Monday, July 24, 2017

Two Roads Diverged... (or, I took the one that has finally come to an end)

A little over a year ago, I walked out my front door with my suitcases and a backpack, uncertain of what was to await me in Kenya but excited nonetheless. Yesterday, I walked out the door of my room in Corralitos, California with my suitcases and a backpack, uncertain of what is to await me next but excited nonetheless. However, the person who went to Kenya is not the same person who arrived at home yesterday.

A year isn’t a very long time when you think about it. It’s only the difference between 2nd and 3rd grade, or between 24 and 25 birthdays. But at the same time, one year can be more than enough to change who you are and open your eyes to different realities and peoples. And you can take a million photos to document your journey.

Looking back, I can see the moments that challenged me, some entertaining (the plumbing disaster in Kenya), some satisfying (organizing our Side Event at the UN), and some just plain upsetting (my Bellflower students asking about discrimination and their status). Each moment helped me to grow, to learn how to handle different situation with, if not grace, at least some semblance of calm.

There were also so many moments that were full of joy and laughter. Playing and washing clothes with the girls, trying to dance and failing utterly, singing God Bless America while bringing in the shepherds pie on Thanksgiving were just a few of the many joyous events in Kenya. In Geneva, hanging out with other interns, traveling to see and eat at the cheese and chocolate factories, and spending time with the Sisters at meals made my time there happy, too. And finally, I experienced total giving and love being in Bellflower with the amazing students, teachers, and sisters at St. Dominic Savio and then helping out at the summer camp in Corralitos.

And I learned. Small things, but important nonetheless:
  • Sometimes the best things can happen when you say yes to the unknown.
  • Fear is a part of life, but it is not the only thing and therefore should not be the only thing that one focuses on.
  • We can help people, but we cannot save them. People can only save themselves.
  • Our ego can be the biggest barrier to connecting with others. It’s good to deflate it once in a while.
  • People are the same for all that they are different. And because we are the same, we should see others as another us and treat them thusly. 

Life is learning process and we learn more and more everyday, especially when we go outside our comfort zone. And let me tell you, this past year often tossed outside my zone of comfort with extreme prejudice! But I’m glad for it. I’m glad for the people I met, for the places I saw, and for the time I spent experiencing all that I was meant to experience. God had a plan for me this year and, though I’m not sure what the next part is, I’ve gained a bit more trust and a bit more faith that things will develop as they are meant to.

To everyone who has followed my adventure (all…ten of you I think), thank you so much for sharing this with me. I hope that my stories made you laugh and contemplate in their turn and that, if anything at all, I could be make one of your days a little brighter.

So now, at the end of my VIDES adventure, I won’t sign off with a goodbye because that’s not how we do things here. As usual, I’ll just say I love you all and…

Until next time!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

That Summer Feeling! (or, When many young girls congregate together at camp)


Camp Auxilium is a summer camp run by the Sisters in Corralitos, California and is hosting about 70 girls this week, a mix of day and overnight campers. I’m a counselor for Cabin 3 (which is the young almost-teenage girls) and they are awesome. Honestly, I’d kind of forgotten how much I love summer camp but let me tell you, forcing teenagers to dance like idiots to ridiculously catchy camp tunes has definitely reminded me!

I’m also teaching archery to the girls because, you know, I’m a total expert. (Though I actually am pretty decent because I loved it at my camp as a kid so I still remember what they taught us.)


Gotta stand properly, too.

Aww, they're so cute!

The Cabin 4 girls are a lot more advanced because they’ve been doing it for a lot longer, having come to camp for years and years. The Cabin 1 girls are lucky if they get the arrow all the way to the target (but it’s super adorable). If they hit the target, and the arrow sticks, then they can get prize arrows to exchange for real prizes at the end of the week. Certain circles on the target get different levels of prize arrows, but we had one girl almost get the center bullseye…and she was from Cabin 1!

Night activities have included a scavenger hunt, movie night, and campfire so far and since our theme is High Seas, Lily and I have been doing a skit during one of the meals each day. The kids are utterly convinced that I am the pirate, but I will continue to deny any affiliation until my dying day (or at least Friday).

Wow, look at that total stranger

Anyway, I’m having an awful lot of fun, doing an awful lot of stuff, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep our campers together until the end of the summer. Prayers would be greatly appreciated!

Until next time!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Picture Perfect (or, A perfect time spent not taking pictures)

There’s something relaxing about not taking any photographs when you go some place new. During this past year, I’ve basically had my camera attached to my hand at all times – seriously, the only way it could have been more attached would have required surgery. When I was Kenya, it was with me everywhere and the sisters were happy to know they had an amateur photographer ready at any moment. In Geneva the camera made fewer appearances while we were at the UN, but was always nearby any other time.

In Bellflower, and now in Corralitos, that hasn’t been the case. First of all because I did not have permission of the parents to take photos of their kids at school and there was no way I was going to take photos that could be used to identify their kids without express permission and some kind of form being signed. But also because, well, it’s nice not having to worry about taking pictures.

When I’m worried about taking pictures, there is a constant pressure to be looking for the right moment or the right place. You want to frame the picture nicely, capture it in such a way that your audience, whoever that may be, focuses on what you want them to focus on. You want to make sure the lighting is okay, or at least good enough that some judicious editing will fix it up later without 500% exposure. Your eyes are constantly scanning because what if you miss the perfect moment? What if something awesome happens and you can’t immortalize it forever??

