From There to Here

Letterfromdakar

Eight years ago on a flight back to the states, I read a piece in Yoga+Yoyful Living entitled Simple Gifts from Guyana by Katherine Jamieson, and I poignantly remember trying to envision this faraway place the author was taking me to; a place where less was more and that beauty was in the unexpected. I tore the page out leaving the magazine in my seat back pocket only to find it years later in an old box of papers, intrigued by the beauty and simplicity of Guyana and longing to find such a place. I would find such a place years later nestled on the most western tip of Africa.

Most of my twenties were spent trying to find myself: I studied English because I love to write but I found my passion in studying the marginalized characters of the literary world. Finding those same themes play out in our society: poverty, gender and racial inequality, and access to education. I spent my twenties volunteering in communities doing everything from fundraising, event planning, to interning under a social worker. Envious of friends who were off starting their careers with all the answers. After all the English papers and the 3.5 grad point average I was stuck in suburbia with two children under two and no answers. Even after I launched my design business I knew it was a placeholder, something to keep me busy while I was stuck, while I sifted through the dust.

A placeholder to let me grow.

It’s in the waiting that we discover so much truth. After the birth of Evie I knew I couldn’t pursue a business in the creative field. I didn’t have the passion for weddings like so many of my extremely talented industry friends. In Dakar all I could think of was getting away from my computer and getting involved in the community right in front of me. I wanted to reinvent my purpose and passion beyond telling the story of a bride and groom on their wedding day. I wanted to make a difference and tell the stories of those in the world who, for whatever reason, have been left voiceless. I wanted to work with communities to build a better future.

When I think about the serendipitous way we landed in Dakar four years ago, I smile knowing sometimes are best plans are ones unknown to us and these sacrifices and trials are all a part of the roadmap of life. Like the piece on Guyana I stowed away all those years, I also kept a pencil from OU back in 2008 when I first looked at the MAIR program. I needed eight years of trial and error in my own business, raising a family, and moving to West Africa. I needed that perspective shift. I did my growing up on the coast of Senegal. I was pushed to my limits, broken, and conflicted. I arrived with every stereotype both the ones I projected onto others and the ones I played. I left with a humbled heart, a broader sense of empathy and love, and the desire for my life’s work to leave on impact on those who left an impact on me.

So here I am today. Studying the MAIR program at the University of Oklahoma and a 2016 Pat Tillman Scholar. I’m so humbled and honored to be where I am today and it’s not without the love and support from everyone in my life. To the friends who wrote letters for me, proofread essays, and just pushed me to take risks- thank you.

Dakar, much like Guyana, is a place where you learn community is valued over things, beauty is in the hard work, determination, and resiliency that is evident on every corner and in the hearts of everyone you meet. It is a place that is truly magical.  À Bientôt! Inshallah!

Two Days in Verona & Venice

bonverre.venice02

We ended Spring Break this year in one of our favorite Italian cities: Verona. It was so nice to be back after four years but adding another child made taking day excursions into Venice a bit more expensive and a bit more stressful. Despite a nasty virus that was passed between the younger two we managed to make the most of our trip eating plenty of gelato and taking advantage of the delicious regional Valpolicella wine.

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One Year In

   

Today I take the tram to coffee at my favorite place. It’s a French café. They have a salade de chèvre chaud and it is so similar to the one served at the Terrou Bi Hotel in Dakar where I’ve sat a hundred times on the terrace facing the Atlantic sipping rosé until lunch turned into late afternoon. Over the year I’ve found ways to continue my beloved rituals from Dakar. Café au lait with friends, pain au chocolate and macarons with my oldest. We seek out French influence where we can find it here. If I catch a tourist speaking French on the ubahn I cling to every word. In some ways hearing French feels more familiar than English or German. Lately riding the tram early morning has become therapy for me. Chopin playing his haunting Nocturnes in my ear, familiar scenes go by, and even the sound of German less jarring than a year ago. In the dead of winter It feels like life. I’ll grab some bright tulips on the way home at the blumen shoppe. A reminder that spring is on the way. 

It feels colder today than it did a year ago when we arrived in Vienna with three kids and 15 pieces of luggage. Optimistic we would slide right into the same normal we felt in Dakar. Little did we know the thrill of a new adventure was left behind in Dakar and the same ugly furniture awaited us in our temporary home. No I wouldn’t be lounging poolside by the ocean while our permanent residence was being prepared. Palm trees and the warm sun to help forget the sadness of leaving family. This time I was tucked away in the quiet suburbs of Vienna. The silence was deafening. The sky was grey. The air cold. 

