The chasm of longing

My relentless, restless desire to immerse myself in African culture began during my short but memorable stint on the Africa Mercy Ship while in Port Noire, Republic of Congo. Something inside opened and a seemingly bottomless chasm of curiosity and intrigue lured me to the continent over and over.

Photo Credit: Michelle Murrey;

Recovering a child on Mercy Ship

In the last 3 years I have made the 8000+ mile journey 8 times! That is a staggering number of miles and hours spent in pursuit of a passion to experience the culture and traditions of people from which all earthly existence stems. An astonishing number of hours seated in immovable seats, crunched into submission, yearning for sleep and comfort on the 15+ hour transatlantic flight.

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Beauty from Mercy Ship

I am not sure what has propelled me into this whirlwind of desire and curiosity. Could it be my deepest connection to ancient roots? A desire to serve? Or worst, simply boredom and a need to “find myself”.   I am reminded, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

Until now, I could not explain it nor deny the pull, the intrigue, the curiosity. My assignment in Swaziland ended after 2 months, my choice. Working under a micromanager did not align with my style. My most recent assignment in Kenya I terminated due to family crises after 1 month. During my stay in rural Kenya, I noticed a change in my resolve, my curiosity, my passion for the work and the culture. Other issues and people were calling to me, my family, my partner, my passions for running, animals and relaxing in nature surfaced in a most compelling way.

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Fruits of the rainy season

Restless, irritable and discontent, I ended my assignment after 1 month, both embarrassing and disturbing. I don’t feel good about breaking agreements and bailing after such a short time. But I felt compelled to take care of myself and my family, choosing from a place of joy and vitality vs burden and responsibility. Having invested money, time and emotional energy in my journey to Kenya, it was both with sadness and relief that I let it go, driven by the desire to live a joyful life. I sought counsel and guidance from a new “bestie” in Kenya, Sister Jennifer, a lovely and soulful retired teacher and Sister of Mercy.

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Sister Jennifer

It was easy to chose as a result of her guidance: “God is life and all life is God. God is in everything and a reflection of all we are and do. Chose from what gives you life and vitality. When you waken in the morning, what gives you life?” I already knew what my choice needed to be in order to support my joy and vitality but I believe I needed permission or a nudge in that direction. She complied through her simple guidance and loving presence.

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girl fetching water

Rural Mutomo was a grim experience for me; 70 km from tarmac roads, stricken with severe poverty and a high burden of disease, often leading to orphaning entire families of children.  HIV, TB, diabetes, accidents, and drought left families without safety, security, and food. I was unprepared for the limited sources and variety of food for myself, though fruits and many vegetables were available. In order to procur even the most basic supplies, it was a 2+ hour ride on rutted and often impassible roads. The monotony of the food was challenging. Daily power outages were predictable. Heavy rains made the roads impassible many days.   The quiet and pastoral nature of the land and people were soothing and I enjoyed the cows, goats and chickens that roamed freely through the town’s streets and around my house.

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My friends and neighbors

My role as nurse educator in a newly established nursing school was easy to walk into, working with 2 established faculty members on site. Teaching to a group of 5 incoming students was not what I expected. The dynamics were challenging as I encouraged them to communicate with openness and honesty. Rural African people tend to be shy and culturally it is most appropriate for them to maintain a reserve that is often uncomfortable for me, the ebullient, curious, questioning one.

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Me and Joanna

Upon leaving I am struck dumb by the sudden disappearance of that open and seductive chasm of longing for Africa. I feel a sense of completion, at peace with my decision to return home. Though this sudden absence of longing is disturbing and a surprise,  it is a bit of relief as I am sure it is for my family. I have no idea what is next, both an exciting and daunting challenge.

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My signature meal of kitchari dal

I am ready to sit and eat a cheeseburger, fresh salad and perhaps a piece of carrot cake or gelato….. and stare into the eyes of my loved ones. I am humbled by my guilt, self absorption and focus on my own needs. I wanted to be stronger, to serve the disadvantaged, to explore. Turning 65 tomorrow, perhaps I am entering a new era of brand new exploration and discovery. I am ready to support and care for those I come home to, and await the unfolding of what is next….

