March 11, 2015
It was a picnic. Of all things to throw me over the edge today, I must admit to it being a picnic. We had decided last night that, it being an evening without extra classes, we should use tonight to pack and picnic and head to a city park supposedly lovely with spring blooms right now.
I should have known better than to plan our outing for the day of the week that never fails to use up every ounce of my work energies: this year the Wednesday schedule simply maxes me out so far as the number and combination of classes.
I also should have known better than to make the plan for a week in which I am extra short on help with library maintenance tasks.
I especially should have been wary of any extra adventures in the week of a pending decision I need to make: a huge, many-years-impacting decision. I am perched at precipice, peering into the doorway of a dream come true . . . but a dream that stretches the limits of my confidence. Quite frankly, I do not know if I can do it, never mind if it is wise for us to commit to the expenses [spanning multiple sorts of “costs”] of it.
So it was that I came to the end of the day spent. So much so that a simple request to teach an extra class tonight brought me to a teary-eyed “No—I cannot: not tonight!” I texted P as I got on my bike to tell him I was on my way home. I also warned him, adding that “I don’t know if I can go out—I think I may need to stay home tonight.” I didn’t wait for his response before starting out . . . I knew I didn’t need to. I am married to a man with infinitely more patience and understanding than I can generally muster myself. I didn’t need to wait for the “No problem” that was to come.
Nearing home, I was getting back onto the bike after walking through a doorway when I paused. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of blue on the ground. Though I do not normally take time to pause at this point in the day, I did. Others walked around me as I then bent down and cupped a stunning butterfly in my hands. I do not know why I had the impulse to do so, but as it crawled along, limping from some sort of likely-fatal injury, I wanted to bring it home. P met me at the door and started to move my bike for me but I stopped him. “Wait—I need to do something!” I pointed to the bike basket, and to what was flitting about inside it. We cupped it together in our hands and snapped a photo of it before releasing it again. I do not have high hopes for the future of this butterfly life . . . but I do have hope. Perhaps the same can be said for my own.
February 2, 2015
This week I had an uncomfortable experience as an educator. I made a decision to refer one of my students to an extra-help class. It was a decision I made very quickly, putting together pieces in my head about the student’s work this past semester and then dashing about to various people I needed to consult for the change to happen. It was fine so far as decisions themselves go: there was no harm in the effects of it. But I realized that I erred in jumping impulsively from thought to action without stopping to question possible alternative solutions or to question my own motivation for acting so hastily. Thankfully, I am not high up in the rankings of administrators in my school, so the checks and balances occurred in spite of my “now” mentality; yet it gave me pause when I realized my weakness for such impulsivity.
As so often happens, though, there was grace for the weakness. So much so that I was blessed with a sweet moment of “needed-ness” in a way that filled my own “neediness” . . . kneading.
In between classes, I heard the kids across the hall and poked my head into the open door. The teacher, in mid-sentence, beckoned me in. “I bet Mrs. G knows how to knead dough,” she announced to the little ones. I laughed at the truth of this suggestion, realizing that I did so multiple times per week, to keep my little household [i.e. my bread-loving husband] stocked. So I ended up helping to instruct a bunch of 6-year old pairs of hands in the art. And as bread making so often does for my own mood, this communal activity did the trick of easing my educator’s angst, smoothing . . . and soothing.
January 23, 2015
Is it possible to transport one’s sensibilities back to the experience of learning how to walk? I feel like I have done so this week. Several weeks ago, one of my knees decided to rebel against me. I kept functioning as usual, so far as daily activities—and running—goes until I could not do so any longer. Finally, a week ago, I admitted that I had to stop running; it has been so very humbling to realize just how hard this has been. The downside, I suppose, to being trained for a marathon, is that not being able to run those long distances anymore . . . not being able to run at all—has left me jumping out of my skin in an itch to move.
Some research into the symptoms led me to peg the pain on a common long-distance runner’s ailment known as ITBS. From what we’ve been reading about it, it can heal itself naturally, but does require enough time off to at least start the healing process. Stretching is also crucial. Both of these two things—time off and stretching—are, I must admit, not customary for me. Thanks to a supportive husband, however, I have an in-house physical therapist these days. I also have a sounding board to help fend off my tendency to overthink, and so brood, over anything I feel is amiss in my life.
