have been some struggles, plenty of rushing and busyness. Frustrations with work and changes because of the actions of clients, shifts with my internship and everything coming to such a quick close.
As I look forward to some rest after the next two weeks, I also feel very blessed. I love my husband a little more than I did yesterday. I have been blessed by having to 'carve' out time for God, instead of it being a convenience. And as I race to complete this or that in regards to school, I feel further ahead or more speedy at completing the task than I imagined.
The weather has become beautiful! It is inspiring me to find somewhere, and a group of someones to play soccer with. How I long to be drenched in sweat, with my legs ready to give out and bruises speckling my shins because of hours and hours of soccer!!!

My internship is closing more quickly than I thought. I was recording only the hours on-site, which most internships would say is the proper way to do so. However, my supervisors have said that I should have recorded the hours I spent journaling and reading, so therefore, I will be completed within the next week and a half! Rush, rush, rush as I finish up things, submit documents and say 'good bye'.
Partly, its a relief that I will be done and look forward to having some time to rest. However, I also feel rushed and that I'm not going to tie things up well. I have just taken a break from the women's institution and thought that I would be returning for another month, able to finish up the Bible study I was hosting, meet with the individuals I meet with one-on-one and end those in a positive direction, with appropriate resources. However, I feel that that will all be rushed. Also the week of the men's institution being locked down was a bummer, while it was educational, there was little interaction. Today the institution was open and there was lots of interaction and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with the men; however, it's going to be far too short, as I am done in two days.
Thankfully, I still have the opportunity to continue volunteering at either, or both institutions as I feel called and am able to do. So, while I feel things are coming too quickly to a close, it does not have to be the end of my invovlement at either institution.
However; now I look towards the future for a job. Thankfully, I already have one part-time job which I thoroughly enjoy and which will continue with. I still want another job, and would appreciate your prayers for direction.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

20 minutes North

It's Saturday morning and I could still be asleep, but the sun streaming through the curtains was sure to wake me soon, just the same.
I should have rushed off to my internship just as Biruk went off to work this morning, but the men's prison is in 'lock down' so everything has been cancelled until Monday.

So instead, I had a nice breakfast of french toast, determined that there was nothing interesting to watch and am now thinking of a good reason to not do my physical education home work.

I discovered that I don't have to continue into mid-June for my internship; apparently, unlike a job, I can count readings and paperwork towards my accumulated hours. I will be done towards the end of May, and then with one more course; a psychology class, I will be completed. I want to take a developmental psychology course, as I think it will be fitting with my job in youth work.
It's been a long journey, and I am VERY ready to be finished school.

Yesterday was my first day at the men's prison. It was very different from the women's prison. Dark and cold. Concrete walls. Quiet.
The prison was on lock-down because some of the emergency response team were away for training, so as a preventative measure movement was halted.
I had a tour of the facility and met plenty of people; psychologists, social workers, teachers and welding instructors. I saw the security intelligence area, with a wall displaying all the various discovered weapons inmates had created. Tooth brushes, plastic spoons, pens- very ingenious methods for making them into types of knives. I also saw the metal detector chair which can determine where in the body metal is, helping to reduce cavity searches.

I was only introduced to two of the inmates, both who were in segregation. One wanted a phone call to determine the health of a sick relative and had either used his phone call for the day, or was unable to contact the individual. The other was a man, who the guards suggested just wanted attention. He had this wild story about how a lawyer had given his file to another inmate, who had it in his cell and was reading his personal information out; including the address of his parents and was sending people to kill them. He also added that his Colombian drug cartel friends were going to get involved and he had asked a guard how to spell 'Glock' because he was writing a letter to his father telling him to purchase one to use to protect himself. He guard had upset him by laughing at him because he had spelled 'glue' instead of glock.
My first impression was that he was possibly schizophrenic- he was in the Special Handling Unit, meaning that he probably has a lot of issues and is known for throwing things (including the most disgusting imaginable) at guards, so probably has a list of mental disturbances. I guessed that he was hearing voices; perhaps his parent's exact address and believed that people were out to get his parents. However, the guards suggested he was just a really poor liar and wanted attention.
One of the guards slammed shut the small window the inmate was talking out of; understandably, as he was belligerently cussing at the guard and making comments about how he was a coward.

While I think that I will learn alot, this isn't where I see myself working.

My time at the women's prison also confirmed my preference to working with youth. For a number of reasons, one being that so many problems that these adult offenders face throughout their lives are rooted in their childhood, or began to develop while they were a youth. If those can be addressed and they focus on healing and wholeness while a youth, so much in their lives can be drastically changed. Also, I just like working with youth!

Biruk and I watched 'Lock Up' last night. It was interesting to see some of the same methods or instruments being used in jails or prisons in America. However, we went to sleep after watching the episode on the juvenile prison in Pendleton, Indiana. I was astonished by how adult-like the institution was run. One of the guards said that because of teen unpredictability, working with youth was much harder than working with adults. I'm not sure how I agree with that- adult men who had plotted and planned, have a criminal career that stretches 20 years being less dangerous than a 12 year old youth in Pendleton?
If I stay on this track, an essay will follow, so I will stop myself.

I think that I have exhausted all methods of procrastination and will return to my school. Only a few weeks left, anyway.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Windy April

Life is good.
I enjoy my job, although I've faced a few more challenges than just having fun with little kids. I am learning bout the different types of group homes; some where meals are on a set schedule, children only allowed one bowl of cereal for breakfast- as noted by a sign on the refrigerator-, and the freezer locked with an actual attached lock. And then there are group homes where the staff go to the school and check up on the children, attend parent-teacher conferences and even look into tutors for them.

The original position I applied for was to work at a group home, and now I am glad that I don't. While some are excellent, others compete against other agencies as if this is a business instead of a program to assist children.

My internship is going really well, and soon I am taking a few weeks at another institution, this one for men. I am excited to get some experience in that area, I think that I will learn alot and the set-up for this prison is more similar to what I would encounter in the United States.

The other day at my internship, I was leading a Bible study. The topic was John and Peter healing the crippled man at the temple in the name of Jesus. The text said that the man was crippled from birth, so I asked some of the mothers to describe how their own children learned to walk- the process it naturally took; rolling, crawling, pulling themselves up, and finally walking. Not only was the man healed to be able to walk; but his muscles were strong enough and his legs understood how to walk, which is another miracle.
So, one of the women was talking about babies and said; "there are the chubby babies, with cute little fat rolls. And then what I call the Ethiopian babies, the little scrawny skinny babies- you know, like ethiopians, because ethiopians are all starving."
I started laughing so hard.
She repeated herself and explained further.
Which sent me laughing harder.
I could't tell her that I am married to an Ethiopian, because I don't want to reveal that much personal information. So instead, I just continued to laugh.

As I said, life is good. I am blessed.