We have now reached October and, as hard as it is to believe that, it’s also crazy that it hasn’t been longer. The “normalization” of this year is becoming more complete. I have a routine now; instead of trying to find that, my daily “quest”, if you will, is searching to tweak that routine to take the most advantage of YAV life in Tucson. A housemate of mine recently gave me a little note of affirmation (because we’re all fans of words of affirmation in Tucson house) and at the end she mentioned something about admiring the fact that I seek to be present here in Tucson even though my heart is somewhere else. In reflecting on that, I’m taken back to one of my first thoughts coming into this year. I’m living life in two separate places this year, and sometimes the desire to be back home is stronger than the desire to be here in Tucson. So much of orientation spoke of living life in tension between where we are and where we want to be, and I feel like I just add this into the mix of everything else that I’m am presented with in this crazy life. And some days, I miss the simple fact of being around familiar things. Even more than a month into this journey, I miss my dogs. I miss Mariah. I miss my family. I even miss Owensboro, something I never thought I would be caught saying. The struggle between the familiar and the new haunts me every day, and it is a struggle that I’m slowly, but surely, starting to embrace.
I’ve most noticed this “settling in” effect every time I look at my personal calendar. There are so many events that I’ve agreed to go to. And, regrettably, so many that I have forgotten about and been unable to take part in. Another side effect of settling in has been the continued comfort in biking. I always remember to pack a change of clothes if my biking clothes are not appropriate for my destination, I remember to factor in the increased time it takes to bike somewhere compared to driving, and then to factor in extra time to change clothes once I reach my destination. These calculations have slowly become second nature. Last week alone I biked almost 80 miles. That’s basically just to work and to swim, with the occasional extra group adventure thrown in for fun. One thing that never ceases to amaze me about the human body is how long it takes to adjust to a change in activity (i.e. biking), but how quickly it “forgets” the muscle built if the activity is not performed even for one day. For me, this adjustment to biking continues to occur, and will probably for the rest of the year.
The vistas in Arizona never cease to disappoint me. These sunsets only tell half the picture. I once heard a fellow volunteer from another program say the sunsets here were really disappointing. I don’t know which skies he is looking at, but these come on an almost daily basis. When it’s not the sunsets, it’s the mountains. I wish I had a good picture to show y’all the mountains that are everywhere around Tucson. The city is so flat that it’s hard to believe the mountains are as close as they are. God’s beauty is so evident here in the desert. I used to think of the desert as a place where not much happened. Things hid during the day (when it’s too hot to do anything) and became active at night. The desert, to me, was always a barren place. But there is creativity and diversity in the way the sun’s rays find the clouds every afternoon. There is majesty in the rugged edges of the mountains, clawing their way into the sky. There is life here. And there is abundant life. Part of my adventures of the past week was planting my first bed at Las Abuelitas with Destinee (the garden program is finally getting off the ground!!). In this one bed alone, we planted broccoli, cauliflower, onions, dill, arugula (which I didn’t even know was a thing), kale, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro…in the desert. Now we may find that this was too much for one bed. We may find that we should have transplanted most of these into the bed following their sprouting in another, more sheltered place (that is true, but we’re hopeful they’ll all still grow). But that’s what I love about gardening. It’s an experiment. It’s about taking chances, making mistakes, and finding out what works. It’s interacting with God’s creation to bring forth life from the soil. That sounds really familiar to me (if you’re interested see Genesis 2) and I enjoy being a partner in God’s creative story, even in the desert.
I’m glad it’s Friday. My weekend began yesterday at the conclusion of the after school program and I’m really going to miss these four day work weeks when I return to the “real world”. I’m also super excited because next week we don’t have the after school program at all. Our program schedule follows the Tucson United School District’s calendar, so when the kids don’t have school, we don’t have the program. I will miss seeing the kids every day, but after this week I’m glad we get a chance to breathe before moving through the rest of October. Cody and I have the chance to recharge and, in light of the past rough week, revamp some of the rules and consequences of our program.
