Sunday, December 13, 2009

A sharable Holiday Gift for the people in my wwworld

We finally decorated at home in Brussels yesterday!

..

I received a very special gift from someone about 10 days ago.

Though I have seen her many times, I do not actually know her name. She was hosting a "social enterprise bazaar" stall next to mine. We were both features at the grand opening of The Hub Brussels - a social enterprise incubator where I rent 25 desk hours in a really cool group office space each month. I spend time there in the context of establishing my new social profit company and developing the Internet4Change project. The woman who gave me this gift also works on her project there. Her work has something to do with compassion building.

I remembered to take this gift out of my handbag and looked at it for a couple of days. I considered it, thought about it, showed it to my kids. Finally, I used it ~ and enjoyed it. I used it again... and kind of fell in love with it.

As I thought about it for a few days more, I became more and more intrigued by it's quiet power to subtly transform my thought patterns about conflicts in my life. About one painful conflict in particular, I started thinking about some practical lessons I'd learned. I stopped feeling hurt. Eventually I took an action that started to right an unintended wrong that resulted from that conflict.

And so I thought about this gift, for a few days more.

I imagined what might happen if everyone I knew and the people they knew, and people they knew all had this gift and used it at least once. I wondered: if more and more ordinary people used this gift regularly, could we - would we - actually, possibly, maybe, pretty pleeeeease build some more compassion and meaningful peace in the world?

Couldn't we simply learn to BE peace on Earth?

I'm crazy enough to think we ought to try.

When I found myself thinking about ways to magnify the gift's power, I realized that this was just the kind of thing I'd been looking for, to share with friends in my online wwworld this holiday season.

I am giving it to you.

Because I know you will enjoy it.

Because I have faith that you'll use it and share it for good.

There are some variations possible with this gift. I present you below with mine ~

The gift: A Practical Exercise in Compassion Building

Before you begin:
Think of someone with whom you have had a past conflict that you still have memory of.
  • Hold that person in your mind, and say inside yourself:
    Just like me, s/he is looking for happiness in their life.
  • Hold that person in your mind, and say inside yourself:
    Just like me, s/he tries to avoid suffering in their life.
  • Hold that person in your mind, and say inside yourself:
    Just like me, s/he has known sadness, loneliness and desperation.
  • Hold that person in your mind, and say inside yourself:
    Just like me, s/he seeks to satisfy their needs.
  • Hold that person in your mind, and say inside yourself:
    Just like me, s/he is still learning about life.
Please join me in spending some time actively practicing peace this holiday season. Use your new gift. Enjoy the feel of it... and don't forget to share.

With love, and in honor of the beauty you add to the tapestry on my cyberwalls,

Here's to being peace on Earth!

I would love to read your comments.

Christina

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thinking back... to my back

My youngest was ill this week - unable to keep anything down (including his own gastric juices), until I finally took him to the hospital for fear he was becoming dehydrated. At bedtime that night, I found myself telling him an abridged story about a time I was hospitalized as a child. The full version of that story perhaps answers a question my friend Michael Maranda asked this week: "What story would you Share, to help others live a proper way?"

I was almost 14 when my scoliosis was diagnosed. At that time, the curve in my spine measured in at around 40 degrees. My parents noticed it one day while I was bent over doing yard work in a bathing suit top. A chiropractor tried to help, but 1 year later the curve had progressed to over 60 degrees. My ribcage was severely twisted, and my lungs were beginning to feel cramped when I tried to breathe deeply. The orthopedic surgeon we visited predicted that I was likely to suffer heart failure by the time I was 19 if they didn't stop the curving and twisting from getting worse, and made me a priority case for an operation to insert a Harrington Rod. Next thing I knew, my family packed up and moved from Lake Elsinore to Huntington Beach, which was closer to the hospital where my surgery would be performed.

A Harrington Rod is kind of like a car jack - the two ends of the rod were attached to the top and the bottom of the main curve, and then it was made longer to push the curve straight. I grew 2.5 inches on the operating table, and was sent home from the hospital after 8 days with an awkward, pre-fitted brace that I'd have to wear for 6 months. The one thing bothering the doctor before he discharged me was my lack of appetite. Sure enough, within 2 days of going home I was physically unable to eat anything at all. It turns out that when I grew on the operating table it put a strain on a main artery that passes through the intestines. That strain caused a severe (albeit delayed) swelling that completely blocked my ability to digest anything (like my son earlier this week, though his seems to have only been some kind of bug).

The doctor told us that about 3% of all Harrington Rod patients experienced a similar complication. In only 1% of patients was the swelling delayed, like mine had been. And in only 1% of patients was the swelling as severe as mine was. There was no case the doctor could find where the swelling did not go away within a few days, and yet mine didn't seem to want to go away - I stayed in the hospital for another 30 days. At one point, they decided to insert a tube under my clavicle that would feed nutrients straight into my heart, and punctured one of my lungs in the process. At another point, I guess I kind of freaked out and broke a nurse's glasses in my struggle to get up out of the bed I'd been lying on for what seemed like forever (I have no memory of that, and was only told a year later!)

What I remember the most - and what has stayed with me as one of the most breathtakingly important moments of my life - was when my mother and the doctor were discussing the possibility of another surgical intervention. They were standing on either side of my bed when the doctor said he was concerned that I wasn't strong enough to survive another surgery, but he just didn't know what else to try. Meanwhile, my body was dwindling away. There I was at barely 15 years old and suddenly imagining my own funeral. We'd just moved to a new town where I didn't know anybody, and I had a hard time imagining who would even come.

Hold on a minute, I said to myself. I can't die yet, because I haven't yet really lived! And then, for no apparent medical reason, I started getting better.

When I finally got out of that hospital bed, I was not the same girl. I'd always felt "different," but in Lake Elsinore, I'd been meek, emotional and afraid of what my peers thought of me. Starting at a new school with a very visible and ugly back brace, I decided that if people were going to look at me anyway then I'd make sure they saw more than metal and fiberglass. I became a student leader, I embraced every opportunity I could find to excel, and decided with clear intent that my life - that precious gift which I had nearly lost - could be and would be a valuable one. 3 short years later, I graduated Girl of the Year - an award based on service to the school that I hadn't even attended for my whole high school career.

It is in a spirit of gratitude for my life that I have grown up to find the most fulfillment in helping and serving others. It's in that same spirit of gratitude that I have traveled so much and tried to learn what I can about the world. It is with gratitude that I believe in my responsibility to be the best that I can be, reach for the highest potential of my higher self, and suck the very marrow out of the experiences life offers every day. Life is so very fragile, short, and may be taken away at any moment.

As terrible as it was to go through all of that at such a tender age, I don't remember it as a terrible experience. It made me realize the true nature of the gift that life is, and helped me believe more in my own right to be who I am. Today when I think back on my back, I am always reminded to enjoy, be grateful for, and make the most of my life, while it lasts.

