I guess it’s a a sign of aging when you calculate the date of an event and realize it occurred half a lifetime ago. That is, in fact, how long ago I first moved to Taiwan to work at a school that did not exist—a minor detail I only discovered after several days in the country thousands of miles away from home.
After the bait and switch, I felt comfortable to find a different job on the island—not a difficult task for a qualified English teacher. Which is how I ended up working at a magazine. In my first year as an editor, a certain Mr. Baldwin visited our company to present a writing seminar. I don’t remember all he taught us, but these two points have remained with me. You can apply these to any role where, from time to time, you commit thoughts to paper——an important email, a blog post, or an academic paper can all benefit from these basic editorial skills.
I’ve been racking my brain the past week thinking of how to answer a friend. “How is it that you look at the world and see things so very differently?” she asked me. “Where does that come from? And can you teach others to do the same?”
Some of it might simply be my nature. At the same time, I am convinced that my worldview was greatly impacted by the fact that, when I was little, our family was close friends with a husband and wife who were blind. We attended the annual parties for the Pretoria Association for the Blind despite the fact that none of the Booysen clan were visually impaired. Or so we thought.
Through our friendship with Dan and Martie, we learned to see the world differently. We learned ways to “look with our hands,” touching kitchen counters, for example, to check if they’re really clean. And we learned more significant lessons, like always allowing someone who is visually impaired to simply slip their arm into yours so they can follow rather than be pushed, a lesson that extends far beyond the obvious.
By the time I was in college, it was happy to learn that our dormitory was to house Martine, an incoming freshman, and Hettie, her guide dog. Through my friendship with Martine, I grew to appreciate the world around me even more. She taught me to see with my ears, with my hands, with my nose. And from Martine and many others, I learned to see with my heart.
Along the way, other experiences have sharpened those skills. Moving to the US at age 18 for a year and to Taiwan at 25 for several years similarly made an indelible imprint on the way I look at the world. Since Taiwan, I’ve lived in several other countries, and each time I encounter a new culture, I am gifted with yet another frame through which to look at the world around me—and the world within. For it matters not how many countries I’ve called home; if my heart had not changed along the way, I’d be no different than I was before I met Martine, or even before Dan and Martie, for that matter.
In Taiwan, though, I learned how to slip my hand into Jesus’ arm and let him lead me through the alleyways of a city where at first, I couldn’t understand nor read a single word. Not knowing anyone with whom I could share thoughts about what I observed around me—the smells, the tastes, the sights and the sounds—Jesus became my travel buddy extraordinaire. Close to three decades and seven passports full of stamps later, he’s still that and so much more.
I heard the low drone before I saw the animals: a bass choir of about 10,000 cows, counterpointed by the clanging of bullet shells against cowbells forged from old USAID oilcans. And I saw the dust rise from the horizon.
“The cows are coming home,” Steven, my South-Sudanese director, announced, just in case we had missed the sounds and the dust. The we I’m referring to was a group of mostly medical staff from the NGO I was working with in Kenya at that time. Then there was I, the one whose job it was to take photos and write stories about the children at our school in the desert.
Earlier that evening, we walked from Steven’s village near Kolmarek, South Sudan, to the cattle camp to see where the people we had been treating at the clinic all day were living. They are the nomadic Dinka people. They are cow herders. I watched as children scurried to do their jobs: tying each and every cow to its own stake. Toddlers ran to pick up fresh cow dung to add to the drying piles that would be burned that evening. “The cow ash keeps the flies away,” Steven explained. Dabbing his forefinger in some ash, he added, “It’s also good to brush your teeth. Want to try?” Read More
Picture this: You’ve worked your socks off to secure a position on your company’s President’s Circle. This means you win a free vacation to a tropical destination, and you get to take someone special along to share the joy. So your wife weans the baby, and you secure care for the kiddos with the help of the grandparents and the nanny. It takes a solid year of hard work to make one of the top sales positions in the company; it takes almost as long to get everything ready for your week away. The fact that you and your wife have not been away from your three young kids makes this an especially-big treat!
Once in the tropics, you Skype daily to make sure everything’s going great at home. Which it is. Until it isn’t. Until your dear old dog loses control of his bowel movements. In the house. During the day. Shortly before the Roomba’s scheduled cleaning time…
“You singles out there, go to the lobby and just find someone to marry.”
Gulp! Someone whom I know and respect actually said that at a meeting I attended a few years ago. I kid you not.
It wasn’t a meeting about marriage or singleness; I wouldn’t attend either of those. It wasn’t part of some treasure hunt or a game like The Amazing Race, either, where teams had to successfully complete challenges. Read More
When I walked into my office—a streetside coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings—I thought something was on fire. Smoke billowed from a little toaster oven in the corner. But none of the staff looked concerned, and guests sipped their morning brew in peace.
Turns out, the owner was set on roasting his own beans, so he did what you do in a developing country: He improvised. He turned a little chicken rotisserie oven into a coffee roaster by adding a perforated drum where the chicken should be, and by bolting a floodlight to the cover to intensify the heat and thus cut the roasting time in half. Step aside, MacGyver!
If that’s not enough, “Mac” sources his beans from a farmer just on the other side of our lagoon—fair trade at its best. I love it! Plus I love the taste of the coffee, which is why I decided to drive the 8 miles this morning to work from here rather than from my usual spot on the beach, which is but a short bike ride from my home.
Today was our last day of diving off Bunaken. The weather was questionable when we left, but the skipper assured us it’s changing for the better, that the weather forecast for the day was only light rain. Connie—my friend visiting from the US—decided not to go diving today due to a headache, and Marion—my colleague—thought she’d just snorkel around this area today, once the weather cleared up. Not wanting to miss out on a final dive of Bunaken Marine Park, I joined a dive party of two guys from India and their friend from Jakarta.
The hour-long trip over to the island wasn’t too bad. We dived—possibly my best dive in the 14 years I’ve been scuba diving—and then I stayed on the surface, snorkeling, as not to cut into the 24-hour no-dive period prior to a flight. The moment the other three divers surfaced, we were told we’re heading back right away since the weather was changing… Read More