Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Signing Off

And signing on:

The Best of Us & the Power of Social Networking

Years and years ago (although somehow it was really only 23 months ago) I moved to Northern Uganda for a short stretch of time. Before moving there, I read lots of books about Northern Uganda. Many books were Good Books. One of the books was wonderful. Somehow I dug through my busy schedule and found time to write an inane two-sentence review on

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Very informative.
I bought this book (and many others) before moving to Kitgum for four months. This was my favorite; I found this book to be interesting, informative, and unbiased.

Brilliant, right? (Ha.)

Andbutso. A few weeks later, I got a Facebook friend request from a woman, C. She wrote that she looked up my name from that tiny little blurb of a review. She wanted to ask about Northern Uganda. She’d heard about Kitgum on the news or from Invisible Children or something. Who accepts friend requests from strangers on Facebook? Not me! Andbutso for some reason – somewho, somewhy, somewhat – that day I was in a good mood. I accepted. C and I chatted a bit. Not in depth. But I did like her. From then on, sometimes C would write little comments on my Facebook wall. I would write little comments on hers. Why not? Friendships are funny. You should cultivate them wherever they spring up. C is a single mom of two lovely, beautiful boys in a southern US State. I clicked “Like” on the cutest of the photos of her kids. C looked at my photos. Sometimes she would write slightly religious comments beneath them. I’m not a believer, but if somebody looks at a photo of a sunset or a rainbow and says “Praise God” – well, hey, who can’t appreciate that sentiment?

(Story thread jump.  Now I’ve traveled to Congo. I’m living in the East.)

If you have read this web log from the beginning, you’ll be familiar with A, who was my very first friend in Goma. He’s one of those geniuses of language and intercultural competencies. He’s a very young man – just 23, 24 years old. His English, which he learned in a Goma high school, is amazingly strong. When I first arrived, his ability to empathize with me was incredible, despite his never having traveled and my initial complete cluelessness. We hung out. He helped me a lot. We became Facebook friends. A is very religious. He’s very confident and self-assured in his belief. (I’ve seen another colleague take the piss out of him for praying and A has laughed along, never flinching, joyous and fervent in his faith.) Sometimes, if on Facebook I posted a particularly lovely photo of the green-blue-purple waters of the lake, A would write something religious beneath it.

(Story threads merge.)

One day both C and A wrote something vaguely religious on a photo I posted. Sitting in my bedroom next to Lake Kivu in Goma, I clicked the Facebook webpage open and read the comments, and (with my atheist feelings of faux-superiority) rolled my eyes. I thought to myself “Gosh, they should just befriend each other.” I didn’t say anything. But I didn’t have to. They apparently had the same idea.

C and A became Facebook friends. They wrote on each other’s walls. They commented on each other’s photos and links. They asked each other questions about their respective, and very different, lives, and their respective, and very strong, belief systems. They became friends on Skype. They talked every day. One day I walked into the office while they were talking aloud to each other and I heard C’s pretty, lilting voice for the first time. A talked to C’s young boys on Skype. He told them a bit about life in Goma. C learned several phrases in Swahili and talked to A’s brothers and sisters. This is nothing romantic – this is pure friendship. Mutual curiosity, reciprocated respect, shared support: The loveliest things in the world.

They talked about their desires. A talked about how he wanted to go back to his studies. C suggested he come to college in the States. What an opportunity! That’s the dream. C helped him research schools. A filled out applications. C offered a spare bedroom. A wrote her name on sponsorship forms. They chatted. They prayed. They hoped. A got accepted into school, which wasn’t a surprise, but then there was the visa process. Standing on the porch outside of our office, I took photos of A for the US government. He made me take what seemed like hundreds until he was satisfied. And then – just a few weeks ago – as I was back here in the States deep in reverse-culture-shock doldrums, A got accepted for a visa. Bada bing, bada boom. And now all of a sudden he’s in this country, too, living in C’s spare bedroom – meeting her family – meeting his new church community -- buying pens and notebooks – preparing for school.

Life is, our lives are, so funny. Sometimes people are just so wonderful you could die. What I typed above – it’s not a story. It’s a chapter. What happens now? Brilliant A, young A, has never been out of Eastern Congo before, except once, to go to Rwanda, and now he is in University in a southern US State (with all that THAT entails). Lovely C, warm, open C has just welcomed a new brother into her family – why? Why has she done that? Why would someone do that?

With the evidence I have been given, what follows is my best guess as to the “why”:

Because that is what the best human beings do. They befriend and love, and then they support, the rest of us. The best of us, the top people, don’t give assistance out of pity for their neighbors. The best of us don’t write checks to charity because some organization has mugged their emotions with photographs of naked children, flies on their eyelids.

The best of us give assistance because they respect the rest of us. They believe in our abilities. They recognize that we are all tied to each other – there is simply no Me without You – we are joined, we are one, we are in this together.

Oh gosh – the hi-jinx that will result for A and C over the next year. The intercultural miscommunications. Oh! the adventures. Oh! everything that is yet to come. The good that is yet to be born and the crimes that are not yet committed. The future – that wonderful, terrible, joyous, limitless stretch. The beauty, the death, the life, and the love and love and love and love and love and

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Couple Numbers

22 hours (and 49 minutes) till the $10 million proposal I’m consulting lead writing is due.

Then resting, relaxing, writing something more than 2 sentences on here, and trying to figure out what in the hell to pack for Erbil over the following 10 days.

Then Iraq! Whee! For the YEAR!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rachel in Arbil (or Irbil) (or Erbil)

I can't figure out which is the best way to spell it. But it looks like I'm moving there in a couple of weeks.

Watch out, Professional Paid Aid Worker World. I'm slowly forcing my way in.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

perks of being a consultant

Being a consultant means that maybe, one day out of the week, when the air is heavy and the sun is smacking the pavement over 110 degrees hot before even 10 am, you can work from home for maybe three hours in the morning, another four hours in the evening and at night, and in between then one of your close close friends can call in sick to work and you and she can drive off to the Six Flags water park 17 miles away in Maryland and sit in innertubes that drop down rushing waterslides at 89 degree angles and scream your heads off and laugh.