Sunday, February 16, 2014

During the past couple of years I never updated my blog much.  I don’t think I was the best match for the life I was living.  I love – like family – the people I was with, but … I was also missing my friends and family in Ghana.  I missed being busy; I missed having responsibility; I missed being trusted to actually do stuff, make decisions and see them through, even if it goes another direction from how things have been done.  I missed having to think, being challenged in ways where the outcome actually matters.  I missed also living and working in an environment where I could play an active role in making decisions for things that seemed important, where it felt my input mattered and I played a role and had responsibility towards the outcome – whichever direction that might go.

I also suddenly had wifi service and needed to learn how to manage unlimited internet browsing.  It was amazing how much more I could do when I turned on my laptop to do some work while in Africa and that was the only option I had – to do some work.  Suddenly, I could turn on my laptop and every time (well, most of the time, since the wifi wasn’t always working), headlines would appear!  Latest, breaking and oh-so-important news was right before my eyes – who wore what to the Oscars!! How big was that snake living under the house in Florida?  Who said what?  I’m still working on controlling this --- the most inane stuff suddenly becomes fascinating and takes up valuable blog-writing time (how much time did I just spend finding and watching the video of the cat jumping that a friend just told me about? And then links that came from it – and I’m not even a cat person!).

Anyway --- there were definitely some high points.  Aside from being closer to family and some friends in the US (definitely the best part of the past couple of years), one of the next best parts was when I did the field visits to our lay missionaries in West Africa about a year and a half ago.  I was actually trusted to have time with them, talk with them, observe how it’s going for them and for their mission assignments, their community life, their adjustment to African life, and for some, their preparations to leave all that and return to the US, seeing what’s next, etc.  I got to listen, be engaged, be responsible, and play a role with no micro-management going on over me.  Another high point was last year in April/May when I came to Rome for 4 weeks of meetings (yes, meetings were a high-point – can’t believe I say that).  All the SMA lay groups internationally were asked to submit a name of one of their lay missionaries to go to our General Assembly, where the heads of SMA meet every 6 years to vote for the leaders and the priorities for the next 6 years.  From the names submitted, the leaders in Rome at that time chose me to come represent all the lay missionaries at the Assembly.
St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, from the cupola of St. Peter's

me, on the cupola, after our meetings finished (pictures from the meeting wouldn't be interesting to show here)

Another high-point was our training from Jan-March last year.  I was the “tracker” for Jean, meaning that I met with her weekly to discuss how it’s going from her perspective and also from the perspective of the lay program.  It helped that she was from Wisconsin, so of course she had to be good (heh heh).  I enjoyed our tracking times – the exchange of honest communication and feedback.  And now she’s been in Tanzania for a year, and I love reading her blog updates – she’s a beautiful woman.

And then, there was "riding the pines" with Dan, Joe (more on him below) and Kyle - doing what's most important in life: just spending time with people you care about.

Back in June, last year, I got a call from our newly elected General Superior (can anyone believe it’s common to still use words like “superior” to refer to someone in a leadership position?  Anyway …. I guess that makes the rest of us … inferior – heh heh).  He asked if I’d be willing to come to Rome for the next 3 years and be the English Secretary to the General Council – or, the Anglophone Secretary to the Top Dogs – or, as someone said I should call myself, “SMA’s Secretary General”.   I had a week to think about it, and daily went back and forth on the decision.  “Live in Rome for 3 years!!! Hell yeah!!”; “Go be a secretary for 3 years …. uh …. what? Really? Am I really thinking about doing that? That’s crazy – my mind doesn’t stay awake in meetings.”  So, after the week of thinking about it, I told the General Superior that I didn’t know if it would be a good idea since I enjoy being “in the field” and working with people and I’ve never done this kind of work before – if I suck at it, then they’re stuck with me for 3 years (of course, there would be ways out, I’m sure), and if I don’t like it, then I’m stuck for 3 years (and I wouldn’t necessarily feel free to take a way out).  He suggested we could try it for a year, see how it goes, and take it from there.  I wasn’t used to a “superior” like this – who listened to my feedback and actually considered it, reflected on it, and came up with a reasonable suggestion.  Wow.  (And he doesn’t even know I have a blog, so it’s not like I’m sucking up at this moment.)  But, hearing his response encouraged me to accept this position (Secretary General – heh heh) – I’d be working with someone who takes input and feedback and actually thinks about it and comes up with some sort of option outside the box.  I liked the idea.