When asked "What story would you Share, to help others live a proper way?" this is it. May it inspire you to think about and understand the precious value of your own life, and the power within you to make the most of it.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Because we can



Five years ago, I met photographer Tony Deifell in Chicago at a face to face gathering of an online community we both belonged to. Tony challenged participants with a simple question: Why Do You Do What You Do? Today the amazing WDYDWYD project continues to provoke thoughtful responses through artistic expression from around the world, and my own answer continues to be the same: I see that I can, so I must.

At that same conference, I also met a dynamic young woman named Theresa Williamson, who works in Brazil to help local communities in Rio identify and share solutions that work, to improve lives in that city's infamous Flavelas (squatter communities). I don't claim to know the deeper personal reasons why Theresa does what she does, but she does it tirelessly, and with obvious passion. Right now she and her friends at Catalytic Communities need just a tiny bit of help to do something really important. I see that I can ask you to help, so I must...

In the lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, some of the city’s most peaceful communities are at risk. Some communities will be razed. Others will be invaded by police. And yet others will be gentrified. What is worse is that many times these communities aren’t being heard. But YOU can help give favela leaders a voice, and it won't cost you a single cent.

Catalytic Communities, the NGO founded by my friend Theresa that has nine years experience working with Rio’s favelas, is now in the final round of the ideablob competition to win $10,000 for their idea: “Rio Olympics: Ensuring a Powerful Legacy for Rio’s Favelas.” They need our help to vote. Its easy and quick, and the idea with the most votes wins.


If CatComm wins, they will train 200 community leaders from across the city of Rio de Janeiro in creative use of social media, which will amplify their voices so they are heard by the muncipal authorities, the media, and the global community. Rio´s current administration is very sensitive to media and foreign opinion, so there is a lot of power in CatComm’s approach.

Why do I think you should vote? Because it's a good idea, and because you can. It's really that simple.

Here's what to do:
  • Go here and click “VOTE”.
  • If you haven’t already registered at ideablob, you will need to register. Registration takes putting in your email address and confirming it’s your address by one click. That’s it. Anyone with an email address, regardless of your country, can register.
  • Once registered, login and vote for Catalytic Communities before October 31st.
  • Blog, tweet, and facebook about it! Try and recruit at least five friends!
Together we can make sure that all Brazilians feel proud to wave their flags in 2016!

Thanks for doing what you can do. Today.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

My Money Madness



I've had a really odd relationship with money since a pivotal moment that occurred when I was 13 years years old. After watching The Money Fix yesterday (highly recommended!), I found myself sharing that story with my 13 year old son, and thought it also worth sharing here.

I had just graduated Valedictorian of my junior high school, when a neighbor - who was also a close family "friend" - took it upon herself to let me know that I would probably never go to college. Yes, of course she knew that I'd always been very smart and done well in school, but it was important for me to face facts: I would not be able to go to college because my parents just wouldn't be able to afford it. I shouldn't get my hopes up to high.

I remember the smallest details of that moment: where we were standing, what she was wearing, and how her face tried to show me a gentle smile. More than anything, though, I remember the personal decision that I made at the time, in unforgettable words left unsaid, that pounded very loudly through my 13 year old head: I decided at that moment that I was smarter and more powerful than money, and that I would never let it stand in the way of achieving what I wanted to do in my life.

Two prestigious university degrees and 46 countries later, I've never regretted that decision. I worked and borrowed to pay for my own education, nor did my parents pay for much of my travel. Where there's a will, there's a way - I've never cheated or stolen or lied, but in my younger days I had a pretty strong will, and a strong faith that if I planned well enough I would always find a way.

I worked hard, married a financially stable guy, and always kept debt to a minimum. Though I actually earned pretty well for a while, money has never been an important factor for me in my career. When I moved to Africa, in fact, I stopped earning money (by choice) and started using what I had to create income earning opportunities for others. Things didn't always go well for me during that time - there's no apparent reason why I should have stayed financially afloat - but it was then I discovered a foolproof secret about money that not many people I know dare to believe.

If I give of myself to the universe, the universe will give of itself to me.

That's my secret, and my financial planning credo. Outrageous nonsense? Believe me, you won't be alone if you think that, but you also won't sway me from knowing that in my life, it's true. Since I started giving my time, talents and money to the world, I've had consulting jobs and fellowships fall into my lap that I wasn't looking for, earned more than expected on real estate investments, and somehow always had enough to be able to meet my own family's needs and give regularly to causes and people I care about.

It has not always been emotionally easy to live by that credo. There have definitely been times when I've been taken advantage of - sometimes by people I've loved. Even more painful was when some people simply didn't believe me (it's not normal, after all, to work from the heart for others) and suspected me of hidden foul play. I am not wealthy, by most Western standards, but I also don't lack any essentials. Most importantly, I know who I am, and I know that I have more control over my life than money ever will.

You don't have to live by, or even believe in the sanity of my credo, but before you write me off as completely crazy, watch The Money Fix. If nothing else, it will help you understand that money does not have to control you either.

(Oh yes - and without telling them what they can't do, be sure to share The Money Fix message with all the 13 year olds you know!)

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

10 simple ways my family fights climate change

Since moving back to Brussels earlier this year, I've been intrigued by local attitudes toward climate change, and our responsibilities as human beings to change our behaviors where we can. The Belgian government does a lot to make it possible for everyone to play a role. Belgians love their luxuries, however, and many ordinary folk I've talked to feel content to let the government be the only one who makes an effort.

Some friends have even told me they believe that "going green" is just another excuse to get people to consume more industrial goods - ie, that we are now told to replace every appliance we have with greener versions is just another push for increased consumerism. But there are also many, like me, who take their own responsibility to fight climate change pretty seriously. In fact, moving to a new country and creating a new life has provided opportunities for my family to develop some new habits (and continue some old ones) that I feel pretty good about.

In honor of Blog Action Day, I counted them up and found 10 worth sharing.
  1. No car - Living without a car is something I really wanted to try to do, and so far, so good. Our house is really well connected to Brussels by public transport, which we all really enjoy using: it's way cheaper than operating a car, there are no parking hassles, and it's always fun and interesting to watch people on the bus and metro. We live within walking distance of a supermarket that has a delivery service, so our weekly shopping is easy too. I said when we arrived that I wanted to try living without a car for a year. In the past 6 months, there have only been about 4 times when I really wished I had one, so I think we're doing pretty well without.

  2. No dryer - Did you know that a clothes dryer is one of the highest energy consuming appliances? Instead of buying one, we've been hanging our clothes to dry in the basement just next to the boiler where it's relatively warm. I'm hopeful that solution will work during the winter months as well. The big disadvantage is that I have to iron a bit more than I otherwise would, and irons also use a lot of energy.

