Monday, August 29, 2011

I still haven't packed

Tonight I said goodbye to a twelve-year-old boy who stood in the doorway of an orphanage and cried as I walked away.

What could anyone say to make that hurt less?

The only way I'm getting through this week is by thinking about how my dad's coworkers all know the exact time I'm getting home because he's been talking about it for weeks. And how Rosie's cleaning her apartment a week in advance so I can sleep on her couch in her bed this weekend. And how there's a Harry Potter-themed homecoming party invitation sitting on my parents' kitchen counter. And how in order for the next adventure to start, this one has to come to an end.

Before I came, Ben told me that there would be nights that I'd be so homesick I couldn't stand up. He didn't tell me that the nights leading up to my departure would make me break down in tears on the sidewalk.

I'm really excited to see everyone at home - I really am. But leaving Korea is going to be one of the hardest things I'll ever have to do. Bear with me while I figure myself out these next few weeks, okay?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What comes next

When you prepare to leave a place, people naturally ask you what you plan to do next. Very few of my friends have asked me that, however, because I've been dead-set on grad school since November, and they had no reason to believe that plan would ever change.

It has.

In January this year, I attended a conference about human trafficking and modern-day slavery. During the conference, I begged God to tell me how I could be involved, what role I could play in changing the world. I started working on the only thing I knew I could do well - writing lesson plans. I felt like I was being called to mobilize the next generation to go out and make a difference, and I was genuinely excited about coming home and teaching my little unit on slavery and calling it a day.

Fast forward to June; I attended another conference with the same nonprofit, Not For Sale. This time, with the encouragement of my friends, I anxiously approached the president of the organization and politely suggested to him that they needed to provide more resources for teachers who wanted to get involved. He told me he completely agreed - then asked me to write all the resources. K-12 curriculum. Me.

My pastor asked me shortly after if I could be interested in directing the first Not For Sale Teacher Abolitionist Movement. Although I wouldn't be in Korea much longer, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do, so I jumped at the chance. For the last two months, my team has been discussing programs and curriculum formats, and we're hoping to have all the resources finished, tested, and published by the start of the next school year.

But I'm pretty sure this isn't going to stop there.

I've always wanted to be involved in something bigger than myself. In college, I went through a phase where I was pathetically grumpy that I hadn't been born during the Civil Rights Movement because I thought I had "totally missed out" on fighting against injustice.

That fight, while it has changed opponents, is still very much going on. And I'm going to join it.

Depending on what research you read, there are anywhere from 27 to 100 million slaves in the world today - more than any other time in history. In fact, if you check out slaverymap, you can find documented cases of human trafficking in your city. This isn't a "somewhere else" problem (as though people in other countries aren't "people" after all) - this is a problem in your backyard. And it's not going to stop until enough people stand up against it.

Therefore, when I get back to America next week, I'll be packing up my bags and moving to Colorado Springs to study at a Justice & Mercy Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission. I'll be learning about fighting injustice from a faith-based perspective for three months before I head out to an outreach country to work with local organizations who fight against trafficking and slavery every day.

If you are feeling called, I really could use some financial support on this endeavor. Although I made enough money in Korea to pay for it, that money was supposed to go to my student loans. I technically have enough in my bank account, but the whole goal of coming to Korea was to pay off some of my loans, and I won't be able to do that if I use all the money on my DTS. My birthday is coming up soon; if you'd like to donate to my program as a gift, I'd be forever grateful.

Additionally, I'll be discontinuing this blog when I leave next week. I know a lot of people have enjoyed reading it this past year, and you have no idea how much I have appreciated knowing that people cared enough to keep up with my life. This new step I'm taking is going to be a drastic turn, and the content of my writing is going to shift greatly. I've already begun a new blog, and it's taking shape as a deeply personal account of my heart as I learn about injustice and human trafficking. I thought I was going to keep the blog just for me, but friends have already been asking to see it. I'm going to keep it password-protected for now, but if you're interested in following me as I stumble around in this new battleground, let me know. As long as you promise to pray for me as you read it, I'll give you the password, but be forewarned: it won't be nearly as funny as the stories you're used to reading. Slavery is a whole different ballgame.

