Haiti Mission 2015 — #avoidingCarla

Every journey, honestly undertaken, stands a chance of taking us toward the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. -Parker Palmer

Riding to a clinic in the back of a pickup

The school bus was our main form of transportation

It started out as #avoidingcholera and somehow ended up #avoidingCarla as such things do, so we named it the unofficial motto of our trip. Thankfully, we never found Carla…and she never found us.

Haiti was an experience like none other thus far, a whirlwind of culture and language and clinics and beautiful views and mentally avoiding the heat by dreaming of our next swim.

We held medical clinics five of the days, and we were able to see hundreds of people. It was such a beautiful thing to be able to care for people in this way. Since I’m not pre-med like many of the students on the team, I took my usual scribal position, recording vitals and symptoms. We worked for three days at the school, one day at the church, and one day in a small town outside Thomassique.

More of the team riding in the pickup

In scrubs at the home base, gearing up for a clinic

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Some of our 22 checked bags, leaving from the Omaha airport

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A gathering storm

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Watching a volleyball tournament

We improved the clinic each day, learning more about one another on the team and how we could work more efficiently together. We had two doctors, one from Nebraska, and another from Thomassique. One of our nurses was also from Haiti. We had a team meeting afterwards to discuss what we could improve in the future: more of some medications and less of others, hopefully more doctors, and better planning of our days so that we can fit the entire clinic into a single week. This is the first time this team has added the medical side to the mission, so much of it was trial-and-error, but we learned a lot from our experiences.

Volleyball afternoon tournament

We also helped out with a high school-age volleyball camp, mostly in the mornings when the kids were practicing and working on drills. Personally, my volleyball skills were a little rusty, but I got better with practice, just as the kids did. The coach, Fritz, proudly showed us all of the awards his kids have won in the past five years since his volleyball camp started—including a number of national titles! We had two afternoon tournaments, Americans vs. Haitians, by Fritz’s request, which were quite competitive.

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Campfire one night where we made s’mores for our Haitian hosts

The volleyball camp was an important part of the relational building and cultural learning that Josias, our team leader on the Haitian side, stressed as a part of our trip. He was aware of the dangers of being a one-time fix-it crew, coming in and leaving without building trust in the community, so he involved us in the community as much as possible, such as inviting dozens of his family members over for supper and games one evening. Another night, they taught us Haitian dances, and of course we ate Haitian food every day, which was often an experience in itself. Except for goat tongue and intestine, I think I tried everything I was offered.

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Riding the bus with new friends

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Home base

One of the downsides of the trip was that our team burned itself out the first week. By the second week, many of us were sick or injured in one way or another. The heat increased from the first week to the second, which zapped our energy even further. One of our goals for next time is not to push ourselves so hard at the beginning of the trip.

haiti14However, our Haitian hosts gave us a couple days to rest and recuperate at a waterfall and at a spring where we could swim. Everything we did brought us closer together: with each other as Concordians but also with our hosts with whom we spent each day.

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Elisha is excited to begin the trip!

haiti2This trip was a lesson for our team of living out Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We were living on what we called “Haitian time,” when things happen when they happen, often is not how we foresaw it. But God works through everything, often making “better” from what we might have considered a “missed opportunity”—even from our first few moments in Haiti, when we discovered that all 23 checked bags, carrying medical supplies, volleyball supplies, and our team’s personal items, had been left in Miami and would not arrive until over 24 hours later. This situation “forced” us to get a good night’s rest in Port-au-Prince instead of taking the four-hour bus ride through the mountains, preventing an even earlier burnout, among other blessings.

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My home for two weeks–but we moved under the shelter when the heavy rains hit

Taking a trip to Haiti is expensive, which I learned during fundraising in the months prior to the trip but did not realize the purpose until I arrived in-country. Our team lived on a plot of land about three miles outside Thomassique. This was a huge blessing: we were able to sleep in tents, which helped keep us cool, and we had about 15 acres or so inside a cement wall where we could exercise and go for walks, or just separate ourselves from the group to have some time alone in the Word. However this required the use of the school bus to take us everywhere, which used fuel. It also required extra team members for upkeep of the land, as well as living expenses not only for our team, but also for our cook and her family, our bodyguard and his boss, our translators, and more bottled water than I ever thought could be consumed in the span of two weeks.

