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

303048_10101498544307011_614832950_n

A Throwback from Kenya

Great Friends from College!

These people were my college family

Advertisements

My Crazy Life

The last couple of weeks have been crazy. For starters, I had 5 days of Japanese tour guide/translating jobs. The first was a 3-day tour with a group of older ladies in a travel club – basically they just travel all over the world with their friends. They had visited Costa Rica, Panama, Iceland, Southeast Asia, various places in the US and Europe, and were going to Antarctica in January! Rough life. The second was a group of 50 high-schoolers on a trip across Colorado. Coordinating 50 kids in Japanese through Garden of the Gods was an interesting experience. Nonetheless, I’m loving my job and feel reaffirmed in the fact that travel is something I want to do long-term.

I find it interesting that the things you are passionate about usually come to pass. In college, I wanted to learn more about Africa and social enterprise, so I wrote my senior thesis paper on whether we should provide food aid to The Democratic Republic of the Congo. That lead to me finding a job in Kenya and getting the real Africa experience (perhaps more than I bargained for). When I returned, I wanted to use my Japanese so I applied for a tour guiding job in Colorado. One thing lead to another, and I now work for two different companies, worked at a ski resort in Japan last Winter and have started my own travel business. I believe God cares about what we care about, and He wants us to serve Him as we live out our passions and interests. I’ve often been out of my comfort zone on this journey, but I’m learning that that’s not such a bad thing.

After the first tour guiding trip, I hopped on a plane to Texas. Meeting my dad at 10:30 PM, we drove 5 hours to Arkansas for my cousin’s wedding. The wedding was great, my cousin looked amazing and I got to meet her now husband for the first time. I had a great time hanging out with family, watching my littlest cousin dance, eating too much food and celebrating with Mary Rachel and Leith.

Hanging out with my Cousins

Hanging out with my cousins and siblings

Going to weddings does make you think about your own relationships though. I’m sure much of marriage is working through issues as they arise, but finding the right person from the start seems pretty important too. I want to find that person for myself, but also think there are seasons in life. Learning to experience joy in each season is more important than getting married, making more money, buying that house, or doing whatever you think will make you happier, because even though those things are great, in and of themselves they are empty. I am so happy for March Rachel, Leith and my brother Jon (who might be next) – I just haven’t found that person yet and I’m learning to be content in that.

After Arkansas, we drove to Texas where my dad’s side of the family lives. It was great seeing them as well, hanging out at the lake, wakeboarding and playing the inaugural game of volleyball in my Uncle’s pool. I’m realizing how unique and special it is to have great family on both sides who care and who want to spend time together.

Finally, after driving back from Texas to Colorado, my brother, his friend and I did a pickleball demonstration in Vail and went camping for the night; a great way to end a busy two weeks. The next month will be no less crazy, I have a couple of weeks of tour guiding, playing in a professional pickleball tournament and starting my tennis coaching job but I’m excited for it all.

Our Camping Spot

Our Camping Spot

Monica

Monica, our house-help (Maid) is one of my favorite people in Kenya. She is hilarious and some of my most entertaining conversations have taken place in the kitchen watching her cook.

First of all, she worries about me far too much. If I haven’t gotten home by 9:00 PM, she calls me and asks whether I am okay. If I’m too lazy to shave one morning, she’ll say, “Brother Dan, you need to shave to look smart”. If my shoes are dusty from the previous day, she won’t let me leave home until she’s had a chance to wipe them. In the evenings, she always makes sure I have my cup of tea, texting me instead of walking upstairs to my room. Last night’s said, “Hallo Dan, welcome 4 the cup of t”. Apparently bad texting grammar and laziness are not exclusively American problems. And even though she constantly walks around the house barefoot, if I attempt this daring feat she makes me put on sandals, saying my feet are not used to it.

Monica Shining Shoes

Monica Shining Shoes

She said one of my favorite lines ever the other day when I asked when Josephine and Pastor Brown would arrive home (the family I’m staying with). Straightening her posture like she was announcing the arrival of the Queen of England she replied in her Kenyan accent, “Brother Dan, I do not know when they shall arrive, but henceforth from now on they may arrive at anytime.”

We’ve also had some interesting conversations about Kenya, giving me deeper insight into the culture. I told her that Americans like to be slim but most of them are fat. Then I asked her why Africans like to be fat but most of them are slim. She corrected me, saying “People liked to be fat before because it meant you were rich. Now we know that being too fat is unhealthy. A person should not be too fat or too slim.” I couldn’t agree more Monica.

Then, there is her utter shock at the fact that in America, we don’t eat ugali. “It is my favorite food, I could eat it every day and never tire” she says enthusiastically of the unseasoned boiled cornmeal mixture. Personally, I think it’s just mediocre and could easily imagine life without it, but I didn’t mention that part.

Monica had been asking me to attend church with her for a while (she goes to a different church than the family) and yesterday, I honored her request. Knowing that Kenyan churches are in it for the long haul, however, I made a point of having to leave by 1:00. Leaving the house at 9:00 with Josephine who was driving in the same direction, I jumped out of the car at the “bus stop,” if you can call it that, waiting for Monica to join me. Monica fumbled around in the car for a while, looking for something. Apparently, in a moment of African blondeness, she had forgotten to bring her shoes! Josephine and I could not stop laughing. We quickly hatched a plan and I dropped Josephine off at her church, before taking Monica to buy shoes and attend her church. By 10:00 we were sitting in Monica’s church.

For some reason, evangelical churches in Africa feel the need to blast music as loud as possible and literally scream sermons into the microphone. Kenyans have told me that passers-by need to be able to hear the entire service because they might get interested and come inside. Monica’s church has about 20 members, and as the guest of honor (and probably the only white person who has ever stepped foot in the building) they put me front and center, right in front of the two loudspeakers. I was painstakingly aware of how absurdly loud everything was and I pondered why in a small tin shack with 20 people, we needed a PA system at all. When in Rome and To Each His Own I suppose.

Needless to say, this was not my most spiritually enlightening church experience, but I did it for Monica. As I watched the seconds slowly tick away, I prayed that God would grant me more patience. I also had the sermon to entertain me. From my perspective, the pastor seemed to be shouting out random God-related statements for an hour and a half, occasionally turning back to the Bible passage at hand. Taking meticulous notes for later use, some of his most interesting statements included:

 The devil is mute

I don’t believe in getting old

News is a disgrace to God

In the car I preach to myself

We don’t need government – be governors and senators of the word

Now I don’t want to ridicule, but let’s be honest, these are a bit ridiculous. Going to African church did, however, make me realize that as a result of my cultural upbringing, personality, or maybe attending a Christian university, my faith tends towards the academic rather than the emotional. Despite some theologically questionable statements, Christians in Kenya are undeniably passionate about God. After I left at 1:00, Monica attended the afternoon service, which continued until 6:00 PM. She was happy to stay all day and worship, not thinking about what else needed to be done or having personal time for herself. Sometimes I wish I had some more of that faith.