I am grateful. I am here.

I have been feeling blessed lately. I have been sitting and steeping in deep gratitude during a week in which I have worked at least two 12h and one 15 h day and in which my Friday night was spent mostly flying solo (this marks my second Friday night going salsa dancing on my own!)

There’s no getting around it: I will always want to be WITH people rather than by myself. I will never love driving. I will never stop feeling a deep persistent pull to be somewhere else, a pull to the desert, to a place which doesn’t exist because it is a conglomeration of the best aspects of the many places I have seen and lived. I will always be hurting and angry at the seemingly endless supply of stupid and evil in this world. Today a guest at our staff meeting shared that 1 million people are already on the coast of Libya waiting to board a boat for Europe, despite the recent deaths; I had to go to the bathroom to keep from breaking down in desperate tears in front of a dozen organizer-colleagues at the sheer scope of pain structural injustice and violence have brought. (Why are bathrooms ever a refuge for our grieving?) Perhaps this grief, these pulls, this identity of mine is soon to pull me away from this place.

But I have been feeling blessed lately, and I want to appreciate and name this deep gratitude I have been smiling with for the past couple of weeks before blowing right through it. There are always a myriad of ways to present oneself, to frame one’s life. On the one hand I’m working really hard on issues I have made no secret are not my heart’s calling, I’m recently broken up, and I’m spending far too much time in DC-area traffic. Boo-hoo. On the other hand I have the opportunity to get to know a truly rich and diverse group of people everyday and plan with them how to act on their values and desires for making their community better– and I get paid for it! I get to live in a sunny, beautiful house with some really wonderful people. I am connected to a network of family and friends that I not only love but know love me deeply. I have both the physical and mental wherewithal to train for a half-marathon and have been getting to run in forests, near rivers, and all over this beautiful area just for fun!

Yesterday I attended a clergy meeting in which a Baptist preacher gave a five-minute talk about why the time to organize was NOW because now is the only time in which we have the power to do anything. He was right, but it also got me thinking about not just “now” but “here”. “Here” is not uniquely real in the same way “now” is because physical travel is possible in way time travel (for now!) is not. However, it is still true that I only really have the power to do anything “here” in the same way that I only have power to do something “now”.  I have spent so much of the past year and a half partially resenting being where I am, and even now I know that I am plotting my escape from this overly-expensive, wonky, self-inflated city and area. Yet when I remember living in Medellin, in Harrisonburg, in Jerusalem, and just about every place before that with perhaps only the exception of Paris as a young child, I have always lived with the certainty that where I currently was (“here”) was not where I belonged, not where I would settle, not where I should get overly comfortable. And of course now when I think where I would like to “end up” going back to any of those places “for good” feels as unlikely as staying here, and almost as daunting as picking an entirely new place.

I haven’t found a solution to this, in fact sometimes dwelling on this perennial lack of “home” too long brings me to tears (oh no! Don’t dwell! Don’t dwell!) but perhaps owning that “here”, no matter where “here” is, is always a valid place is a good start. Perhaps naming the times when I feel blessed, alive, grateful and fulfilled can be a reminder that being loved and feeling a sense of purpose in this world is at least equally if not more of a gift than feeling a total sense of belonging.

Anyways, as Rumi so aptly puts it: “My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”

In the meantime I am blessed, and I am grateful.  I pray you are as well.

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How Privilege Touches Everything (including the blogs that make us feeling fuzzy inside)

Alright members of the jury, let the record show that A) I am a community organizer who for the past year and half have been focusing on the issue of affordable housing in the US, particularly Arlington B) I listen to a lot of radio and C) I have been known to have anti-capitalist critiques if not outright leanings. It is within that context that I share this thought-journey.

