Sunday, December 30, 2007

Alliterative Action

Have visited more family since Christmas. The only downside was having to cram into the back of the folk's station wagon. I really enjoy seeing my family, but having to sit in the back for 8 hours is just a little... uncomfortable.

I've gotten to see some more friends also, and have had some interesting discussions. On one hand, it surprises people that I'm planning to go back, but others aren't. I had a neat little two minute talk this morning with a guy who has spent a lot of time overseas before. He said Hi, then asked, "So, do you have a good response for the 'what's it like there?' question yet, or are you still having trouble?" We laughed, and talked a little bit about how life over 'there' and life over 'here' can be difficult to explain to folks...

But life is amazing and fantasic, and so is the Source of my life. I'm not sure why I have been chosen for these blessings, but I am thankful that I have been.

I'm about moved out of my rental house, just a few more things to pack up, then furniture to move. Jonathan and I played one last game of Supreme Commander last night... It'll be the end of one era, truly, and the beginning of another era. Home is a fluid concept, and what I have to come back here to in the future will be the same, different, and... OK. My hope isn't in the stability of the physical world, and my expectations for the future aren't what they used to be. My life is to be lost so it can be used.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The fresh refrain

Apparently, I'm addicted to blogging. Actually, I have this thought that I want to get out, and if I don't type it out now, it'll go away.

Christmas was pretty good. I was way too tired Christmas Eve, and don't remember a lot of it. Jet lag hits me hardest here at night. (It was mid-morning in Kabul, so I don't know what it will be like going back.) Consequently, a lot of my thought process has been kind of scattered and disjointed. There are two themes I have been thinking a lot about recently. The one I'm going to share with you is more of the processing I've been having about home.

Home. Salina feels like home. It is disconcerting to an extent how quickly I can slip back into the "I am home" mode. But home here is disjointed. The rental house that I had lived in for 18 months before I headed to Kabul feels like home to an extent, even though it is slowly cleaning out as I move my stuff out to my parents' place. My parent's place is the same place that I lived in for nearly 20 years while I was growing up, and it feels like home. If my folks ever move out of that house, I think I will feel like I don't have a home in the States any more.

Home. Being with my family and friends feels like home. Even though our Christmas traditions have changed from the same exact pattern that they were when I was growing up, they still have the feel of the familiar to them. Even though my family and I have grown up and changed from where we were, it still feels like home. Even though things are different with my friends in my life and in their life, it still feels like home. I've stayed up late talking and hanging out with my best friend and roommate here, and it feels like home. I got to go out and eat breakfast with one of my best friends from growing up this morning, and it was awesome to get to talk with him and hear about his life and share about mine.

As Ty and I were talking this morning, I mentioned how it was in his apartment in Dallas seven months ago where my life course changed. I was in his house when I read the e-mail offering me my current position in Kabul, and when I read it, I knew that I had to take the job. We also talked about how five years ago, if someone would have given us a chart or picture of where our lives would be, we probably wouldn't have believed them. If we could have looked ahead from our childhood, we wouldn't have recognized ourselves. But yet we could have. Even though we are different, we are still the same. Circumstances may change, some things about our experiences may start to shape us into different people, but we are still the same.

These past few months, I have done a lot of writing, a lot of pondering, a lot of Talking about my future. Home has become an amorphous, abstract concept more than it has become a physical place. The plans that I had for myself seem to falter in the face of the circumstances I have found myself in. I don't know where the Journey that has been set before me will take me. I don't know what is going to change in two weeks, in six months, in two years, in fifteen years. Yet a certainty and a surety has come to me. The grace and peace are with me. There is no where else I could go, and no one else that will hold me close.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I've got all of my steps

Back in the U.S. This place is weird. I have been packing my stuff up, which is disconcerting, but it's what you do when you're leaving. Feels weird to come back to move. Anyway, it's been weird, but good. It's been fun to see and talk to people. Christmas comes in two days, and I am looking forward to spending it with family.

Thus far, it has been strange to be back in the U.S. I feel like I just slipped right back into life. I mean, I drove 90 minutes back home from the airport on Thursday. I've gone to the grocery store, driven around town, visited family, and it's almost like I never left.

But it is like I'm in a different place. Realization overtakes me that you can't return home, but you can go to home. This feels like home, and at the same time, I know there's a different place I call home. And there's another place I call Home, that really is Home. Like I said in an earlier post, my definition of home has changed in the last 5-6 months. Home doesn't seem as much to be a physical place anymore. Home is an abstract concept that you carry with you and can make wherever you go.

One thing that I have done while home, while working on packing, is ripping a bunch of CDs that I had that I never had ripped, so I can listen to them in Kabul. Some of it is older stuff, like older AudioA, dcTalk, Bleach, Supertones, and some of it is semi-newer stuff that I just didn't rip. I've of course also been listening to it, and it is kind of like a little trip down memory lane, to remember where I was and what I was doing or involved with when I listened to those CDs for the first time.

It's about time to go to FCC, which will be good. I'm looking forward to seeing some people, and being in fellowship.

In brief summary, the U.S. is weird, I'm weird, and it's good to be here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wither to undermine?

