In Search Of Living Stones

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Unfinished piece about visiting

I smiled when I first saw her.
I smiled and called her beautiful, giggled with her and watched the planes fly by.
When I came home I cried until I felt like I could cry no more.
I had caught glimpses of her through the gaps in the fence and when she sat on her dad’s shoulders.
She was 5 and I had never been more angry.

Who had the right to put her behind bars?
What crime had she committed?
She is five, she is five, she is five.

The next time I saw her we played with bubbles and I was given a list of numbers so that I could visit
them inside.
Now I no longer see her in stolen glimpses through fences, but in an air conditioned dining hall, drawing and playing with playdough.
More family members joined and soon it became a family affair and a weekly tradition.

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My homeschooling experience

Being homeschooled is a large part of my identity and eventually brought me to where I am now. Even so, I feel like I need to put a disclaimer on this post that I was not one of those homeschoolers. Y’know the ones, the ones that wear identical clothes made out of curtains(actually, we did do that once), and whose only friends are their own siblings.

I don’t think there was much doubt in my parents mind when it came to schooling, they were going to homeschool me(or home educate or unschool or whatever).
Everyone around them homeschooled and the church they attended at the time strongly promoted home education. As the first born, homeschooling was just a natural progression after teaching me to walk at 1, talk at 1 1/2 and read at 3.
In the small town I grew up in, the homeschoolers outnumbered public school students, and as such we had sports days and events together.
It was a very enjoyable homeschool environment. My cousins were homeschooled and lived next door, we had ski/snowboard camps, and generally just hung out with each other. I have many great memories of this time.
While ACE was the preferred program for most of my friends, I am thankful that I had the freedom to choose what worked for me and what didn’t. ACE came with the benefit of recognized accreditation, but personally I found it too formal and rigid.  However, watching my (very Kiwi) friends attend the (very American) conventions every year bordered upon comical.

When someone asks me whether or not I enjoyed being homeschooled, I usually reply that I loved it until I was 13.
When I was 13 my dad got a new job and my parents decided to move. We moved from a rural town of 200 people in the South Island to a city of 1.4 million in the North Island. We left our friends, all our family and our support network. I hated not having my friends so close, I hated not having any extended family around and I hated being homeschooled. When we did seek out other homeschoolers, they were kinda weird and I felt excluded.
Moving meant I was forced to make friends and meet people who weren’t like me. The area we moved to has a large Maori/Pacific population, which was a very unusual environment but one I enjoyed being part of.
When I was 16, I lost all desire to do anymore schoolwork and my mum made me get a job. University was never a big priority, but if I had wanted to go, my parents would’ve supported me. At that time I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I worked. My first actual experience of studying outside of home was when I did a certificate in Christian Ministry at 18, which I loved.

A few years later, I was a nanny for two kids who went to school, leaving my days free.  During this time, I volunteered to homeschool my brother. Teaching my brother proved to be quite the challenge. He needed constant, one-on-one supervision and would respond to some techniques one day and wouldn’t the next. He often needed things done in a particular way and liked each subject to be structured and timed. I found educating to be incredibly rewarding and watching him finally ‘get something’  was a great feeling.  I found a welcome challenge in doing things differently to get the point across, and finding what worked and what didn’t. When we discovered that he has mild Asperger’s everything made sense. 

I still had no idea what I wanted to do, so I saved up, quit my job and went travelling.
After my great experience overseas I realized how much much I love alternative education and working with kids, and enrolled in a TESOL course and a Teacher Aide course. I discovered an exciting world full of information about how we learn, different ways of understanding numeracy and the way grammar works.
I started working in a classroom alongside my course. It’s strange going to ‘school’ for the first time when you’re 23. 

In October I landed a temporary job in Special Education, which I loved, because it was all about personal, one-on-one education.
The school has asked me to come back this year and I have decided to do a Diploma of Education Support.
I see the irony in being homeschooled and working in public schools, but because I was homeschooled I see the value in alternative education.

