Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yo soy

"Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins. Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones. Open your heart to who you are, right now, not who you would like to be. Not the saint you're striving to become. But the being right here before you, inside you, around you. All of you is holy. You're already more and less than whatever you can know. Breath out, look in, let go." -John Welwood

Saturday, October 19, 2013


I lay on my mat tonight, eyes closed, limbs trembling, listening to the sound of my breath.

Each inhale and exhale were deep, powerful, purposeful and soothing. I've learned to really listen to my breathing, pay attention to my breathing; it centers my mind and balances my racing heartbeat. It's therapeutic, whether in the midst of a warrior pose or in the last five minutes of that really intense exam. What I love though, is how your breath has different sentidos. Each part has a different feeling, sentiment, and imagery.

It sounds like the ocean. With each inhale your breath mirrors a breaking wave; crashing upon the shore with life-giving momentum, intensity, curling ripples of oxygen and peace. Desperate and overwhelming, it's easy to get lost in the inhale. But it's that speed and force and power that fills your body, lifts your chin, and gets you through the day. And each exhale is the retreat of the wave back into the vast sea. A release of tension, stress, worry and control. It drags at the grains of sand and fragments of shell as it smoothly pulls back into the dark depths. The shore of your lungs slowly empties until your breath finally tapers off into a quiet whisper between your lips.

It's magical really, if you think about it that way. That your breath is like the tide, ebbing and flowing. Rising and receding. Deep, profound, complex, full of life and mystery.

It's as if the sea were in you. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

White Girl

I met a man in a classy bar a while ago. With shiny leather shoes and a smart, gleaming watch, he seemed intelligent. Sophisticated. Interesting. And I had on my turtle-shell glasses, pearls, and a glass of cooled scotch. 

We began to talk.

A mutual friend had mentioned my time in Jordan to said man and Señor Shoes ventured to turn the conversation "What were you doing in the Middle East?" he asked, slightly amused. I gave him the quick shpeel, "public health work addressing health conditions inside Jordan's biggest refugee camp" and his eyes lit up. 

"Refugees? You worked with refugees? That's so cute!....Haha, did you get your refugee fix?" 

This face is how I feel about it a week later. In the moment, I could've slugged him.

"Refugee fix?" I frowned. "Not sure I understand."

"You know, white girl goes to the desert to work with refugees. Was it exciting? I mean, it seems crazy exciting! But, well, what do you want to actually do?"

White girl? What do I actually want to do?

"You make refugee camps sound like going to the something to be entertained with. Like I was just there to get a profile picture." 

"So you did get your refugee fix!"

I just excused myself.

Way to completely undermine, minimize and patronize me and what I'm passionate about. Way to stick me in a racist, sexist box of stereotypes and generalizations without actually stopping to realize that the color of my skin or hair shouldn't sabotage my credibility or goals.

Yes. Thank you Captain Obvious, I am white. And blond. And a woman. Therefore, genuinely caring about the world, it's realities and people, the pain and suffering, the triumphs and challenges is inherently inconceivable. Naturally.

And in those moments, as I walked away from Señor Shoes, I heard another voice in my head....

"Is it because you wish you had culture? Don't base your life off your white man's guilt..." 

Tonight marked the third night in a row I've stayed up past 2am working on my major proposal. Tomorrow I meet with the academic dean and will defend this major I've dreamt up and designed over the last seven months. Global Health and Social Justice: Development, Urbanization, and International Migration. It's powerful, it's holistic, it's raw, challenging and will actually prepare me for the real world; unlike the theoretical bookwork UCSD seems obsessed with. Yesterday I got both the Director of the Global Health Minor and one of Anthropology's leading indigenous rights professors to sign off on my proposal and I literally couldn't breathe from pure joy.

And now I'm terrified silly. I've rewritten my proposal into five drafts, each one different is a single page draft, the next is two pages, then three pages, four pages and five. No matter what they ask for, I'll have. I've organized and reorganized the proposed classes, practiced defending it to the mirror, read the entire general catalogue over...twice.

I'm ecstatic and terrified, thrilled and apprehensive, incredibly proud and unbelievably nervous.

And it's not because I'm a white girl who wishes she had culture.