Well. It's been a couple days since I did this. I've been spending lots of time with some folks, and that's been cutting into my blogging time. Now, I'm on the plane back to JFK, currently winging my way over the Atlantic. Flew out of Kabul about 20 hours ago as I write this (It's 12:15 local Kabul time, or about 3:45 AM Thursday Kansas time). Stayed in Dubai for about 8-10 hours before getting on the Emirates flight. There are six of us on the flight, I'm not sitting by any of them, however. We had a good time in Dubai, I think. It was pretty freaky - I don't think going to the Mall of the Emirates is exactly the best cultural re-integration after being in Kabul for five months... It reminded me of all the things that I don't like about the States. The commercialism, the crass consumer impulses. We walked by two Lambroughinis, which was kind of neat, but that was about 1 million dollars of cars. There is so much good that could be done for a million dollars... So much good. I was somewhat overwhelmed for the first hour or so in Dubai. It kind of wore off, because I can adjust to things pretty quickly, but still, imagine a massive mall (and we all know how much I like malls already) as the first place you go after being in an under-developed, third world country for five months.

We ate at Chilis, and I was sort of reminded as to why I don't like chain restaurants. Except for the beef 'bacon', the Bacon Burger was exactly the same as the States, as was the Molten Chocolate cake. We also went bowling, which was kind of fun, except I tossed one strike to start out with, and never bowled less than a seven after that, but couldn't clear the pins any other times. Frustrating, but I guess decent for not bowling in at least nine months. The one very nice thing about Dubai is that it was 80 degrees (fahrenheit) out, and coming from 30s Kabul to 80s Dubai was nice. Of course, Kansas is probably going to be cold (I know it's going to be cold), but that's just the way life goes, I guess. I've gotten a lot more used to the cold, after living in a house where you can see your breath in the morning.

This morning, well, about 28 hours ago, I moved out of the house that I had been living in, and into my new apartment. I wasn't entirely thrilled to move, I had known that I was going to have to move out of the house since I was occupying a house that a family on sabbatical lived in, and they are returning after Christmas. But I had thought that I was going to move down to another house that had been occupied by our music teacher and business manager, who are in the States next semester so she can have their twin girls. However, that changed this last week when the school hired two females to fill the music teacher and admin assistant positions that are going to be open next semester. So, I got moved into an apartment. The reason I'm not entirely thrilled about this apartment is that it's in the administration building. My apartment is right next to the Director's office. Which, again, doesn't entirely thrill me, but it was better than the other two options that I could have had. I think I'm mostly disappointed because I was looking forward to being in the nice house, lots of space, and now I'm in one little room.

On the plus side, however, as I was moving in, I talked to one of the guys who works in the admin building, and he is going to get me a wood stove installed over break. Those things are absolutely awesome. I went over and 'babysat' our science teacher's kids... well, not last night, but Tuesday night, and they have a wood stove in their house. I asked the oldest, a five year old, what the temperature was, he goes over to the mercury and says, "I think it's 80!" Now, I'm thinking that perspective is the issue, because the thermometer is about at eye-level for me, and that means it's about two and a half feet up in the air for him. I go over and look, and sure enough, it's 76. Warm. And their living room is pretty good sized, I think it's going to make my room nice and toasty. Now, I just need to get a chair or couch into that room somehow, and life will be good. I also need curtains, good curtains. I didn't really unpack my stuff, I just couldn't bring myself to, somehow. I think when you're moving the day before you leave, that's excusable, right?

I have to confess, I have and have not been looking forward to this break. I adjust to change pretty easily, but it is not my favorite thing in the world. I've grown comfortable to my stable, predictable, boring life in Kabul. In a way, I've just transitioned my lifestyle from the U.S. to Kabul. While things are definitely not exactly the same, (I am not saying they are at all,) but lots of things are the same. I do my work, just like I used to. I don't get out much, I don't have tons of acquaintances or friends outside of my compound group (which is a ready-made social group like the one I grew up in), and I'm not a very exciting person. Going back to the States is going to be a transition, however brief.

And I find that I'm scared of easily slipping back into the culture. I find that I have learned and discovered some things while in my third-world home about my first-world home. I've learned that the entertainment culture exists everywhere, Afghans are big consumers of Hindi soap opera and American professional wrestling (if I had a dollar for every Jon Cena t-shirt I saw, I'd be a rich man.) But the Afghans aren't as taken with the celebrity aspect as Americans are. I've also come to appreciate that all the things we have, all the comforts we try to hold on to, they just aren't as meaningful. Sure, I like walking down to French Bakery, I like being able to buy KitKats, and I really appreciate eating American-style food. But if I couldn't do that in Kabul, it would be fine. I've also learned how much people are the same all over, and you can be who you want to be wherever you are, regardless of who other people are. I don't know if that makes sense, it does to me.

One other thing that I find is my ambivalence towards being back in the place where I come from, which is and isn't going to feel like home. I'm going to be happy to be home while missing home. I'll be happy to being back in Kansas, in what I think will feel like a pretty familiar place. I'll be happy to be back around friends and family that I have not been able to see for months. But it just won't exactly be home. I'll be moving out of the house I had been renting, which had become home. I'll be moving stuff back to my parent's house, which was home and somehow always comes to mind when I say home. I'll be back in a city that I think I will still know like the back of my hand, for I called it home for twenty years. And I'll find myself renewing acquaintances and catching up on friendships from there, part of or most of how I defined home. And all my family will be in town, which is one of the main ways that I visualize home. But home won't be the same. I'm going on vacation to home, not going home to live. That will be fundamentally different than anything since I last lived away from my hometown, for one year in college. So I know this is going to be different, and while I'm home, I'll be missing home. Because home won't be the same as it used to be, and I have been developing a new home.

When you live as many of us at the school do in Kabul, in close community and on a compound, life, home, and family become wrapped up in a different set of standards and definitions than they would in the States. You have this forced, easy, intimate community. You have a family that is related to you, and then you have a family that you exist with. I have a really great family in Kabul, and I'm going to miss them over the break... maybe not all of them consciously, but some of them very much. I don't know if you haven't been in that situation that I can easily explain that to you, and I've already typed out a lot here.