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TAKING MY SEAT

 

A pivotal point in my recent life journey emerged when I began to actively practice yoga in 2011. Seeking a variation in my exercise and physical activity I entered a yoga studio in Southern Pines, NC where I was spending much of the winter with my horses, seeking refuge from the NE winter.

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MISTY:  HAPPY BABY POSE

Challenging, sweaty, painful, humiliating….my first few experiences in the studio. My inflexible limbs would not cooperate with the suggested poses. Gasping for air, I could not stay in step with gentle, slow breathing.  I lived for the end of the class, shavasana, or corpse pose, when you get to lie down, close your eyes, and drift off.

Two teachers became role models and inspiration for my practice, Sarah and Marcella. Quiet, strong, supple, they encouraged and helped me stay with it.  Most of all, I loved that they reminded me that it is Yoga practice, not Yoga perfect. I began to view yoga as a way of self-expression, living and practicing within my own limits. I released the need to compare myself to others in the room; to focus on my mat and do my best.  I learned I could take this concept off the mat, out of the studio, into the world.

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JACKSON:  MOUNTAIN POSE

Marcella suggested that I consider a yoga teacher training in order to deepen my practice and learn more about the history and aspects of yoga that transcend the physical poses. Though I did not have the desire to necessarily teach or make a living at it, I was intrigued and curious. After exploring a few options, I chose to embark on perhaps the most expensive basic 200 hour training ever!  I enrolled in Rolf Gate’s course in Orlando FL, requiring monthly weekend travel to Orlando for 15 months!

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DRAGONFLY AT PEACE

My choice of teacher was simple and straightforward; I had seen the fruits of Rolf’s trainings mirrored in Marcella’s teaching, and I was drawn to the style and softness of the practice. When I heard of his personal transformation as a result of yoga, I had to see for myself what this deeper training was all about. The program was fascinating, freeing, rigorous. Our group became fast friends and shared many laughs and still stay in touch.

Since completion in 2012, I have taught only a handful of courses. The value and principles remain imbedded in my spirit. Over the years, I have abandoned my yoga out of laziness, distraction or simple lack of interest.

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ROLF AND I AT GRADUATION

Isolated in Kenya, unable to run freely as yet, homesick and longing for family, familiar foods and experiences, I turn to yoga. I take my seat on the mat and breathe. Rejuvenating my practice has given me focus, peace, serenity, balance, and the challenge of loosening my increasingly taut body! As the blood and breath reach into cells and muscles ignored for months/years, I feel stimulated yet relaxed. My cells are invigorated and my body tingles with the familiar awakening of this movement of energy within.

I am grateful and appreciate this renewal. It helps me get through days when I feel lost and isolated. My muscles and ligaments respond with strengthening and increasing flexibility. When beginning yoga I did not expect to learn anything other than physical poses, physical flexibility.

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DONOVAN:  REVOLVED TRIANGLE POSE

The insights received from both formal training and regular practice comfort and ground me, affecting both my physical and emotional experience:

  • Surrender my expectations for perfection
  • Open my heart
  • Balance effort with ease
  • Abide calmly in the moment
  • Do my best, without straining or struggle
  • I can take my seat anytime, in order to change my attitude or experience
  • Letting go of struggle yields peace and comfort
  • Being present in the moment attunes me with my feelings and emotional state
  • Release from my mind made prison, being present
  • Suffering is optional

There are so many others….try it on for size!

I thank all of those teachers who have inspired, guided, enlightened, and led me to the beautiful, grounding and heart opening practice of yoga.

WEEKEND GETAWAY

I didn’t anticipate that I would have 10 days of free time once on Kenyan soil before traveling to my site in Mutomo. Heavy rains, a broken truck, and staff training have delayed my departure but happily I have the free time to use as I wish.

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Me and Joanna, my site mate

The first few days I spent touring around Nairobi, a bustling, sophisticated modern city. Heavy traffic prevents rapid transit anywhere. Uber is a Godsend. I am most impressed with the lush foliage and brilliant blooms abounding during this full on rainy season. A city of contrasts, I did not expect to be seated in the actual ArtCafe that was so historically featured in the news a few years back, google it.

My site mate, Joanna, is also here biding time and we have explored the National Nairobi Museum, Karen Blixen Museum and café (so romantic), Westgate Mall (again google it), All Saints Anglican Cathedral, Maasai Market and several markets for food and provisions.