Two-Thousand and Thirteen

Come New Years Eve tomorrow night, I think I will be heaving a huge sigh of relief.
This year, in comparison to last year, feels polar opposite. Simply because it felt static, boring and almost wasted.
Some highlights were:
A family reunion in New Zealand, enjoying each others company and the LOTR scenery.
I love hanging out with my mums side of the family and we always have a lot of fun when we do spend some time together.
I completed Cert IV in TESOL and a Cert III in Education Support. I did learn that I love working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities and in education settings.
Moving to a new city.
Landing my dream(albeit short term) job.

Despite all these wonderful things, this year still felt flat. Part of the reason was that I wasn’t over my reverse culture shock until the middle of the year. Eight months. That’s how long it took for me to be okay with being back home, 2 more months then I was away for. It was frustrating, painful and lonely. I either ostracized, or was ostracized from all my old friends and none of my new friends understood me. I was always talking about Israel/Palestine or Arabic, or some Arab country and usually it was completely out of context. And to top it all off, I had some pretty unpopular opinions.
It was hard.

Those words have been staring there for the last hour, staring at me. ‘It was hard.’ What do I follow that with? ‘But NOW everything is rainbows and kittens, yay!’
I still miss it, I still tell the same stories over and over again, I still talk too much about subjects not everyone cares about. I’m still lonely.
But I am okay with being in Australia. Finally. I’m even okay with living here for a long time.
A lot of it has to do with moving to Darwin and discovering how much I LOVE working in education.

I am excited for 2014. I am excited to continue working in education, studying for my Diploma and travelling some more.

See ya later 2013, I won’t miss you.

Some thoughts on Christmas from someone who doesn’t celebrate it

image

Nativity set made of Olive wood from Bethlehem.

As a result of a few interesting events in the past, my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
Never have, probably never will.
We get together with the family(when possible), look at Christmas lights and sometimes I even bake gingerbread houses.
But I have never actually celebrated Christmas.

Despite this, I am fully immersed in Christian culture so I’m not immune to Christian Christmas culture.
And to be honest, I’m not a big fan.
Something I have noticed is Christian culture loves to talk about The Spirit Of Christmas. I think I’ve figured this out as being generous and kind-hearted and simply Christ-like.
Christian Culture loves talking about Christmas but I hear very little about the incarnation.
I have heard many a message on how not to get caught up in gift giving(but to still give, because, y’know, spirit of Christmas and stuff), on how to different and show the world that Christmas is ours.
As a millennial raised in church I get tired of motivational sermons and fluff talks about ‘how to live a Christian life’ etc. but I love hearing about Jesus. The idea that the divine became human, the Word-flesh, gives me goosebumps.
And it gives me hope.
Hearing (for the hundredth time) about how to get into the spirit of Christmas, does not.

Am I speaking too loud?

As I sit here typing there is rain pounding outside and thunder rolling and lightning flashing and I love it.

Never before have I heard so many members of my family express their affection for a city like they have for Darwin.
Never before have I felt this way about a place. I feel like that I could stay here for a long time.
Big enough to feel like a city with things to offer and small enough to feel like you could make an impact.

Even the heat can’t beat you after a while. If you accept that its going to be hot no matter what, then it frees you up to operate in spite of the heat. And, if you can actually enjoy the heat, then all the better.
In saying that, air conditioning is still the best thing ever.
Its hard to describe the heat, but I’ll try to give you some understanding.
I’m wearing shorts and have been sitting on the tiled floor for the last 30 minutes,  I just shifted my position and realized there was a pool of condensation created by the warmth of my body…

Bedtimes
I’m going to take this time to boast about my wonderful baby sister, Selah(5).
My favorite time of the day has recently become bedtimes with Selah, we read a story together, discuss the world and pray.
Each night I ask her who she would like to pray for tonight, she usually decides upon either refugees(both in Australia and abroad), Syria or something happening around the world(Sydney fires for instance). These tend to be subjects we discuss around the house and the amount of information she inadvertently picks up is amazing, resulting in some incredible conversations.
One night, we were discussing Asylum Seekers who arrive by boat in Australia and their fate of life in a detention center when they reach our waters.
I could see Selah was thinking about this when she asked if we could, instead, pray for the people who put the boat arrivals into the detention centers.
So that night we prayed for the politicians who have decided to detain the asylum seekers.
I kissed her, said goodnight and left realizing my baby sister had taught me something.
I went in wanting to give her a wider view of the world and I left knowing that I had missed something. How often have I prayed for refugees in detention and not for the people who placed them there?
Needless to say I pray a little differently now.