I want to close with a couple of thoughts that have been on my mind fairly constantly lately, but I don't know how to unpack them from the circumstances that surround them, because without that context, it might not make sense how they relate. I'm going to do it anyway, because it is not the best idea to get into those circumstances right now, so either you can read between the lines, or just try to appreciate my odd thoughts where they lie.

I've talked recently about choosing to be joyful. I find that being joyful is like being peaceful, it's a state that you can enter regardless of your emotions. There are some things going on, in my life and in Afghanistan, that I am not particularly happy about, but I can, all I can do is be joyful about them. Rejoice in the trials because of what they produce. Likewise, there are some things going on that unsettle me, disturb me, cause me to wonder and process and think. But I am seeking peace in those situations. I don't always succeed at this, mostly because I don't set my mind on the proper things. But when I can, it is then that I find peace. And even in my uncertainty, even in my lack of understanding, even in my struggle, when I set my mind in the fashion and on That which I should, I can have peace. My emotional roller coaster doesn't change, but my attitude about it does.

I've been writing for almost an hour, and I wrote some other stuff for nearly an hour before this. I'm about exhausted of writing, and I don't know how much I will actually blog while I'm in the States, so this should be enough to get you, my loyal readers, through a couple of weeks without Russ.

*Edit* since I wrote that on the plane, it's been another 12-24 hours, I've mostly stayed awake, made it back to KS, drove home from Wichita, went to a high school choir/alumni caroling party, drove the car around for it, came to my house, talked and goofed off with my roomate for a while, and am now going to bed at 1:30ish A.M. local time, or 12:00ish Friday P.M. in Kabul. So I've been awake with minimal sleep for 60 hours. I'll report on how long I sleep.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The songs I sing inside.

More than anything else.

Yeah, so one person might get that.

Today, I finally found out where I'm going to be moving. I'm not entirely thrilled about it all, but it's ok. I'm not entirely thrilled with a lot of things right now, but it is OK. I don't need to remember where I used to be to know that is all OK. I do know that I want to get a couch and a wood stove for my new apartment.

We hiked a mountain this morning, a different one, shorter hike, but lots steeper. It was pretty up at the top. A different view of the city, one that was neat because it was dark when we got up, but dawn broke while we were on top of the mountain. Two of the guys that went on the trip both had knee surgery earlier this year, so we weren't speed demons, but that's OK.

Today was a really nice day. It was a nice day out, I did some work, I helped some folks, I filed papers and cut out words for my friend a while, I kid-sat, had stuff thrown at me, and just generally had a good day. It was definitely a 'free day' kind of day. I am really looking forward to the trip home now. Not the trip and the duration of the trip, but the getting home part. I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends, and being away from here for a while. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity to gain some necessary perspective on certain things.

Well, since it's Eid here, and that means we'll probably have City Power all night, I need to force myself to go to bed. Take care, and I'll see some of you soon!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Do all these roads lead me back to...?

Do I really believe in the things I say I do? Do I really believe that I can make a difference here, do I really believe that the world won't have torn itself to pieces in fifteen or twenty years? Do I really believe that the things I do have a lasting value?

Six months ago, I might have answered differently than I do now. I'm still a pessimist at heart, however. When I was growing up, I really didn't plan on living past college. I wasn't a fatalist, I wasn't going to do anything stupid to make sure college was all the farther I got, I just never planned on much past it.

Therefore, it was a great surprise to me to wake up one day and realize that I was taking the last final exam of my college experience that day, that I had walked the stage the Saturday before, that I was done. I took the week off of work during finals. I was still working the same job, I was just wanting some amount of change for the transition from part time to full time. I remember, my uncle and I were going to play in a golf league that summer, and I needed to practice so I could have said that I had golfed in the last five years. I went out one day with him over his lunch hour, we played nine holes, and then I decided I'd play nine more after he went back to work. I was golfing around the course (rather poorly, I might add as an aside), and I can fairly distinctly remember thinking, "Aren't things supposed to be different now that I'm done with school? Isn't this going to make everything better?"

You will be able to answer that question, of course. No, just graduating from school didn't make everything better. All the things I struggled with while I was in school, they were still there. All the things that I thought I could be, most of them I couldn't. All the things I thought I wanted, they didn't really make much of a difference to me. Nothing really affected me for about a year and a half or so. I was just coasting along in life, little purpose or direction.

So then, I had a series of things happen to me. I can't really recount or remember all of them, in many ways they were just life, but in other ways, they were indications or pointers to me that my life was what I thought I wanted, and it was just coasting along with no point, no fulfillment, no point. But I had manufactured enough soma to convince myself that I was happy. Like the Preacher, I sought all my heart desired, and realized that it was vanity, and striving after wind. Nothing I had built with my hands would last.

What is someone to do when they reach such a realization? As a man, what can your reaction be? At first, mine was one of denial of need to change. My friends can tell you that, they can tell you that they knew I was off for a while, but that I wouldn't admit it. When I finally did admit it, and finally recognized the call to change, I fought it. I put obstacles in the path so that I could avoid dealing with the need to change for a while. Finally I accepted the necessity of change, and tried to do something about it.

Then... nothing. No movement. I figured when I decided change needed to happen, it would happen right away. Nothing. The avenues I explored were exciting, but they weren't right. Then, out of the blue, the job offer for my current job came. And I knew I had to take it. I didn't have much other choice. So I took it. It has brought me here. So many other things that the Preacher said, I understand better now.