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Selfies with kids holding on to our bus on the way home from school

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My Haitian pen pal, Anide, who lived about five hours from Thomassique

At the end of the trip Josias shared with us the plans for the future of the Lutheran church and school in Thomassique. This project has been going on far longer than the time I have been involved, and with the help of a developing bridge between Seward NE and Thomassique, the plans for the future are bigger than ever. These plans include expanding the school, purchasing a second school bus so the 350+ kids have a safe way to commute sometimes several miles to the school, and more medical clinics for future trips, of which I hope I am a part, Lord willing.

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Medical clinic day

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Caves near the waterfall

For me personally, this trip was an incredible exercise in trusting God hour by hour. I can see now how He has been preparing me throughout this year so far in my other travels. He was also teaching us about the necessity of prayer and the importance of being joyful. I plan to go back someday, but I will have to wait and see where the Lord guides my steps.haiti1

The Compromise of 2015

‘I just won’t sleep,’ I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.         -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Sushi with the girls

‘Compromise’ carries a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t. Compromise is often thought of as losing something; as not winning the whole thing; as giving up a part of what you have or want.

But there is a beautiful side to compromise, too, which I recently spent two and a half weeks rediscovering.

flash2My last roadtrip was one of the pinnacles of independence so far in my life. It was not uncommon to receive texts or calls asking, ‘What state are you in?’ I ran my days by my own schedule, or no schedule, whichever I pleased. I drove when I wanted to drive, napped when I wanted to nap.

While there is nothing wrong with being on my own, we are created to be communal beings, and independence can go overboard. So I compromised the things to which I was accustomed in order to gain something I had not had before: companionship on the road.

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Egret…?

After three days in Pierce NE for my roommate’s wedding, I drove to Seward and joined four other young ladies–Hannah, Erika, Kristin, and Ellie–for the 27.5-hour trek to Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Hannah’s grandparents gave us a week in their condo, a very kind gift. The drive down had a few hangups with varying routes on GPS’s, etc. We were driving through the night in two cars, trying to keep drivers awake, stopping more than usual and sometimes not in the best gas stations…

But as I said: if I have the privilege of driving through the night with friends, I have to learn to be patient with hour-long rest stops & refuelings.flash4

The condo made everything worth it. Five days on the beach, swimming multiple times each day and runs in the sand in the mornings. The condo itself was almost completely decorated in white, accentuating the feeling of renewal and cleanliness that matched my mental and emotional restoration taking place throughout the week. The spacious porch allowed us a delightful view of the sunset over the water (and sometimes dolphins jumping in the distance!) during supper. A few nights we grilled lobster and shrimp kabobs.

flash1Indian Rocks Beach, a quaint resort town, lies on a small island on the gulf side of the Tampa Bay peninsula. Sometimes in the afternoons we took walks to get ice cream or sushi. We also visited an outdoor mall to look around the tourist shops and participate in a ‘free’ wine tasting–but they convinced us to buy a few bottles, so was it really free… oh well.

The girls had to drive out Friday to make it back in time for work. My friend Anthony had flown in that morning. We stayed an extra day at the condo, and continued the trend of spending the majority of our time on the beach or in the ‘dolphy’ water (‘salty’ water just after a conversation about dolphins). I told Anthony he wouldn’t live that one down.

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One of my favorites of Dali’s works

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Lincoln/woman at a window, Dali

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Also a favorite, note the patterns & hidden faces, Dali

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Dali & da Vinci & me

Saturday began the three-day roadtrip to Nashville. In St. Petersburg on the peninsula, we visited the Salvador Dali museum. The only painting I knew of his was the ‘melting clocks’ piece, so I was astounded at the multiple floor-ceiling pieces containing hidden patterns and classical images and sculptures inside the paintings as a whole.

Dali’s mustache was a theme throughout the museum and the garden behind it, which contained a labyrinth.

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Bird with Dali stache

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Zoo Atlanta

In Atlanta and walked around downtown, paying a visit to World of Beer and people-watching while sitting at a table on the street outside. Father’s Day we walked around Zoo Atlanta through the scorching heat and oppressive humidity then went and saw ‘Love & Mercy’ at the movie theater to cool down. Just before sunset we took a ride on the SkyView Ferris wheel near Centennial Park, which is dedicated to the Olympics.