Now this is maybe a bit of an extreme example. I know I’m not always like this when I taking pictures. Plus, with the magic of digital sim cards, I can take hundreds of absolutely garbage photos and still pull out the few pictures that make me look like I know what the heck I’m doing. But still, there’s a part of me that isn’t actually present in the moment when I’m operating in ‘photographer-mode.’

It was an accident of circumstance that led to me not taking photos in Bellflower, but I actually found it relaxing in a way. I was able to focus on the people I was with, not the frame they were in. Each moment was beautiful because it was a moment with others, not because it was captured perfectly on camera. In a world of social media, we find it difficult not to share photos on Facebook or Instagram or what have you, but getting away from that pressure to please others allows me to please myself. And I think that is more important.

I’ll probably end up with more photos eventually since camp will be starting up soon. If nothing else, I’m sure parents of campers would love to get a free picture of their kid at camp, doing camp-like stuff, so I might be tapped for that. But I’m glad that I’ve been mostly picture-free for these last few months so that I could enjoy each moment and person for what and who they are.

Until next time!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Finishing Strong! (Or, Silly Stories from St. Dominic Savio School)

School is over! Finished! We have given the awards, handed out the report cards, taken down the decorations, and sent those chillins home for the summer! ALLELUIA, PRAISE BE TO GOD!

But actually, school really has finished up! Today we had the end of the year mass and picnic for the kids and they are off to their various vacation spots for the rest of the summer. (There are like, fifty kids going to Hawaii. It’s ridiculous and I am super jealous.)

In honor of this, the last day of the 2016-2017 school, I thought I would present a few of the different things that have happened while I was here for your entertainment. So, without further ado, I present…

Silly Stories from St. Dominic Savio School:
  • One of my students, Luna, is making a planet size comparison for Mrs. Brewster and I (Mrs. Brewster’s is going to be a surprise though, so I can’t tell). She is doing this out of the goodness of her heart since the class wasn’t able to learn much about the solar system in science this year. I thought it was just going to be a size comparison of the planets in our solar system, but I dramatically underestimated Luna’s love for space, despite her having told me that she plans to become an astronaut. It will in fact be a size comparison of apparently all the named heavenly bodies ever. She is going to decorate it with stars. She is very excited about this.

  • I saw a first grader reading a book before school one day and asked her what it was. Sideway Stories from Wayside School! I loved those books as a kid and she asked my opinion on which chapter she should read for her class that day. We decided on Another Story About Socks. She was pleased with the choice.
  • Last Friday was Field Day and the 7th graders had an extremely competitive kickball match with the teachers in line with years of tradition. In the end, everyone accused everyone else of cheating and the score was either 6-5 in favor of the students or 7-6 in favor of the teachers. The teachers said the students won and the students said the teachers won. Nobody was quite sure.
  • The kids have to line up before lunch every day inside (usually in number or alphabetical order). One of the class troublemaker’s names happens to start with an A and he jumped up before the teacher had called for him and ran to the door. Sighing, the teacher told him to go the back of the line. Then, from the other side of the classroom came a solemn voice: “The first shall become the least.” Mrs. Brewster nearly choked trying not to laugh. At least we know the second graders are paying attention in religion!
  • Did you know that children are capable of making themselves throw up on cue to get attention? ‘Cause they are.
  • Zachary doesn’t like to sit in his chair. He likes to crawl on the floor instead. However, sufficient bribery is capable of making him stay (relatively) close to bottom-in-seat. It’s truly amazing what clothesline clips on a rainbow-colored behavior chart can do to incentivize kids. (He got all the way up to green – ready to learn. He was very proud.)
  • Some children are very well trained on what is appropriate for their age group. Jacob demonstrated this when he informed me that the book he was reading was “inappropriate for his age” because it had the mention of a murder and gun shot in it. I mean, I would have read first and asked questions later at his age, but hey, self-policing kids is probably a bonus for mom.
  • On the last day of school, they give out the student awards. This year a new award was instituted in honor of Sr. Rita, who was known for her cheerful and kind attitude. It was awarded to two 7th graders, one of whom is sister to a girl in my class. When I asked if Venice also wanted to get the Sr. Rita Award one day, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “I am not going to follow in my sister’s footsteps.”
    • For further context: This is the same girl who refused to vote for her sister for student council because, I quote, “She tried to murder me.”
    • Their cousin is also in second grade. When the older sister lost, he started to cry. The juxtaposition between the two was kind of hilarious.
  • Teachers kind of make bank on the last day of school because parents feel the need to give random gifts as a show of appreciation for all the work that the teachers have done during the year to educate their kids (or they suffer from guilt because of the same reason. Either way). Even though I was just a teacher’s aide for a little while, I still made out with some interesting things, like my new, blue, Ralph Lauren blouse. And my light-up butterfly lawn ornament. Bouquets of flowers were also popular and have been smelled, appreciated, and handed over to Sr. Lupe so she can make super cool flower arrangements with them.

In conclusion, I have had an absolutely amazing time here with these kids. Before this year in VIDES, I would have told you that I was totally not cut out to be an educator (mostly because standing in front of a large group of children? Utterly terrifying), but now I’m definitely going to miss the school environment here. Kids are actually awesome (if also crazy)! Who knew!

My next stop is Corralitos where we will begin preparing for the overnight summer camp run by the Sisters there. I’ve worked summer camp before, so this will probably be more familiar territory, but I can’t wait to get there and brush up on my archery (‘cause guess who’s gonna be teaching it?)!

Until next time!