“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So here I am finally in my first week on the base I’ve been trying to get to for what feels like a month, but has only been a couple weeks. The road threat levels eased up for a day – just long enough to give me 20 minutes notice to pack up my three bags, throw them in the car, make sure to put a scarf over my head because we were going off base, and zoom off into the great city of Kabul. When you’re stuck on a military base, you forget about bustling life going on just outside the gate…it’s all some imaginary world…so driving through the city was a whirlwind of new stimuli with different people, clothes, architecture, and colors. I guess I pictured the city would be nice because it’s the capital of the country, but for the most part it looked like it had seen better days – much better days. Lots of decay and years-old trash piles, roofs caving in on teetering buildings that looked like a small wind could knock them over. We wound through streets – traffic laws just a mere suggestion – it seemed to be the car that got to go was the one who wanted it more. I think traffic alone was probably more dangerous than any bomb threats!
Then the moment had arrived – I finally got to see my new home, the base I was going to be living at for the next year. It was like the scene in A Christmas Story where the little boy is anxiously ripping open the present thinking it’s going to be the Red Rider BB gun (I’m sure guys can correct me on the exact gun in that movie), and lo and behold, it’s pink bunny pjs. Only this wasn’t quite as nice as pink bunny pjs. It’s a TINY base with no pavement anywhere – just gravel all over the place surrounded by a big barbed wire fence. It was the tiny size of the place that was most alarming – I see some potential for boredom. BUT I will say that as I’ve poked around here and there this week, there are plenty of little nooks and crannies to find things to do – a place to watch movies on a big tv, a gym, a crossfit slab of concrete which a Canadian guy had to actually raise money to build because concrete is just not a thing here. I’m also really glad that the previous living tents were recently changed to metal conex boxes…and the best part…I have my own room! It’s about 10ft by 10ft and barely holds a bed and a dresser, but it’s all mine! I finally get to unpack and set up shop…starting with a little frame of my adorable niece right on my desk by my bed…hint hint…could use more pictures!
The best story of my week, though, happened on my first day. People were all talking about a base run the next day out on the track out side of the base gate, so I decided to be proactive about getting involved in base activities and signed up (for the 5k, not ready for the 10k yet because we’re a mile high and my Hawaii lungs are still adapting). In any case, women are always warned not to go outside ANYWHERE alone – let alone without a head scarf and bare arms – and HEAVEN FORBID you do sports of any kind. I wanted to run on the track though because the run was the next day and I wanted to see what it was like, so I found a nice Turkish military soldier to walk with me out to the track…which by the way is surrounded by astounding views of old Afghan palaces on a tiered hillside complete with a beautiful mountain backdrop (picture above). When we got there, he said he was walking, so I set off ahead running. I passed him a few times, but the track is pretty big – 1k total – and after about half an hour I saw I was no longer passing him – in fact I couldn’t see him anywhere. Hmmm…this was a quandary…I suddenly found myself off base alone with no covering and looking very sporty. I knew the gate was pretty close, so I just decided to walk with my head down and go straight to the gate. (Mom, maybe you shouldn’t read this…just know I’m fine now!) Well, the keeping my head down part backfired because I walked right past the narrow turn-in to the gate and kept walking on the main road out toward the Afghan base right next door. Finally when I realized I was quite lost I asked a couple men who looked as me like I was a three-horned unicorn…or tricorn rather…and I asked them where the gate to the base was. They asked me back in English which base (I didn’t know there was an Afghan base and that I was now right outside of it). I said American base, and they both continued to look confused – probably more at the fact that I was even out there talking to them alone – and then one of them finally pointed back behind me and said, “American base!” I looked back and saw the gate guard quite a ways back waving his gun at me in a motion to come back NOW. Oops!! On my way!!
Incidentally, I ended placing third overall (first girl – though there were only three of us) in the 5k the next day, and I attribute it to my track familiarization. My placing won me a little popsicle stick with the number 3 on it, as well as apparent base-wide notoriety after the places and times were announced in a all-base email. Suddenly everyone was smiling and saying hello to me and I’m meeting people from Canada, Turkey, Romania, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany and of course the US. So my first week has been a good week. I’m getting into my job, learning my way around, meeting people, learning a few local sayings like “good morning” and “thank you,” and curling up in my very own space at night…I have arrived!