So – I moved to Rome at the end of September.

soon after arriving in Rome; 
with Joanna and Arie who were visiting.  It turns out these were not the Spanish Steps -heh heh 

And I’ve found it kind of amazing that I love it; I’m enjoying the challenge of a completely different role.  I enjoy translating from French to English – it’s like this puzzle, not just word-for-word, but trying to get the spirit and intentions of those words (who knows if I’ve been as successful with this as I hope I have been).  I’ve enjoyed (mostly) being focused in meetings and trying to get the key points out of all the rest of the talk that goes on.  And I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere of Rome, meeting the range of people who pass through the SMA house and the Italians I’ve met since being here.  I’ve enjoyed the attempts to learn Italian beyond being able to request pizza and bierra, or pasta and vino rosso. 

I also was given the opportunity to do another field visit to our lay missionary in Ghana.  He’s also amazing – he had returned to Ghana for his second commitment to working with the Liberian refugees, especially children with disabilities and malnutrition.  I was there 3 years ago when he first arrived and had his first 6 months in Ghana, then visited him a little over a year into his commitment for the field support visit I mentioned above, and saw him again last year in the US when he was back on leave.  Now, to see him in action again – he’s such a natural part of the life, and his heart is with the children and people where he is living and working.    
Joe, with one of his beautiful kids -- Sharon
 

All around – it was a good, inspiring and motivating visit for me.  Of course I took some vacation time to see my friends and the projects where I had been over the years:

me with Jethro, who I've written about, at Harmony Center

- -and (of course) there will soon be a blog entry about the visit, because (of course) there are a few people I’m still hoping to help with education and have no idea where to turn (as usual).


I’m a little envious of people in the US with this spectacular winter they’re having.  Wow.  Here, on 16 February, I sit on the floor, bare feet and window open.  Yesterday I had a picnic on a shore of a lake just outside of Rome.  It’s an unusually warm winter here.  My big decisions this winter have been, “hmm, how wide should I leave my window open today?”  I love the wintery winters of Wisconsin (OK, spring-like winter in Rome is also OK, but ….), where you run the risk of your nose freezing and falling off your face within 6 minutes of stepping outside.  It’s like how I remember winter from growing up, but…my memories could be off – maybe it was just a few days every year that were like that, and those wintery, blustery days stand out and override all the other days.  Anyway …. Enjoy.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dreams



We always talk about the importance of education, of completing high school (at the very least) and of moving onto higher education, if possible.  Most people value education, not just in the US, but around the world.  Throughout the 15 years I lived and worked in W. Africa, in a variety of settings (very much in the countryside, in small towns, and in larger cities), education is a concern many people came to talk with me about.  They worried how they’d pay school fees for their kids, they worried about completing their own high school education, they wanted to take some technical classes (computer/anything to give them additional knowledge and skills), they wanted vocational training (sewing, shoe making, etc.) - - they wanted to learn!  They wanted opportunities!  And, as in the US, it’s expensive and not easy to meet those expenses.  Elementary school requires uniforms and other hidden fees; high school also has uniforms, books, other supplies and exam fees; university – where to start?; vocational training – an entire list of supplies that are needed.

I’ve been back in the US for a year and a half, and there are still a handful of people who, with some help that came through me thanks to friends, family and other donors, started school while I was there.  We started a process, and their dream (and my dream) is to finish that process.  But, it’s a struggle.  Every few months, I get reminders that fees are due.  I feel the weight of these dreams – but I’m thinking dreams should lift us up and carry us away.  I’m feeling not just weighted down, but sinking.  Where and how will I find what’s needed this time?  In addition, over the past few years there have been a handful of other people who have asked about going on with school, one who even has started to follow this dream - - - but, I’ve told them there’s nothing I can do.  I’m totally jammed with the handful of people who are finishing.  Anyway . . . these are the dreams – to be able to take care of their kids, fulfill their potential, and live their lives with dignity.

I could give several specific stories of people who dream of bringing their lives forward through education – and some are ones I’ve written about before – but I’ll only give two examples – familiar examples (if you’ve read the blog before).

Benedict
Benedict, about whom I’ve written a few times, is the guy I mention above who has started to pursue his education with money he had in savings and a donation I’d received.  But, that’s gotten him through one semester, and the beginning of semester 2.  And now he’s jammed.  He’s getting to the time when they’re putting people out of the school for not paying the balance of the tuition, and at the same time confronting them with exam fees. Then there’s Jethro, who I’ve also written about before – and he’s been doing some amazing things with the education he’s received so far – yet, he still has a couple more payments to come up with before he finishes.  