I have culture. So does every single person on this massive, complex planet. And I don't have white-man's guilt or burden. There is unnecessary pain and death in the world and I happen to have spent six years in college and too many SallyMae loans figuring out how to help alleviate it. Has nothing to do with the color of my stupid skin. Or my hair. Or the fact that I happened to be born with green eyes.

White girl's gonna show Señor Shoes and everyone else that passion shouldn't be dictated, or limited, by the color of your skin. I thought we were bigger than that.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Purple yoga mat

My yoga mat is purple. Purple with violet elephants running down one side.

This afternoon, the warm, golden sunlight came streaming through the windows onto the hardwood floor as we shook. Panted. Stretched. Our yoga class is for beginners, but it's incredibly challenging. Cords are used to pull your legs and arms in directions thought impossible moments before. Arturo, the instructor, has learned my name and tells me from across the room "stretch Risa, stretch further. No! Further."

In surfing, there's a desperate sensation when you've been under water a few moments too long where your lungs start to gasp for air. They convulse in upon themselves, stretch against themselves, and you become acutely aware of each cell of your lungs. You feel each one, so furiously bent on living, surge and pulse with life, propelling you to the surface where you can finally gulp the sweet, sweet oxygen.

Yoga is similar. You stretch and bend in ways that make your muscles scream in delicious agony. You hold perfectly still in bizarre poses as your sinewy muscles gasp and cramp and pull at your joints. You listen to your heartbeat as you force yourself not to shake, pull your sacrum back towards the floor, lift your chin towards the ceiling, and breathe. Let it burn, just don't forget to breathe. And when you think you'll collapse in upon yourself, the pose stops. And you can finally relax into yourself on that wonderful, safe mat.

I found myself pressing into my purple, elephant mat as if it were the only thing in the world that could offer me security, stability, and a refuge during the tortures of yoga. As soon as I could get my body flat against my mat, silently whisper cuss words at my understanding elephants, close my eyes and melt into the mat, I'd be okay.

My yoga mat is purple. Purple with violet elephants running down the side. It's tangible representation of peace and sanity.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Feed the soul

Today was a day spent entirely in the pursuit of therapy. 

Two co-workers-turned-friends from my summer days at Jamba Juice and I hiked up to Potato Chip Rock. The morning was overcast, the trail quiet, the desert scenery dry and rugged, and our hearts racing as we scaled the mountain. My legs have since turned to jelly and I know they'll be sore in the morning, but it was worth it. 

And my day ended at Torrey Pines State Beach, sitting alone on the shore....silently thinking about the world. Synchronizing my breathing with the crashing waves. Just listening to the gulls and sand and chilly breeze. I have mountains of homework before me now, but when does that ever change? Honestly. It was a "feed the soul" kind of day. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blacklight Party

Tour guiding isn't just an amazing job, it's an amazing group of tight-knit friends. I've known some of these people for nearly three years now and we've shared so many happy, crazy memories.

From 5am pancake breakfasts at Denny's before Triton Day, dressing up as super-heros and sharks, feasting on ethnic food before calling newly admitted freshmen, and flash mob dances on Library Walk...this group is random and spontaneous and down for any adventure that comes our way. We're paid to be cheerful, upbeat, happy and what happens is a dynamic group of incredible friends.

And last night was our first black-light party. The requirement to come was that you had to glow, so we had neon shirts, glow sticks, body paint and highlighters to make the night as colorful as possible. I love these people.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Women's Protection and Empowerment Coordinator

Tonight was supposed to be an incredibly productive, writing-filled evening...but it dissolved into hours spent scanning IRC job postings in New York, D.C., Berlin and Tanzania. My glasses were illuminated with the reflection of job description after fascinating job description and my heart danced with the idea that somehow, someday, maybe I could do something like the careers described there.

  • Expected to be deployed in the field for up to 75% of the time and must be able to deploy to the site of an emergency within 72 hours of notification.
  • Rapidly and effectively design, develop and manage the IRC's on-site humanitarian response to meet the immediate needs of the affected population. 
  • Promote and protect women and girls' human rights and meet the safety, health, psychosocial and justice needs of survivors of sexual and physical violence. 
  • Represent and coordinate with other agencies, local government, donors and other stakeholders to promote delivery of best practice humanitarian assistance, 
  • Assist in the development and launch of new technical policy, procedures and training materials

Let me just remember how to breathe. 

That is me. That is everywhere me. That is me all over. That's it. That's exactly it. 