Why do I write this rambling remembrance at this time? Things are changing again. In five days, I'll be back in the States. In three weeks or so, I'll be back here. I'll be living in a different place, as yet undetermined. I'll be doing... something, also as yet totally undetermined. I'm not sure that I'm doing the 'right' thing. I realize that I'm not sure of much in my life. However; even though I don't like uncertainty, I'm OK with where I am at. I'm understanding of the fact that growth isn't always easy, comfortable, or clear at the time. In fact, growth rarely is these things. I look forward to growing.

My roommate moved out today. I need to pack up my stuff in the next couple of days. Then I get to visit my family in the States. I find it hard to call that going home, not because I think of here as home, not because there isn't where I used to call home, but because Home seems much more of an idea in this life than it does a place. It's the comfortability to be open with someone. It's the security of knowing that you are in a place where you can be you. Home is what you make of it, not where you are.

And your attitude can make such a difference about what Home is. I know when I take the time to mentally choose to be joyful, to focus on what and who really matters, my home can be anywhere. When I don't choose those things, home is distant, home is away, home is a place, home is meaningless.

The answer to the question posed in the title of this post is that not all roads lead me back. There is only one that does. Every day, I must choose to make that my road to Home. Not always am I successful, but I'm getting better. Not always do I avoid the snares that seek to trip me up on the road, but I'm gaining more sight to see them. Not always am I swift or strong, but the race is not to those.

The race is not to those.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Near to the hue and ply

The blue skies were out and in force today, in so many ways. We walked back from today's meeting, it was just a nice day out. Sure, it was about 40, but it was sunny out, and some days, you just want to walk. My female friends feel that here more than I do, since I am able to walk by myself when I want to fairly freely. I think they were glad to be able to walk today.

Humourous story time commences.

Yesterday, I went out with a couple friends to the Thai restaurant. (This incident of me going out to eat twice in one weekend is an oddity in and of itself, but that's not the focus of this story.) Anyway, after we got back and did advent reading, we went up to the roof of the ladies' house (a three story building, which is known as the Marble Mansion), and while we were coming back down, thought about how fun it would be to drop stuff down the spiral staircase. So... we did. And we filmed it. And then edited the video together to Queen's Another One Bites the Dust. It's hilarious. I'm going to get a copy, so ask me about it if you see me. It's 3.6 minutes of pure awesomeness.

Humourous story time concludes.

I played Ultimate today, and it was fun. Kinda cold, but still nice enough. Not wet or raining or icy yet... I think that day will be fun. The cool thing about the group of people that play Ultimate is that there definitely is competition, but it rarely gets personal. What I mean is that we can go play and beat someone, and you still chat and laugh with them afterwards.

Hung out most of the day, fairly lazily. Watched a couple episodes of Firefly with my roommate, we both enjoy that show, so it was cool. Read some, wrote some, goofed off generally. Went out to eat at a Lebanese restaurant for supper. I enjoy going to that restaurant because even though it's semi-expensive, you get lots of food, and you get some free. We got soup to start off, we got some free hummus, and then when you ask for the bill, you get chocolate cake. It's good cake, too. Like I said, even though it's kind of expensive, it's lots of good food. I got the combination skewer, which is beef, lamb and chicken.

When we got back, I did advent reading with a few friends. I've really come to value that time, it is such a wonderful way to not only remember the coming season, but to just stop and refocus at the end of the day.

Focus and clarity are what I need recently. About a lot of things, not limited to my role here, my attitudes about a couple people that I don't exactly get along with, my attitudes about a couple people who I need to understand better. My thoughts and processes about how I Walk. The things I am when I'm alone. The future. The death of self. How I talk to others. How I Talk. The one thing that I have to hold forever. The one I want to hold. My fears, my insecurities. There are plenty of different ways, places, paces, faces that I can see to gain this focus or clarity. But there is one way in particular that I am to pursue.

Faced with all of this... where else could I go?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

With apologies to DNA.

I've got this bribe going on with one of the teachers, wherein they get Snickers bars. I told the teachers that if I got what I wanted, more Snickers were destined. That prompted the reply to me asking if or how Snickers have a destiny. Since I'm being lazy while working on stuff today, I took up the time to type up this answer.

I think Snickers have this one single destiny set before them during the time of the assemblage at the factory. You know, they get individually layered together, then cooled quickly to harden them in their frame. And in those magical moments when they are sitting in the darkened freezer, hardening and congealing, the tiniest little bit of sentience comes upon them.

And the Mars company, knowing this, has quietly invested in hundreds of thousands of diverse little research projects, all seemingly unconnected, but under the control of one master project whose goal is to create a quantum computer which can look into the future, and predict every single possible universe, and every single possible future for the Snickers bars, and then speaks to the Snickers bar in it's brief moment of sentience and asks, "What future would you like?" and quickly presents it with the 10 scenarios that seem most likely to please that Snickers. The little chemical reactions of chocolate and caramel and nut in the Snickers make a quick, instinctive choice, and then, as the shell begins to congeal, it's sentience fades away, to be wrapped up in a plastic liner for the rest of it's corporeal existence.

Then, in a capricious bit of supply-chain management, the distribution house has no idea that a secret quantum computer inhabits the freezer, and so every Snickers bar is randomly shipped to a distribution warehouse and sent across the world, without regard to the brief shining dream that the Snickers bar had while in the freezer.

