Night Train to Colombo

Our three-wheeler pulls into the dusty lot used as a bus station. Several mini-buses and big red buses similar to school buses idle around, engines humming and doors open, all waiting to depart to various cities in eastern Sri Lanka. I grab my bags and step onto a patch of caked dirt.

My friend Apriliza emerges from the three-wheeler and stares at me. Two men walk by, discussing something in Tamil as another bus pulls out, kicking up dirt around us. Sri Lanka’s majority population are ethnic Sinhala, but here on the east coast are a pocket of Tamil Sri Lankans.

The Tamil Pastor stands next to me and points to a nearby bus. “This is your bus,” he declares in English.

A few days earlier I had traveled to this city called Kalmunai—a tiny dot on a map with no tourism to offer—by repeatedly mispronouncing its name to random strangers. I was in Kandy, a city in the center of the island, with a bus station many times larger than Kalmunai’s, bustling with buses and thousands of travelers. Not deterred by a few confused looks, I said “Kalmunai?” until a man with red betel nut stains between his teeth spat and pointed toward a mini-bus at the end of a long line of larger red buses.

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Love does not stay idle

Love does not stay idle.” -St. Catherine of Siena (from Letter T82)

This is my 100th post on this blog, and to celebrate I thought I’d write a brief manifesto of sorts–a window into who I am and why I do what I do.

As I wrote earlier in my story about staying in the Abbey of St. Hildegard of Bingen, I am aligned to be out in the world, in relationship and direct service with people.

Translating that into religious language, my calling is to Love God and Love Neighbor.

Out of God’s great love, grace, and redemption, I find a love that cannot be kept inside. I am compelled to love my neighbor. I am compelled to love and serve people throughout this country and world.

This means I will seek work that is fulfilling and servant-oriented. So far, for me this has been manifest in pastoral care, spiritual direction, direct service with the poor and homeless, dismantling racism, intentional community, and global service.

The work need not be overtly religious, because I know that loving one’s neighbor transcends religion and theology. One need not be religious to know the longing to love and be loved. One need not be religious to serve and have relationship to our neighbors.

What I write here comes from moments of grace I believe are worth sharing, the stories of life and relationship.

Grace is in the brief time I spent with Suon in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Grace is in the relationship to my Indonesian brother. Grace is in participating in weddings and funerals, hearing people’s hope for their country, and meeting a fellow pilgrim. And so much more.

This means that in my work and in my travel, I am motivated out of grace and love, and a desire to enjoy this amazing earth. It is my privilege to be able to share some those experiences on this blog.

Love does not stay idle.

Visiting the hospital in Balige, North Sumatra, Indonesia with the students.
Visiting the hospital in Balige, North Sumatra, Indonesia with the students. April 2012.
Sunday devotion with elderly group, village of Marihat Tiga, North Sumatra, Indonesia. May 2012.
Sunday devotion with elderly group, village of Marihat Tiga, North Sumatra, Indonesia. May 2012.
Meeting Krishna (far right) and his companions. Kumily, Kerala, India. January 2009.
Meeting Krishna (far right) and his companions. Kumily, Kerala, India. January 2009.

Elections and Hope in Sri Lanka

“In my country there will be an election,” declared Oskar my taxi driver, as he drove me through the center of Colombo.

An hour earlier, my flight had landed at Bandaranaike International Airport, 35km north of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city and capital. It was Sunday, January 4, 2015, four days ahead of the awaited election.

In October 2014, then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for elections to be held in January 2015—two years before they were due. A month later, Maithripala Sirisena, a former ally to Mr. Rajapaksa, announced his candidacy under the opposition coalition. In his re-election bid, incumbent President Rajapaksa told voters to “go with the devil you know,” contrasting his longevity as a two-term president and the relatively unknown career of Mr. Sirisena.