As I mentioned, a couple times, this past week was crazy. The kids were, simply put, ready to misbehave at any and every opportunity they could. We could not get in front of the disciplining curve and as such spent a frustrating week leading from behind. Thursday was better and gave me hope that we do have this thing somewhat under control, even though I don’t feel prepared at all to work with children. I’m still feeling my way in that regard. I mentioned above that Destinee and I planted our first bed at Las Abuelitas. Things are smoothing themselves out. We are attempting to bring life out of the desert soil (albeit in a raised bed). We are attempting to direct the life and energies of the students that come into the after school program. We are attempting to join in and contribute to the diversity and beauty of God’s world. We are attempting to understand what it means to take these 20 kids in every day and be a positive influence in their lives while also seeking to understand their situations and “walk in their shoes” for the altogether too short time that we get to know them. We are finding our way, day by day.
And so we go.
Thank you, Loving God, for challenging weeks, restful weekends, and reminders of your beauty in unexpected places.
Hey all, the YAVs of Tucson have somewhat successfully navigated the first weekend of our year in Tucson. Orientation is over. We get to meet our placement site staff tomorrow at a community brunch and just like that our year will officially be underway. The path to get to this point has been long, challenging, and not without its share of tears, but its here. We begin the volunteering part tomorrow.
I just wanted to put down some final thoughts before I fear things become too busy to update everyone here as much as I already have. First, the support for YAVs in Tucson is incredible. Sorry to all the other YAVs but Tucson has to be the best environment in which to serve in the entire YAV program. Not only did we get to move into a clean and basically already fully furnished house (thanks to the Tucson Borderlands Steering Committee), we had a YAV shower with Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church yesterday after attending a service there and we received even more household items (a recliner, which is obviously the most important part of any home, was my favorite) and the leftovers from a meal they served after the service (including a massive cake, obviously an important part of the food available in a kitchen). This is just the tangible stuff that I can see and have experienced since being in Tucson. People that I’ve met in the community are also incredibly nice and always willing to help the “newbies” to the neighborhood.
Second, the challenges are already upon us. We’ve had the ability to engage each other in deep and sometimes hard conversations as we’ve begun the process of community building. This is heartening to me. Hopefully it will make the rest of the conversations easy…or at least easier. I’m looking forward to learning from my fellow YAVs and hope that I can impart even half of what I have learned so far in my first week here.
Third, I’ve managed to forget the fact that we have to work while we’re here. The real part of this experience is here. Up to this point, the YAV program has felt like a glorified summer camp to me. The adjustment to working will be hard, I haven’t spent a day working in over two weeks now and the environment here in Tucson is very different from what I’m used to. The Primavera Foundation is where I think I’m supposed to be for this year and I’m looking forward to joining them in their ministry there. Here’s to hoping that this first week of work doesn’t bite me too hard in the butt!
I am also super glad to report that I have met one of our neighbors in the community! Her name is Lucia and she is originally from Italy. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States and she retired from being a hospital nurse for years. One of the coolest parts of our brief encounter was when I shared what it is that we YAVs are doing in Tucson. When I mentioned that we were volunteering at various agencies through the community, Lucia mentioned an interest in finding a place to volunteer to fill her time now that she’s retired. I thought that was pretty cool. I look forward to getting to know Lucia better and hopefully encouraging her in her desire to begin volunteering.
Here we are. We have our bikes. We have been oriented to the extreme. We’ll probably get lost on more than one occasion, but that’s okay because we have each other…and our site coordinator.
And so we go.
Thank you, Loving God, for your comfort in uncertainty, your constancy in times of transition, and your ability to show up in the least expected ways.
Here is the the gang! From left to right: Yours truly, Erik, Mary, Graham, and Rachel.