A few days ago I “shared” a blogpost entitled “The Thief of Intimacy, Business” which spoke to me in its reminder that business for the sake of business is of no value and that even business for the sake of increased work production is often still a losing game when compared to being present with the people we love. Here’s a quote:

“All too often, I’m home, but I am not fully there with her [the author’s daughter], because I am tending to other business…I am a good baba, I know I am. … It’s not about how much I love her …  It’s about the time that she has my undivided attention.”   Omid Safi, The Thief of Intimacy, Business

For the past six months I have been carefully tracking my hours and self-monitoring my work and personal life balance closely. As a community organizer that could work around the clock  and could probably just as easily slack off and work 20 hrs a week setting a clear goal and limit to work-time is crucial to both being a good organizer and being a sane and whole person. This post is a reminder to me when I get home from meetings at 9 or 10pm not to get back on email; a reminder to schedule social time and leave my phone at home, and a future warning about carefully guarding family time as my responsibilities inevitably grow in all areas of life, both professional and personal.

And then, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I sat in my car the same day and happily sang along to Pitbull’s “Time of our lives” and Lunchmoney Lewis’ “Bills”. Here are the choruses, but if you don’t know them by heart already you should go ahead and click on the links now to listen:

“I got Bills I gotta pay
So I’m gonn’ work, work, work every day
I got mouths I gotta feed
So I’m gonn’ make sure everybody eats
I got Bills” – Lunchmoney Lewis, Bills

“I knew my rent was gon’ be late about a week ago
I worked my ass off, but I still can’t pay it though
But I just got just enough
To get up in this club
Have me a good time, before my time is up
Hey, let’s get it now” -Pitbull, Time of our lives

Let’s take these one by one. Bills– so first of all my self-monitoring and the “work, work, work everyday” line conflict in my mind. “No,”, I think “I’m not JUST going to work everyday! I’m going to paint! And go on runs! And try out for a choir! And plan a hiking trip!” You know, because I get paid a fixed salary. In the case of my friends getting paid hourly it’s true that if you don’t put in X hours that pay for Y bill, you have no guarantee at the end of the month. So yeah, the responsible thing to do is to work more! We don’t read a lot of blogs urging servers, teachers’ aids or cashiers’ to be more attentive to spending time on their intimate relationships, or to minimize the number of hours they work a day, right? Is that just me?

And then there’s “Time of Our Lives” which I remember distinctly hearing for the first time and thinking “What an irresponsible idiot!”. Right! Dude can’t make rent but he’s going to use the money he does have to go clubbing of all things! What the hell, right? He should have just “work, work, work(ed) everyday”!  Pitbull doesn’t tell us how many hours a week this guy actually put in without being able to make rent. Maybe he’s a lazy bones and worked 20 hrs when he could have worked 40, or maybe he worked 50 or 60, we have no way of knowing. I do know that my tendency, as all-of-the-things-I-am (white, young, liberal, private-schooled, slightly-self-righteous, etc) is to judge this guy. After all, his bridge is “Everybody going through something/I said, everybody going through something/ So you might as well you roll it up/ Pour it up, drink it up, throw it up tonight” Hardly an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity and proving the value of hard work, amiright?

So Lewis looks more like the good guy (because he’s workin’ hard to put food on the table) and Pitbull looks like an irresponsible jerk, not to mention a womanizer (because he’s using would-be-rent-money for clubbing). What’s ironic though is that while Pitbull certainly isn’t investing his free time in building a meaningful relationship with a daughter, he is at least deciding to say “to hell with it” with work for right now, I’m gonna take some “me” time and enjoy a break, whereas Lewis is doing the “right” thing and plowing through but ends up being what sounds like a workaholic.

Do you see my conundrum? This is just a roundabout way to say STRUCTURAL WEALTH INEQUALITY, DOUBLE STANDARDS, PRIVILEGE, EDUCATION GAP, CULTURAL IMPACT OF GLASS CEILINGS…etc. I think somewhere in there is my point. I guess what I want to say is that after posting a sort of “woe-are-we-overly-busy-folks” blog post and then reflecting on how little that post would speak to someone making less than 20$ an hour in the DC area, I felt once again struck by my own privilege and how even good ideas and sentiments (like work/life balance and intimacy with your family) can be markers of being from a certain privileged position, one that can get judgmental of others not emphasizing those ideas without acknowledging why that might be so.