And there have been clearly divine gifts during this time of “fasting.”
Getting to teach Grade One P.E., for instance: I have been on a high over the possibilities, after working on a lesson involving basic motions combined with upbeat music so as to “dance” in a way that helps young bodies learn direction and coordination.
The weather has also suddenly, drastically, improved. After being housebound by the cold and precipitation, this week of bright sunshine has brought us back outside, soothing nerves and lifting spirits.
Today I asked my walking buddy if she’d be up for a “trial run” after work. She responded with her customary “Sure!,” and we went out. I had to know if my pain-free spell meant I was ready to run again. So at a snail’s pace, and in hamster circles around a mini track, we ran. I mused on the strange nature of this “run,” and wondered what sort of growth lesson I was learning. I can think of quite a large number of potentials at the moment :-)
This week the elementary classes celebrated the 100th day of school. As a part of it, the kindergartners created a banner of their footprints. Baby steps . . .?
January 19, 2015
In a strange sort of irony today, I was asked for book recommendations to help a young one about to transition from here (home) back to the United States (parents’ home). She explained that the child’s teacher had asked her to help, after the teacher and parents had noticed some unhealthy fear that seemed to be stemming from the pending move.
I was about to do some online searches to provide inspiration, coming up blank with an off-the-top-of-my-head self-query. Then I stopped myself and wondered if, instead, I should try a potentially less-professional approach. I still don’t know if my decision was correct but it’s what I decided . . . so be it. This is what I explained:
I told the woman that I remembered my own walk through transitional grief, at around the same age as this child. Even though I had some other traumas coming into play, in addition to the move, I do vividly recall the confusion brought on by the move from the country I knew as home to a strange and unfamiliar U.S. I also recall taking comfort in the books I read. I told her that the Chronicles of Narnia had provided me with a beautiful fantasy world that I could “escape” to when reality was just too much for my young sensibilities to process. I shared how other books [such as Where the Red Fern Grows, Missing Mae, and Out of the Dust] had allowed me to identify with a grieving character, so that I could weep along with a fictional person for the very real people that I had lost. I also suggested that books such as A Little Princess and The Secret Garden may help by providing a young heroine to identify with who was dealing with similar transitions.
After talking for a bit about these titles, along with a few others, I admitted that I was probably not offering the expected sort of “therapy” titles that she had been told to look for. I know the series of board books that were marketed as such: titles listing behaviors children should avoid and attitudes they should aspire to have. I also admitted that the books I was listing were probably above the target age range, and perhaps too long to lend themselves to an easy one-time chat with a child. But I just couldn’t help being wary of overly didactic, expected types of material. I also happen to believe that high quality literature can reach a much broader age range than some people seem to think . . . and that children are able to see through a lot of conventional grown-up assumptions. So I went with my gut.
As it turns out, my gut response turned out to resonate with this woman. A mother of TCKs herself, I guess she may have observed some of the same things I had experiences. Who knows what the outcome will be for the child in question: but I like to think that the stack of books I checked out today will resonate, in some positive way, in a young one’s heart.
December 26, 2014
Some time ago I wrote about one of my students, and about a moment of glory that “Joe”—who does not do math—had in the classroom. There ended up being a bittersweet conclusion to the story this past week. Bitter, in that the reason it was the “conclusion” is that he is no longer one of my students; but sweet, in that it gave me [us?] hope.
After what I last wrote, he had more of a positive attitude in the class, but remained a problem student. His ability to entertain other students was far more consistent than any timely assignment completion could ever be. As a result, his grades remained very poor: hovering around the 50% mark.
Towards the end of the semester, I assigned our project. I decided on a “Math & Sports” theme, with the goal that it could offer those who struggled with the numbers themselves a chance to tap into another interest. And with a 20% weighting, this project could potentially be quite a nice boost . . . or downfall. As it turned out, quite a few ignored warnings about plagiarism and turned in clearly copy-and-pasted papers to me. After grading them, I gave a class lecture about how I would be returning some of their projects to them for a re-do . . . “If I hand you back your paper later today, you will know why,” was my stern benediction as the end-of-class bell rang.