Am I speaking too loud?
This week something peculiar happened to me around this subject.
Because I only have a 4 week contract at the school I am working at, I am often asked by co-workers where I plan to go next.
This gives me  the opportunity to say that I am hoping to work with asylum seekers and how I’m working towards this
I have probably had this conversation about 7 times.
One day at lunch a woman approached me and told me that ‘she had heard me talking about asylum seekers’ with a  hushed voice and covered her mouth with her hand. This caught me off guard I thought it was strange, why did she feel like she had to say those words in secret? Am I speaking too loud? Are these words supposed to be hushed? Why?
I’m sorry that I am passionate about people seeking refuge in Australia, running from war and seeking a home where they can simply sleep in peace. Actually, I’m not sorry, and I will not be hushed.
I believe that this is an important topic and needs to be discussed, not swept under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. And I will talk about it, whether or not it makes you feel uncomfortable. I don’t intend you discomfort, only that you would at least think about it and maybe look at it from a different direction.

Here is a short trailer for an Australian documentary about what I’ve just spoken about.

New

Limbo

Most of my family will tell you that I’m not good at waiting. If we’re going to go somewhere, don’t mess around, just go.
Over the years I have got a little better, mostly by busying myself while waiting.
This year, this whole year has felt a lot like waiting and making myself busy while waiting. It has almost been a year since I came home and if you were to ask me to show you evidence of what I’ve done I wouldn’t have much to show you.
I’d have a certificate for TESOL, a (almost) certificate in Education Support, a bunch of timesheets for  hospitality jobs temp I picked up and two days a week as a volunteer Teacher Aide.
Not a lot.
I’m in limbo, not here, not there. Not fully engaged.

New

For now, I’m enjoying some new things and discovering this new place.
At the beginning of September I moved to the Northern Territory at the top of Australia, and so far have thoroughly enjoyed it up here.
The heat does take a little getting used to(it stays around 30-33C most of the year), but you quickly learn that air conditioning is a gift from God and you DO get used to it quicker than you’d think.

I love the culture up here almost everyone is laid back and easy going, and I know more about my neighbors here in the last month than I discovered in 3 years in Brisbane.
It’s hugely multi-cultural, full of markets and outdoor cinemas(during the dry season anyway). And has the highest number of ESL speakers per-capita in the country, which always makes me excited to hear all sorts of languages on the street.
Put simply, it feels like a sigh of relief living here. A very hot, humid sigh of relief that is hurrying to get into the shade, but a sigh non-the-less.
And Air Conditioning is still the best thing ever.

Last week we all went to  Litchfield National Park, to show my Grandmother around because she is up here visiting, when we checked the gauge it said it was 40 degrees. FORTY.
Litchfield was incredible, full of amazing landscapes, wildlife and termite mounds. Being 40 degrees we decided to walk(hahah) to the waterfalls and go for a (crocodile free)swim in the swimming hole at the bottom. Absolutely wonderful and refreshing.

Because I didn’t finished my Education Support qualification in Brisbane, I am finishing the last three assignments up here  which means I needed to find a job at school up here.  While I was filling out the forms for my course, the teacher offered me a temporary job covering a Teacher Aide for 4 weeks at a primary school.
The job is in the Special Ed department of the school, working (mostly) 1-on-1 with kids doing Occupational Therapy or specialized programs their therapists have recommended. Its exactly the kind of work I wanted to do as a Teacher Aide and quickly accepted.
I started last Monday and I LOVE it, the kids are great and the school is awesome. I have 1/2 hour sessions working with kids from 5yrs all the way to 12yrs, which means I get to do all sorts of different things all day.

Stones
This blog is named Living Stones because, at the time, I was on the other side of the world meeting people I considered to be living stones because of their specific circumstances and place in the world.
When I decided to start writing on here again, I briefly thought about changing the name, but came to the conclusion that I would keep it because I want to continue to meet people who are living stones. Whether other people recognize them or not, I want to continue to meet and work alongside people I consider to be living stones in their day to day lives, no matter of their place in the world.

