Monthly Archives: May 2012

I can’t forget

I ate an avocado for breakfast. I think it was my way of reconciling with the fact that my dad and older brother are headed for Kenya this week, and I’m here. I don’t feel African, and yet at times I do. Maybe it’s because my grandfather grew up in Congo. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to my mom’s childhood stories of attending boarding school and climbing loquat trees. Maybe it’s because growing up I climbed those same loquat trees and attended the same school she did for first grade. Maybe it’s because I learned to fall asleep to the sound of rain falling on a tin roof during the rainy season. I miss that sound.

Home Sweet Home

I grew up playing jump rope, soccer, and riding on homemade wooden bikes. My friends and I used to carry water up from the stream balanced on our heads. My little jug was a third the size of theirs, but I still did it. I walked around with my friends’ younger siblings tied snuggly on my back. I used to walk to school jumping ditches along the way and crawling under the barbwire fence on occasion to pick daises for my teacher Miss Gorman.

Homemade wooden bikes

My babysitter Silvia

When my family moved to the village, I joined the children’s choir, and we kept chickens, rabbits and goats. Life was simple and beautiful. Now I sometimes wonder, if I went back, would loquats still taste as good as I remember? Would life seem as simple? Could I still fall asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof?

Hanging out with my choir friends.

The last time I was in Africa was just before my freshman year in high school. I wasn’t able to go to Congo, but I did get to spend time in Kenya and Uganda. The mangos were amazing and the avocados were perfect. I was able to reconnect with several friends I went to school with and spent a week with my cousins in Uganda. I got to see Lake Victoria, eat samosas and collect a good sized pile of bottle caps.

But what I saw was not always simple or picturesque. I went with my dad one day to look at some printing equipment a friend wanted to show him. A small orphanage stood next to the property we were visiting, so we took a tour. I say tour but the orphanage was so small it didn’t take long to see everything. A huge bag of rice leaned against the doorframe. The children were eating porridge, and one little boy caught my eye. He wasn’t eating. His big eyes stared ahead almost blankly. They said his name was Job. No one knew how old he was, but he looked to be between one or two although his small frame made it hard to tell. The lady explained that the police had found him and brought him in. So far, they said, he hadn’t said a single word.

I took a brochure before I left hoping that some day I’d be able to come back. Experiences like that have a way of changing your entire view on the world. It was hard to leave because I saw so much need. But, I had a blue passport and a visitor visa, so I returned “home.” I didn’t forget what I saw. I can’t forget, and I hope, desperately hope, to one day return.

6 Comments

Filed under Travel

For Alice

Everyone around me was waving, trying to get their graduate’s attention as the sea of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral candidates paraded to their seats on the arena floor. I tried to smile, and not look out of place, but sometimes it’s just too hard to smile. My friend Alice was supposed to be a part of that sea of graduates. She had worked so hard and overcome so much, but her unexpected death in February changed everything.

When Alice first landed in Chicago, she was met with a horrible snow storm, and no one to greet her at the airport. She took a taxi, but the new arrival from Kenya was unfamiliar with American money, so when the taxi driver told her the price of her fare, she held out her money and let the driver take what he needed.

The school office was closing when she arrived, so Alice was told to spend the night in a hostel. The next day she was handed a list of area apartments and told to find somewhere to live. Not used to the weather, she developed a severe cold and later said that if she had had a return ticket, she would have gotten back on a plane and returned home. But she stuck it out and graduated from Loyola University with her master’s degree and then transferred to Southern Illinois University to work on her PhD. Even at SIU, she ran into obstacles and had to switch programs and earn a second master’s degree when she observed that no one in her program was graduating. Alice was not the type of person who complained, she just did what she needed to do reach her goals.

Alice’s father flew in from Kenya to receive her PhD. Everyone on the stage stood to applaud him and the work Alice had completed. At the graduation, astronaut Mark Kelly spoke about goals and how his goal was to be the first person to set foot on Mars. He never made it to Mars, but Captain Kelly has flown on the space shuttle Endeavour and the Discovery and visited the International Space Station four times.

Alice never walked across the stage to receive her doctorate degree, even though she worked so hard to earn it. Her goal of starting a women’s center in Kenya will never be fulfilled, and yet she accomplished so much and touched so many lives in the process.

I’ve been thinking about goals and what they even mean. Life is short. There is so much I hope to accomplish, but it is easy to lose direction. It is easy to never reach the goals you set. It is easy to ask—what’s the point?  But, life is not lived in a vacuum. Maybe you won’t reach all of your life’s goals, but maybe you’ll inspire other people to reach theirs. Do goals define someone’s life? No, because life is more about HOW you live than what goals you can check off your bucket list. But, it’s good to set goals and live life with a purpose.

Saturday’s graduation was hard to attend, but I was happy for the family and friends who filled the stadium to celebrate with their graduate. So much potential filled the room. I hope each graduate sets high goals, and it will be exciting to see how they change the world.

4 Comments

Filed under Contemplations

Let Me Be

Everyone is an expert, or at least it seems that way sometimes. It doesn’t seem to matter what you’re doing taking a picture, raising a child, running a business someone (often a complete stranger) will have an opinion on how you should go about your task. Of course they mean well, but in my head I’m thinking, “I didn’t ask for your help. You don’t understand what’s involved here. Please just let me be.”

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m often very grateful for advice especially from someone in the field who knows what they are talking about or from someone who knows me and understands the situation, but those people who just like to point out mistakes and put in well over their allotted two cents really get on what’s left of my nerves.

I’m sure you’ve meet some doozies. Most of us have like the elderly lady I made the mistake of sitting in front of last weekend while covering a local graduation. Every time I took a picture she looked over my shoulder and told me I needed to get closer. I thanked her for her advice and tried to explain to her that I was happy with the picture and planned on cropping it later on the computer, but that didn’t stop her. She continued to tell me who she thought I should take pictures of and when. The frustrating part was that her prattle made me lose my concentration and almost miss an important shot. Note to self- if there is a beautiful open seat in the front row next to a slightly exocentric looking lady there is probably a good reason no one else chose to sit there. Find a different spot.

Friends of mine who have kids tell me they run into these “experts” all the time. Even through a stranger, or sometimes a well meaning friend, barely knows the situation they think they have the right to give all kinds of advice on pregnancy or how to properly raise a child. My advice, spend at least a month with someone before you start telling giving them advice and even then- do it sparingly.

What happened to the freedom for a little trial and error? Maybe I should have gotten closer to take that picture, I don’t know. Let me figure that out on my own. It will mean more in the long run. It is important to keep in mind that people have varying styles and approaches to life, and that’s a good thing. Just because I’m not doing something the way you would do it doesn’t make my way wrong.

I love photography because you can play with angles and distance to come up with your own style. The same thing is true with writing and even parenting, I think. If you don’t like my style that’s fine write your own book, take your own pictures, but please leave mine alone. I want the freedom to experiment.

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, Humor, Photography