Also, and I say this in all seriousness folks: THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!

There’s another blog in here somewhere about how lack of access to stable wealth breeds a culture of fast-money and seemingly ill-advised decisions..but I don’t have it in my tonight. Plus I feel like I’m already walking on eggshells. I don’t know, what do you think?

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Oh Soul, Heart, Body and Mind

Oh Wandering Soul, what do you ask of me?
To travel to lands far and wide, beautiful and fragrant, to be free,
and yet also to dig deep roots into fertile ground,
to say “yes” to someone to a place to a time longer than a year
or two and call that too freedom.

Oh Wildly Beating Heart and
raging River-Veins
who demand justice be my compass
who thump and cry out for change
and yet also sing to me to forget
to build my arc of fanciful books, music and joy
and weather life’s storm away
from the grasping thankless arms of the drowning
to sail to calmer seas

Oh tired youthful Body Bright,
you more than any
bid me quiet comfort care
bid me running rampant flare

Mind Oh spark of Divine Intelligence
You who raised my hand in grade-school
Who blessed me with infinite curiosity
poster-child A+ student
Where have you wandered off to?

Oh God my God my
sole resting place for twenty-five years
you distant changing tempered thing
creator of soul, heart, body, mind and all
You are more question than answer, I know
But holy shit I’d appreciate knowing where to go.


No, I have no other comments on Columbus Day, no rant about what a stupid holiday it is to celebrate, no upbeat updates on the joys of community organizing. Have a good one, y’all.

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It’s all connected…

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”
― Rumi

Today I got a flat tire (which, I’d like it to be noted, I was calm about and simply changed from skirt to work-out pants to deal with…it’s not my fault the jack was stuck in the trunk and I ended up needed a kind soul to help me…) which led to an auto shop where a woman named Diane and a mechanic named Osama were discussing the injustices in Israel/Palestine. I jumped in (of course) and by the end of the discussion Diane thanked me for helping her reframe her position as “anti-occupation” above all else (since “all-else” is fraught with false traps.) A month ago I was able to help advocate for an Ethiopian taxi driver to get an affordable apartment after he had initially been rejected (it was a miscommunication which my mediation skills (thank you EMU) were helpful in resolving). A few days ago I listened for an hour as a Colombian man told me about his experience working inside the politics of the coffee trade in el Valle.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?

Let me put it another way: my ipod is usually on shuffle in the car– it swings from my uncle Franck’s band (Happpy Accidents– like them on facebook!), to EMU’s chamber choir, to Silvio Rodriguez, to Immortal Technique, to random arabic music, to Nickelcreek…and by that time I’m usually turning on the top 40 radio station and then flipping back to NPR.

Do you get it? Or does this all seem like just Random Facts about My Life?

Just think about it from my perspective, answer me this: What music should I be listening to? Who are my people? What kinds of discussions should I be having? How do I tie together who I have been and where I have been with who I am and where I am now?

The point is in the randomness, the point is I’ve come to realize that as long as I don’t try to focus too much, as long as I look just past the picture (like in those enraging magic-eye books we used to look at in Mauritania, where I was told if I stared at pink and blue dots for long enough a camel would appear…I think it did once) out of the tiny little dots of random that is the life of an organizer, that is northern Virginia, that is my playlist, that is my schedule, way of expressing myself, personality quirks….a whole appears. I hope that whole for the world is moving towards more justice, understanding and community. I hope that whole for myself is moving towards liberation, substance and wisdom. Maybe it’s not always; but it’s been fascinating trying to let go of the questions for a while– the forever questions of “What am I really doing? How is all of this connected? Who am I really? Where are we, where am I going?” and just go with it.

A pattern will appear. A pattern is appearing, though I’m not sure what it is quite yet.