I also want to give an update and education example about Samuel – someone I have known for 20 years.  He was a refugee in Cote d’Ivoire when I met him, and then also in Ghana when trouble came to Cote d’Ivoire.  His dream was to complete high school – and we were able to help him to do that.  It wasn’t easy for him – he definitely pulled his weight in earning his own upkeep and other education-related expenses.  When we were once again together a decade later in Ghana, his dream was to complete University.  He’d started it on his own while employed at the embassy and living in Cote d’Ivoire, but that dream crashed down when he had to flee due to the turmoil in Cote d’Ivoire.  I wrote about him in my blog, and a friend responded, helping him to go onto university in Ghana and complete his education. 
This picture was taken with his wife last year, when I was doing a field visit to our lay missionaries in Liberia.  Samuel and his wife moved back to Liberia when he completed his university education.  He found a job in a development agency and with his salary was able to pay for his wife to complete her university education in Liberia.  The agency he works with helps women in development, giving small business loans.  His wife is a social worker, focusing on abused and orphaned children.  This is what education does.  It allows people to build up their country and to touch lives and make a difference.

benedict info



Benedict had been helping the Dutch lay missionaries when I arrived in Ghana in 2004.  He had been working in Colinda’s house – she’s the one I took over from and also inherited the house from when I moved there.   When Colinda left for Accra, I didn’t want Benedict to be out of a job, so he helped to clean the house, do laundry, make sure the polytank had water in it and that there were buckets of water in the house for showering and flushing toilet.  He came by the house 2 or 3 days a week – I rarely saw him since I left early and came home after he was gone, but he helped a lot and made it possible for me to do things I did because I didn’t need to take time for cleaning the house, washing clothes, even doing some of the marketing. 

Colinda ended up finding that she wasn’t satisfied with helpers who were available in Accra, so Benedict ended up going a couple of days a week to help her.  Then another Dutch came to the same village I was in, and Benedict ended up helping her with a few things, as well.  Anyway, over the years he continued to help the lay missionaries in that way.  He was always trustworthy, hardworking, and dedicated.

When I moved back to Accra and Hope for Life in 2009, it was time that Colinda and the other Dutch lay missionary were leaving, so Benedict was out of a job.  He began to help out at Hope for Life with things I wanted to get done – like the vegetable garden, maintenance on the house, laundry, etc.

Over all these years of helping out the lay missionaries, he’s never had the chance to go to school and further his education.  He’s been able to save up some money and also make a few connections, and this past year he started school to study oil and gas processing.  At this point he’s a little jammed for completing the school fees needed for this term.  He has part of it, but there still remains $1,175 that he needs to pay, as soon as possible so he can take the upcoming exams.

Then there are 3 more years left to the course.  Each year is two terms, with each term costing $750 – so, $1,500 each school-year (this term is higher because of exams.  He’s been a help and dedicated to the lay missionaries he’s been involved with over the years, and is hoping now to have the opportunity to go back to Liberia with a degree and the knowledge to start work in a growing field.  I would love to be able to help him towards achieving this goal.



Monday, March 25, 2013

not sure how to title



It’s been a little over a year since I returned to the US.  I’ve not updated my blog much in that time.  It seems like there’s not been too much going on.  There’s some of the same stuff that I’ve always written about – some stories I can tell about people I’ve known and am trying to help get through school, requests for assistance with this effort (and trust me, very very soon I’ll do an update about that with a  request for the above mentioned assistance) – but not much else has been going on.  I’m a part of the “Formation Team” – or, as most people call it, “The Team”.  The Team is made up of Fr. Dan, Theresa, and (Dr.) Steve.  And now me - The Other Steve.

Actually, I was just thinking about it, there have been a few things.  But, I already wrote about them – my field support visit last year, the calendar ( If anyone forgot to ask for one and still wants a beautiful desktop calendar for the rest of the year there are still some left – so make an offer.  You can use the photos from the already-gone-months for making cards or something), and Morris’ citizenship. 

Hmmm. 

Usually we The Team do our training period for new people who are interested in going to Africa as an SMA lay missionary from Sept – Dec.  We had one candidate this past fall, so I had my first chance to teach the Mission Topics class and the African Culture class.  It turned out that the candidate who was in training wasn’t such a good fit with us, and actually took up maybe 97.8% of our (The Team’s) waking time, either interacting with her or interacting with each other about her.  That’s pretty much a bad sign.  Not much else was able to take place in that time.