This week we have started to become familiar with Tucson on our sweet new rides. Yesterday we took our bikes on a scavenger hunt all over the city and ended up at a local farmers market for dinner. We dined on the pupusas (corn masa filled with cheese, meat, and beans; then grilled to get a crunchy exterior–YUM) and raspados (shaved ice with fresh fruit and sweetened condensed milk. It was perfect after the long ride in the 95 degree heat (which apparently is not considered “hot” around these parts).
Hello again. Scarcely have two minutes passed since my last post, but I have a lot of thoughts that I want to share and I don’t know when I’ll be able to effectively update this blog again. So part two, here we come.
September has arrived. There is still a lot left to do in our house. We’ve begun the process of forming our community and that, so far, has been filled with good ideas, helpful conversations, and intense vulnerability. There are still a lot of unknown factors (especially our schedules once we start working and how much our bills are going to cost), but four days into this thing, we seem to be doing alright. This week has been all about getting us all to Tucson, settling in, orienting ourselves to the city, and learning what YAV life is like in Tucson. We’ve worked through several activities to introduce us to thinking about the community as a whole and to prompt us in crafting a covenant to help guide our community here. Alison is a good facilitator of these conversations and we’ve done some simple things that make the process of sharing our stories easier. Take food for instance. Instead of each of us simply telling the group what we gravitate towards when we grocery shop, Alison had us brainstorm ten “essentials” that we always look for while shopping. Then, we went to the store, purchased these items, and brought them to the house where we shared our items and why we chose them. Little things like that make the process more interesting, fun, and meaningful.
Another thing that has struck me this week is how much I rely on the internet to fill my time. We still don’t have internet in the house (which is why blogging has been interesting), but we have purchased the internet and it will be setup later next week. However, right now, I’m painfully aware of the absence of internet; this is something I hope to explore more fully throughout this year. I’ve also mentioned the house a couple times and I want to delve more into that. Its a great house. The perfect size to give us all the space we need, but small enough to keep us close. I’m sharing the “master” bedroom with the other male YAV, Erik. Coolest feature of this space: the waterfall shower head. It’s awesome. But yeah, we’ve been blessed with a wonderful house in which to share life together over this year.
The final thing occupying my thoughts, especially today, is the knowledge that, as of today, I am officially a year away from being a married man. Whoa. Standing on this side of my YAV year, I think this will be the most trying part of this year. How do I balance being present with this community here while also being present with my fiancée in this season of preparation? This will be a year-long battle.
I also want to give a shout-out to my church family back in Owensboro, KY! Thanks for your support and your continued interest in/prayer for my year and all the experiences I have had and will continue to have! Y’all are wonderful!
Thank you, Faithful God for providing nourishing places in which to grow and new perspectives on what living in community means.
No, Marty, it’s just time zones!!
So, our time at “disorientation” is complete, and we’ve also finished the first leg of our journey to Tucson. It is currently 1:53 PM MDT here in Denver. I’ve been awake since 3:00 AM EDT. Which was 1:00 AM here. We will arrive at 4:40 MST, because Tucson does not do Daylight Savings (PRAISE!) But that is also 5:40 PM MDT, or 8:40 EDT. I am not sure what our schedule really looks like tonight, as far as anything other than going to our new house and unpacking, but I doubt I will be in bed until 9 or 10. So 1 or 2 EDT. In short, I will have been awake for almost a full 24 hours.
Which means it’s totally a great idea to unpack some of what went on this week! Right? Right. A week ago today, after driving up to Bremen, GA from Tallahassee, FL on Sunday, my folks drove me to the airport at 3:45am. I met two other YAVs, Jonathan Freeman (Indianapolis) and Elizabeth Reid (Atlanta) there and we flew from Atlanta to Newark, where we met Savannah Caccamo (Miami) by a cool stroke of luck, and decided to take our train adventure together. Well, our train from the station at Newark got stuck behind another train that had broken down and we had to route around it. This meant we missed the connection we wanted to make and had to wait another hour and fifteen minutes for that train. After taking that train, we were picked up by the van to head to Stony Point. It was about a 30 minute drive (I think? Time is kind of fuzzy right now) We checked in and had some time to meet people before our first activity, so we played cards. Then we had worship and our first small group meeting.