The first day the older children went back to school, I sat there on a barstool eating breakfast looking out the window and it occurred to me it was the first time I had been alone in 3 years. I felt my heart begin to race. There was always noise in Dakar. I call Jeff to hear someone’s voice and calm my panic. What would I do all day alone with a baby in a house that’s not mine but an expectation to keep pretending this game of starting your life over every 3 years is normal, easy, and exciting. I struggled for those first few months, well honestly the first year. It comes in waves. Grief of losing our life in Dakar to optimism about starting over in Vienna to the anger of the million little things that break you down. For the first time in my life I felt like I didn’t belong somewhere. I was lost. Floating between a life in the past and a life I wished for in the future. 

But in this year I’ve learned the beauty in the expat life is that it’s ever-changing. We keep moving bringing with us rituals of our past experiences and travels. We learn new traditions. This is how we get by. We build on our colorful life one place at time. I don’t have to belong in Vienna to not feel lost. I will always be the girl who above anything else loves her toes in the sand, listening to the waves crash with the warm sun on her face. Her babies sunkissed and barefeet. A cotton dress and a straw hat. 

A long summer day. 

Yet in this season of life I’ve come to appreciate the preparations made in winter for spring. The anticipation of warm sun and days spent outside at cafes. Then with the last days of summer the cool wind moves in changing the leaves and the preparation for winter begins with the anticipation of the Advent season. We look forward to tulips in the winter months, peonies in the spring and summer, cafes with their umbrellas out, colorful flowers in window boxes all over the city, gorgeous foliage in the fall, jeans and leopard flats, mums and hydrangeas, glühwein and sugared cashews, tobogganing in the Alps, and the magic of the Viennese ball season. 

I can still hear the orchestra playing the waltz from last weekend.

Photo by Bubblerock

Focused For the New Year Ahead

 

I’m working on a post about our year in Vienna, but I wanted to put my goals out there and hold myself accountable for getting things done this year. I just worked through my Powersheets and I’m feeling inspired to make this year happen. I’m ready to make space in my life and in my head for creativity and focus.

My goals for 2016:

Apply to graduate school for fall 2016. I’ve been going back and forth on a few programs. It’s time to take the plunge and apply.

Thrive to be a minimalist. Travel, experience, and food is better than things. Continue to set a good example for our children that things don’t bring happiness. Continue to fill my home with pieces that speak to me or that have memories attached to them. My dream is to one day have a home filled with pieces from our travels. Everything has meaning.

Disconnect from Social Media. Life is better than Facebook. Several years ago I would have argued that it keeps expats connected to home but my heart is filled with joy when I have a 2 hour phone call with my mother or my best friend in California. I don’t find joy scrolling through Facebook. There is such a fine line between the sharing to stay connected and letting social media consume you. This is where I find all my envy, comparison, and sometimes anger over something someone has said. 2016 is about opening my eyes to the abundance around me.

Improve my French and German. Living in Senegal allowed my french is awake from it’s dormant sleep all those years after university. I want to work on my fluency.

Strengthen marriage. This is always a goal every year and every day. Our family is built on the foundation of our marriage. Marriage takes work. Every single day.

Begin writing a book. It’s time to tell a story. I have plans to have the outline and introduction finished by the end of the year.

Prioritize myself. Coffee dates alone or with friends, taking time to do yoga, visit an art gallery, take a cooking class. Mothers were once individuals. We must take care of ourselves in order to be the best to those we love.

Travel more. Suffering through road trips for the experience (just pack the wine). Getting out of Vienna. Weekend trips will be happening.

Connect with my children through community service. Getting on the floor and playing with the kids is my hubby’s strength. He’s imaginative and really a big kid. My strength is helping people. I want to bake cookies for our neighbors with the kids, cook food together and deliver to refugees. I want to show them how doing small things with love equals big things.

Nourish friendships and community. Past and present. I want to pick up the phone and call people. Send letters, care packages. Pay it forward. I have some pretty remarkable friends and I want them to know how much they mean to me. Near or far.

Ok 2016 let’s make it good one.

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