In a bit of news that would also seem to explain a lot more of the universe, if only we could understand it, when the computer talks to Milky Way bars, every single bar thinks, "Oh no, not again" in their moment of coherent thought.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The antidote is not a collective

Yesterday was frustrating. I had one of those days where I just wanted to climb the walls all day, and everything I really had to do was a sit down and work project. Makes for a difficult day. Then, I had the internet-based english test that didn't work. We had to send about 15 people home, telling them we couldn't test them. That aggravated me, especially because I spent time on the phone, spent all my units again for no good. But oh, well.

Three more days of school, and I'll be back in the U.S. in a week.

I had some invigorating thought when I started this entry, but it's gone. Bye!

Monday, December 10, 2007

But I hesitate.

I've been struggling with some things more than I have wanted to share lately. I don't want to and can't tell you all of them. The past two days, I've felt in the mornings like I put on my stinking coat again, cover up all the ill and the wretchedness I feel, and go on being this person I've constructed of myself. I don't think it's this place getting to me, I think it's me getting to me. I don't like uncertainty. I like to know. There's more uncertainty creeping into my life than I would like or really anticipated a few months ago.

Uncertainty about the next semester is hitting me hard. Uncertainty about returning to the States for break is making me uncomfortable. Uncertainty in... knowing, that's the hardest uncertainty right now. And in knowing how to know. I'm oscillating rapidly between the two emotional poles of depression and happiness, and it's at the times of happiness that the uncertainty grabs me and tears me down to the depression. I used to want emotional stability, and I still do. But I find myself thinking of emotional stability as secondary to my state. That is, I can choose to be joyful, I can choose to be peaceful, I can choose to be loving. None of these are emotions. All of these can stand independent of my emotional state. Really, I can have peace, and still be depressed. I can find joy even while angry. I can be loving even when I am hurting. And I can be loving when I am happy, joyful when I am compassionate, peaceful when I am laughing.

It's that choice that I have to make. And as I look at what I see coming up in my life, I see choices that I have to make. What overtakes me is the doubt in making those choices. I know the ones that I want to make, I just don't know if they are the right choices. And I so I choose to receive peace, because I know that peace will quiet my heart and calm the storms within. I choose to be joyful, for I know that my joy will permeate the rest of my life, and be a help to those around me. I choose to be loving, for I know that without love, I am nothing more than a hollow cacophony.

Make no mistake, my choices about receiving these states are not always perfect. I don't always take the paths I should. My struggles these recent days have been a result of not taking the gifts given to me. Rest and comfort are found when I surrender my pride, when I surrender my own need to know with absolute certainty the measure of my days. When I instead simply trust that these things will work for good. When the easy response to trials becomes an acknowledgment that there are Brighter days ahead, when this will be no more, but will be so much more.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Equality: not a thing to be grasped

Long. Today has been long. I woke up early (like a birdie!), did situps and pushups, Read, made a french bakery run. Got back and started putting things places and getting problems solved. Started to do some work. Got phone calls (about 10 today), and couldn't do lots of work. Finally got started, remembered I had a meeting. Went to meeting. Got done with meeting. Answered calls. Started working again. Got asked to sit desk. Sat desk. Did work while sitting desk. Got more calls. Ran around for a while. Carried stuff across campus. Did work. Ran around helping people. Went to another meeting. Had programming club. Started TOEFL junk. Decided to do TOEFL junk later. Had supper. Came back to the office. Did TOEFL junk. Am blogging before I start work on another project.

However, in news that is exciting, I got a package from home. With shirts, hot chocolate, a softball, some DVDs and a Calvin and Hobbes book. And some other neat stuff that I am giving away to neat people. That somewhat makes up for the long day. Partially. It was still a long day. And I think I'm going to be here for another hour or so, if I can get stuff done...

In related news, the mouse in the copier is gone. I did not kill it, it was still alive in the trap, so I creatively relocated it over to the other side of campus, over a wall. The cats on the other side of the wall may have or will shortly end it, but I didn't kill it. However, the copier is going to need to be fixed because of the mouse's presents to it. And the copier guy won't be back in town until Tuesday. Oh well.

And since today was long...


Friday, I had two ferrets come up to me, and forthwith, they inquired
of me, "Is there any way we can find the ferry to Western Florida?"
Now, ferrets on a ferry struck me as a fairly odd frame for the story,
and forgoing answering them, I made a query of my own. "Tell me, did
you find me friendly, or was the fearsome face of my nearby companion
that forced you to feel me out for your safety?"

"Fortune smiles on the bold, friend," the first ferret said to me.
"You had the frame of a Frenchman, and we flew from France during the
first of the Napoleonic wars."

"For goodness' sake!" I exclaimed. "You must be far older than you
look, my furry feline acquaintance."

"Nay, we are actually weasels." The formerly silent ferret replied.
"In any case, how do you find the ferry to Western Florida, for we are
in a frightful hurry!"

"And why are you finding your need so fey and urgent?" My curiosity
could not be forced into submission. My brain was also furious
spinning, formulating new questions about how these ferrets from
France could be bilingual (for they must speak French as well as

"Our bones will turn to iron unless we can get to Western Florida and
handle pans made of pure francium." The first ferret offered.

In the end, I gave them directions, and so the ferrous ferrets found the ferry.


Who holds our dreams? Not us, not I. I gave mine away a couple months ago. I keep trying to grab them back, in my fallen state. But I know they are far better where they are than in my hands.

I really like getting fresh French Bakery in the morning. I have gravitated towards going and getting nan the other days of the week, because it's good, cheap, and I think there is an advantage to circulating in the local economy.

Now I'm just procrastinating.

Once more into the breach.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Go ahead, please find me.

So, I determined how fast the elliptical exercise machine can go before it gets totally untracked. That's kind of fast. My legs were burning. And that was fun.