Lunchtime was spent walking around with a stack of offending papers while I found each student and had a conversation with him or her about what I had seen in the paper, and about how it needed to be fixed. While I did so, I saw Joe. I stopped to tell him how proud I was of the good work he had done on his. He had obviously put his heart for soccer [i.e.football] into the project, and the work had paid off. “You did really well,” I told him. “You’ll see tomorrow,” I added with a hinting smile. He had made a B+.
Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Joe’s family would be moving to another country—already—at the end of this semester. Around this same time, I’d begun talking to his new math tutor. We agreed that he seemed capable—just easily distracted by prospects of P.E. class and soccer practice, and unwilling to spend the time needed to get past the mental block. He also had trouble remembering where he had put papers, so even if he did his homework it had trouble making it back to me.
Encouraged by the boost of his last project, however, I began touching base with his tutor about the work he had done and noticed a rise in his grades. One day I went in to talk to him about his imminent departure. Realizing that he might be able to get up to a passing grade, I asked him to study hard for the last test. “You are in a one-on-one match right now,” I began. “You are one team, and Math is the other. You’ve been practicing for some time now and are about to have the tournament. This is it. You can win . . . you can beat Math!”
He did it. He worked hard, and he got a B on that test. As I calculated the final grades, my spirit sunk a bit. I saw his grade still failing, and I saw that I had never gotten one of the last homework assignments turned in by him. By this point, he had gone already, leaving a few days before school actually ended for the break. I did some hunting, in case he had done the work and I could track it down somehow, but had no luck. It was so close! I thought. His tutor encouraged me, saying that regardless of the grading outcome, he would benefit from the work put into the class. I agreed. Yes, it’s not the grade that matters. I know it’s the effort—I tell students the same thing all the time: why do I forget this truth myself?
The day before the break I got my grade verification sheets and began to double check with my grade book. I saw a mistake and then realized, with a smile spreading across my face, that the only mistake was in my own mind. Turns out, I had a different idea of the grade scale in my head when I looked at the numbers last: I thought the dividing line between D and F was higher than it actually is for my school’s secondary grading scale. So, in fact, Joe’s grade had risen enough at the end that he did have a D . . . a solid D, no less :-)
*I got to enjoy the company of family this Christmas . . . something that has not happened for several years now. Christmas morning, as we slowly woke up, I wandered around the house with my niece for a bit. She introduced me to the horses, pointed out a pomegranate tree, plucked a sprig of rosemary for me, chatting in a calmingly nonchalant manner about random things as we went. We paused in a patch of sunlight and we both quiet for a bit. I closed my eyes and faced the sunshine as she grabbed a twig and began to sketch in the dirt. After few minutes she had produced a fine rendering of a rainbow arcing over both a shining sun and a grazing horse. I looked at her work and smiled at the realization that here, in this random vacationing moment, life was happening. Life. No matter that I have no scale with which to measure the meaning of this moment: it matters. So it goes. A measured math score matters. A random sketch in the dirt just as much. And it is good.
December 21, 2014
The lines to this poem, by Langston Hughes, have been running through my head this week. But the lesson I had to learn, so far as I can tell, from this vantage point in my life at least, was in fact to let the dream go. For now. Who knows what the future may hold but, whatever it is for this next year at least, is not what I had in mind. For quite a few years now, I have been nursing a dream. It was put on hold, for practical reasons having to do with the work assignment I ended up with . . . and that was ok. I was more than busy enough to let it rest.
But now, this year, I dove back into it—rather, we dove back into it. The two of us, excited in the pursuit that we thought would occupy us for some time. This past week, the door was closed. I was, quite frankly, crushed. I spent a few days alternating between weepy spurts and robot-like work-as-usual. I did not get it. Why? I have been asking. Why did it seem so obvious, so exciting, so perfect. The perfect plan. MY perfect plan. Ah, yes—there’s the rub. It was MY plan. I assumed that it must be His plan as well. Surely, if as a couple we are both looking towards the same idea, it must be the right one. Right?