Something to think about from the Book Of Common Prayer for Everyday Radicals:
 Sure, it’s easier to build a memorial than to build a movement,
and we’re always better at sculpting our saints than following them.

Peace and Grace

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

Today is May the 13th, making it one year since I left on the biggest adventure of my life and just over six months since I came back.
This last year has been the most incredible year of my life to date. It had its amazing ups, and it had some downs, I made some mistakes and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve made heaps of new friends, started learning a new language and live independently for the first time ever.
Six months.

I can’t believe how its been. I can’t believe how hard its been. I knew it would be difficult, but I wasn’t expecting it in the way it made its self clear.  It was the little things; everyone speaking English, lack of routine, the way people dress, the way people drive and what people talked about.
It was hard few months, and went for a lot longer than I felt it should, and as a result I ended up alienating myself.

But God is faithful.

I remember once Salim was telling some people about the opportunity and benefits of volunteering with Musalaha, and he mentioned that now I will know what I want to do in the future.
I am discovering that he was right. I know I want to work with the marginalized, both here in Australia and overseas. I’m almost finished my Teaching ESL course, and half way through my Teacher Aide course and I’m loving them. Twice a week I volunteer at a local school in a class of Preps(4-5 yr olds), and sometimes I help out in the ESL room as well. The school is a small school in a low socio-economic area with 80% of the students either born in a different country or 1st generation Australians. It is an incredible environment.
I have even made friends with a little girl from Saudi in my class who speaks no English, its so awesome to see her get involved and play games with the other kids. As a result I have made friends with her sister, father and mother and I’m hopefully teaching them English as well!

I think as a result of my time overseas I have become more and more aware of marginalized people here in Australia. One area I have become passionate about is the refugee community. Unfortunately refugees aren’t given the most hospitable welcome here, especially if they have come by boat.
I’m planning to move up to Darwin in the next few months which will mean a new adventure/change of scenery and I’m hoping to get a job working with refugees.

For now, I’m happy being in Australia if it means I can work in areas I’m passionate about. But I can’t promise that will last long.
I refuse to live my life looking back thinking, ‘remember that really awesome thing I did in 2012?’

PS if you want to know more about Refugees in Australia, check this documentary out.
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2013/04/29/3745276.htm

One Week Out

So here I am, sitting in my room in Brisbane, Australia. Its hot outside and I can hear my two teenage sisters talking about the latest Dr Who episode and what top looks the best on who. I am home.
I’ll talk more about how that feels later.

I’ll start with Thursday night, I got into my nesher, said my goodbyes and farewelled Jerusalem, a city I fell in love with 2 years ago.  And the favour was returned, in a way only Jerusalem could pull off.
People who have been to Jerusalem know that the traffic is enough to make you want to scream.
On this night, when it was so important for me to be on time(and not on Arab time), the traffic was 10 times worse, and roads were closed. So I voiced my concerns and prayed. A lot.
I got to Ben Gurion at 8:40pm, I was supposed to be there at 8, but I had no problems.
I was a bit concerned, as Ben Gurion airport has a reputation for giving people a hard time on their way out. Luckily, they just searched my luggage and let me through. Once I’d checked in, I bumped into my friend Shany, who had stayed with me in Australia earlier this year. It was really nice to see her and we stood talking for a good 20 minutes. She works in security at the airport, so she looked at my boarding pass, saw that my line was full of people and took me to the front of the line, telling her friend to be nice to me. So lovely.
And then I flew for 24 hours.
I landed in Auckland, tired, grumpy and looking like I’d just flown half way across the world. As I walked out with my bags, expecting to simply walk out and catch a shuttle, I spot my sister.
Cassia had flown to New Zealand just to surprise me, so nice.
We got to the hotel where I promptly fell asleep, waking up at 5pm thinking it was 5am.
Finally on Sunday night I get home, see my family, deliver gifts and hug my baby sister.

