A Sense of Place and Purpose

Fernweh (German) – Wanderlust, a craving to travel, being homesick for a place you’ve never been

I am what you would call a Third Culture Kid (TCK), someone who sort of belongs, but can never completely belong in either the country they grew up in or the country they are “from”. As a member of this tribe of misfits, my childhood consisted of getting to travel the world, being stared at, pretending to know who The Spice Girls were, and feigning excitement when someone wanted to hear the exotic white boy speak Japanese. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate the value of living between two worlds enough.

As an adult, the symptoms of my incurable condition include compulsive travel, speaking 3.5 languages and having 4 different jobs at once because I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. My stories usually start with “when I lived in Kenya” or “that time when I was studying abroad in Egypt” and end with something I probably shouldn’t have done but I’m glad I did anyway. Now I love the perspective I’ve gained from my experiences and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

However, I do often think about how nice it would be to have a place called home. I could easily answer the question, “where are you from?” without any caveats, explanations or long stories. I wouldn’t feel like the grass was greener somewhere else. I wouldn’t miss people on the other side of the world that I can’t spend time with for the forseeable future. I guess people always want what they can’t have though.

I just watched a Netflix documentary on Laura Dekker who at 16 became the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone. She has an interesting quote in the film when someone asks her where she is from. It goes something like this. Shopkeeper: “So you’re Dutch?” Laura: “Yeah… well no. I don’t really have a home. Home to me is Guppy” (her sailboat).

I think Guppy was home to her because it signified purpose, a goal, a plan: In her case sailing around the world. I’m finding that it doesn’t matter as much where I live; it’s more important to have a compelling reason to live. That is what provides contentment and joy and a fulfilling life. In Kenya, people would often ask me if I were homesick. I would say yes, but more for Japan than America. You can imagine their perplexed looks. While that was true, I also have to be intentional to live wherever I am. Because I have lived in other places, when things get tough my temptation is to imagine myself somewhere else. Somehow I always leave out the messy stuff. No place can solve people’s problems or magically make us happier, there is no place that will fulfill all your desires and dreams. Instead, building community and living purposefully make life worth living – wherever it is.

Those are just some of the things I’m working through and learning about myself right now. Feeling nostalgic, I posted some pictures of my family I have all over the world.

Great Friends all over the World

My Japanese family

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A Throwback from Kenya

Great Friends from College!

These people were my college family

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Project Update

My time in Kenya has dwindled down to less than two weeks. It’s been a crazy adventure, full of tragedy, challenges and triumphs. At first, it felt like my trip would continue forever. But as the cliché goes, time flies and I’m left with many things still to accomplish. I also felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of our project, but realized that there is no other way than to take things one step at a time. As we’ve faced difficult times and challenges, I have often been reminded of Cormack McCarthy’s quote about writing. “I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide seems hardly worth doing.”

As you might know, I am here in Kenya starting an aquaponics farming business at a church/school property in urban Nairobi. Calling it Uzima Farm (Life in Swahili), we are attempting to create something green and healthy and profitable in a Nairobi slum community, introducing a new technology and employing locals in the process. Hence the overwhelming magnitude of our project.

Our greenhouse and aquaponics system has been built, despite a weeklong setback when our greenhouse manager’s wife suddenly passed away. Today, we finished putting the pond liner in our grow bed and added water. After that, we will add catfish and be ready to start growing food. We also have a soil farming section, where we have laid drip irrigation lines and mixed soil with manure. I apologize for being a bit technical – basically we are encouraged by our progress and hopeful about the possibilities.

Filling up the Grow Bed

Filling up the Grow Bed

There is, however, still much work to be done. The real proof of our concept is whether my business partner Jacquie and I can remotely help locals manage the aquaponics farm, grow healthy organic food and make money. We don’t want to be another non-profit project in Africa: we want to be a business that creates jobs, grows food and restores dignity to places where before, there was only charity. We don’t see Kenyans as helpless victims to be saved, but as intelligent, hard-working individuals to be trained and given the opportunity to prosper.

It’s funny, 3 years ago as a Senior in college I wrote about building infrastructure rather than giving food aid to increase prosperity in Africa. See my article in the Other Writings section of this blog. Through this journey, I feel that God has brought me full circle, making me put my money where my mouth is and testing to see if I am really committed to creating change. It has been much more difficult than writing a paper. I don’t know about the outcome of our project, heck I don’t even know when I will return to Africa, but I’m glad I stayed the course and saw this through. I leave you with some wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

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12 Quotes

I started collecting quotes over 10 years ago. Call me a nerd but I enjoy reflecting on how they’ve spoken to me at various points in my life. Here are some that have influenced my journey in recent years

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle or end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

– Gilda Rodner

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

– Donald Miller

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

– C.S Lewis

 

“An old Cherokee told his grandson, ‘My son, there’s a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It’s anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It’s joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness and truth.’ The boy though about this and asked, ‘which one wins?’ The old man quietly replied, ‘The one you feed.'”

“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.”

– Leo Tolstoy

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and wisdom, blended in good measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

 

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest moment.”

– Sir Winston Churchill

“In America you have watches, in Africa we have time.”

– Nicholas from Uganda

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

– Gladiator

 

“Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. Andy Dufresne, headed for the Pacific. Those of us who knew him best talk about him often. I swear, the stuff he pulled. Sometimes it makes me sad though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty when they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

– The Shawshank Redemption

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you didn’t do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain

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