Under Rajapaksa, the military had defeated the rebel separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009, which gave him support from the nation’s Sinhala majority. His critics, however, allege human rights violations during the 26-year civil war. Both sides have been accused of violating human rights, although the government under Rajapaksa hadn’t acknowledged any abuses.

In the taxi, Oskar had begun with polite conversation at the airport—the usual where are you from, where are you going in Sri Lanka, how long will you stay—but his swift switch into politics surprised me.

“Who will you vote for?” I asked Oskar, curious, and hoping I wasn’t intruding.

“Maithri,” he said, not shy about his support for opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena. “It’s time for change in this country,” he added.

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Triple Half Marathons

Catching up on blogging about my travels in December and January, here are some photos from running three half marathons in three consecutive weekends. Since I love to travel and run, why not combine the two and make it a great adventure?

I started with the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon on 7 December 2014 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was well organized and awesome to run next to the ancient ruins. The race started early but the heat still was an issue, so I was thankful the course was mostly along the tree-lined roads.

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Running next to Angkor Thom. Angkor Wat International Half Marathon.

Next was the Thailand Half Marathon in Bangkok, Thailand on 14 December 2014. This one was more of a local event, but still well-run. It started at the Rama VIII bridge and continued along the elevated highway, so there wasn’t much scenery. Still an awesome race. Story from race day: my hotel was a couple kilometers from the start line, and with an early AM start, I set out to find a taxi. But the taxi driver I got didn’t speak any English and seemed to not even understand when I pointed at the map exactly where I wanted to be dropped off and to my race number pinned to my shirt. Maybe he was reluctant to drop a white lady off at a random place, but anyway I jumped out of the cab and ran to the start line, since I already knew how to get there–made it with 10 minutes to spare. It pays to know your way around.

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Running across the Rama VIII bridge in Bangkok, Thailand.

Finally, to complete my triple crown of half marathons, I ran the Chiang Mai Half Marathon on 21 December 2014 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Another well-organized run I thought to be really fun. Near the end I swore it felt longer than 21km, but I actually crossed the line for my best half marathon time ever. I stayed so focused I didn’t get any pictures during the race, but I’m darn proud of these medals for all three half marathons.

3 Half Marathons. 3 Consecutive Weekends. 2 Countries.
3 Half Marathons. 3 Consecutive Weekends. 2 Countries (Cambodia and Thailand).

Helping my friend Diva

One of the amazing things about my life is that I have met many great people in many places around the world. During the last two years in Indonesia was no exception. I have many friends in the country, and after I run the half marathons in Cambodia and Thailand, I will go back to Indonesia for a few weeks.

This is Diva at school
This is Diva at school

Below I share a link to a GoFundMe site I created. One of the friends I made is raising her grand-niece. The parents divorced and abandoned their child, Diva. So Diva lives with her great-aunt who is retiring. The small pension she is about to receive isn’t enough to cover the costs associated with Diva’s school. Every time I visited them, Diva’s great-aunt took care of me, often taking me out to lunch. I’m so grateful for that help and support and I want to return the favor. My goal is to collect some money through my generous friends and supporters so I can give directly to them to help Diva for her future. Here’s the link: Help Diva go to School

Keep reading the blog for updates about the adventure–race and travel updates, as well as a little about the friends I’ll be visiting along the way. Thanks.

Announcing a new adventure

I have been busy, so this update will be brief until I can finish the drafts of more interesting posts. Briefly put, I have had difficulty securing a job after returning from Indonesia, and in this time of waiting I decided to make goals and put my creativity to use.

Here we go: I’ve redeemed a stockpile of airline miles (from a lot of travel plus travel hacking). In December I’ll be running 3 half marathons (that’s 3 x 13.1 miles/21km) in Cambodia and Thailand.

  • 7 December: Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in Siem Reap, Cambodia (running 13 miles around ancient ruins? Yes, please!)
  • 14 December: Thailand International Half Marathon in Bangkok, Thailand (Significantly less scenic, as it is an out and back on a highway bridge in the middle of Bangkok, but it’s an adventure).
  • 21 December: Chiang Mai Half Marathon in Chiang Mai Thailand (I’m not in shape to do the full marathon here, but it’ll still be a nice run in the city).