In January, my younger sister had her 2nd child – a 10 pound baby boy, named Lochlan Sita.  Sita was the name my friends and neighbors used for me when I was in Peace Corps in Niger many years ago.  My younger sister and a few friends still sometimes call me that.  And I kind of love it.  Peace Corps was a very formative time for me.  So, it’s kind of wonderful I have someone named after me in the best way.


My niece Isla holding 6-wk old Sita

In early February, a friend of mine from 20 years ago came for a visit.  It’s the first time I’ve been able to host a friend from Africa.  Bob (I only recently learned that all these years I thought his name was Bobby, but really it is Bob E. – 20 years ago he must of introduced himself as Bob E. ___, and I understood it to be Bobby, so he’s been Bobby to me ever since) and I were good friends back in Cote d’Ivoire in the 2 ½ years I was there.  But, when I moved to Ghana, he was away in the field for the work he was doing – so we ended up losing contact for many years.  Then, maybe 4 years ago, another friend (Samuel) called me from Liberia to tell me he had run into Bobby on the streets of Monrovia.  But, for some reason, our phones couldn’t connect with each other – so we still weren’t in good contact.  Then last year, during my field visit, I had some time one afternoon and Samuel also took a little time off so we could go to Bobby’s workplace where finally we met up again and have been able to stay in touch – all the new, usual ways – texting, Skyping, Facebook, etc.  He knew that when he came to visit me I’d be in the middle of work, unfortunately, but he’s been patient.  And fortunately, he does IT stuff back in Liberia and has needed to stay in touch with people back there – so, all has worked out.  He also has family in the US and is spending about half of his visit with them.

We also have someone else in training right now – since January.  Actually, she just successfully completed her training and had her commissioning mass this past Saturday.  She seems to be a good fit, a comfortable fit (and The Team exhales a sigh of relief).  She’s from Wisconsin, so it was to be expected that she’d be a good fit (we’re a good group of people out there).
Me, Bobby and Jean (the woman who just completed) 
with our snowman

 Our Snowboy (as Bobby called him) after I re-claimed my hat and scarf,
sporting his new, natural fiber, free-trade, organic and bio-degradable (not to forget free) leaf scarf

And then, about a year ago, all the countries that have SMA lay missionaries were asked to send into the SMA headquarters in Rome the name of one person to represent all the lay missionaries at our General Assembly in Rome this April.  The US chose to send my name.  Then, from all the names submitted, our bosses in Rome chose me to come represent everyone.  I’m honored that I was chosen – it’s a big thing.  Every 6 years, SMA has its General Assembly.  During the meetings (which last for over 3 weeks), the goals, direction and priorities for SMA over the next 6 years get discussed and decided upon.  Also, the new General Superior (the top top bossman of SMA) gets chosen, along with his Council (I’m not allowed to vote during this time, though).

But, the truth is, not much has been going on.  I still feel out of place.  I still feel like I’m not being at all useful on day-to-day basis.  I feel I have very little responsibility for anything that really matters – or for anything at all.  I still don’t understand the constant levels of stress and the obsessions I see in many people around me all the time, day-to-day and moment-to-moment.  I feel I’m not understanding something about life, and at the same time I don’t want to understand whatever it is.  I still feel I’m out of place and that I don’t really belong here.  I still feel that I’d much rather be back where I was constantly busy doing what I’m good at doing – doing things that I care very much about with people who I care very much about.  (The field visit I made was the most useful and meaningful thing I’ve done since I left Africa – it put my skills to good use – I did something that I’m good at doing – but it only lasted about 4 weeks.) 

Recently, I was mostly in an angry mood for about a month, constantly feeling angry with some of the sweetest people in the world who I love like brothers and sisters. And I was tired of feeling busy, but accomplishing nothing, and the few things I did accomplish having absolutely no value to anyone or anything.  Uggh.  I was in a bad place, still a little bit am, but am gradually lifting out of it.  Maybe because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  In a week I head off for those meetings that will last for over 3 weeks – 6 days/week for 3+ weeks.  Hard to believe that I see meetings as being the light at the end of a tunnel . . . but then again, not if you consider they’re in Rome during springtime, and that some friends I’ve worked with over the years will also be there. 

Anyway - - I will update this once more before I leave for the General Assembly with a plea for some financial assistance, not with Rome, but with some students I’m really struggling to help.