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Karen Blixen (AKA Isak Dinesen) Museum

We spontaneously decided, well, after 24 hours of research, to spend the weekend at the coast. Happily departing Nairobi by Uber on Thursday morning, we cruised into the new train station 90 minutes later, in plenty of time to wait in a 200-300 person line for admission into the station.

The activities of recent years between Somalia and Kenya have created extra security even upon entering malls and stores where physical pat downs and xray of bags is commonplace. Our belongings were placed on a long belt and we were told to step back. Kenyan military then proceed with 2 dogs that sniff the luggage up and down. We are then allowed to proceed to the xray and pat down by female officers. Once through we enter the terminal, a gleaming silver building built recently by the Chinese. More security.

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View of Kenya bush from the train

The 4.5 hour train across the open bush of Kenya was easy and comfortable. Glimpses of baboons, giraffes, elephants and quaint homesteads were available once the train left the densely populated city. Our $7 economy fare seated us in fairly spacious AC cars, each containing 118, passengers, the train carried around 1000! Seats were VERY close together and not so comfortable. Clean restrooms, snacks and service were supervised by spiffily clad men and women dressed like flight attendants. No photos allowed!

Arrival at the station was 7:30 pm so we chose a nearby hotel so as not to travel in the dark.   A stark contrast to cool and rainy Nairobi the temp was 85 and very humid on arrival. After a deep sleep under a whirring fan (no AC) we departed for Diani Beach by taxi during a busy Friday morning in perhaps the largest commercial seaport on the Eastern African coast.

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Mombasa’s signature tusks

Traversing through the market area, the smoke, dust, and vehicle exhaust was overwhelming! Huge semis carrying freight containers bound for the port weaved in and out of motorbike, car and tuk-tuk traffic. The sweltering temperatures created rivulets of sweat down my chest and back, no AC in the vehicle.   The market area is always so interesting. Men welding with no protection, upholstered furniture so dusty and dirty who would buy it and place it in their home? Used clothing hanging in the dust, vegetables, used tires, concrete supports, doors, plastic containers, all for sale.

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Mombasa traffic, dust

As we approached the ferry that would ford the river to the south beach, hundreds of cars and walkers vied for position on the narrowing entry to the boat. We stayed in the car for the crossing, a mere 10 minutes, baking in the stale air. Once across and through the market on the other side, the road opened to views of lush grass and palms. The crowds thinned and the scene was more pastoral; cows, sheep, greenery and village homes.

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Souped up matatus in the city for public transport

Arrival at our guesthouse was a relief and we were served our complimentary beverage on the huge, thatched veranda. The rooms simple, no AC, but the beach and the view and the quiet surely made up for these failings. For $4, a complete meal of rice, meat, veggies and chapatti is served on the breezy porch with a view of monkeys swinging in the trees, anxious to share the food!

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Typical thatched structure at our guesthouse in Diani Beach

A good book, meditation, a dip in the ocean is all the weekend holds for me. Talking to other guests always reveals such interesting stories and paths: a 22 year old Somali woman fled her country as a young girl now serves as receptionist: a 55 year old German man, raised in E Germany, never allowed to publish till the wall went down, has now written and published 50 books on cultural philosophy; a Dutch couple, both studying for PhD have researched and worked in Nairobi for 5 weeks, here on holiday before returning home, young Indian man from Mombai working as a data processor on holiday…..

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Beautiful Diani Beach

I will spend the next few days, quiet, grateful, a bit homesick….

Holy Encounter

 

A light mist fell as I wound my way through a suburban neighborhood in Nairobi for the first time. Only the occasional chatter of birds disturbed the silence as I marveled at the quiet outside such a bustling city.

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Serene and misty walk

Dropped at my guesthouse at 9:30 last night (3/16) I did not know how I would feel about the surroundings in which I would awaken. The guesthouse, simple, comfortable, and quiet afforded me much needed rest and regrouping after a long transatlantic flight to Zurich and on to Nairobi.

After a simple breakfast of eggs and veggies, I found that the restaurant I was to meet 2 other cmmb volunteers was only 2 km away. It always presents a choice of safety versus the delight and anticipation of exploring new surroundings in a profoundly different culture but after discussing the options with the guesthouse staff, I eagerly yet gingerly walked into the neighborhood in search of Cheka, the Japanese restaurant.

