Friday, March 16, 2012


I'm getting published! Huzzah! Well...sort of. It's only a sentence but, heck, I'll take it. The newsletter for the Southeast Region of the Peace Corps Association asked for story submissions about family members that inspired us to serve in the Peace Corps. Below is my submission and I'll let you guess which sentence is getting published! (Hint: It's at the end.)

When I was young I always knew there was something special about Carol. A close friend of my parents, she had a family in a country that I only knew as a Girl Scout Cookie and her house was decked out in brightly colored swaths of cloth. Carol talked about wearing a lava-lava and going years without seeing her mother. As a 5-year-old her colorful stories of a land far away fascinated me.
It was not until later that I realized Carol's brilliant textiles, hilarious memories and shy visiting family members who looked nothing like her were the remnants of her service in the Peace Corps. As a young woman, she had climbed on a plane for the first time in her life and watched the red clay of her South Georgia home disappear behind her. The year was 1970 and she was bound for Samoa. Since that day, her Peace Corps adventures have been the stuff of legend in my parent's chosen family.
Carol inspired me even as I grew older. Coming home from college and yucking it up over a plate of eggs, she told me how her lasting bond with her host family had been featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Her Samoan host family had come to rural Georgia recently to help her bury her mother, over 30 years after she had first stepped onto the sands of their Pacific island. Like the AJC reporters, I found myself wondering how that relationship was possible. What bonds could tie her so tightly to foreign people oceans away? How did that work?
After that brunch with Carol, it took me less than two months to attend a Peace Corps information session and apply for service of my own. And oh was Carol proud. During my time in the Peace Corps she sent me cards, care packages and encouragement, exactly what I needed to withstand the long Mongolian winters. And though I never developed a bond with my own host family in the same way that she did, both Carol and the Peace Corps helped me realize that family is not tied by blood but by brightly colored swaths of cloth.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Call to Service

A few days ago, I took down the Kony 2012 video that I posted on this blog. I was confused and overwhelmed by all of the information pouring out online about this organization. After synthesizing my thoughts I believe in the message at the core of this video- war criminals should be defamed and caught, the global community has a responsibility to the innocent. However, what I don't appreciate about the organization Invisible Children is their obvious lack of cooperation with local populations. Yes, they did get many facts wrong, but the most glaring issue for me as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer is that their endeavor to parachute in, Rambo Kony and bounce is perhaps the least healthy or sustainable way to deal with this issue. It is fantastic that they are bringing light to these atrocities, however the best way for them to bring Central and East Africa to safety is by helping the local populations to take action and not neglect the country once Kony is brought to justice.

It is regrettable that there has been a serious backlash against Invisible Children. What so many people seem to be doing is throwing the very important baby out with the shady bathwater. Service, globalism and awareness are not things to turn one's back on when one organization makes some unfortunate missteps.

Therefore, friends, keep this flame alive! If you don't feel the need to donate to Invisible Children, please do something else service-y. If the Kony 2012 video inspired you, as it did me, but you were taken aback by the sad facts of the organization, don't forget about disenfranchised populations all together. I interned at the phenomenal nonprofit Jerusalem House, "the oldest and largest provider of permanent housing for Atlanta's low-income and homeless individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS." It has a fantastic history and has made pristine financial allocation decisions- so support them.

My time with Jerusalem House was nothing but phenomenal. The administrative staff was, and continues to be, selflessly friendly. The client population has an earnest desire to pull themselves out of the tragic situation they were mired in. And the children who live at The Jerusalem House are complex, wonderful young people. One of my favorite memories in my history of service is teaching chess to Cameron, a teen who was living at Jerusalem House with his HIV positive grandmother and siblings. It took a while but after a few sessions he dropped his hard front, trusted me with his vulnerability and managed a perfect checkmate.

Currently Jerusalem House is involved in the Home Depot Foundation's Aprons in Action Voting Competition. If The Jerusalem House wins then they will rake in a much needed $250,000! However, they need you to vote. Every day. So right now go to the Aprons in Action Facebook Page, 'Like' the Page and then VOTE for Jerusalem House. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. Perhaps Invisible Children squandered their assets, but The Jerusalem House is worth the clicks!

PS feel free to share your thoughts about Kony 2012. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Learning to Love

If you are hoping for a juicy post about my quest to share love with others, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. This is about self-love and my journey, both physical and mental, to reach it.

My time in Asia was a roller-coaster in more ways than one. Moving through foreign cultures is never easy but I motion that for women it is just a tad bit harder. There is so much weight (pun intended) given to a woman's waste line in Asian cultures and though I am not an authority on these matters throughout the rest of the world, Asia is particularly difficult to navigate with an unconventional figure.

During my time in Mongolia I gained weight. In Cambodia I lost much of it but still not everything that I had gained. And throughout this, living in countries where I towered over most other women and outweighed them, too, was difficult. It ate at my self-esteem and heavied my heart.

Personal comparisons aside, these inner sadnesses were met with real reinforcement. I was met regularly with comments about how "fat" I was during my service in the Peace Corps; flippant comments from laughing lips of Mongolian friends. In Cambodia, I intercepted comments like "you are fat" from my students even on days I was feeling lean and fit. Still I don't quite know what to make of it when the girls in the dorm would squeeze the flesh on my hips and cry "healthy! healthy!" Of course it's a great thing to be healthy- especially somewhere like Cambodia- but the snide and snorting tone they said it with ate at me. I know I cannot hold onto these things, that they are born of cross-cultural norms and joking friendships. But I still find them difficult to let go of.

And now I'm home. I remember walking through Value Village the day after I arrived in Atlanta, marveling at how the clothes actually fit me and how gargantuan I didn't feel. There were even people there bigger than me! Many of them, in fact. And so I began the relearning process again.

Since returning home I have nurtured myself on seaweed salad and tofu, trying desperately to feed my body in ways I couldn't in meat-and-rice dominated Asia. I have gone to the gym frequently and have been pleasantly surprised while shopping. I have found a man who loves the vistas in the mountains and valleys of my body and am trying to accept that as true. But the voices of Asian fat-shaming are not altogether gone. I find it hard to banish the perpetually underlying image of outdoor markets in which nothing ever fits. Pictures of the tiny jeans that my Cambodian students wore float under each row of GAP pants or H&M tanks. I suppose the best thing I can do now is march forward with seaweed salad in one hand and my pride in the other, trusting that "healthy" is the best thing to be.