Don’t go to Birmingham on a Monday. Everything is closed.

Museums, theaters, hall of fame, even the churches. All closed on Mondays.

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Statue in Birmingham in Kelly Ingram Park

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16th Street Baptist Church, bombed in 1963, four girls killed

Also it was hot.

So we walked around the park and ate at Jim ‘n Nick’s. Definitely a thumbs up for that, at least.

Then seven days in Nashville TN. You might think of Nashville as a music city, and that aspect can’t be overstated. Everyone I met seemed to be in multiple bands, with past involvement in at least half a dozen others, and had the ability to play at least seven different instruments. At the same time. (Just kidding–but sometimes it felt that way!) Having so much talent condensed into such a small area was astonishing. The air radiated with a sheer love for making music.

Anthony and I were staying with his friends Dave and Jenny and their family, who were hosting the music festival. Dave’s daughter Charlotte passed away four years ago, and the family hosts ‘Charleyville’ each year to raise money for scholarships for music camps, free and reduced music lessons, and purchasing instruments for kids, as well as making a donation to the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which Charlotte had been studying, learning to write lyrics. Every year Anthony and his friends from Oshkosh roadtrip down to Nashville to support Charleyville.

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Johnny Cash museum, Nashville TN

Charleyville lasted three nights, featuring 22 bands, a silent auction, a raffle, good food, and a lot a great people: the kind of great people with whom you want to stay up all night around a bonfire while they improvise on random instruments. I’m no musician but I lent my listening ears (those are needed too; at least I like to think so) and felt a part of the Nashville culture for a week, and it was beautiful.

During the day time before the music started, Anthony and I spent our time walking around the city as he showed me his favorite spots and we explored a few more. I hit up a few museums of course, including the TN State Museum across from the capitol building and the Johnny Cash museum which opened two years ago.

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…and the Nebraska jacket

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Modeling the Montana jacket….

We also met Manuel, a friend of Jenny’s, at his shop, where he designs and makes clothes for celebrities, including Elvis’ famous gold suit. Manuel let me try on some of his state jackets.

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Parthenon

Nashville has a to-scale Parthenon, left over from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition, complete with a statue of Athena inside which precisely follows the historical measurements of the statue which once stood in the original Parthenon in Athens.

Dave and Jenny lived about 15 minutes north of Nashville, which offered some great running territory in the mornings through forested lanes and around duck ponds and parks.

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Shy’s Hill

I hiked Shy’s Hill, where the decisive Battle of Nashville took place during the Civil War–Dave happened to be a history buff as well and directed me to all the right places. The hike up the hill only took about 10 minutes but it was a steep drop on all sides. I cannot fathom how the Union army fought its way up and took the hill, all but wiping out the western Confederate forces.

While independence is a handy tool to have around, there are some things you can’t have without compromise. Like friends, for instance.flash18

Cruisin’: Unlikely Travel Buddies

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends….Friendship must be about something….Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.” -C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

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Departure from Miami

Our second ‘date’ was 10 days long and we didn’t kill each other… so I guess we should get married, right?!

Just kidding.

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Carnival Glory

When Randall informed me just before Christmas he had two free cruise tickets from winning Employee of the Year at his work in Plymouth, Massachusetts, I jumped at his offer. I knew I would have to miss a week of my last semester of undergrad… but senioritis was kicking in, and besides, when else might I have a chance at a free Caribbean cruise?

cruise5Randall and I had met in Italy: I was in Rome for the weekend, he was there for a week or so on vacation. We sat next to one another in St. Peter’s Basilica for mass that Sunday morning. After exploring Trestavere all evening together, we discovered that we enjoyed travelling and adventuring together–but when we parted we doubted we would ever see one another again. Until now!

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Two Carnival ships

I think it’s rare that someone would go out on a limb like Randall did, and ask someone he had met only once to spend 10 days with him–and I think it is equally rare that someone would accept that invitation. But we are both at times in our lives where we are willing, and able, to try most anything for an adventure. I am thankful God placed us in one another’s lives so we could take this crazy exploration together.