The real disorientation began the next day. We discussed racism, racial prejudice, institutions, and other such topics with Jessica and Kara from crossroads. It was an exceptionally difficult session. The topics and discussions we had really made me realize that, for all the reading I do, for all the learning I seek, and for all the support I’ve tried to give to friends in the borderlands, I’m still a part of the dominant center, and through unintentional, subconscious actions, I am complicit in the structures that promote the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups. And it made me uncomfortable. There was a lot of language used that made this so readily apparent. The Center/borderlands relationship being just one of those things. Jessica talked about the idea of ally vs. co-conspirator and it really affected how I view my stance around issues of race, gender identification, and sexuality. And really, human rights in general. There are many things that will take so much time to unpack, and I’m glad to have this blog as a tool for processing.
One of the things I’m really going to work on early, and something I struggled with at the disorientation is using the idea of W.A.I.T. in conversation. It stands for “Why Am I Talking?” If you know me, you know I like to talk, and will happily rule a conversation, regardless of how many people are involved. I talk because I find silence in social interaction to be uncomfortable. I find it to be almost oppressive at times, and feel the need to fill it. This is likely because I tend to process out loud, whether it’s spoken or written. I’m hoping writing this blog and really beginning to journal will be a help. The real thing here is, I’ve got to practice and work to allow processing time for those who process differently and then allow space for people to express it. I know it is going to be a struggle in serious conversation, and often times in casual conversation. I’m hoping the people I interact with will be able to call me in on my tendency to just run with a conversation to the point that it almost becomes one sided. Admitting this is not necessarily uncomfortable here, but is certainly not the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
This week over all has been a wonderful week, I’ve certainly not even scratched the surface here of the more difficult things to process, but I will be doing that in other blogs. I also want to unpack some of the things that made my heart light. My small group leader, Kaley, encouraged me to keep true to my experience, to not leave out the parts that might make me uncomfortable, even in their positivity, so I will start as I mean to go on.
I was exceptionally worried that I would back-track, coming to orientation and then Tucson, in my growth I’ve made over the last three years in developing relationships with others. That I would allow myself to become the person who redirects personal questions, only allows people to know them on a surface level, and pulls back from relationships when they seem to be going to a place on vulnerability (on my part). I was also worried, that if I did manage to avoid this, it would be mentally and emotionally draining in such a way that it made me stop trying as hard. I was worried that the things the Humans of North Ave have taught me would slip away as I left, and I would return to old habits of avoidance. Much to my surprise, it was not a struggle. It seems that symptom of my anxiety has been practiced out in Atlanta, and hopefully the habit of developing close relationships will stick. I know I’m going to need it this year!
For now, this is it, I’ll have more in the next few weeks to finish unpacking “disorientation”, and update on site orientation and such. As my brain is steadily turning into mush from lack of sleep, I think it’s a good idea to stop before I cease to communicate any pertinent information! Have a lovely day, friends!
Peace and Love,
Long time, no blog! I’m back and ready to write! This is a “sermonette” that I given on several speaking events that I attend with my fellow Tucson Borderlands YAVs, Grace, Hanbyeol and Allie.
Me, Gaby, Hanbyeol, April, Allie & Grace at the U.S.-Mexico border. We are doing the iconic Korean peace sign that Hanbyeol has taught us to adopt. Gaby spent 3 months in the Hen House as she did her last semester at North Texas doing an externship at a local non-profit, Derechos Humanos. April is a Global Fellow Methodist Volunteer who works at another non-profit called Primavera. Myself, Hanbyeol, Allie and Grace are YAVs.