Monday, August 22, 2011

We're in the single digits

... and I still don't want to write anything. I cried on the subway again tonight thinking about not being here anymore. Then I got home and crumbled into a useless ball on my bed, whimpering into my blankets and listening to stereotypically sad music. I'm. Not. Ready. To. Go.

But ready or not, I leave next Thursday. I really can't wait to see all the people I left behind a year ago, but leaving here feels harder somehow. I knew I'd be back when I left Cincinnati, but when I say goodbye here, I don't know if I'll ever see these people again. My stomach has been in knots for a week; when I think about all the people I won't see again, I want to throw up. Especially when I think about not seeing this kid every Monday night.

I don't have anything profound to say. I just wish I knew how to say goodbye.

Monday, August 8, 2011

And thus begins the countdown

Beginning with the moment I stepped off the plane last fall, I’ve been keeping track of my time here. Whenever I met a new friend, I was asked the same series of questions: what’s your name, where are you from, and how long have you lived here. I still get asked those questions, but now instead of listing how many weeks or months I’ve called Korea home, I tell people how much time I have left. I can’t remember when it switched, but it turns my stomach every time. I’m leaving Korea in three weeks and two days.

I’m ready to go home. As amusing as living here has been, I long to be able to make small talk when I’m shopping, to talk to my waitress, to find food I recognize at the grocery. I miss driving my car and listening to the radio; I miss smiling at strangers and knowing they’ll smile back. I want to be able to ask for directions and buy movie tickets and read street signs. I miss my country.

But unfortunately, I can’t return there unless I leave here. And I love here. I love the students I get to see every morning, I love the hustle and bustle of big city life, and I love the people I fill my time laughing with. I’ve been really happy while I’ve been in Korea, and I feel like the more I clutch onto my last days here, the more they drip through my fingers like water. I just want to freeze time and not forget these moments.

Which is why I haven’t written anything on here in the last month. Every time a day happens that would make a good blog post, I wrap it up as tight as I can and hide it away inside my memory. I know it sounds silly, but I feel like every time I write a story on here to share with everyone back home, I have to give that story away to you. When I got here, I wanted to do that. I wanted to break the stories into little pieces and send them out to anyone who was willing to guard a tiny bit of my memory. I liked knowing that people back home were laughing at my mistakes and talking about my pictures. But  right now, I just want those things to belong to me. I’m afraid if I share them with anyone, they won’t be worth as much to me anymore, and I need them to stay important. I feel like instead of life happening to me and being something I should share, life is happening for me. Moments that are so heartfelt and emotional feel like they only belong to me, like if I shared them it would somehow cheapen them. I’m overwhelmed by the joyful quality of my life here, and I’m desperately holding onto it with everything I am.

I know you want to read the stories. I rode an elephant in Chiang Mai last week, and one of my kids made me laugh so hard yesterday that I couldn’t breathe. I got kicked out of a coffee shop for being foreign, and I made friends with a girl named Banana on the night train in Thailand. The stories are funny and exciting and what life is all about, but right now, I just want them to belong to me. I have pictures of all those things and hundreds of other moments, but every time I go to upload them to facebook, I become strangely possessive. I want to be the one who looks at the pictures; I want to be the one who knows all the stories. I don’t want to let any of it go because if I do, I have to admit it’s almost all gone.

I know one day I’ll look back on the blog and wish I could read all the moments I haven’t written. One day, I’ll forget about the man who gave me his seat on the subway because I was crying or the family waving goodbye to the girl getting on the night bus to Bangkok. I may not remember all those stories, but I hope I remember the feeling of being filled with gratitude and appreciation for the story I’m living. I hope I can remember being so passionately in love with the life I’m living that I didn’t want to risk losing a single drop of it.

So that’s why you won’t be reading the stories just yet. Maybe once I get home, I’ll write down the ones I know people will enjoy the most; or maybe I won’t. Maybe you’ll have to sit across the table from me, sipping an overpriced (but fair trade!) Starbucks coffee and ask me about the time someone peed on my pillow or the time a prostitute showed me pictures of her precious two-year-old daughter and I hugged her because I didn’t know the Thai words for what I wished I could say. Maybe that’s the way stories are meant to be shared anyway, watching the other person’s eyes light up when they laugh or fill with tears when the story is hard to bear. I’ll always appreciate the power of the written word, but right now, I don’t want an audience. I want a conversation.

And I want to slow time down a little bit before Korea disappears into just a memory.