  3. Recycling - Belgium is huge on recycling, and has been for the last decade plus. We regularly sort paper, metal, plastics and glass, and there's different pickup days for each.

  4. Composting - I was too late this year to plant a vegetable garden, but we will have some lovely compost to use next year. All of our veggie waste goes into a simple compost bin in back of our garden shed.

  5. Organic foods - I love being able to choose to buy organic foods, and I am definitely willing to pay more for them. Not only do organically grown foods cause less damage to the environment, but they are also healthier for our bodies. I don't buy everything organic, but on a regular basis I do buy organic eggs, pasta, vegetables and sometimes meat.

  6. Green energy use - when I signed up for electricity service, the Belgian national provider gave me an option to use all renewable energy at a fixed price for 2 years. That's a no brainer, as far as I'm concerned.

  7. Energy efficient lights - yes, it's more expensive upfront to buy energy efficient lightbulbs, but it really does make a difference in my energy bill. So as the bulbs in the house burn out, I replace them with more energy efficient ones.

  8. Sweep instead of vacuum - That's one less appliance, and I actually prefer sweeping to pushing around a vacuum cleaner. Most of our floors are tile or wood, so sweeping makes sense on those anyway. We also sweep our carpets with a stiff brush.

  9. One meat free meal per week - we are not vegetarians but are aware that meat production is actually more harmful to the environment than driving a car. The Belgian city of Ghent has recently adopted a meat-free Wednesday policy in all public hospitals and schools, and they say that if the entire country would go meat free for one day a week, it would have an equivalent impact to taking 500,000 cars off the road permanently. So the boys and I have decided to do our part, with at least one meat free meal per week.

  10. Use the short cycle on appliances - Our washing machine and our dishwasher both have quick-wash cycles that I use about 75% of the time. Unless the things we're washing are really dirty, we don't notice a difference. We also use eco-friendly detergents.
I've no doubt there are more things we could do to fight climate change in our modest way, and many would argue that the actions of 4 small people don't actually make a difference in the big picture of things. But it makes me feel less powerless over the issue to do what I can, and to teach my boys that it's worth doing for reasons that are bigger than we are.

And what about you? Are there things your family does differently now than you did before you knew about climate change? I'm always on the lookout for more ideas.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The lost tribes of my wwworld


In spite of reconnecting with so very many old friends and family through social media of late, there are gaps in this virtual re-creation of my life's journey. Whole countries of people I lived with have failed to resurface in my facebook stream. How do I find those who've been lost from my tribes?

I've never been great with names, and the older I get the more I realize what a sad handicap that is... especially when you travel as much as I have. When I lived in Switzerland (both times) I was young and "fun" and honestly didn't pay much attention to peoples' last names. Today there are people I'd love to look up, whom I'd love to see again, but "Marco in Switzerland" just doesn't work well in an online people search.

The second time I moved to Switzerland was when I decided to start going by "Christina" - it's my name, but until then I'd been called "Tina" by everyone who knew me. As luck would have it, in Geneva there ended up being 5 Christinas in my circle of friends. Most of us worked at the UN, and we were referred to not by our last names, but by our nationalities. "Christina from Brazil who used to live in Switzerland" doesn't work so well in an online search either.

There are family names of friends I met in Finland that I couldn't remember if I tried. When it comes to the times I spent working and traveling in Eastern Europe, I can't even remember the first names. I wish it were customary for business cards to have a photo on them. Then maybe I wouldn't have thrown so many away.

Losing track of those whose names and faces I don't remember well is something my children may not ever have to face. As pre-teens, my older boys are able to keep track of hundreds of their friends and acquaintances from around the world. My hope for them, as they grow up internationally with these cool tools, is that they will manage them well and use them to keep their important relationships strong. There was a time, when these tools were less mature, that I did not manage them well - for a while I spent nearly every waking hour online, and yet lost track of nearly everyone who was important to me.

Once upon a cyber-time before the term "viral" was very well understood, I discovered the powerful fuel for making change happen that lies in using the Internet to share our personal stories. A 2 month personal diary about my new life as an expat in Uganda that I to 60 family and friends with a Christmas greeting quickly morphed into something very different. By a few years later, still well before Blogging became popular, my "Letters from Uganda" series was reaching a responsive audience of nearly 2,000 email subscribers. LifeInAfrica.com visitors and my email subscribers were solely responsible for helping me create an alternative microlending model, that had provided over 450 small loan opportunities to 280 Ugandan individuals. It grew facelessly really fast. Over time, writing about my work in Uganda became the only eXperience I shared with anyone.

Not surprisingly, that took on an impersonal feel to those first 60 who were actually people I cared about and who cared about me - I was no longer communicating with my personal contacts, but at them. Tragically, I actually fell out of touch with the vast majority of my tribes for several years. Soon enough, my life also started to feel impersonal to me. I lost myself in trying to remain entertaining to people I didn't even know, not as Christina but as Life in Africa's founder with professional obligations to uphold. While the community of people reading my stories helped me achieve things I never imagined I would in Uganda, I actually felt very alone.

Over time, the heart with which I kept up my growing networks of strangers diminished, until I just couldn't do it any more. During the second half of my stay, I abandoned email almost completely, and focused my energies on connecting Life in Africa members in Uganda directly to their global supporters. It was important to me to enable our Ugandan members tell their own stories. Those community relationships were also powerful, but not viral - they did not scale as broadly as the personal storytelling approach did.

Can there be room for both? Maybe. But what I've definitely learned is that defining my presence by work alone in this brave new wwworld doesn't leave enough room for my own heart and perspective to grow. When I wax sentimental about how exciting it is to reconnect with "my tribes," it's because I experienced the travesty of almost losing all of them once. Come what may, I don't want that to happen again. In addition to the me online that is my work - in whatever form that takes - it's important to create space and time for me and mine, too.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dedicated to my tribes, whom I love


Sometimes I write about my personal experiences, beliefs and value systems knowing full well that I might challenge other people's value systems. I like to make people think. Sometimes there are stories I share that I think one of the "tribes" in my wwworld might get more than others - but there are so many diverse tribes I've been a part of in this life so far. Which one are you from?

On facebook I have recently pruned my community down to include almost exclusively people whom I have shared the same air with in some physical time and space along the course of my life's journey so far. (Oh yes, and I had to like you too, or you got cut.) What an amazing difference that has made in how much I enjoy facebook these days. I highly recommend it.

And what a gift. I have lived all over the world, and loved people all over the world. When I first started living abroad, the world didn't yet have email or mobile phones. Now there's facebook, and it's so easy. Not only can I easily share my daily highs and lows with people who care about me, but I can also be a better friend by interacting more regularly with others I care about - even from a distance.