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs
As I stop in the middle of this sand and heat, I think about the lessons of life – the many lessons of life that we will at some point inevitably learn, and I ponder which one was most significant in getting me here to this place I’ve dreamt about for years. I think it’s the importance of listening to and believing in myself. When I began to voice what I wanted – which was to come here to Afthanistan – I faced some confused and strongly opposing opinions. If anyone has read prior posts, they know that I’m a default people pleaser…or as I like to say now, a recovering people pleaser…so expressing an idea that is in opposition to others took some lady balls. It took a long time to voice even to myself what I wanted, and longer yet to boost up the courage to say it out loud. At first I felt silly and I would add disclaimers like, “I know it’s a stupid idea, but I think I want to go to Afghanistan.” Thank God I found the fire in my belly to keep listening to myself and take action on doing the thing I could barely speak. I couldn’t tell anyone in my life – wait, I told my sister because she could tell something was up – and felt like I was living a deceptive life when I submitted my employment application to various companies. Then when one was interested in me, I would break out in a nervous sweat in replying back that I would like to continue forward with the hiring process – like I was committing a crime or some awful act.
But I stuck with it. I think part of me was afraid that I’d buckle if I told people too early – that I would listen to unsolicited advice about what a dangerous idea it was and I wouldn’t go through with it – so I protectively stayed silent. But I listened to my heart when my words weren’t even there yet and pushed on. It didn’t feel wrong, but felt good and exciting and right when I pushed “send” on those employment emails.
I’m not promoting living a double life in order to do the things you want to in life in a careless fashion – that’s not the lesson at all. I’m putting out the voice of encouragement to trust in your own dreams and don’t shy away from them because of other people’s criticisms. Listen to yourself. Listen to your heart. And if you think you’ll buckle, then yes do what you need to do for you to dodge those fire hoses (that’s what my high school running coach used to call people that like to squelch dreams). Ultimately, everyone in my life got behind me and is supporting me now. But even if some hadn’t, I was prepared to ask them that if they didn’t agree with me, could they just love and trust me?
I regret that I held back on jumping off my cliff and doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for so many years. I tried to accept the life I was in before and become the person that I needed to be to make that life work, but ultimately I wasn’t very good at it because I was so restless and unhappy and living counter to my dreams…which would always seep in again and permeate my imagination. Now I can stand here and smile a smile from the inside out – a contented smile of happiness with myself that I did this – I took the steps to put me here. I finally listened to myself.
Day three here in Afghanistan. I posted a map because people keep asking me where this country is…which makes me smile because it parallels how bad I am at US geography – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t fill in all the states if given a blank map. I’ve been in limbo in the southernish part trying to get to my base where I’ll be working a little north of here, but flights keep getting cancelled due to the violence going on there right now. (Mom if you’re reading this, I’m fine!) Again this morning I got up early to pack up my three big bags and have them outside to be picked up by 6:30…or 0630 in militaryese. No sooner had I unloaded everything at the airport did the announcement come on that yet another flight was cancelled and that I would have to wait a minimum of two more days. When someone tells me my flight has been cancelled because a helicopter was blown up yesterday at the base I’m flying into, I don’t try to argue back. I say, “Sounds like a plan! I’ll get more iced coffee and write a blog!”
What’s really struck me is that despite that fact I’m right here where all the news is coming from, we find out very little of it until at least a day or more later. The internet suddenly got shut off here yesterday for a few hours – then I found out today is was because of bombings up in Kabul and they were putting a stop on information leakage. It absolutely broke my heart to hear that the victims of one of the bombings yesterday were children…children! What kind of savage, numb-hearted animal do you have to be to intentionally kill children? That’s a rhetorical question, because that’s the sort of enemy that we’re facing and the sort of future we cannot allow to affect or get anywhere near my future children.
We’re three for three for the incoming enemy fire (IDF=indirect fire) for each of the days I’ve been here. I’m starting to get used to the sound of the sirens and alarms sounding out over the whole base. Yesterday’s was a bit of a dilemma though because I was in the shower when the sirens went off. My thoughts: “Hmmm, so I can either go out naked in my towel right now to the bunker sitting with lots of other female-starved men, or I can dry off and quickly put clothes on and then go to the bunker – but by that time the incoming fire will have already impacted somewhere, in which case I’d already be hit by the time my clothes were on if it indeed landed near me.” I chose to stay in the shower and hope for the best…if it got me, at least I’d be clean. So I guess I learned from myself that if it comes down to it, I’d rather be clothed and dead than alive and naked. I never knew that would be my line in the sand (plenty of that stuff around here) until yesterday. Lessons being learned every day here!