There is a mouse in one of the copiers, and I saw it, and I need to figure out how to get it out and kill it.

I had some conversations yesterday that I never would have expected to have had a couple months ago. It's encouraging, strange, and good all at the same time. Our community here means that things can just be... different. I don't know how else to explain it. But things have happened here recently that make me see that some of the reasons I was sent here are not the reasons I was looking for or expecting.

I wrote this over a year ago, I found it tonight, and felt like reposting it. It fits, somehow.


There was a pace in the steps that we took to reach the place that we are at now. The pace was at once both cold and refreshing, like a breath of wind whispering through the desolate countryside in December. And we reveled in the pace, its touch caressing us like a familiar hand on our shoulder. The pace was blue, like a lonely man with a guitar, sitting on a split-rail fence separating a cotton field from a dusty road. His voice sounded like a thousand years of concerns, brushing over us to wave away the melancholia lapping at our ankles.

And why did the pace take these forms?

It gave us a wide berth for feelings of unsteadiness that we didn't even see fit to comment on. Once we found ourselves in the park, it seemed that the natural thing was to walk along the shore, quietly. And even though we knew that the silence wouldn't last, it didn't seem right to intrude upon it. So we kept up the same pace, our feet sinking lightly into the sand. The sun bright and friendly, the water cool. Still, we knew not to speak. Be it appearances or just the fact that we didn't know where we were going, we took to the high road.

It was then that I began to ask the questions. "I spent so much time in vanity. Can You still show me the way?" "Did I loose you, or when did You leave?" "Was it ever meant to be?" "Am I really supposed to be on this path?"

The low road. The shadow. Everything around began crumbling when I tried to fix it myself. The searing heat came closer.

He asked me, "What did you expect? They have been there across the decades. They know you far better than you know yourself. You could avoid them for a time, but pretty soon, you would become their prey." His voice held the sadness of seeing the multitudes of His children falling away. "I will help you. I will be there myself, I will send you a Helper, I will give you companions along the way who you are to help just as they help you."

The pace changed only a little during this time. It became red like dust strewn across a planet by careless winds. It went along with the voices, wiping away our tears with velvet wings. I had not the words to respond to what He was saying.

Again, He spoke. "What did you expect? We made this for you. We gave you the choice. You have made it it. You were bought and freed. You never need to lean on anyone else again."

So the pace continues as we head back home. As He took me along, I saw and felt the others that came alongside of us. Some of them He sought out, others He brought to us. Some stayed with us forever, some came and went as He knew best.

The pace is green, fresh and new like a spring dawn. Comforting, a cool stream on a summer's day. Quiet, a familiar voice whispering at night.

It brought me here. Not to destroy me as I toiled up the hill, cadence unchanging. Rather to strengthen as I kept the pace.


I also wrote this last year, and it has no point at all.


So, there was this elephant down on Third Street yesterday, while I was walking from the parking garage to the parking lot. The elephant asked me, "Sir, do you happen to know where around here could do a facelift for me?" I thought about telling him to try baggage claim, but it never pays to be a smart aleck around an elephant. I thought about it for a second, and then told him about Mad Harry's Pre-Hensile Massage Service, which was run by an alligator over on Sixth. The elephant thanked me, and offered me his card. The card read, "John Clark, African Ivory Importer." I thought this a rather ironic job for an elephant to have, and said so. He laughed at me (a rather trumpeting sound), and said, "No, I don't deal in that kind of metals. I favor the more exotic kinds."


I have to talk at focus meeting Monday morning, and the thing I have been impressed with speaking on is rain and the picture painted with it in the book, the metaphor of renewal. So next time you see the rain, think of Isa55:10-eleven or After Daniel 6:3.

I can cry out of sorrow and joy, every drop of rain turns to crystal in the sun. I'm in Your thoughts, because I feel sunshine in the rain. I'm not forgotten.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who's paying the price?

My ideas, they outweigh all the talent I hold.

For now and forever, through one Strength not mine own.

Waves to speak of cold refreshment

Four months and one day ago, I arrived in Kabul.

This was the first time that I had ever stepped out of the United States. I guess I figure, if I can handle Kabul being my first introduction to overseas life, I can handle anything, right? In retrospect, maybe that was just a little bit brazen of me. Now, I understand that things here are the same, different, and all of these polar opposites are wrapped up in one bright, shiny little package that is the total of my experiences to date.

One of the things that I am, in a way, dreading upon my return visit to the States is the inevitable question, "What's it like in Afghanistan?" It's hard to describe. First off, I live in Kabul, which is in many ways, a city of 500,000 with another 2.5 million (and climbing) refugees who inhabit it. This city seems some days as though it is about to rupture at the seams with all of the different pressures on it. And it's not a microcosm of the rest of Afghanistan. I think, although I don't have a lot of information to back this up, that there is a profound difference between the Kabul experience and the Afghanistan experience. The rest of Afghanistan is underdeveloped, rural, tribal. Kabul is underdeveloped, urban, hierarchical. There is a definite social stratification here, although the high strata is rare enough that most everything just seems to be low. There are so many crushingly poor, so many unemployed people here, that getting ahead seems to be difficult or impossible. Plus, the country is under a severe drought, is so unstable that it's nearly impossible for anything other than light manufacturing to get started (I can hardly fathom a heavy industry like automobile manufacturing trying to get going.)