We had the time of our lives. Thank you, Randall, for all your hard work, and thank you for asking me to join you in this incredible experience.

The Amber Palace

The Amber Palace, on board the Glory

10 days, Jan. 30-Feb. 8: two overnights in Boston due to early/late flights into/out of Fort Lauderdale, two days travelling and boarding/debarking, two days solely on the beautiful Carnival Glory, and four days in the middle of the trip during which we debarked in Caribbean locations for 8-9 hours during the day.

photobomb...

photobomb…

The ship was gigantic–it was a floating city. There were 12 decks, approx. 18 elevators, a giant casino, more than a half-dozen restaurants, a large theatre, a water slide, multiple bars and lounges, and constant live music and stand-up comedy in the evenings. Randall’s free tickets left nothing wanting–we ate every night in the Platinum Restaurant, a private balcony, and still left some ‘cruise cash’ left over for drinks during the week. We spent our two ship days lying in the sun on the deck, watching the Superbowl on a giant outdoor screen, soaking in live music and dance, and sitting in the hot tub and looking at the stars.

cruise9cruise10We spent a day on the island of Cozumel, Mexico, where we rented a moped and zipped the 43 miles around the island, stopping frequently to visit Mayan ruins and talk to the locals. We came upon a free tequila tasting–I’ve never been a fan of tequila before, but now that I’ve had the real Mexican stuff, there’s no going back.

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Giant lizard!

Cozumel

Cozumel

We stopped once to watch the water crashing on the rocks on the back side of the island. On the way back to the dock we stopped in the town for lunch and pina coladas…and literally got caught in the rain… /cue country song/

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Belize City

Belize City

In Belize City we wandered around the city, went to the Belizean History museum, walked up and down the river, and talked to the locals. Much of the city was dilapidated, but it made for some neat pictures of staircases and walls in the middle of overgrown lots.

Miss Jenny

Miss Jenny

I ate Belizean food for lunch from a woman named Miss Jenny who served up delicious meals outdoors under a tent. As all her friends gathered around the tent they spoke quickly in Creole and smiled at me sitting wide-eyed on a tiny plastic kids chair beneath Miss Jenny’s large pots of chicken, rices, collard greens, and plantains. We met Edward, who told us about Belizean government and festivals, and I had a beer with Alan, who used to be a diving fisherman. He knew everyone on the river.

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Fishing boats on the river in Belize City

Roatan

Roatan

In Honduras we stayed on the island of Roatan, and from there took a chairlift to a smaller island with a beautiful beach. We rented snorkel gear and explored the beautiful reefs just offshore. We saw an octopus and a few squid, in addition to a plethora of brightly-colored fishes and corals.

Chairlift over the jungle

Chairlift over the jungle in Roatan

Otherwise we just lay in the sun all day: I read a book, Randall napped. That hard worker deserved it.

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Grand Cayman Island

By the time we reached Grand Cayman Island we were exhausted from the previous days’ adventures, so we decided to go with a guided tour for the main part of the day. We took a bus through the island, mostly comprised of large stucco houses and American-looking neighborhoods of American stores (vastly different from anything we’d seen on land yet), and older women going for walks in white shorts and visors. We were driving on the left side of the road: I discovered later that the Cayman Islands are British territories.

A boat took us out to the middle of the large bay where an underwater ‘beach’ came to a plateau about waist-deep, and stingrays circled our feet. Following the lead of our tour guides, we kissed and hugged stingrays, then snorkeled around the reefs. Our tour guide was Tina, and she homeschooled her son CJ and took him on all her tours. He loved to participate in fishing competitions, and wanted to go to college in New England. Randall spent most of the time on the tour talking with them.

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Paul Revere statue outside Old North Church

Paul Revere statue outside Old North Church

I had a night in Boston before I had to leave the following morning, so Randall took me downtown to Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and Old North church. It was cold, and we were both missing the sun, but we had a great time seeing a bit of the old city and drinking Sam Adams in the Black Rose Tavern. It was a bit strange to be blistered all over with sunburns but also be chilled to the bone because I did not have sufficient jacket or shoes.

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Nailed it.