In the spirit of my love for quotes, I’ll end with this one:
I have a bit of a confession…I’ve been intentionally NOT writing that in the past couple months I decided to take the adventure of my life and go to Afghanistan for a year. I continued to blog about the feelings and issues I was going through, but in much more vague entries – partly because I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off and go, and partly because I hadn’t even told the important people in my life of my plans and I didn’t want them finding out from my blog. I started double-blogging by writing my own personal story into a word document which I have saved and have continued to add to all along the way – through the fear of telling my family to the preparations and in-processing and travel overseas. I woke up this morning to my first morning in Afghanistan, so I guess I made it! After this, I will post entries about my journey to this point now, and onward about many stories I have yet to experience. There have been many tears and funny moments and loving conversations and memorable times in the last couple months that have gotten me to this point now, and I would love nothing more than to share those…though there is one port-a-potty incident that my mother warned me to “clean up” before posting.
In essence, I decided to take my own advice over these last few months of blogging, and get out there and do the undoable thing that I never thought I could do. Many people didn’t understand and said, “Yes, but WHY Afghanistan?!” Of all the crazy things to do! I simply asked them to love and support and trust me…and told them to read my blog because I will try to answer that along the way.
Since I left my home over two weeks ago, I have had a soaring sensation in my heart, and I know that I made the right decision for me. Jumping off my own cliff was right for me, and now I’m off in the adventure of my life to discover who knows what!
More to follow once I figure out how to find wifi and hook up to my own computer – there’s a time limit in this internet cafe and I’m nearly out of time.
Best wishes and happy reading!
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go out and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman
Is this a question you’ve asked yourself lately?: “If life is meant to be an adventure, then where did I go wrong? And what the heck is adventurous about sitting here reading a blog?”
I saw a quirky movie on Netflix recently. The movie, “The Answer Man,” was cute, but one line from it really made me think. I transcribed the woman’s comment, and the man’s response…which is the part that struck me.
Elizabeth: “What do you want to hear? You wanna hear that I’m so freaked out that I’m not doing all I can…that I’m so freaked out all the time? That I’m afraid I’m not doing enough and that fear is turning me into something I don’t want to be, and I can’t stop it? You have no idea what it’s like to be pulled all the time by this idea that I am not doing enough, that I am not enough!”
Arlen: “He knows. And He wants you to know that you ARE enough, and so much more! You are here so God can experience the world through your eyes…to see what you see, to feel what you feel. Every day, He can’t wait to see what you’ll do…what makes you laugh, what moves you…He can’t wait! Every day through you, He falls in love with the world all over again. You are His muse!”
What a beautiful notion…and what’s more, it inspired me to get off my bum watching Netflix and go out to participate in the sunny day just outside the window. I wanted to be God’s muse and have Him see what I saw, and I didn’t want it to be a computer screen, so I went down to the beach. I swam for an hour until I was blissfully exhausted in nature’s beautiful playground. As I began to make my way back toward the beach, I watched all the kids running around playing in the sand. I felt like in my swim I had just let myself be one of them – playing, being adventurous, and loving the day and the moment.
I’m normally not the kind to read self-help how-to types of articles, because they all end up as basic lists like “try something new,” and “say hello to the next person you pass by.” But this article, non-adventurously titled “How to Be Adventurous,” was actually quite good. The author, Brad Bollenbach, writes that “if your life is anything less than interesting and inspiring to other people, you’re doing something wrong.”
He asserts that there is no best time but this time to start living the adventurous life, and that the only thing stopping most people from taking action is not less-than-ideal circumstances, but instead our own heads. “While many people will say that some of these things [dreams] are out of their reach, the truth is that you’re only ever either taking action to achieve a specific goal, or making excuses for why you aren’t.”
This doesn’t have to be closing up shop and moving to Hong Kong tomorrow (though that utterly appeals). It can be as simple as going outside, looking up at the clouds and breathing in a breath of gratitude. Participate in Life, don’t isolate and shy away from it. Go out and be a part of today – partake in the adventure that’s already happening. Be the hero or heroine in your own life, and let God (or whatever higher, intelligent being you believe in) see the world’s beauty and adventures through your eyes. Make today count!