One of the other things about this country that I find difficult to relate to people is the level of... well, I don't know, maybe struggle? The struggle that daily life is and is not, both for us as expatriates and for the people around us, the nationals. Security really is a concern, even though we wish it wasn't. It's a concern for the nationals, too, because what or how can they respond and react when it's not foreigners who usually catch the brunt of a bombing or other attack, but national police or innocent civilians? And for us, the expatriates, life can be a struggle in the little details. Last night, I really just wanted to go out and go for a walk. Can't do that, baaaaad idea. But I can go out and walk by myself, to the corner store or to the French Bakery during the day. The ladies can't even do that. We don't have central heating, but we do have hot water when the heaters work. The ditches are open for sewage on the side of the road, right where we walk. There's trash piled up in the streets. You can't always find the things you want in the shops. Sometimes we can't go anywhere because of incidents that happened in town. When I do walk outside with the ladies, I feel this constant need to stare back at the men that are staring at my friends. It's not all bad, don't get me wrong. Just some of the time there are things that make life a little struggle.

So the times and places and the face and the names were realigned with things we know and we show. And just as I had a bevy of impressive, deep thoughts, again they disappeared like the wind, all vanity. So now I leave you with this unfinished thought to ponder in your excitement, hoping of better days to come. For indeed, if all we have are memories, what are our dreams?

Who holds our dreams?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nothing that we should desire

Thoughts spring, unformed and incomplete, in my head, only to dissipate like the morning dawn when I attempt to grasp them. But I feel the need to communicate what I can of them, so here goes.

Today, there was another bombing. This one was on our side of the mountains, a couple kilometers from us. As many or more innocents were killed today as the ostensible target, a military convoy. Yesterday, there was another bombing, but the one today feels closer to home, because I definitely heard it. I was walking down the street to buy nan for breakfast when the bomb went off. I just walked down and bought my nan, walked back to school. What else am I supposed to do? What else can I do?

I know that some of you that read this probably don't want to think about things like suicide bombers, or children dead, their only apparent wrong being happening to be on the street when a bus full of police drive by. I know I don't want to think about it. All the usual questions run through our heads - what is wrong with these people that they think this is a good thing? Who could imagine doing this to themselves or another human? I know I wonder at this, and know all of the logical answers to this question. Still, I can't help but shudder at the mindset that lets this be acceptable.

Tying in with this in a way is the fact that many of our staff around here have been sick or are sick, with congestion, flu, or just the 'K-place Krud.' I subbed for one of our teachers the other day, and today I made one of my friends go inside and not stand around outside when she had lunch duty, because I can stand outside and watch kids just as well. As I was standing out there, watching these kids run around, playing like 5 through 9 year olds are wont to do, I can't help but think about what kinds of ideologies some of these kids, especially the local kids, are going to be exposed to in the coming years. What will reach out and try to grab and distract them? It only reinforces to my mind the theme of the school this year, "Seeking More Than Knowledge." We want our kids to learn critical thinking skills, learn to decide for themselves. Not be dragged away and enticed by the words of a smooth-talker with emptiness behind them, whose mouth stretches like an abyss.

So much to be thankful for, and so much to remember.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Words without knowledge.

Today wasn't the best day. I didn't get up until about 6:30, I was kinda grumpy and let the fact that I didn't sleep well/much last night affect my day. I had lots to try to do today, and I didn't get much of it done. I was cold all day, I really didn't feel terrific this morning, and just was generally kind of lame today. I hate it when I feel crummy and morose, and just can't get out of that feeling. Not even pizza for lunch (I didn't feel like eating much if any) or chocolate muffins (I did eat three today, hoping it would make me feel better) did any good. Although, really, it is kind of poor that I try to turn to those things to make me feel better.

In an attempt to now prove that I'm not entirely a stick in the mud, I did have one funny thing happen today.

I'm sitting in my office, and a high school kid comes in and says, "Excuse me, we need a pronto."

"You need a what?"

"A pronto!"

Now, at this point, all I can think about is the Pronto Pup corn dogs they had at the Kansas State fair. This kid is a local, his English isn't great, so I can't imagine he's been the the Fair, and is seriously asking me for a corn dog.

"I'm sorry, what do you need?"

"A... pronto... a projector pronto! For English!"

Suddenly, understanding dawns on me. The English teacher probably needed a projector for something, and asked this student to come and get it from me, "Pronto." This student, not understanding a lot of American idioms, thought that pronto was a noun.

Played Frisbee tonight. Cold, but fun. Had pot roast when we got back, I asked the cook to save some for the three of us that went. I like eating dinner with the big group, but there's also something nice and quiet about eating with just a few folks every now and then.

Lots of people sick or getting there around here. I think I'm almost getting to be one of them, but I'm hoping to hold it off for a while longer.

I had lots of energy right after we got back, but now I'm fading, fading fast.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The same old word giving me the spark.

Today, I subbed for a sick teacher. He teaches German, Geography, and Oral Comm.

I am just about worthless in the classroom. Because of sick days, personal days, travel, etc, we had basically exhausted all of the other sub resources in the school. I was basically the last resort for today. I got the sub folder, did the exercises, essentially just supervised kids. It wasn't horrific or anything, no real problems, but I am realizing that teaching just isn't my thing. I can do it for SS an hour a week or so, but 7 classes in one day? That's just not going to happen under my personal plans.

That's a glimpse into my day. I think he's feeling better, so I shouldn't have to sub tomorrow, but who knows... I just do as I do.

Did study tonight as part of the coming season. So much to remember at this time. Also went over and did part of the reading schedule with my friends. We did that when I was a kid, and it's... I don't really know how to explain it. A time of fellowship, good for me, important, a focusing, a quiet reminder... none of these make up the whole, but they comprise some of the parts. I would highly encourage you to find your own reading schedule for this season, in addition to any regular reading you do. Sing songs, Talk, Remember.