The only thing I still need is "3+ years of experience developing and managing technical projects including time spent in emergency/conflict areas."

So. I'm officially going to meet with the IRC Regional Coordinator in San Diego to figure out how I can start working on that experience. Now. 

Like, right now. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What's Important

I sat in class yesterday and re-evaluated life. The professor carried on enthusiastically about health behavior models and social determinants of health, but my mind was light-years away trying to pin down what, really, do I care about. What is important? 

Global health work, that's a given. Portions of my life will undoubtedly include travel, foreign languages, dirt, NGOs, grant-writing, boots and living out of a backpack. That said, I've realized there are a few beautifully important things I want to stabilize whatever life, careers, and relationships come my way. I sat in class and realized that it's important my future life allows me to:

Have an actual home
Raise chickens
Tend a vegetable garden
Bake bread. Regularly.
Have hardwood floors and big windows and antique maps on the walls

Invest in people
Read with my kids. Voraciously

Put on pearls and go to the ballet
Live simply
Splurge on the important things: the arts, books, plane tickets, perfume, and his cologne
Family dinners

I want love to seep through the walls, through the conversations, through the joy and anger and laughter and challenges. I want love to engulf my future home and family. I want it to manifest itself in quiet deeds and kind words, back massages and sips of wine. I need love to be rejuvenating, therapeutic, raw and vulnerable. I want it to be honest, challenging, patient, real. I want it to pick me up off the floor when I'm overwhelmed with the pain of the world. I want it to be what pulls us closer when life is too much. I want it to be what keeps us going, keeps us laughing, keeps us humble, keeps us together.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mary & Martha

I don't know where to start with this post. I'm not an overly-emotional person, but I watched this tonight and cried. Multiple times. For multiple very, very different reasons.

I am white. A white, blonde, American woman who lives a very privileged, safe, successful life. Most likely, I will never have to watch my son die of malaria, or typhoid, or malnutrition, or cholera. I will never have my daughter writhe on a hospital bed as her little heart literally explodes with disease. My son will not die like the baby I held in Jamaica because the only doctors are hours away by bus. My daughter will not die because of contaminated water like the limp girl I cradled in a sweltering refugee camp in Amman. My children will not slowly starve because of tribalism, sectarian fighting, and policies created in plush offices oceans away.

But millions, millions of children will. Every, single, year. Millions of mothers and millions of fathers will watch their children writhe. Suffer. Starve. Silently, feverishly fade away.

I watched this and cried, remembering the little faces I have seen. The little hands I've held. The little, and big, bodies I've hugged. Knowing that there are thousands and thousands and thousands who die of preventable diseases, suffer from preventable disabilities, and face preventable starvation, mutilation, blindness, and pain....whom I will never know.

I cried. I cried because the pain and suffering is so real, so tangible...but it takes a movie like this, a class here and there, a UNICEF poster here, to remind us that people are literally dying of poverty. Lack of mosquito nets. Lack of $5 antibiotics. Lack of safe drinking water. Lack of a safe place to sleep at night. I cried because I am so, so, so privileged, so sheltered, so safe...and the disparity is so, so, so huge.

There is a scene where Mary begins receiving letters back from government officials about her grassroots campaign to fight against malaria. She's ecstatic, hopeful, naive and passionate....and she'll fight. Even just to save a single life. Prevent one child from meeting her son's fate. But her husband looks her in the eye and says "Save a life, lose a marriage." Bomb dropped.

And I cried anew. She faced the awful choice between advocating for a bigger cause, using her status as a white, American, woman to fight for those who have no privileged platform...or her marriage. And I cried. I cried because I gave up a man who didn't believe in me or my goals. Because I once looked a doubtful, unyielding man in the eye and chose mosquito nets and vaccines and un-named impoverished communities in un-named far-away places. And I cried because, deep down, I'm terrified of ever having to make that choice again. Is that a thing? Do you have to choose? Why? I cried over strong women in humanitarian aid and the reoccurring theme of unsupportive partners. Does that keep popping up because it's good narrative drama, or because it's a real problem?

And I laughed and cried at the power of two passionate women. It might be fiction, but it's powerful all the same. Two women, who'd seen enough pain and death, rallying to change one thing at a time. To solve one problem at a time. To tackle one obstacle and save one life at a time. It was beautiful.

And I was beaming.