In the meantime I have a postcard my dear friend Larisa gave me that says “Don’t postpone joy”. I’ve had it up for the past 3 years in my room somewhere, and I try to remember it when the many big and small weights of this broken world press down on me. Don’t postpone joy.

I have to disagree wholeheartedly with the Mennonite aversion to dancing– I think dancing and joy are intimately connected (lo llevo en la sangre) and for me this letting go feels like when I’m salsa dancing, feels like when I’m jamming out in my car– maybe I’m not perfectly free, but I’m pretty darn close.

Do you know what I mean?


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Spring is like a perhaps hand 
(which comes carefully 
out of Nowhere)arranging 
a window,into which people look(while 
people stare
arranging and changing placing 
carefully there a strange 
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps 
Hand in a window 
(carefully to 
and fro moving New and 
Old things,while 
people stare carefully 
moving a perhaps 
fraction of flower here placing 
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Just when you think you can’t possibly take another snow day, just when you are to the point of screaming at strangers, tearing your hair out; right when you are looking at flights to warmer climates and regretting signing a lease for 14 months, just then spring comes.

Spring is coming in so many ways– not just the buds on the trees, not just finally using my sun-roof, or the cherry-blossom festival. Spring and new life are in having furniture and a house full of tenants who might actually end up being a community and friends. Spring is in recognizing that I have been unbelievably blessed with a job where I meet new people everyday, where I am challenged to connect and care about folks I might have considered enemies, and yet still push for justice. September through December felt like a living hell– all highway, anonymous cold, grieving and a deep sense of loss. Part of that loss was a loss of meaning, of not understanding how I was contributing anymore, or if I had turned my back on true suffering…and another part was simply in confronting once again my foreignness, everywhere. 

I have reflected so often on my rootlessness, my lack of a home-team. The struggle to belong, to make sense of why I have had to be a nomad for so many years, or who I am and where I may someday find a home, this is constant. I certainly don’t have a clear answer right now. But I do know that my first month into this job I met a woman who came from the same neighborhood I had just lived in in Medellin (Buenos Aires), that last month I met a Mauritanian man, that my Jewish-American colleague knows my friends from the Holy Land Trust, that this afternoon I was able to go for a run with a woman who knew Oscar Romero and has lived an outrageously difficult life, and yet who encourages and inspires me. I know that twice in the last month I have used my mediation skills  and that countless times in the past year I have been humbled and educated by being shown my own erroneous assumptions and past mistakes…so I KNOW beyond the shadow of a doubt that in the midst of this craziness, in the huddled-up-lostness of winter there was and is a seed of beauty and meaning waiting to germinate. 

I have come to recognize that the slow and painful realization that there is no “now” moment when things suddenly are simpler, figured out, and good, is liberating. As a child I always envisioned this moment around the aged of 22; perhaps because I knew that was the age my mother got engaged at and we are somehow all under the impression as children that marriage signifies the end of uncertainty and suffering. I imagined that the questions I had, that the difficulty of finding true friendship, that my spiritual doubts and uncertainties about the future would gradually but definitively be resolved one by one with maturity. I will admit that I am not fully mature, but I now know that there is no such moment, and if there were, it almost definitely wouldn’t be the moment one gets engaged or married! I started realizing this when I turned 18 and realized I had known more in second grade than I did at that point; the first half of my 20’s has only served to confirm this point, and has been a process of grieving that reality (as well as so many others). Perhaps now I’ve moved through denial, anger, negotiating, etc and have finally come out on the side of acceptance, and perhaps even gratitude. There is no single path, there is no moment or age that brings absolute peace and clarity. Maybe if I had a home, maybe if I had fewer aspirations, maybe if I thought less, maybe maybe maybe, but probably not. I am having to weave the meaning, discern the wisdom, build the relationships, chose the places– this process is very tiring, and it’s terrifying because unlike in certain times past, I have so much control and agency over all of those things which means it’s on me when I chose poorly. But I am building something, and this spring weather reminds me to have grace with myself about that. 