I currently have many of my friends at facebook organized in lists by the place that I knew them. But there are too many places, and it's often not the place that has defined the content of our relationship. In my mind, a new kind of time-stamped grouping system is coming together instead. There are key people who have impacted my life for significant periods of time. They are the people around which my friends cluster in my mind.

The tagline on my pArtY @ christinaswwworld! blog now reads: Dedicated to my tribes, whom I love. It's a public blog, but it feeds into my facebook stream. If you're seeing this, you are part of the 7 tribes in my mind that the celebration at this "pArtY" is dedicated to.

Here's what you look like:
  1. Evvy - If you've ever met my mother, or if you happened to know me when I still lived with my mother, you are part of my Evvy tribe. In my mind, that includes my time spent in Finland and Germany and at UCLA. I love interacting with this tribe about life, kids and general stuff. More than anyone, it's the people who've ever known my mother who remind me that I am real.

  2. Epko - If you ever met Epko or knew me while I was married and living as a couple with my husband, then you are part of my Epko tribe. (Yes, many of you are definitely part of more than one tribe.) That includes if you knew me in Geneva, or at Georgetown.

  3. BLT - if my kids, Ben, Lucas and Thomas know you, then I call you my BLTs :)

  4. Nobs - if you met N, or knew me in Uganda when he was the center of my life, you're my Nobs people.

  5. Mary Joanna - this dear friend's global path and mine have crossed many times in this life - usually in inspiring ways. I recently spent time with her in Holland, and I'm still inspired. If you and I have shared the delight of Mary Joanna's presence in our midst, you belong to this tribe.

  6. PamO - If your path crossed with mine in a real-world PamO related context, you are the PamO tribe in my new wwworld. You know who you are.

  7. John - When I decided to pare down my facebook to mostly only people that I've shared air with, my cyberfriend John immediately became symbolic of the exceptions to the rule that would need to be made. If you and I have never actually met and shared air but you're reading this, you are in my mental John tribe.
You are all so beautiful! I feel so blessed to have so many lovely people connected to my life after so many years as a global gypsy. Thank you, for being in my wwworld. Are there particular people and timespans that define your online tribes as well? Do you know which of my tribe(s) you're in?

Next time: Alas, there are gaps in the virtual re-creation of my life's journey. Whole countries of people I lived with have failed to resurface in my facebook stream. How do I find the clans that have been lost from my tribes?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Relationship Status: It's Complicated!


I guess Grandmothers have influenced me quite a bit in my life. While my own grandma taught me the value of hunting for wildflowers, a roommate I loved at UCLA passed on some "wisdom" from her grandma about LOVE that I never forgot: "We should fall in love as many times as we can in our lives, because whenever we allow ourselves to love, we learn something important about ourselves."

Well thanks, roommate's granny, and here's the rub 20 years down the line - Relationship Status: It's Complicated.

My complicated status is changing lately, however, and it's time I can and should say it outloud. After 8 years of separation, my Dutch husband and I are both aimed in the direction of a reconciliation. Yes, with each other. As of about a month now we are embracing this decision with baby steps, with the joint hope of eventually getting the whole family functionally under one roof again.

E will be moving from Ethiopia back to Brussels by early December - possibly earlier - to take up a new post at the EU headquarters. For the first year, he will live in an apartment he's just bought that is within walking distance to where the boys and I live. The boys will have easy access to his place whenever they want, and we will also start spending some family and couple time together. At the end of the first year, we'll see if we're ready - or not yet ready - for another step.

Of course, there are still lingering ties to N (see: The Truth about WHY I am leaving Uganda). He has been talking about a visit soon. N knows what's going on with E - they actually get along very well - and says it's a direction he can only support, all things considered. Nonetheless, N and I both know that our relationship needs a level of closure that it's not yet achieved. Ah... the heartbreak of it all. But I feel strong.

I believe in marriage, and I know what kind of life I want for the boys and I. I know why I first fell in love with their father - the resilient, adaptive Beaver in our family's totem pole that he is. It feels right to be working in a respectful partnership with my husband again, on developing a plan to get us through to the end of this thing called life. We did have some big challenges in the past, but in our recent conversations it seems as though the biggest of those issues can be put behind us now. I am hopeful, and happy that things are moving in this direction.

So please keep us in your prayers now and again as we try once more during this coming year to get our marriage back on track... Oh - and please pray for us too that we successfully avoid getting pregnant again this time! Thank you 5 year old Ben for inspiring that prudence in me. The last time Ben's dad and I tried again, his conception was the only lasting good that came of it. But getting pregnant also introduced a whole bunch of other issues that I don't want us to have to deal with this time around, so I'm taking measures (may the Pope forgive me.)

Next time: Sometimes I write about my personal experiences, beliefs and value systems knowing full well that I might challenge other people's value systems. Sometimes there are stories I share that I think one of the "tribes" in my wwworld might get more than others - but there are so many diverse tribes I've been a part of in this life so far. Which one are you from?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hunting for Wildflowers with Grandma Jordan



One of Aunt Mer's Gifts to me recently was my grandmother's collection of Tonala figurines. They too have had quite a global journey. From Mexico to San Pedro (L.A.) to Uganda to Ethiopia, they finally arrived in Belgium via suitcase about a month ago, with only one tiny glue-able injury among them. I love having them with me.... even though they are just one more bit of stuff that nobody really needs.

Grandma originally bought them on a trip that she and Grandpa took to go hunting for wildflowers, shortly after she retired. I always thought it was so cool that they went wildflower hunting together. They used to take us kids lots of places, but we were never invited on a wildflower trip (at least not that I know of).

In my memory it was their thing together, and I imagine it was probably very romantic. Grandpa just loved serving grandma like a queen. How gallant it must have made him feel to still take his beloved to such romantic destinations. How important, the reading of the map well in advance. How flattering that his driving skills (especially in their later years together) could still be put to noble romantic use.

Grandma especially loved the world's blue flowers, particularly those that dare to grow wild and take over whole hillsides and valleys. They brought her joy, and she traveled the world to see them while she could. When she'd traveled to Mexico with Grandpa by train, she was so moved by the wildflowers that she found a way to bring them back with her.



Yes, Grandma went just a little bit crazy at the Tonala Pottery factory shop. For the living room she had the collection of Tonala animal figurines and a non-useful tea set, neatly displayed on a round corner table. What made those seem a bit crazy were the plates, cups, saucers, and bowls in a complete set of at least 20, plus serving bowls, wine decanters, trivets and serving platters that she'd also brought. Our dining experience at Grandma's house became, forever more, a meal among Mexico's blue wildflowers. (I can't find a picture of it - does anyone else have a photo of us eating in the blue?)

All these years later, this lively - if relatively little - bunch of Grandma's Mexican wildflowers fits right into my global eclectic home decorating approach. Of course, it would, since the way I decorate my own homes is so completely Grandma-inspired.