Wrong. I have a long way to go, I expect, before really understanding why not. And the truth is that my reaction was at first not accepting it. I saw the door closed, envisioned a blank slate of a future in its place, and panicked. I started searching frantically for the next door to take its place; I went into a stress-response of hyperactivity. In my old modus operandi, this would likely have worked. I am accustomed to rapid life transitions and quick turnarounds. But this time, it’s not just me. It took some touch couple-hashings-out for me to come to terms with the fact that, just because something may have worked for me as a single woman does not mean it will work for us as a married couple. This time, we are a team, and we must orchestrate our strategic lines of offense and defense accordingly. Once we began the teamwork process, I realized that my initial ideas of alternative planning were not necessarily conducive to our life-together plan. I had to push a pretty major, pretty heavy “pause” button . . . and let the dream, as I had envisioned it, die.
The unexpected part of this process, however, was that before making what would have seemed like a let-down decision to me, I was unsettled and on edge. Afterwards, however—once accepting a “normal” future that would have felt like settling for less—I felt an unexpected calm: a sort of inner exhale. I was ok. We were ok . . . and we will be ok.
Perhaps, in my world:
Hold loose your life
For He who holds firm
will offer new dreams:
the kind that can’t die.
November 30, 2014
It has been another year since this annual posting. This year finds me in another quite-different season. My location is the same as last year. But I am no longer traveling alone. I have a partner in life: one who is almost as unusual as I am :-) We fit each other well . . . marriage is good.
That said, life itself is no less trial-filled and rocky than it ever was. Some days find me trudging forward with gritted teeth. But some, like this morning, find me running freely, grateful for the gifts that I so often forget to be grateful for.
The gift of a weekend away from the city . . . the gift of music that moves me to run along a remote village road with my arms lifted high in praise . . . the gift of water clean enough to wade into . . . the gift of this life that is mine for the taking: mine alone to live.
As I ran today I found myself talking out loud as the music, and emotion, moved me. “Do You love me?” I asked. I do not know why the words came out; but I believe it is significant that they did. Because I was able to answer out loud. “Yes, I believe that You do.”
on this day . . .
I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.
It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.
That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.
The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.
So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.
I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.
Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.
I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.
I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .
Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.
And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.
On this day, during my childhood, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.
I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.
November 29, 2014
Some days I feel pretty spoiled. Work days that include running around with little ones, dressed like a turkey, fall into that category.
Today I wasn’t sure how the day would pan out. I was, quite frankly, stressed about the prospect of it. But of course, every time I feel that way, things seem to come together. And that they did.
On one level, I was worried about the change in the workday itself. Knowing that the annual turkey trot would be tucked in the midst of my normal classes left me nervous about the potential rush. But on a day I was expecting to be on my own, a library angel who comes to visit me sometimes showed up, clearing the day of the tasks that tend to accumulate and eat up the time. There was time enough to do it . . . time enough to say, “Yep, you bet I’ll be out there running with you guys!” One little one I’d cheered on a few times during her P.E. class which, one day a week, coincided with my Chinese class. When weather cooperates, my teacher and I have been holding our class outside, so I’d been able to watch the progress of the kindergarteners in the weeks leading up to the run. This one would always finish last, with tears of frustration as she expressed her dislike of running. One day I left my teacher and began to run with her, telling her she could do it: she could cross that finish line. It struck me that she was very self-aware for her age—aware of how she compared to others in her class, and aware of others in general. When she began to cry, she told me that she knew her mother was going to see her finish last when it came time for the race . . . said her mother would be disappointed. I could only hope that I was speaking truth when I told her that no, her mother would just see how hard she had worked, and would be proud.