Midwest from above

Midwest from above

But it was worth it.

On Motion: January Roadtrips

“To me–a blank fortune is…an open sky on the horizon. Fill in the blank. A fortune no one’s ever written up ahead of time, because no one could imagine a life as strange and as beautiful as the horse you’re about to jump on.”  -Sarah Ruhl, Late: A Cowboy Song

There is something beautiful and exhilarating about constant motion, something powerful. Motion accomplishes something that stillness cannot. Perspective changes: physically, and then psychologically.wisco1

Such were my thoughts as I pushed through the West, then the Midwest, changing landscapes falling behind me and looming before me, one after one after one, the blue hood of my Dodge pickup pressing on in front of me like the prow of a ship.

January was full of time in the car, most of it alone. I didn’t mind: in fact, I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks.

I get excited when I drive. Sometimes a good song comes on the radio, or a prayer rises in my heart, and I laugh. It bubbles up, and I roll down my window and lean out up to my waist, feeling the wind and the tears running out of the sides of my eyes, and I yell at the world in happiness.

This was my first drive from my home in Western Montana to Nebraska in the winter or alone. I have made this same trip eight times before, but always with someone else, and always sometime between April and August (although we still hit white-out blizzards even in that time frame). I needed to get my truck and my college belongings back to Nebraska for the upcoming semester.

I looked around for a driving buddy for a while but I wasn’t too disheartened when none surfaced. Every brain needs a rest from constant interaction.

I began my journey January 2, and that first day on the road was glorious. I missed being behind the wheel while I was in Italy. I spent 14 hours flying across beautiful Montana and south through Wyoming, leaving my beloved mountains in my rearview mirror for seven months. I had heard there was a storm on my tail, but I had a good chance of outrunning it for the first day.

I always make a few calls while I drive, catching up with old friends. Some people tell me it’s dangerous, but if you have ever driven alone across eastern Montana and all of Wyoming in one day, you know it’s much safer to be on the phone: otherwise you risk falling asleep out of sheer boredom (although as long as you keep the steering wheel straight you may still stay on the road at least until you run out of gas, probably 30 miles from the nearest gas station).

wisco2I found a tiny motel in Cheyenne for only $55. I could hear the man snoring next door, and there was a wind (not draft) coming in through both the rotting wood around the window in the bathroom and the 3/4-inch gap around the front door; but all I really needed was sleep, and I can sleep through anything. I just used an extra blanket or three.

The second day was a white-out blizzard. I spent six hours gripping the wheel as the wind whipped white sheets across the road, erasing any remains of asphalt to my view. I arrived at my apartment in Nebraska exhausted.

But the next morning, I was up early and out on the road for another 10-hour adventure: I wanted to visit a friend from Italy before the semester got started.

I spent four delightful days roaming around Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was in the single digits all week, and the wind chill put us deep in the negs. However my friend Anthony, who had also studied in Florence last semester, still managed to give me a grand tour of downtown Oshkosh during my stay.

wisco3We hit up Peabody’s where they offer live jazz every Sunday night, and we attended The Traveling Suitcase’s debut concert for their new album. Anthony knew the lead singer/drummer Nicole Rae (he knows everyone in that city).

I also stopped for a night to see my brother Kevin at his school in Mequon, and he treated us to Panera. We don’t have those in the West. I also hung out with his college buddies, some of whom I remembered from my visit last March.

Over the week, as I socialized with Wisconsinites, one thought pervaded my mind:

Wisconsin is the South of the North.

I am always struck by Wisconsinites’ superb hospitality. I know the Midwest is known for this trait in general, but Wisconsinites’ love for their Home and their Guests is a thing to behold.

The drive to Nebraska was blessed by good weather, although I counted over three dozen cars and six semi trucks off the road in mangled fashions, a result of the storm the previous day. I heard about a 190-car pile-up in Illinois just east of where I passed through.

I was home for only one weekend before I piled into a car with six other people and drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky, for a travel conference (ironic, I know).

wisco4There is not much to say about this weekend except that I experienced my first two all-night drives, and that I got to spend a Saturday evening in downtown Louisville. We all grabbed a few drinks at Sully’s downtown. There were so many lights in the walking district that it reminded me of what I imagine New York City to look like (a future bucket list location).