Behind her chair and the sofa, for as long as I can remember, was a huge wall with an amazing collection of paintings she and Grandpa had collected together in their travels around the world. Barns they had seen, works from artists they knew or had met. A prominent feature overlooking the family from another wall was a large landscape painting of a Spanish valley. They had bought it from the artist on a market in Spain together - an adventure I never got tired of hearing about.


@Grandma's with Aunt Mer and another of her gifts gifts I still have, circa 1985

Much of what I have around me in my "portable" home also offer physical reflections of the global journey that my life has been. Our posters and paintings are from places I've visited or lived. Our photographs are of family groupings of us with our various families in different countries. Much of the better art is by artists I've personally known. I've no idea, nor do I care, if my collection of "valuables" is meaningful to anyone else. If I love it so much, should I insure it? I don't think my global collection is altogether worth a lot of money, but it grounds me - and for that, it's worth it's weight in gold.

Much as I hate to admit it, I am very "attached to my stuff." I have a hard time throwing anything that has a story away. Expensive as it is to ship so much useless stuff, my various collections and special pieces of globally acquired junk are important emotional tools for me as I pick myself up and move from home to home. They help me define my portable comfort zone. My castle is my armament. My home is who I am, what I've experienced, and what I've loved in this life so far. It's getting a bit cluttered, but Grandma's free blue adventure spirit inspired a lot if it.

As my Grandma might say, though, if you ever see me overdoing it on the blue again, then somebody please shoot me! Though I always felt I understood her desire to paint herself up in blue for the last years of her life - and loved her for it - I did feel the blue "meadow" she later turned the living room into was a tiny bit much ;-)

But the visible touch of her free blue spirit that Grandma's Tonala brings into my home fully deserves the new space of prominence I've created for it in our portable living room. These silly little animals remind me daily to hunt for wildflowers everywhere! That's the most important life lesson my Grandma taught me. As a general philosophy, it's been what's helped me keep love for this thing called life alive, through bad times and good.

Thank you Grandma Jordan, for your inspiration that has guided my global journey, and so strongly shaped my personal sense of "home."



By the way, if you're a facebook friend, you can see photos of my latest "portable global home" project in Brussels over here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=111891&id=504778241

Next time: A roommate I loved at UCLA passed on an unforgettable piece of "wisdom" she said she'd received from her grandmother: "We should fall in love as many times as we can in our lives, because whenever we allow ourselves to love, we learn something important about ourselves." Well thanks, roommate's granny, and here's the rub 20 years down the line - Relationship Status: It's Complicated.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Aunt Meredith's Gifts


On Sunday morning while the kids were still busy with their art project, I rode the tram for an hour to another part of Brussels to pick up a package from Uganda. And then another hour back.

The only thing I knew I wanted in that package was an antique Jingle Bell, part of my eclectic collection of unique gifts from my Aunt Meredith. I had to get it.... the dried pineapple slices and banana chips that padded it were a welcome and treasured bonus treat for the whole family, but I traveled for two hours there and back to save the bell.



The bell's journey to reach me has been a noble one. The package was sent by a friend in Uganda, through a family friend who was returning from a visit in Kampala to her job with the ICC at The Hague in the Netherlands. She in turn gave it to a workmate who spends most of her weekends with her boyfriend in Brussels. This woman and I have been on the phone for 3 weekends trying to arrange a hand-off. 2 hours on the tram seemed like such a big chunk of day to spend.



Some of my most treasured "things" in my home - that move with me everywhere I go - are gifts I received from my Aunt Meredith. An antique Jingle Bell that has always hung on a door in my house, wherever I've lived (and that I left on door in the house I moved out of in Uganda). A black frame around 2 panes of plexiglass with 40 antique blue industrial glass marbles inside. The Victoria's Secret sleepshirt that I wore when I gave birth to all of my children (disclaimer: Ben arrived before I got a chance to put it on, but it was packed for the planned trip to the hospital and went on just after he was born!)

There's a lot on my walls that has a connection to Aunt Mer - a black and white blow-up of my grandparents on a motorcycle honeymoon in 1945 that she had made, a wood mounted shot of the lighthouse ont the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where my husband and I held one of our USA wedding celebrations.


My favorite Aunt Mer Gift story is the one about these paintings I found in an alley of old town in Stockholm when I was 18 or 19. The blue one spoke to me very strongly - had to have it. The other I bought just to match it so I'd have two. It wasn't til about 2 years later that I was sitting in my aunt Mer's house and saw the blue one on her wall. Of course it would seem familiar! I had seen it peripherally all of my life.

She had also bought hers in an alley shop in Stockholm - she remembered it well, and it sounded like it could have been the same one. But that would have been in the year I was born, when she was about 19. Her gift to me was to have them framed. I love them most because of their connection to her spirit of adventure.

With Aunt Meredith in my life, my eyes were open to the world at an early age. She took me without mom and dad to San Francisco when I was 5. She was a flight attendant then and through her job got my Grandparents standby tickets to fly around the world. She lived in Delaware for a while, had tons of friends in Seattle. She drove a VW bug for years in LA that she'd actually bought in Germany. Later on she even went to live in Alaska to work on the pipeline! Aunt Mer showed me that it was possible to find ways to just go and live places. And so I have.



The Jingle Bell, and the framed marbles that I adore, well... Aunt Mer's Gifts often contain surprising meanings that I didn't know I was looking for. At times they have been so unusual that I've never found a meaning for them! She gave me a crystal doorknob once, that I unfortunately didn't manage to save. I have to admit, when I first received the antique Jingle Bell, I had absolutely no idea I'd one day love it so much as to ride a tram for 2 hours to save it. But the truth is, I have missed it's jingle on the door. To me, it's those little things now - kitchen window light streaming through blue marbles, the jingle on the door - that help me create a portable sense of home for myself and the kids.

More often than not, there are cool stories behind my Aunt Mer's Gifts, and I appreciate her so much for the kind of thoughtfulness that she is capable of. I too aspire to give gifts that are rich with meaning, and I especially love giving the gift of new life experiences to the people I love.

Thank you, Aunt Meredith, for inspiring so much in me.


P.S. As I was finally on my way there, I started thinking about my Aunt Meredith's gifts, and what a good blog post they'd make. Then I thought up another title, and another, until I got out my pen, and wrote the 5 blog post titles down that I've been trying to think up:
  • Aunt Meredith's Gifts
  • Hunting for wildflowers with Grandma Jordan
  • Relationship Status: It's Complicated
  • My face2Facebook Tribes
  • The lost tribes of my world
(Thank you yet again, Aunt Mer, for unwittingly inspiring me to think about how to frame what I want to do with this blog. That's an item on the checklist underway - relief!)