We are collectively from Texas, Maryland, South Korea, San Francisco, Alabama and Connecticut. On the Myer-Briggs spectrum, our community is a motley crew of an ISFP, ENTJ, and INTJs, the list goes on. Some of us rise at 3am and some of us roll out the door 20 or 30 minutes before we have to arrive at work. We have the minds and qualities of poets, delegators, organizers, teachers, life-coaches, mediators, managers, social workers, architects and economists. Yes, there are only six of us in the house but all my housemates are all extremely multi-faceted.
“The Hen House” – as we dubbed ourselves early on in the year- daily face the topics of immigration, sexism in the work place, refugees and asylum seekers, low-income home repair, homelessness, systemic racism. We have read books about charities that hurt more than help. We have discussed the struggles and joys of working alongside non-profits and how the church can better engage young adults and their lifestyles and relevant concerns and how we can better be proactive in our relationship with the church. We not only deal with these realities in our work environment but also process, discuss and unpack these subjects at home. Sometimes we thrive upon this reflection and other times we are so exhausted that we say , “Okay. Let’s talk about something different or let’s go listen to Beyonce and dance.” Don’t worry, sometimes we try to be normal young adults.
When my cousin asked me a few weeks ago about the “spiritual practices” that we engage in as a community, I was at a loss for words at first. We are not engaging in the typical Bible study and prayer group-type of activities. Of course these are great tools to access the Divine but they are not the only way. As a house, we were tasked to come up with a house covenant to describe our expectations of each other as active agents in our own community. In many ways, I see our collective prayer through the ways in which we lift each other up. For example, we cheer each other on by speaking about body image in a constructive and positive frame of mind. We have encouraged each other to “get physical,” join the YMCA, join a soccer league, hike Tummamoc Hill or Sabino Canyon. When one of us has a challenge at work, we have been there to brainstorm and encourage each other to try from a different angle.
As I have thought about how diverse and rich the “body of Christ” is, I have realized that trying to understand or at least listen to and consider another reality outside of your own experience is a deeply spiritual practice. Trust me, that is the hardest part of community. The thing about living together is that time and time again, you often have to alter your view to make sure that you respect the space of another. I think twice about leaving my laundry on the line because I know my housemate will need it later. This year, clear communication and stepping outside myself and my comfort zone have been my gospel. I fall short of this often but there is a beautiful resurrection in relationship when my housemates and I talk to one another about the ways in which we can once again more wonderfully communicate with each other.
One of the brief yet most pivotal moments of my YAV year happened one afternoon after a long day. I walked into the kitchen, sweaty from my bike ride, still wearing my helmet, my shoulders were slumped and my confidence was low. Upon entering the kitchen, Hanbyeol – our 5th YAV from South Korea who was not able to attend today – asked me, “Emily, how was your day?” I started complaining about my day and how I felt frustrated about being a comment that I did not find helpful, in fact actually hurtful. Hanbyeol reminded me, “Emily this person is not your master, God is your master.” I instantly melted into tears as I was once again reminded of the importance of community and how my housemates have reminded me time and time again of my belovedness.
A Week in the Life of a Young Adult Volunteer
I wrote most of this blog a few months ago, but never finished it until now. Here is a depiction of one of my many full, challenging, and joyful weeks during my YAV year.
Sunday, Oct. 26th, 2014
I start the day by visiting my coworker's Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church. Unsurprisingly an hour service turns into three hours of singing, laughing, praying, and eating. My coworker, Nancy, sings beautifully and also stars in a biblical skit about David. Apparently, Apostle David was blonde...
Next, I come home to discover that we have spontaneously decided to host a barbecue for 15 people so I start chopping and marinating. A beautiful mixture of coworkers, volunteers, and refugees show up with an array of foods and drinks. We sit outside and enjoy the balmy late-October weather Arizona has gifted us. The evening morphs into a time of sharing musical talents. Hanbyeol plays the flute and sings a high-pitched, airy Korean song. (Listen here.) Emily chimes in with a deep, soulful tune. Jean Marie, a Burundi refugee, sings "He Raised Me up." I sit back and marvel at the rich culture and talent that surround me.