This feels unfinished, and a little overdramatic, but I guess I just wanted to say hi, Spring, I’m glad you’re finally here. Image

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Six months later, a scattered update?

Being 25 in 2014 is something I think a lot of people are studying, blogging about, thinking about. Of course the unspoken truth most of the time is that every single 25 year old is totally different. Whether we’re talking about sex, love and dating, or views on international issues, justice, and career my perspective will always be shaped by having been raised in a French-American Christian household, by having been tear-gassed by the IDF when I was 20, by having fallen in love with a Colombian man, by having joined the Mennonite Church, by so many idiosyncratic things about me.


I’m a full-time community organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation now which means I’m learning the craft of the “individual meeting” as the fundamental building block of community organizing, which means learning to introduce myself succinctly with stories that illustrate who I am and why I organize. I talk a lot about my Papi, my French grandpa who will forever reside in a café plotting justice for African immigrants in my minds’ eye; I talk about encountering time and again walls (economic, social, physical) between people; I describe time and again being tear-gassed in Bi’lin; I describe starting a student divestment group in college. Sometimes I talk about visiting the gold mine in Guatemala. But I’m still having a really hard time telling a good story about Colombia.


Last year I was in love, in Medellin, I walked to the metro, or the bus, or to where I was going. I bought groceries a few blocks away, cooked nearly every day. I woke up in my wood-floor room and stepped out onto my balcony to create my work everyday. I knew where to go swimming, dancing, who to call for help, how long I would be there. I spoke Spanish, usually only Spanish all day long. I did very few helpful things, few things that I think really lasted, other than being there, being me, and caring—but the issues I thought about were how to get victims’ rights respected, how to keep youth out of street gangs, how to build a more social-justice-focused theology and culture in the church, how to work as a network better, how civil society voices should and could influence peace talks, how to create a team and culture that was non-colonial and based on true justice, how to build resistance to oppression in Latin-America, how to be in solidarity.


All that thinking changed who I am profoundly. But it’s hard to tell as a story, especially since I didn’t achieve all those lofty goals.


And now my life is so different.


I drive every day; I pay 4 dollars for coffee without blinking an eye; I just got a credit car; I’m learning about affordable housing in the US, Arlington specifically, about the internal issues and politics of one of the richest counties in the US, including the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of public schools. I’m meeting with county board members, lawyers, construction workers, defense contractors, house-cleaners, teachers, DREAMERS, and priests and trying to figure out above all who the leaders are, what will motivate them to act, what the winnable issue is. And I fit in. I’m not the minority, the sole gringa, any more. I’m so white, so average, so on a par with all my peers battling with finding housing, finding love, finding friends and community, finding a path, and having our shit together.


 It makes my head spin sometimes—the professional, interpersonal, internal, spiritual, physical, and geographical shifts I’ve made in the last 8 months.


Where I felt like screaming I needed silence so badly in Medellin after the constant roar of salsa and folks in buses and streets, here I scream for the quiet loneliness of my car; where I despaired at the presence of gangs on every corner and a total lack of efficiency in grocery stores now I am bored by the pristine-cookie-cutter streets and annoyed by the overly-ambitious career-focused yuppies all around…


Spin is the right word. I feel I have been spinning, in varying degrees of despair or joy, for the past 8 months. So being 25 in 2014…I don’t know. At this point I’d just like to maybe stop spinning for a bit. Find a place to live with friends, near a running path, where I can settle my body and mind for a while.


That being said, in some tired and unstable way, I know I’m generally where I need to be for now. I’m learning important things. I’m having to deal with realities too long pushed under the rug. So that’s good. And I’m grateful for all of you providing love and support along the way.


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Keep Knocking

A little over a month ago Larisa and I flew back from Colombia. For both of us it would be the first time in two years we would set foot on US territory. Larisa was leaving only to come back for another two years soon thereafter, but I was coming back not knowing exactly when I would be back in Colombia. I was a little sad, a little nervous, but ready. 