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Me and Joanna, my site mate

What a pleasant surprise, a suburban road, quiet, lushly green and laden with flowering shrubs and trees. I passed only 3 people the entire 2 km, enjoying the quiet and taking my first daylight hours in Kenya.

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OOOOHH gelato!

After lunch and a visit to the grocery store, which offered gelato, spices of every kind, and beautiful and varied produce, I headed back home in the soft rain, inquiring every few moments, am I really here? What a gift…

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Fresh bread in the market

As I rounded the corner to home, I spotted a middle aged Kenyan woman walking in a few yards in front of me, carrying a large bundle on her head, clothed in traditional garb; head scarf, long colorful print skirt, assorted layered tops. As I caught up to her, we greeted each other, smiling. She spoke to me in Swahili and I attempted to explain I had 1 day under my belt and no Swahili yet. We both burst out laughing as she stroked my hair along the back of my head, and I clutched her hand in an act of friendship and greeting.

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Heavy cargo

We continued to each speak in our native tongue, holding hands as we walked. She pointed to my head, and her bundle, and I wondered if she wanted me to try it out.   I offered but she did not understand, or want me to. She again stroked my hair. I did not recoil or stop her. I was touched by her gesture, her eagerness to make connection. Our communication was about friendship, an exploration of our openness and courage to touch, reach out and connect in a world where we are so often afraid. Afraid of germs, touching strangers, unsure what to say or do.

This was the most natural exchange and so spontaneous. It felt good and gentle and innocent. As Karen Casey writes in 52 Ways to Live the Course in Miracles                   “No experience is lacking in purpose.   Every encounter is holy.” 

It is in this connection, a spontaneous moment, these holy encounters, that I am moved by spirit, a higher power to continue my travels to far off places; to explore myself, my barriers, my walls and my willingness to restore my own relationship with humanity.

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From Mother Theresa

One day, my first day, so touched my heart and my experience. I understand that I can also do this in my own country, that I don’t have to travel 10,000 miles to have these experiences. But I love the adventure and cultural exchange, and showing others that as Americans we can still love and connect with other faiths, colors, creeds despite our political leadership.

Stay tuned! Much more to come…

Transitions

Last night as I was falling asleep that familiar feeling crept over me; I haven’t felt this in the last year in the states. It originates deep in my emotional core, an aching recognition of isolation and loneliness from living in a strange place on a continent 8000 miles from home. Washing over me for a minute or two it is enough to jolt me back into the reality of the choice I have made to depart from family, friends, security, and comfort to seek adventure, teach, and explore a new culture.

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Prudence, language and cultural trainer, note the UGGS and winter coat!

For a fragment of time, it gives me pause to doubt my choice yet somehow it passes and I can move forward….

I am featuring Zoey in this blog; she is with me every moment and I miss her every day.  She gave me the ultimate gift of complete freedom….and I am so grateful, but my heart still aches over the loss of her beautiful spirit.

Our abbreviated training in Swaziland started on the 15th after spending 10 days in DC in training. We have been immersed in language and cultural training, safety and security, Swazi nursing practice and education, and PC policy and procedures. Housed temporarily in a training site, dorm style, we were all anxious to move to our permanent housing and settle in where we can cook for ourselves and have some privacy.

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my kitchen

I have eaten enough fried chicken and fish now for a decade. Our meals have been prepared daily (wonderful luxury) and they are plentiful and overall pretty healthy. LOTS of veggies, rice, potatoes and usually chicken or fish for dinner, eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, and lunch a mix of things. We take our meals together and classes together so we are pretty tired of each other but all in all our group gets along well. Age range is 28-70 and there are 2 trailing spouses, 9 volunteer nurse educators.

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Sworn in !

Our housing is at University of Swaziland (UNISWA) though I work at Southern Africa Nazarene University, about a 10-15 minute drive.  There are 6 of us at this housing site which makes it nice as we can share transportation and play games at night.  No tv or wifi, but the wifi was installed yesterday and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it works tomorrow.  Using the phone as a hot spot works as long as there is 3G network, but very unpredictable.