This is the time to celebrate so much. Don't let this world make you numb to it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

25 pounds is a bulk rate

Just to prove we're not entirely sticks in the mud here... one of my friends' family sent her a show they recorded off of PBS about the burgeoning ferret show world. Sadly hilarious, I can't even begin to describe it. It was filmed documentary style, and these people were serious. One of the ladies in the movie had devoted an entire floor of her house to her ferrets and their trophies. Another one said that she spends 3 hours a night with her ferrets. One of the ladies in the movie basically said that her ferrets were her reason for living. I'm amazed, because of the amount of effort that these people put into their pets, the amount of money. I can't even imagine showing that movie to a poor person here, I think they might want to do rough violence to me... really, one of the ladies said that some of the other ferret breeders (these people breed FERRETS!) turn their AC on high a month or two before a show to fool the ferrets into thinking that winter is starting, so they will start growing thicker coats. And they do lots other crazy things for and to their ferrets, that border on obsessive behaviors...

So I wonder, do I have ferrets in my life? That's a tough, introspective question. I know I used to spend far more time than I should have playing computer games, and that one of the things on my To Do in the U.S. list is playing a couple games that have come out since I've been here (SupCom:FA, Crysis, HL2:Ep2 and Portal, WiC) that I will probably play at least a few of... I really like to read Science Fiction, and I've not read as much here as I did. I listen to a lot of music, and I have a list of albums that I want to get in the States. I try to work out most every day. I try to keep up with news and sports in the U.S. I think there may not be as large of a single 'ferret' with me, but there are probably some smaller ones that add up.

For a lot of reasons (people gone and in the states), there have been lots of substitutes around here the last week. I think one day I was one person away from having to sub, but it worked out that I didn't... probably a very good thing for me and the kids.

Speaking of kids, there's this one kindergarten boy who is awesome. He's a local kid, and he has two distinctive features. One, his eyes are huge. I mean it, every time I look at him, I wonder if he could open his eyes up any farther without dislocating his eyebrows. Secondly, his fingers are super long, and he isn't self conscious about using them to point or just wiggling them, so you really notice. Anyway, this kid also seems to be pretty smart. Today, I was walking back to my building (the kindergarten is in the first floor of my building), and this kid came out of the bathroom (which is outside and across the courtyard), and made his way back to the building by jumping across the courtyard on the tiles that are the least damaged. I could see him stop and ponder each jump before making it, as though weighing his options as to which tile was more intact, and then calculating his angle of attack. I timed my pace so I would arrive at the door just after his last jump, and so I would be right behind him going into the building. He turns around to me, and proudly holds up his right hand. "Five jumps!" he says. A kid after my own heart. I think he's been keeping track.

Last night, I bought my tickets back to the states, then returning here... It's kind strange in a way to be planning a return, especially as it will involve moving here before I leave, and also moving in the States when I get there.

In keeping with the coming season, a couple friends and I are following a reading schedule in the evenings. It reminds me of December evenings as a kid. It seems that everywhere we go, we can remake our traditions to fit the circumstances. I really enjoy the readings, and we also have a recommended song to sing, which is nice except when we know different verses or verses in a different order.

Also, the starting the day right thing really does work. I got up early today so that I could get all my pushups and situps done, my shower taken, my dedicated time spent so that I could get French Bakery before school... I enjoy my French Bakery runs, it's just so cool to be able to get nice, gooey, warm, fresh, gooey chocolate croissants in the morning, and bring them to people. I'm trying to limit myself to one morning a week, (it's easier in the cold, because I don't want to spring right out of bed) and that makes the one morning that much better...

Finally, it's getting cold here. How cold? Cold enough that I can see my breath in my house. Cold enough I wear gloves most of the day, even in my office. Cold enough that I drink about 10 cups of hot water a day. I'm resisting turning on the heaters as long as I can, but I'll probably give in here pretty soon... I am told that the three weeks we are gone are usually the coldest of the winter. I am soo looking forward to central heating...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

This world won't define our hope.

It rained again today, for the second day in three days. It may rain again tomorrow, and I hope that it does. Truly this land needs the rain, for clean water, for crops, for hydroelectric power, for the renewal and refreshment that it can bring. The rain sounded to me tonight to be like a promise fulfilled, and a friend pointed out 6:3 (after Daniel). I also thought about 55:ten 'n eleven Isa. The rain falls equally on all men, and to all of us is given the chances and the hope.

I find that how I start the day affects the rest of the day. If I get up quickly, do my situps and pushups, shower, and still have time to devote to quietness and contemplation, it is easier for me to have a joyful attitude the rest of the day. If I lay in bed, and then rush through my morning routine, I struggle more with the rest of my day. I'm endeavouring to go to bed sooner so that I am not tired and sleepy when I wake up.

I struggle more and more every day that I am here to understand why it is that I felt led to agree to stay for another semester, and probably another year after that. I can see some of the reasons, but not all of them. I work to try to make sure that my reasons are the right reasons, and yet even as I work to do that, I think I'm working for the wrong thing in that. Rather, I am coming to see that my reasons will never be entirely right. There may always, no matter how much I try to eradicate it, some selfish or self-serving motive. It may be buried, it may be deep down, but it is probably still present. Instead of dwelling on this and staying focussed on me and my reasons, I want to change my perspective to a higher one. I want to press on, press on and know. Press on and see. Even though I struggle, this is no reason to give up and quietly surrender.

My hope is built on nothing less. This world can't define it, this world can't contain it. Were I to leave it, there is no place else for me to go. And I can't carry this vessel ashore without it's anchor.