Coming next - One of Aunt Mer's Gifts to me recently was my grandmother's collection of Tonala figurines. They too have had quite a journey this year - from LA to Uganda to Ethiopia... they finally arrived in Brussels about a month ago, and I love having them with me. Grandma bought them on a trip into Mexico by train with my grandfather, to see the wildflowers....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Totems and gemstone energy art - made by my kids!

Artists and the artistic process have always inspired me. Now my childrens' art is inspiring me in surprising ways. Nice!

When Thomas and Lucas were younger, I used to have a special project box filled with kids-craft & art supplies that we would pull out on a regular basis. In Africa we didn't have a TV until year 4. Ben didn't get quite as much art at an early age It's actually been a while since we did much art or crafting together as a family. But yesterday we had an amazing and all absorbing art-creating time together.

Our weekend activity schedule started to take shape when Thomas got a social studies assignment to make a Native American totem pole. I remembered when I was a kid my mom would make dough out of flour, salt and water that we would shape into all sorts of stuff bake til it was hard & paintable. Maybe we could make a log-like looking something? So Thomas got on the internet and found several recipes for homemade clay.

This weekend we tried the simplest clay recipe (2 parts flour, 1 part each of water and salt), and the kids all had fun making amazing creations. What I so enjoyed most was watching them put so much meaning and detail into their pieces. .


Thomas' loves to draw. His creativity was structured to his assignment, and he really did a fabulous job drawing the animals with a toothpick.

His totem pole represents our family's spirits. We all agreed and mused at how much rings true about each of us in the descriptions Thomas was provided with from class.

The beaver is his father, whose totem is known for being resilient. Beavers are strategic planners, capable of completely changing their environment for their own peace and security. They are among the most sensible and adaptable mammals on Earth. Regardless of obstacles, he tends to fulfill his dreams, simply because of his amazing determination. He is a force to be reckoned with in work and in love. (Sounds just like Epko)

The deer under the beaver is me, his mother and everyone’s friend. Peaceful and gentle, yet protective of our families, in some tribes the deer represents the heart and is considered the gatekeeper to the spirit world. In addition to special insight, deer are playful, sensitive and with this totem’s combination of kindness and grace, we are cherished by everyone we know.

The snake is Thomas himself, mysterious. Snakes can be intense and sometimes secretive. No one knows exactly how the snake feels or thinks. At the same time, he is sensitive to his environment and to others. He is creative and wise when solving problems. In fact in the Ojibwa tribe, snakes represent patience, because they are so slow to anger. (And when Thomas does get angry on those very rare occasions, he can be a little sharp tongued).

The deer below the snake is Lucas, who shares my totem and is also everyone's friend. Protective, playful and kind, and most definitely a gatekeeper to our family's spirit world. Wait til you see what he made yesterday!

The salmon
represents Ben,
determined and filled with purpose. This energetic fish is associated with perseverance as shown by its determination to swim upstream to spawn. And just like them, nothing can hold him back (ahem- this is my child that was born on the bathroom floor!)


While Thomas' totem pole was baking, Lucas worked out an idea to create a really cool pyramid shaped tray for his gem collection out. He's been collecting gemstones for years and has really gotten into them lately, after discovering that each has it's own associated energy attributes.

Lucas likes to meditate, and has decided that if he meditates with this "gem tri-amyd" it will attract tons of positive energy into his life. I've asked him if I can borrow it from time to time. I love it.


Benjamin needed more help, but with some of that from Thomas and I, he made a rainbow to hang in his playroom. That's in the same open space as my office at the top of the stairs. So we can both enjoy it. (Note to self - let Ben start painting more).

If anyone out there has family art project ideas to share that my teens and 5 year old could enjoy, I'd love to read them. With the cold winter ahead, it would be good to have a few more winners like this up my sweater sleeves. This weekend was a welcome reminder of how surprisingly creative my kids are, and how much we all enjoy it when they are able to exercise that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Putting my online house in order: a special message to my peoples on Facebook

My Christinaswwworld blog feeds into my Facebook profile, and nobody else is paying attention to it right now... so as I think about starting to blog again, the dear family and old friends who I've found through Facebook over the past year or so are the audience I find myself wanting to write to.

Just in case you didn't know this about me, my calling in this life has turned out to be organizing creative ways of bringing people together to make good things happen. Some of you will remember that since way back in High School I have loved throwing parties and designing fun events. For over a decade now, I've been making a quasi-career out of it. I've done a lot of pretty wacky community building and community event stuff in the online world, and in Africa, as well as at the intersection of the two.

Over the coming year I'll be developing yet another social experiment online, involving the use of several platforms for managing my connected life and making good things happen. My overarching aim, as I set out to start modeling these new ideas, is to increase the positive impact that participating on the Internet can have in the world, on real peoples' lives.

In all of my past online social experiments, an important key to success has been rooting my work for the world at an online home, where I could feel comfortable to let my cyber hair down and really be the real me. Over the past couple of months I've been agonizing over where to really put down those online roots as I begin the new project I have in mind. Just yesterday I finally realized that Facebook - which I hadn't actually been considering - currently offers the very best of what I personally need in an online home. Namely: YOU!

So many of you from different parts of the world I've once called home are here! You are the cozy furniture sets and the artwork on my cyberwalls. You are the music and the interesting books that I keep on my shelves. You are my memories, and the reassuring voices that I hear in my head as I go about my day. The faces I now see daily at Facebook reflect the real world journey I've experienced as a serial expat, as a work at home mom, and as a global thinking social entrepreneur. You are "where I come from" as the next part of my professional journey now begins.

Seeing your faces online, I am sometimes overwhelmed by all that I want to know about you now. I imagine the stories we'd tell each other if we found ourselves seated next to each other on a plane for 5 hours, or if we ran into each other again at another conference. If you were sitting in front of me over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, what paralells and coincidences would we find in what we've each learned about this world, and experienced in this life? I so long to know your stories - the paths you followed, the challenges you've overcome, the kind of parents you've chosen to be... I am so very grateful to have you in my life, and it's important to me personally to keep nurturing that as I continue my work. Y'all keep me grounded, and I love you (and Facebook) for that.

So with this note I wanted to give you all a heads up that over the next year or so, I'm going to be thinking more deliberately about the way that I engage with my wwworld at Facebook. In addition to blogging notes about some of the experiences we've shared and inviting you to share your stories (I'll tag you when there's something I particularly hope YOU personally will see), I'm also going to start playing around with some of the other tools that Facebook offers... in ways that can hopefully help us get to know each other better. Certainly you are not at all obliged to participate in any of my wacky experiments here, but my sincere hope is that at some point you will. I'm not trying to sell you or convince you of anything except that I value the opportunity to have known you in the real world and to share my life with you now.

