Friday, January 4, 2013


It has been so long since I've last written that I don't know what to say.  I want to say everything and nothing at all.  I submitted my apathy to self-analysis and after 2 months of near silence, I have come up with several things.

It came to my attention through the comments of several people and how I felt in general that possibly I shared too much.  That much of what I wrote in a frenzy of exhaustion, anger, sadness, indignation, and joy was too raw, too vivid, too detailed.  I wrote deeply about death.  I wanted you to know that the children were dying.  How they were dying.  What they looked like while they were dying.  I don't know if I should have done that.  Perhaps that wasn't fair to you.  Or to me.  And most poignantly, to them.

Or maybe I said too much about the kind of person I actually am.  The pride, the selfishness, the racism, the anger, the frustration, the apathy, the dislocation.  Maybe I shouldn't have admitted to practicing medicine I didn't fully understand.  Maybe I shouldn't have admitted to how I gave the wrong treatment to malnourished children, or how I couldn't get a seal on Minnie's face when doing CPR, or how I told starving people to go away.

Or maybe its okay that I shocked you.  Maybe its okay I made you uncomfortable.  Maybe its okay I posted pictures you didn't want to see, and described moments you didn't want to understand.  Maybe its okay that I put my world, my struggle, out into the universe, at its most brazen and sordid and beautiful.  Maybe its okay that I posted heart-rending pictures.  Maybe you needed to see them.

One thing aid workers and NGO's struggle with is how to make you care without desensitizing you.  How to jolt you into action without emotionally raping those they are trying to help.  On one hand - you see an image of the jutted bones of a child and your mind automatically files this under Africa.  A place you haven't been.  You place it in the famine drawer.  After you put it there, you can't even access it anymore.  It is something that is so foreign you can't connect to even if you want to.  So do I keep showing the pictures?  Some would say yes, most would say no.  Yet when you've seen something like that you want everyone to see it.  You want to bring it up in every conversation. Then you want no one to see it.  You want to keep it personal.  Between you and the child and the bird in the sky.  You want to honor that image.  And then it tumbles out of your mouth anyway, and then you check yourself before the silence grows too awkward.  

I think, looking back, that I did my best.  I wasn't perfect, but I was honest.  I was real.  And so I won't apologize to anyone for anything I have written.  The truth is less about Africa and more about me.  I am a curious mix of being quite guarded yet quite open.  I flip flop between the two, swinging to both sides of the pendulum.  Baring my soul to someone and then feeling like it will blow away and is no longer mine without its walls.  Then I build them up as fast and furiously as possible and resolve to keep anything that every meant anything to myself.  Then of course, I get lonely and want someone to know me, and my soul starts tumbling out again.

So, after coming back from Tchad, and realizing all I had written, and the amount of people that had read what I had written, I shut off.  I didn't mean to.  It was unconscious.  But I suddenly didn't feel the need to share anything with the world at large.  And also I didn't have the heart to write.  Its one thing to write about dodging bats and battling cockroaches.  Its quite another to lend the same depth and adventure to drowning field mice and counting 7 moose out your window.

I felt like every time I sat down to write it was empty.  Like I was scrambling for substance.  And so I didn't.

Also, I had a very rough two months when I first got to Alaska.  When I left Tchad I was firmly convinced of my own strength and resilience.  I believed culture shock wouldn't happen to me.  I believed I could transition gracefully.  But I couldn't.  I don't have too much to say about it, but it was brutally hard.  I felt deep guilt for leaving my dearest friend Bronwyn to fight her battle alone, a battle with malnutrition that I had in a small way been privileged to fight by her side.  I felt deep guilt for leaving the family I that had cherished me and that I loved with my whole heart.  I would look at the mountains, and I would see Tchad.

I saw faces and faces and faces of children.  Why couldn't I stop thinking about it?  Or I saw nothing.  Why couldn't I remember them?  The person I was there, only months before, seemed to shatter like broken glass, to liquify, to be washed away by the drizzling Alaskan rains and freeze into rough puddles of sludge.  How was I to define myself?  By where I had been?  But I am more than that.  I was a whole person before I went to Africa.

In Homer, everyone comes from somewhere else.  Most everyone.  A game that is played in almost every interaction goes like this, "Where did you come here from?"  Me:  Well, I grew up in Idaho......  "Yeah, but where did you come from before this?" Me:  Well, I came from Tchad.  "Tchad?  the country?"  Me:  yeah.....  "How was that?"  Me:  it was an experience.......

And I'm guilty of it too - its fascinating to find out the different paths that led each Homer resident to the end of the road.  It would be a good book actually.

So I tried not to mention where I came from (well, after I went on the radio and told the whole community....) because if I did - I was immediately put in a box.  Not a bad box to be in.  But vulnerable to sweeping character judgements and people instantly thinking they know what you are all about.  And yes, my experience contributed deeply to who I am now, but I didn't change as much as you might think.  I want the life I led in Tchad to be a lifestyle.  Not an "experience."  Not that one year I took out but what I do for the rest of my life.  And when you do that, you have to find what grounds you.  Who you are whether you are in Tchad or in Homer, in Ethiopia or Hawaii.  You cannot be defined only by what you have seen, where you have been.  That just either makes you feel screwed up or cool.  That in no way defines who you are.