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View of the Swazi mountains from campus

Swaziland, nestled in the northeast corner of South Africa, has a pretty good infrastructure in terms of roads, power, and water supply and is fairly modern compared to Malawi where I was for 2015-16. However, the country was devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is still recovering. Here are a few statistics:

  • Population roughly 1.14 million
  • 17, 000 square km
  • 35-45% is HIV + (age and sex dependent)
  • new infections have decreased by 44%
  • average life span for female is 56, male 49
  • US gave $68 million in PEPFAR funding for HIV/AIDS in Swazi in 2017
  • Average annual income is $3135 (World Bank 2015)
  • 5% unemployment
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frig gone for repairs

With that background, the seemingly up to date infrastructure takes on a new meaning…..things are not what they seem. This country has one of the few remaining monarchies. King Mswati III was crowned at 18 and has been ruling ever since. He is 49 and has been King since 1986.

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Polygamy has been widely accepted on the African continent since the beginning of time. To that end, King Mswati has recently chosen his 16th wife and he has 32 children. The king is chosen on the death of the ruling king when he is the only son of one of the king’s wives, regardless of age.

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Time for dinner and more fried chicken! One of the bonuses here is returning home from a long day and picking up some chicken to go at a local BBQ stand. They call it chicken dust because of the dust collecting on the cooking chicken as it deposits from passing road traffic. Gotta have a sense of humor!!!

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kettles galore, tea is BIG here

Full Out!

Like so many other things I pick up and then put down in my life, yoga seems to have disappeared from my practice in the last year. The relaxation, physical flexibility, and insights gained from regular practice are necessary for me to live more peacefully and with ease. I hadn’t acknowledged just how stressed, tense, and anxious I have been for the last three months until settling into my Kripalu retreat with Kate at this wonderful sanctuary. The center is dedicated to the spiritual practices of yoga, meditation, mindfulness and promotes principles of ayurvedic healing and food preparation.

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Kate at Kripalu

The food is MARVELOUS, and though we are staying in a “dorm” with 6 other women, it is quiet, the beds (bunk) are VERY comfy, and all the amenities are available. Breakfast is taken in silence and cell phones are prohibited in all public areas so it is magically quiet and serene.

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Carter, Jackson, and Holt

For the last several months I have been juggling several balls in the air, not knowing if, when, or where I was going with Peace Corps. This was frustrating to say the least after the rigors of medical and security clearance that also took months.  Though I had an inkling I would be assigned to Swaziland, it had not been officially confirmed and then we were notified that the funding had not been released so we were uncertain if the program would move forward.

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Suz and Bentley

I have been living out of suitcases and boxes for the last three years since I sold my home in Reading. Since my return from Malawi last July I have had 4 different addresses, living no more than 2-4 months in any one place. This has been a logistical nightmare in terms of receiving mail in a timely way as well as really never feeling “at home” anywhere. My nesting instincts have become increasingly acute though I have stripped my belongings down to the bare minimum, at least what I move around with. I still have over 4500 pounds in storage so I have not made as much progress in that department as I had hoped.

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Carrie in Boca

We received confirmation that the program had been fully funded a week ago, just in the nick of time. If delayed another week, they would have cancelled the program for the year due to logistics etc. While all the uncertainty had been building over the last few months, I was faced with the added challenge of choosing a path that was most in alignment with my highest good. That is a challenge on a normal day but the Universe had served up some additional distractions and opportunities that began confusing and tempting me.

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dearest Mom

In May, I met John…blind date, Denver. We have been inseparable ever since. How is it possible that I am offered this amazing man during a time of potential separation by 9775 miles? John is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Brazil 1973) so he understands the desire, the service, the adventure. He has fully supported me, aligned with the spirit of the program, and has expressed his own desire and interest in joining me for much of the year and finding his own niche there.

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Me and Johnnie

The principle of aligning with our soul’s purpose and carrying that forward in the world has never been more present in my life. From a story in the Bhagavad Gita,

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Crested Butte, LOVE!

Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate,” Krishna instructed Arjuna. The vacillating mind is the split mind. The vacillating mind is the doubting mind—the mind at war with itself. “The ignorant, indecisive and lacking in faith, waste their lives,” says Krishna. “They can never be happy in this world or any other. Acting in unity with your purpose itself creates unification. Actions that consciously support dharma have the power to begin to gather our energy. These outward actions, step by step, shape us inwardly. Find your dharma and do it. And in the process of doing it, energy begins to gather itself into a laser beam of effectiveness.