This week I have just relaxed, unpacked my bags, set up my room and reacquainted myself with the western world. Reverse Culture Shock is a little bit weird considering its your ‘own’ culture. Luckily, I was recommended a great book called ‘Re-Entry’ which is for people coming home from missions trips. It was one of the best things I have done since being back.
To say that being home is amazingly wonderful full of rainbows and butterflies would be lying. Its not.
It has its ups and downs.
I miss the languages.
I miss people, I miss places, sights and sounds. I miss my apartment.
I have to get used to living with 7 other people again.
And as much as I talk about stuff, and try to explain it, people just don’t understand completely. How can they? They haven’t seen it, felt it,  experienced it like I have. How am I supposed to communicate all that?

The art of finding your place

My feet find their way on the worn cobbled roads
Often graced by pilgrims in search of something bigger than themselves
Once a confusing maze of white stone and merchants selling their wares
Now is the path that arrives me at the door of my house

Words, phrases and expressions can be heard all around
once foreign to me, now recognizable and quick to pass through my lips
Often met with surprise as I try to practice my new found skill
And laughter as they try to correct the way the words roll off my tongue

People, once strangers unknown to me
Started as unfamiliar faces and names
Became acquaintances, friends and family
Quick to offer a smile, a meal, a much needed hug

As I continue to the next part of my journey aptly named ‘life’
I carry these roads, words and faces promising not to forget them
Swearing to tell others of their stories
And desperately trying to remember the meaning of the word ‘bishufak’

PS, it means ‘I’ll see you’

Making Lists

So because I am my mothers daughter and I have started packing, I have made some lists.
A lists of what I’m packing, a list of what I leaving, a list of what I’m not sure about yet, a list of gifts I have to buy, a list of people I need to see before I leave, and a list of last minute things I need to do.
One of the things on that last list is to write this blog and because I love the satisfaction of crossing things off list, here I am.
If you have been following even a tiny bit of my travels here you will have learnt that I have fallen in love with this place, so I am making a list of what I will miss about here:

  • My ‘families’
    while I have made several friends here, some of them have become more than that. These people literally have become my family here, I eat Sunday lunch with their mothers-in-law and drink tea with their extended families. I help prepare birthday parties and clean up afterward. More than anyone else, these people have made me feel welcome and accepted.
  • My friends
    One of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t have any friends here, but the people I have met here, both locals and foreigners have become incredible friends.
  • Arabic Music
  • Friday mornings in Bethlehem
    I love walking through, the quiet almost deserted streets on my way to the bus.
  • My bus driver
    So long as I don’t sleep in I have the same bus driver every morning. And  every morning I get a ‘Sabah ilkher!'(good morning), ‘Kifhalik?'(how are you) which I almost always respond with ‘Mabsuta, humdilla'(I’m happy, thank God). The usual response to this by my bus driver is laughter & telling me that ‘every morning you’re happy how is this possible?!‘. Once I even left a bag on the bus which he kept for me.
  • The baker who insists on giving me free bread every morning.
  • Speaking 3 languages a day
    I like the challenge. I will miss the random conversations I’ve had with people in Arabic. Its also fun to be able to know 10% of whats going on when people don’t expect you to understand anything.
  • Saying one word in Arabic and getting responses like ‘inti btikhi Arabyeeee?!'(You speak Arabic?!)
  • My independence, the life I live here.
    Although I’d moved out of home before, I was still living with a family, and going back to my own family everyday. Here I have had to rely on myself completely.
  • Mint Tea
  • Working in the Musalaha Offices
    One of the biggest signs that my time here was a God thing was how much I love working in the offices and how much I love the staff here.
  • Living in the Middle East
  • Conversations with Musalaha staff
    Whether it is a serious conversation about identity and land or an inside joke speaking in accents all day.
  • Dressing conservatively
  • The Muezzin

Things I will not miss:

  • Not being able to flush toilet paper
  • Running out of water
  • Having every car beep at you everytime you step outside
  • Going through checkpoints everyday to get to work
  • Feeling useless in the face of huge problems
  • The footpath doubling as a rubbish dump
  • The smell of said rubbish
  • When Muezzin wakes me up at 4am
  • Not being able to eat/drink publicly during Ramadan
  • People not understanding my accent

Things I’m excited about going home to

  • Seeing my family
  • DRIVING MY CAR
  • Family
  • 3am beach trips with my sister
  • Summer roadtrips
  • Sisters
  • Midnight swims
  • Brother
  • Being able to share my experiences from here