So, I am here in Homer finding my rock.  Finding an anchor that holds me steady no matter what direction the tide pulls or how loud the wind screams.  Trying to be able to know who I am even if I strip away everything I consider as an accomplishment.  Trying to let go of both vanity and insecurity.  Trying.

I still cry if I allow myself to think too much about Tchad or the people I left behind.  Thats another reason I didn't write.  It hurt too much.  That's a big issue as well.  The whole thing just hurts too much.  Its unnatural to involve and invest yourself so deeply in a place and then immediately sever all ties.  I can't think about it.  I just can't.  And so I try not too.  And then when I suceed, and am happy, and fall in love with life all over again, I wonder how I can so easily forget.

Well, a few practical updates and no more emotional mishmash that I will immediately regret posting:

I have a job.  I have been working for a month now at Seldovia Village Tribe Health Center, which serves the Alaskan Native population here and the community.  It is a nice place to work although a far cry from the flexibility of hospital scheduling, but it is good for me, the people are nice, and I'll leave it at that.  I did however spend several weeks searching in vain for someone to feel sorry for me that I had to work an 8 hour day instead of a 12.

I am meeting more people!  Yay!  Although each encounter requires lots of courage.  Forcing myself to text people I don't know.  Forcing myself to put myself in situation where I don't know anyone.  Forcing myself to accept invitations, forcing myself to be friendly.  Don't get me wrong - I'm friendly and once I do it, once I put myself out there, I am never sorry.  Its just nerve-racking to make new friendships in a new place when you are as shy as I am.  But, friend count on the rise!

My awesome brother is here visiting!  Of course he would come the day I started work..... But has been both a balm and tribulation to my soul.

I am working out faithfully - something I have never done in my life.  Go me!!

I went vegan for new years..... had a very sad cheeseless meetless subway which i consumed ravenously because I didn't like my lunch of steamed potatoes and fried vegetarian cutlets (minimal egg and breading....poor taste buds).

I'm about to get my first sorely needed paycheck.

The suburban is broken down for the second time.  And will be until next Thursday.  Taxis. 

Finally saw Aurora Borealis (northern lights) early this morning.

Was half a day late too work because we got 1 1/2 feet of snow, my car was in the shop, road hadn't been plowed, power out, co-worker who was going to get me slipped into a ditch, etc.  Considered learning to ski at 7 am in the dark but fear of moose detained me.  Spent the entire day feeling like a poser Alaskan woman and if I was real, would have simply braved the fear, learned to ski in darkness, and hitch-hiked into town.  Much to improve upon.

Got an Alaskan Driver's license.  (after the.....3rd try)

Had a wonderful Christmas in Juneau with family.

Have weekend job opportunity at the hospital.

And I can't think of any more news that would be appropriate to divulge.

Well, thanks to whoever is reading this for hanging in their with my blog.  I'm sure I lost a lot of readership but I ask for a little good faith and patience, I am going to keep writing.  Maybe about going vegan and  how I miss butter and toast does not taste like toast without it....or how to my delight, crackers that go by the name "Buttery Crackers" on box do not actually contain butter.......

    Sunset over the ocean

    The house I'm house-sitting - snowy view looking up from the neighbor's. Photo stolen from    and taken by Michael Sharp.   

    Christmas with the Riederer family! 

    Part of my view

    Mountains that greet me every morning

    Driving down Westhill Rd.  I can never get used to the striking beauty of this place. 

    Red-nosed and exceedingly cold - I love Alaska.


  1. awesome. thanks for writing and sharing. (corey)

  2. I loved seeing more photos of your new place! I shared photos of Mt. Hood on my blog yesterday, and got lots of comments from people not privileged with such magnificent views – which is a mere fraction of yours!

  3. Welcome back! Missed your presence... At first wondered, 'just how big are those mice? Did they carry her out or drive her off?' Then was afraid the Alaskan dark winter was weighing you down. Always appreciated your honesty--you have nothing to apologize for. It's your blog you can tell it like it is without fear. I've been quietly reading along since somewhere in the middle of your Tchadian time. And added you to my Chad prayer list. It's a long list.
    Congrats on your job. I was hoping you could meet that dishy bush pilot from Homer who does the Carhardt (sp) commercials. Scope out if he is married or not.

  4. Wow, what a blessing to live in such awesome beauty!!
    As far as your honesty in writing...I love it. In my humble opinion, there are far too many people who only write of happy times, good things etc. and don't speak with passion about their experiences in this life. It isn't all good. Quite the contrary. But as you said, if we're speaking/writing with honesty and with the raw emotion of what we've experienced...then there are tears, and pain sometimes, and also things with which we might rather not see. This isn't a perfect world, and I appreciate your "real" writing. I think it's quite remarkable, really. Well written blog post, and congratulations on the new job, and thank you for helping those who you can. Happy New Year! I wouldn't mind seeing more of your photos either. They're magnificent!

  5. Visiting from Michelle and, like you, love Alaska. I've visited twice and have family in Kenai...beautiful!
    As to the difference between Africa and Alaska...180. I've been to Northern Africa as well and those are such very different worlds. Where you were in Africa...different universe. Be gentle with yourself, give yourself time.