In true college-student fashion, we managed to fit 14 people into two hotel rooms, 10 in one and four in the other. Thankfully I had a sleeping bag with me: the gypsy life, my friends, and the beauty of constant motion.

I Failed Italy?

“Travelling opens the mind.” -Blue Is the Warmest Color

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I was on the public bus one morning while going to school and a woman yelled, ‘Mamma Mia!’ when the bus stopped suddenly and another woman fell on top of her. I smiled. I didn’t know Italians actually said that.

Itali5.1ans really do talk with their hands, too. We even learned important hand gestures in class one day. Thanks to this helpful and informative picture my friend Maddy sent me, I learned how to communicate clearly. I laughed out loud whenever my host mom Cristina made this same face and gesture.

And Italians really eat pasta with every meal, but here they do it ‘backwards’: pasta is the appetizer, and the salad is the main course.

Also the mafia still actively exists.

That was news to me.

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My host mom, Cristina, and I sat down for a talk before I left Italy.

‘I guess I failed at this semester,’ I said. ‘I’m not Italian.’

When I first arrived in Florence and began to observe the lives around me, I said to myself: ‘If, by the time I leave in December, I don’t nap in a park on warm afternoons, I don’t eat tomatoes with every meal, and walking face-first into someone still makes me cringe, then I will have failed Everyday Life in Tuscany 101.’

There were two ways to mix with the Florentine crowd: act like a local or act like a tourist. Either way you blend in with half of the population. I did both, depending on my mood, but trying to be local as often as possible. I had Italians ask me for directions on a few occasions, so that counted toward big bonus points I think. The tourist population died down by the end of October, then picked up again in early December as Christmas season began to roll around and the blissfully magical Christmas markets rolled out in Piazza Santa Croce.

5.2I waited until that break in tourism to climb the duomo and the bell tower. I stood for a long time at the top, memorizing my beloved and now-familiar city as much as possible. I was able to pick out many of the places I had frequented and explored.

I also saw the city stretching away to the northwest, beyond the Santa Maria Novella train station and the canal that runs from Piazza Liberta to Cascine Park, the area I had sadly left unexplored. I saw thousands of buildings, and treetops scattered here and there like weeds poking up between towers of windows and arches, showing where the numerous city parks were located.

5.8With only two days left in the semester, I finally ventured in that direction. I sat in a park just beyond the extent of my previous wanderings. I looked back towards the city center, the Oltrarno, Gavinana, Bagno a Ripoli, Fiesole, and all of the city which lay between these areas.

‘I need to come back,’ I said to myself. ‘I haven’t seen it all yet.’

Not being able to do everything I wanted to was perhaps the most difficult realization I had to deal with before leaving Italy.

And yet, exploring never ceases. If I’ve been in Florence four months and haven’t ‘seen it all,’ what of the tens of thousands of other cities in the world?

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So. The semester is over. Did I fail?

Well, I’m not Italian, and I never will be. If that was my goal, then yes, I flunked study abroad.

But I did nap in a park, and I eat tomatoes all the time now. Slathered in pure olive oil when possible.

Some Americans complain about our country and wish we were more like someone else’s country. I found just as many Italians who wished their country was different as well. And I have found Americans who aren’t fans of Italy and vice versa.

5.3The truth is, whether or not I would like to be Italian, or whether or not I tried to be Italian, I am American. I was born on American soil. I was raised with a certain perspective, with certain freedoms and rights, and with a certain political system. Had I been born somewhere else, I only hope I would still have the opportunity to explore other parts of the earth as I am now.

For the moment, I’m glad to be back on American soil. Today I walked around barefoot all day, I heard a sermon in English, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and the living room, I drove my truck. It’s not better, it’s just what I’m used to. This is America to me. This is where my roots find suitable soil.

That certainly doesn’t mean my travelling days are over. In fact, I have had multiple opportunities open up for the next seven months, so I have decided to keep this blog open in case anyone is curious what the Jarvite Gypsy is going to be up to, Lord willing.

Travelling is broadening perspective, learning empathy and grasping the humanity of mortal life.

Perhaps I didn’t fail too hard.

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