The Internet has long been criticized as impersonal, but the way my Facebook experience is shaping up convinces me that it doesn't have to be that way any more. As a social entrepreneur, I have come to believe that a really important key to co-creating the kind of world we all want to see lies in finetuning how we use today's online tools; especially for deepening our relationships with the people we know, like, respect and love.

So hang onto your hats, and get ready for what will hopefully be a fun Facebook rooted ride in the next year or so. I, for one, am really glad you are part of my wwworld right now. May many good things come!

.piece, peace and peas...

Christina

(aka: Tina, C, Kirabo, Jordan, Haitsma)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Adding another face 2 my facebook account: here's why I might be unfriending you soon

As I get myself ready to start working on another online project professionally in September, I've been thinking a lot lately about the need to restructure my online activities so that I can avoid letting work take over my personal relationships, and equally avoid letting the personal take over my work. To that end, I'm going to be adjusting a few things with regard to who I follow, where online, and what I am going to post there.

After 11 years of using online tools to stay connected professionally, my online world at facebook has become a very special favorite place lately, connecting a ton of people whom I have actually shared air with over the course of my perpetual expat life. The rekindling of these long-lost connections - with real people whom I have actually interacted with in real time and space - has become priceless to me. You make my life real and I love hanging out with you being myself and chatting about this and that.

So I've decided that Facebook , for me, is going to be used from now on (with a very few exceptions) as my "face2face" book - to include only people with whom I have shared physical time and space and air with at some point over the course of my crazy global life.

Before I unfriend those of you who I haven't actually met, I will be looking you up on Twitter, and look forward to hopefully continuing to follow each other there. On Twitter is where I'll be posting links that are more related to my work in the social change sector. If you'd like to follow that part of my online presence, you can find me on Twitter @ChristinasWorld.

No offense is intended to anyone. If you and I haven't met and you even notice that I've unfriended you, I hope you understand.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Does food drop from the sky?

Well intentioned aid can sometimes go awry in unintended ways. One story that really stopped me in my boots was told to me by my friend Moses Kariuki - a Kenyan who volunteered for several months in a remote village in Southern Sudan.

According to Moses, if you ask any child or young adult in the Sudanese village he stayed in where food comes from, they will not tell you that it comes from the ground, and that people have to work to grow it. Nor will they tell you that it comes from the supermarket. In their reality - and there is nothing you can say to make it untrue, for they have lived and experienced this all of their lives - food falls from the sky.

So the way to get food if you are hungry, is simply to wait for it to fall from the sky... pooped out by large white buzzing birds with funny markings on their sides.

Our western led institutions with the stated intention to help have created this false truth, and taught most Southern Sudanese to believe it through our own behavior. In fact, we have not taught much else in South Sudan for more than 20 years.

Moses also told me about how the Southern Sudanese have figured out that food drops are calculated per house in a village counted from the air, and the food that's dropped each time is meant to last for a couple of months. The more enterprising families build houses in many villages and migrate with the monthly food-drop schedule, then sell their surplus on the region's sparse local marketplaces. Until very recent years, there were no other goods in Southern Sudan than this manna from heaven.

The long term implications of this disturb me a lot. What would happen if children in your country stopped believing that work and planning was required to get food?

So now we've got a whole huge population in one of Africa's largest countries with no money, no jobs, no goods, and very little agricultural knowledge.

I did hear that once hostilities in the region calmed down a bit, the UN tried to drop hoes and seeds for a while. Few people in southern Sudan actually knew what to do with them, so famine continued and food drops started again.

Where does it end? How do you start convincing Southern Sudanese villagers that food actually doesn't drop from the sky but must be worked for? How many generations will it take to re-develop knowledge about how to grow things? Or does our responsibility end because the war there has ended?

I don't know the answers. I'm just saying... there's got to be a smarter way.

Dysfunctional Aid

This week, there has been some hoopla about a new book called "Dead Aid," written by a female Zambian economist who argues that global development aid is bad for Africa. I can't wait to read it, but a critique of the book that I read yesterday rightly warns against the world turning it's back on Africa completely.

In just recent weeks I have personally been talking to friends about our global development aid system as "completely dysfunctional." While I still believe that we all have a responsibility to each other's well-being on this planet, I can also say without doubt that the charity-dependent systems we currently use to try and help the world's poorest countries simply are not helping in ways that lay stable foundations for sustainable development. On the contrary - our global development aid systems introduce so many conflicting distortions into what would be Africa's natural economic development process, that almost no healthy economic development can happen naturally at all.

I am not saying we should turn our backs and not help others in need, or that there is never a role for charity in helping others. What I am saying is that we need to seriously rethink and revamp how we conceptualize helping others in countries far from home, taking some of the world's current realities, lessons learned from the past 50 years of failure, and new opportunities for global development (especially technology) into account.

There are countless stories floating around in my head - from my own career experiences and stories shared by others I know - that illustrate the kinds of things that consistently seem to go awry with charity aid flows. Much of it simply does not arrive to the people it's intended to help; alot that does arrive ends up having destructive consequences on society. As I look at that same landscape of stories, I also see countless sparkles of hope and new possibilities.

I've been planning to start writing some of those stories down, if for no other reason than to help me make sense out of it all. I'm going to start posting them here later this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Relocation tasks

Tomorrow will be spent putting up the two flyers I've been preparing this week on notice boards around town.

Expat Moving Sale

Please visit on 4 April 2009 :: 10am to 5pm :: Luthuli Ave, Plot 86 (no. 2), Bugolobi

  • 3-piece wicker sofa set shs30,000
  • 2 wicker end tables shs5,000 each
  • 3-piece local wooden sofa set shs80,000
  • 1 light wood medium sized simple table/desk shs20,000
  • 2-story bedframe from dark wood shs80,000
  • 2 dark wood bookshelves (1.5m x 1.5m) shs35,000 each
  • 1 wicker shelf unit (.75m x 1.25m) shs10,000
  • 1 light wood standing coat rack shs10,000

  • 4.5 KW Generator shs750,000
  • Clothes washing machine (<1> shs350,000
  • Clothes dryer shs100,000
  • Kitchen Blender shs15,000

  • Large European baby crib with mattress shs80,000
  • Collapsible playpen shs40,000
  • Large hard plastic kiddie’s swimming pool shs10,000
  • Toddler size push stroller shs40,000
  • Toddler size car seat shs25,000
  • Car seat for 3-5 yr olds shs20,000

Also available on 4 April:
  • Houseplants
  • plates & dishes
  • pots & pans
  • toys & books
  • misc household items

By the way, the list was much longer, but I invited my neighbors, household staff and a friend or two to reserve some of the things they wanted before I advertise the rest. I've already got $400 in deposits in hand. What we make on the sale of our big stuff is our budget for the extra unaccompanied baggage we'll be flying with... and hopefully for some of the stuff we'll need to buy upon arrival.