That was last week. Yesterday, when I realized I’d be able to run with them, I tucked into the classroom. Last year they had given me an extra of the turkey hats they made, so I wanted to see if I could run in style once again. V pointed me to the bin of extra turkey-hat parts and I quickly stapled one together as she put the finishing touches on her own. Then I joined the head-feathered parade, filing down the stairs and out to the starting line with the class. As expected, the run was a struggle for T. What I did not expect was that, instead of just bemoaning the difficulty of the run, she had a new frustration: her mother, she said, had promised to come, but was not there. I have no idea what kept this mother from coming to cheer her daughter on [or run with her, as some parents did], but it made for a whole new significance to those 10 minutes for me. I couldn’t really say anything worthwhile to her—nothing new, at least. I still encouraged her to just do her best, and to focus on finishing. I realized, however, that the most important thing I did on this day was to just run alongside her. I don’t know what she came away from that race with. But I do know that she knew I was there. And, you know, she ran that whole thing . . . finishing well ahead of several others in her class!
*A teacher of this class was running with them as well. After the race she sent me a few of the photos she had taken. “His light shining down on you,” is what she wrote. She has this tendency to take sunbeam photos and, when I ask her how she does it she just shrugs and claims ignorance. I think it’s a pretty cool gift :-)
October 2, 2014
We were just diving into a new lesson, and I had worked up, in a series of questions, to the most challenging mental math problem. The usual responders gave a series of wrong attempts. I was about to tell them all the answer and move on to the lesson itself when Joe shouted out « 12! » I stopped. The others looked at him, shocked to hear him speak up for anything other than some sort of goofing-off. Then a few began to nod, and agree. « Yeah, that’s right! » One started cheering and clapped him on the back. Others clapped. It was too good to be true. I couldn’t resist pausing in mid-sentence and beaming at him for a moment, before announcing « Yep, that’s right—12! »
See, this was the one I was worried about. Just that morning, before school, I had breathed a pra_yer asking for help knowing how to support him. Knowing my own limitations as a classroom teacher, I was at a loss as to how to offer the “creative” help I had promised to his parents.
This was one who replied in the following manner on my beginning-of-the-year student survey:
In math I feel dumb.
If I have a test in math I feel worried.
The area I struggle in math is everything.
My past experiences in math have been Bad because i don’t like math.
I guess you never know what’s going to happen in the classroom, on any given day. I thought this problem was something I had to figure out myself. Somehow. Some way. Turns out, « creative help » came one its own, nothing doing on my part! Granted, there’s still a long way to go between here and there on the math grades track for this kid. But a little twinge of shining hope is there.
When I left work this afternoon, I took a detour to walk around the track. My husband and I used to do these afternoon walks regularly, often barefoot. But lately we have been just business-oriented. I was telling him the other day that I thought we should do something that wasn’t necessarily productive. We « do life » well together but, in the routine of workdays, it is so easy to get into the habit of just taking care of the business of life and not doing things just to do them together. So today, before I left work I asked if he would join me for a barefoot walk, for old time’s sake. As I waited for him to arrive, I looked up and saw an amazing display of silver-rimmed cloud. I was quite sure my phone couldn’t get anywhere near to capturing it, but I couldn’t resist an attempt. Turns out, it captured pretty well :-)
September 30, 2014
Last weekend I « retreated » with a large number of other women from near, and not so near, where I live. It filled my woman-needy soul in a way I didn’t anticipate [though I had gone into the weekend with a great deal of excitement; just didn’t know why I was so ready for it]. It was a short 2 days packed with activity and intensity. During our free time one afternoon, a friend and I went for a run. As we headed up a hill, we saw a group of uniformed youngsters walking towards us, apparently just getting out of school. I am quite accustomed to being stared at: a « waiguoren, » no matter where in the world I am at any given time. And at first I had a bit of a sinking feeling, expecting them to begin laughing and running alongside us as most children do. My friend, however, in the exact same position as I am, had a very different reaction. She smiled, waved, and began cheering them on. It was a contagious reaction, and I joined her. After passing them, I joked that we had just spurred on the next Olympic racing team of this country. It was a powerful lesson for me in openness: a reminder that my agenda of what my « job » is, and of what sort of outward aura I should have, is not necessarily the best. Sometimes you have to let go of those expectations and just be open to the surprises that may be just around the bend. These photos are of the countryside we passed as we ran—so fast that it was all a blur. Ok, so maybe I was just a poor photographer that day :-)