Krishna quickly adds: Do not worry about the outcome. Success or failure are not your concern. It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of another. Your task is only to bring as much life force as you can muster to the execution of your dharma.”

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Biking in Colorado

The decision to depart, despite this loving partnership, has been agonizing to say the least.   In the end, I had to listen to my soul and make a choice from a place of the deepest loyalty to my self, my spirit, my heart and trust that the rest would align with that.

This month is filled with travel….Kripalu, Denver, Florida, VT and ultimately to DC on the 5th of September for a week of training before departing for Swaziland on the 14th. I am relying on the generosity of the Universe to line things up behind me in the swirling vortex of the unknown that will manifest as a result of this choice!

I will be engaging full out!!!

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This is who I want to be when I grow up

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl

 

https://kripalu.org/resources/second-pillar-do-it-full-out

 

 

Be Where My Feet Are

I have taken a long hiatus from writing and have been feeling the quivering in my gut signaling the time to renew my commitment to my blog, and reconnect with those of you who have asked me to continue writing.

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Visit with dear friend Martha in VA

Since my return to the states in August, I have led a vagabond life, feeling much of the time like a wandering and homeless soul. I have spent a few months with my sister Mary in Boca Raton, a few months in Woodstock in 3 different apartments (long story) and returned to Africa twice for 4 weeks at a time to travel and dismantle my life there.

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Morning commute in VT, March

Living out of suitcases and boxes, packing and repacking boxes and hauling stuff in and out of storage has become a way of life for me, and though not thrilled about it, I continue to desire and prioritize the freedom that transient lifestyle grants me.

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Reunion with Kate, DC

The devastating loss of my dear Zoey in November lingers and I miss her every day. I truly believe she knew and sensed my longing to return to Africa and she has given me that freedom by passing on. I also am living daily with the guilt and angst of knowing that I probably caused her pain and suffering that irreparably damaged her heart and spirit with my absence. I continue to breathe into and work through that.

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Return to VT in March? What was I thinking

Happily, I have reapplied and been accepted to return to Africa and serve again as a nurse educator in the same program, Global Health Service Partnership within Peace Corps. My desire to experience a different culture activated my request to serve in a different country this time around. My placement is in Manzini, Swaziland at South African Nazarene University.

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Me and sister Mary

All was sailing along smoothly with the security and medical clearance (with the exception of 30 days of lost passport and fingerprints via USPS) until a few weeks ago when they announced that our program was on hold until the finances had been cleared and deposited. WHAT????

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yard saling with Deborah

Yes, 4 weeks ago we were told, “Well just hang on! We will let you know if this program will all happen or not in about 6 weeks time. “ Really? We are supposed to begin training in DC on July 17th and depart for Africa on the 27th! We have quit jobs, rented our homes out, put stuff in storage, sold vehicles, planned family reunions in anticipation of a one year absence!

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My little town, Woodstock

Putting life on hold for 6 weeks is challenging, gut wrenching, stressful, demoralizing, and scary. Most days I am able to roll with it. I show up for work at the hospital and benefit from the endorphins circulating after a long run. And oh, savoring spring in Vermont; the most colorful and vibrant I can remember, but also the most chilly and gray.

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Visit with Jackson, Carter, and Holt in Denver

Fortunately I am a month to month tenant, work a per diem job, and have no other commitments, except that I also recently applied to graduate school, another bee in my bonnet.

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camping with Zoey

And then into the midst of this tornado walks John…provoking even more mystery, distraction, elation, choices, and conflicting emotions. Read McDreamy, long distance, my prince. Really? Now?

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Barn ladies night out

All of this mandates that I be in the moment, every breath, where my feet are, right here, right now. No projections, no dreaming, no pretending. The most beautiful part of this journey is my ability to walk in with an open heart, fiercely committed to living my dream, my passion, my vision for what I believe my soul’s purpose to be. I feel the Universe supporting me and loving me through this.

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Shanti, my charge on returning to VT in late Feb

More will be revealed….I am grateful today for all that I have, all that I am.

 

Namaste