I have promised Ben we'll get a new slide - he was not happy when the neighbors bought our 10 year old slide for toddlers that he doesn't even use any more and moved it right away to the yard next door. I'm pretty sure we'll also need some beds, and I'm not taking most of my kitchen stuff. Apart from that, we've still got a whole house full of furniture in storage in Belgium, from when we lived there 10 years ago. The first house we lived in here in Uganda was furnished. Truthfully, I've only a vague idea what we're going to find when we unpack all that stuff from a decade ago.

Certainly, we will not find another Margaret in Brussels. Developing the habit of cleaning up after ourselves and sharing the daily tasks like dishes and laundry are something the boys are ahving to prepare ourselves for. For many years, we had Zarina, who moved on to another job as I was gearing up to leave for a while to the USA. Filling the gap she left was a rocky process, with many trials and many errors. Finding the right person to work in your home in a way that works smoothly is a real challenge. When I then didn't go to the US after all, Margaret was about the 4th person we tried. I hope that posting her recommendation letter around town for the next few weeks will mean she doesn't face a long gap in her employment.

Luthuli Ave., Plot 86/2
Bugolobi – Kampala, Uganda

18 March 2009


To whom it may concern:

Ref: Recommendation of Akello Margaret as a wonderful househelper

Akello Margaret is a very efficient, honest, good-tempered and mature-minded 26 year old woman from Northern Uganda who has provided excellent cleaning, childcare and basic cooking services to my American/Ugandan family for the past 1 year.

She learns fast, communicates well in English, and (unlike so many other Ugandan helpers) she is not afraid to ask questions when she does not clearly understand what is expected of her. She is warm, friendly and considerate with all members of our household, and my children feel safe and comfortable with her. Her humble wisdom, her openness to trying new ideas, and her honest ability to take responsibility for her own actions have made Margaret a delightful employee to work with.

While in our employ in 2008-09, her compensation package included a monthly cash salary of shs200,000, full room and board, assistance with school fees (shs30,000 each term) for a child in Gulu, 3+ weeks paid leave and an additional cash holiday bonus. She worked 6 days/week with every afternoon off from 2-5pm, and she ended her day at 7:30pm after serving dinner around 7pm. She operates household appliances with minimal guidance, and can be relied upon to account for expenses after shopping at local markets.

We never experienced any challenges working with Margaret that were not quickly overcome. After more than 10 years living in Uganda, my sole regret about employing Margaret is that we did not find her and hire her a bit earlier. I would highly recommend her services to any expatriate or blended family in need of mature and reliable household management help.

Margaret will be available to undertake new employment from 15 April 2009, following the departure of our family to Brussels, Belgium.

She can be reached directly to arrange potential employment interviews on 0774 28 35 79

To contact me at any time now or in the future for further inquiry about Margaret’s abilities, background or character, please refer to the contact details below. I will always wish her well.

Most Sincerely,

Christina Jordan

.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dr. Madre thinking outloud



My 11 year old Lucas has decided that when I get my Phd. he's going to start calling me Dr. Madre.

I Like it.


On my last day in Belgium I visited the University of Leuven to get a feel for what it takes to publish a dissertation there. Though I knew they had a strong reputation in International Cooperation policy research, I did not know that they also have a special program for foreign Phd students, with the intent of globalizing the University's research base and reputation. They encourage students to spend at least one part of their Phd period outside of Belgium. So it looks like the right place for me to be...

and oh yes, this is Belgium, so it's also FREE! (I had been sincerely worried that the tuition fees would keep me from being able to explore this possibility right now. ) AND I can work on it for as long or a short a period as it takes to finish it, as long as I submit it for review following the university's annual Phd review deadlines.

My mind has not been able to turn off since. I have always been a night owl, but now a most frustrating kind of insomnia has set in, as it always does when I am approaching a new change that excites me. I need to get focused on packing and moving, and yet I am constantly distracted by the gorgeous background image of the dissertation project developing in my mind.

If I could take everything I know now, and explore a couple of new areas that I know are very exciting in terms of potential for our global future, what would I want to say to the world? What would I want ordinary people and other professionals and scholars who might read it to learn from all the things I've learned - good and bad? How can I deconstruct myths and false assumptions about the world I have seen, and reconstruct a thesis that will open reader's minds to new possibilities for a global future together?

Yes, I am dead serious... I lie awake at night thinking about this ridiculous stuff and it is seriously annoying. There's so much I want to say, and so many dots I want to connect. It's a comfort to ground myself with the idea of writing something that must be academically valid. I've got lots of ideas and opinions that are mine, but the book I will write will not be about me - it will be about the development of community-driven social experiments like mine all over the world, and new ways of understanding how they can come together for greater global development good.

I've got the names of some professors there who are working in fields that overlap with my interests. What I need to do now is write a kind of elaborate proposal for the book that I will write, what I will set out to prove, and the research I will undertake to draw academically valid conclusions from. If one of them likes my proposal enough to commit to becoming my academic promoter within their own existing domain of research within the university, then I'm in. So I've got lots more homework to do before I can really start pulling this all together.

(Don't worry, if you don't yet understand any of what I'm talking about, rest assured, you're not meant to yet... I am in major ramble mode.)

Definitely want to build in further study time (1-2 years) with the Buddhist economics-driven Asoke community in Thailand that N and I visited last year (for 5 weeks). For a year I've been dreaming about what I'd do with those kids in a group if they had internet connected computers. They grow up with an active understanding of their responsibility to work with nature in a way that the rest of the world desperately needs... how I would love to engage them in communicating that to others online. I'm also very interested to visit Brazil and have a careful look at what impact the solar powered wi-fi they've recently launched there in some villages is having on local lives. Incidentally, the community I'm moving to in Brussels has the potential to provide a very interesting case study for what I'd like to do. Wait 'til I tell you about Boisfort!

There are a couple of online communities I'm looking at to include as case studies illustrating the different kinds of community-driven development concepts that are emerging. I've got a short list building and have started contacting a few folks. It's feeling good to be finally building a new saddle to get back into again that could mean my path will cross with some old friends. It's exciting.

But I can't sleep. My dear N. is trying to be patient with me.

I am torn about whether or not and how much of all this I actually want to start putting online - and where to start putting it online. I have a domain called Internet4Change which could be a home for a new blog. I could go back to using the great workspace and discussion tools at ned.com, but community activity has been slow there recently. Or then again... maybe that's a good thing? I could write about it here, but am not yet convinced that's the kind of transition this blog needs for it's upcoming "out of africa" phase. Maybe I shouldn't share it with anybody, but that's not how I usually think I work best...

At any rate, I need to start getting my thoughts on this out of my head and organized in some form, or I believe my head may indeed explode on my pillow. I am stuck for the moment, trying to decide on the best place to start doing that.

Ideas anyone?

?