After that, I’ll be visiting friends in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. And great bonus: even though I’ll be traveling in Asia, the whole journey is around the world. I leave from the US through Seoul and Taipei to Phnom Penh, and return to the US from Kuala Lumpur through Frankfurt, Germany to North America.

There’s more purpose to this than just travel and running, but for today this will have to suffice. Stay tuned and feel free to add and follow along via email.

July: Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore

July was my month off from teaching with no responsibility to be at either of my schools. Beleaguered by the slow-moving process to renew my visa to work in Indonesia, I had to leave again, so why not make a vacation of it?

The original plan was for Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia (where I met up with a good friend of mine). Along the way I had to extend my plans to include Singapore, where I would stop to arrange for the visa with the Indonesian Embassy (yay).

I was content with eating fabulous food, making discoveries on foot and bicycle, and peering into Buddhist temples. Since I’ve already been hiking in the jungle to a waterfall here in Indonesia, it didn’t seem so special to do that near Chiang Mai—besides, I totally felt right at home at the market there.

A friend of mine is working in Phnom Penh for two months, and what great timing that I could visit during my vacation time. A fun time was had just hanging out and also seeing the amazing temples at Angkor Wat. I also worked through some weird culture shock (American who has been deeply immersed in rural Batak-Indonesian culture traveling in Cambodia encountering American expat culture…I was lost to know what cultural norms to use).

Altogether 3 weeks, it was a lot of fun. Now it’s time to get back to teaching, so stay tuned for updates on that soon.

Please see the photos below! And find the whole sets on flickr for Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.

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Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai
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Waroros Market – Chiang Mai

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Twenty-Two

For a little bit of insight into the past year of my life, I share this number. Twenty-two is the number of US states I have been to since September 2010. Well, the number is actually 23 counting the District of Columbia, which isn’t a state (but should be).

Here they are, in no particular order: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The final four being states I hadn’t been to before.

How is it that I managed to visit nearly half the 50 US states within 12 months? Mostly because I had a temporary job as a traveling recruiter for the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), something similar to AmeriCorps. For six months, between September ’10 and February ’11, I was paid to travel, back and forth from DC (where LVC’s main office is located), to universities across the country, seeking young people interested in committing a year of their lives to intentional community, sustainability, and social justice.

For the job, I traveled via planes, trains, and automobiles; I attended career fairs, some specifically for non-profits/service work; held a few information sessions; sat at tables during lunch time; met with campus ministries; contacted career centers at universities LVC had never been to before; and, of course, spent many hours planning travel arrangements, and contacting various people.

10-28-10_IMG_3571It was seriously an amazing (and at times, stressful) series of trips: places in WI, IL, IN, OH in early October; southern CA in late October; MN, IA, and NE in Nov; San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Fargo, ND in early February; TN and GA in late Feb; and many more in between. In the months since returning to Seattle in March, I have traveled quite a bit too, though not nearly as often.

Why does this matter now? In many ways, I have not had the typical year: I left my home in Seattle, packed most of my belongings into storage, and spend half of the six month job living in DC and the other half on the road. Travel has, of course, always been a passion of mine, and I already was well-traveled. This position offered me the unique opportunity to combine work with travel—to talk about an organization I care about, while seeing friends and family along the way.

As I reflect on what it will mean to leave the country for 2 years, I am grateful for all the time to see cities, family, and friends across the country I would otherwise have not been able to see in a year’s time, and could not afford to see now.

The travel in twenty-two states (plus DC) stirred discernment within me, and the decision to apply for global mission became clear just days after returning to Seattle in March. Global mission had been on my mind for a number of years, and I realized this was the time to go for it.

So tonight I give thank to a stressful, yet amazing year of opportunity, blessing, and travel, and look forward to the years to come.