Truth be told the past two years have not been easy; and though I have learned to love Colombia for its people, its “berraquera”, and for so many reasons, I have long known that if Colombia were a man, I would want to be friend with him, not marry him. But Colombia has taught me so much, and stirred up innumerable questions in me. Questions like: Where am I personally most effective in creating change? How do I evaluate my success when I’m no longer being graded and am so often working on long-term processes? Do I actually want to work at changing specific policies if I’m unsure I trust the system as a whole? And many many more. 

I have learned that I am weaker and more prone to failure than I thought; I have learned that where there is poverty, money will always be an important factor in any equation, regardless of the topic. And I have learned that trust, love, and affection are necessary conditions for existing. 

One of my fears in working in Latin America, after already being familiar with part of the Middle-East, Africa, Europe and the United States, was that by dedicating part of my life to this new region I would inevitably become aware and care about a whole new set of issues, people and peoples, feel even more the weight of structural evil in the world and be all the more geographically-torn in my relationships. This of course happened. For I now know far more than I did about the United States’ history in Latin America and Colombia specifically; I know more about drug-trafficking, gangs, urban conflict,  and the effect of neoliberal capitalist economic models on community development than I did two years ago. Tragically, I do, and tragically few people care to hear what I have learned about these things. Returning service workers will always tell you this: People are surprisingly lacking in curiosity about your time of service abroad. I am grateful that several people, especially in Harrisonburg, have taken the time and energy to ask me some about Colombia, but the general statement has a lot of truth to it. 

Up until a week or so ago everything felt pretty surreal. It was like watching my life as a movie. “Oh, now I’m leaving Medellin. Oh, now my relationship is truly over. Ok. Now I’m in Bogota. Now Seed is over. Hey, I’m seeing these people for the first time, how interesting…” and so on in a sort of detached-if-content-blur. It was too much. Perhaps it still is; yet I’m feeling that numbness thaw. Anyone who knows the feeling of frozen toes coming to life knows that thawing is definitely good, but it is also ever-so-slightly-painful. Painful to recognize and face that not all in Colombia ended as I would have wished; painful to see and know that my relationships there will change; difficult to face a new set of challenges and the knowledge that all these questions that have opened up for me do not have answers yet, and that much that I learned disturbs more than it comforts. Yet the thawing also allows me to truly feel and know the blessing of old-friends’ arms around me, to truly hear the wise words of mentors and friends, to truly be excited about renewing my relationship with my sister. 

Thawing, I hope, means that soon I will be able to care about seek the answers to those questions I put on ice, and will be emotionally an intellectually capable of sharing about Colombia in an intelligible way. I hope so.

For now I have committed myself to do a three-month trial period with VOICE, an affiliate of the IAF. It means buying a car and working in the suburbs, but it also means being allowed to take leadership and help communities become aware of and harness their power for political change. It is an organization with equally strong yet fairly opposed self-understanding as MCC; an organization that emphasizes success and ends over process and means. It is quite the shift, but it feels like what I need to do right now. 

For a while, I kept thinking to myself  “I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to work. My passion has run out.” I’m thankful I didn’t make myself feel guilty about that, or worry too much about it, because today my beautiful sister posted a poem that suddenly spoke to me (as Rumi often does). My favorite part were the last three stanzas:

“Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.”

This morning I went for a run. This week I did nothing impulsive or stupid (I think); that feels good. I think I’m ready to dig in, to not let the doubts and questions over-run the joy and hope I have seen in the past two years. I will need help along the way, but I’m excited to keep pushing, knocking, to keep seeking to drink from the source of light that lets us fight the darkness. 

This isn’t a synthesis reflection, or a conclusion to two years of my life. How could it be? Colombia is now part of me, just as Palestine is, just as Harrisonburg is, and they will all keep teaching me lessons and working inside of me. 

Today, though, I am celebrating the feeling of thawing, the joy of and blessing of family and friends, and the intention to “submit to daily practice”, to keeping on knocking.Image

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