Monday, Oct. 27th, 2014
After work, I go to my first Academia Liderazgo (Leadership Academy) meeting, the first of an eight-week course on community organizing and social justice issues. As I sit and eat my Domino's pizza I note what it feels like to be one of the two White people in the room. We go around the room to introduce ourselves, where we are from, and what organization we represent. The room is full of people involved in diverse political and social groups that serve the Latin American immigrant community in Tucson. We go through the syllabus, which includes topics such as systems of oppression, machismo, and Zapatismo. I am excited to be learning about these issues and am especially grateful to be learning side-by-side with Spanish-speaking individuals who have experienced the negative effects of immigration policy and have decided to get involved to educate and uplift their communities. I feel privileged to be in this space.
Tuesday, Oct. 28th, 2014
I get to work at 7:30 AM and jump in the van. We drive for an hour before arriving at Florence Detention Center. I check to make sure I am prepared: close-toed shoes, no revealing clothing, and an ID. I've been briefed on what to say and do, but I am still nervous.
As I wait for the guards to escort me into the visiting room, Norlan, a local day laborer, and activist, walks out of detention. Just by coincidence, I was there at the exact moment he was released. Finally outside the prison walls, he walks swiftly up to his beaming partner Marbel, gives her a hug and kisses his baby girl. I feel so happy to see him reunited with his family. I met Marbel and her baby, Genesis, on my first day of work at BorderLinks. They were the first family I had ever met that had experienced detention. I feel grateful that I have been able to witness this part of their story and congratulate them on Norlan's release.
Read my blog about meeting Marbel.
I walk into the detention visiting room and meet Estrella, a trans-gender person from Guatemala. We sit down, introduce ourselves, and exchange awkward smiles. First, we chat about Guatemala and then she tells me her story. She migrated north to escape cartel and anti-trans violence. Read my blog entry about Estrella. Although, she has experienced much trauma, she keeps a positive disposition. We laugh, draw pictures, and she even predicts my future through palm reading.
***Estrella was released from detention in December and is now fighting her asylum case from a safe place. I was thrilled to learn she'd been released!
Wednesday, Oct. 29th, 2014
After work, I walk home and cook dinner for my housemates. We have a community dinner once a week where we eat together and go over any house business.
Thursday, Oct. 30th, 2014
I have no recollection of Thursday. Ooops.
Friday, Oct. 31st, 2014
On Fridays, we have a Community Day. This means that instead of going to work, my roommates, my site coordinator Brandon, and I spend time together as a community. We do many things such as discuss books, worship, explore vocational discernment, go to events in Mexico and Cascabel, or go hiking.
On Halloween, we went on a beautiful hike through Pima Canyon. We crossed many streams and admired the cacti.
After Community Day, we went downtown to celebrate Halloween!
This past MLK Day, some of my housemates (fellow YAVs) and I as well as the Mennonite Volunteers headed out to Peak Picacho for a hike! We headed up this 3,384 foot -above sea level- peak in hopes of summiting and checking out some sweet views along the way. There are several service-oriented groups in Tucson: Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Food Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Methodist Global Mission Fellows, Mennonite Voluntary Service and of course, the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteers.
I really appreciate hanging out with our fellow volunteers because we all come together and discuss about our year or two years of: simple and low-income living, our placements within social justice-y contexts/organizations, biking all over Tucson, living in intentional Christian community, starting to explore the thrills and terrors of being young adults/becoming adults, etc. It makes me really encouraged to know that so many other Christian denominations and really amazing organizations are excited about sustainable service and young people involved in ministry and/or outreach. We are all equally confused and excited about our lives, we all daily stumble as we navigate our first – maybe second or third – job. The laughter on this hike refreshed my soul and my outlook on my year in Tucson, ready to start the new week.