Thursday, March 10, 2016

Being "White" in Nairobi

This past Sunday, I was walking through Uhuru park with two Kenyan friends when one of the many child beggars came up to me with a cup in hand. Except this time, the 11-12 year old wasn’t begging from me; he was demanding. “Hey mzungu (swahili word for white or foreigner). Feed me!” He shook his cup fiercely at me. “Feed me mzungu!” I ignored him out of habit and kept walking with my friends, but I couldn’t help quickly glancing over to see what the boy would do- he was so unusually rude. I found him staring at my ass, and when he realized that I wasn’t going to give him anything, he smirked “I like your swagger.” In that moment, a huge part of me debated turning around, striding to the boy and slapping him. “Did your mother teach you to say that?” I wanted to ask him. “Where is your sense of dignity?” But I let it go and kept walking.

In the following days, I mentally replayed the encounter many times. The scenario with the little boy bothered me for a number of reasons. The way he shouted “mzungu” to me highlighted myself as the outside “white” person, and he as the local Kenyan who reminded me of my foreign status. According to him, I can never truly fit in because I am “white.” By demanding that I “feed him,” my skin color not only alienated me, but also turned me into a symbol of money; and thus I was obligated to give him money, food, and be content with having to pay higher prices for my race. And finally, when I showed no signs of acknowledging him, he tried to reduce my worth to my “swagger,” a.k.a. ass. He was implying that because I, a mzungu woman, didn’t comply to his initial demands, he now has the right to objectify my body and humiliate my sex.
I, a mzungu woman.
A “white” woman.

View of Nairobi from the KICC building
I have really come to love my life here in Nairobi: I love my job, I have great apartment-mates, I can get around easily with public transportation, I am part of a great church community, and I surrounded by amazing Kenyan friends. For the most part, I have found Kenya to be a beautiful country, filled with amazingly hospitable people, incredible landscapes and wildlife, and a rich culture to be proud of. I’m not looking forward to leaving my life here behind. However, I never expected to wrestle over a strange new set of racial dynamics. The chessboard of race, it seemed, had flipped and completely rearranged upon my arrival from Los Angeles to Nairobi. In the United States, I am confident standing in solidarity with my black and latino community and familiar with the racial issues-I know the values I stand for and why I choose to fight for them. I understand the privilege that being Asian-American brings, but I also know that I am part of the “model minority,” until I’m not (see Peter Liang.) Nevertheless, we tend to be silent in the racial discussions- so if I really wanted to, my asian heritage allows me to stay out of the civil rights spotlight. But in Nairobi, some (not all) Kenyans have roped me into the same category as white people- there is little distinction between me- an asian mzungu, and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed mzungu. (To be fair, even with my olive complexion, whenever I take pictures with my Kenyan friends, I still look pretty pale compared to their darker skin tones.) All of a sudden, I can no longer hide behind my asian ethnicity as an excuse to avoid racial conflict. People are just as likely to charge me higher prices as the white man standing in line behind me. Street children are just as likely to harass me for money as they would another American tourist.

pale me
David Anderson, a lecturer in African Studies at Oxford, writes "Whatever his background, every white man who disembarked from the boat at Mombasa became an instant aristocrat." Whereas in Los Angeles I was the struggling post-graduate, I can easily afford a cleaning lady here in Nairobi. These new racial dynamics in East Africa are confusing to me, because even though I was offended by remarks such as that little boy’s, he is right in assuming that I am more wealthy. Unlike racism in the states, I am treated differently not because my race is oppressed, but because my “white” race was the oppressor. A brief digging into Britain's colonization of Kenya (unsurprisingly) unearths mountains of atrocities- from banishing ethnic tribes to reserves too small to sustain them, to torture and humiliation of rebel suspects, to carrying out a campaign that slaughtered members of the Kikuyu tribe by the thousands. After over a century of European colonization by the Portuguese, then the British, it may be that my being “white” sometimes taps into decades of hurt and injustice. Again, it is the story of the rich minority oppressing the poor majority. Although Kenya has now been an independent country for over 50 years, mzungus still take up a good percentage of Kenya’s elite and wealthy.

This is not to say that the little boy was in the right or that I should be guilted into giving him money, because "whiteness" and privilege are not sins. However, I have to acknowledge that that generally, white ex-patriots do have more wealth; and if I want to live like Jesus, I need to discern how to bless my Kenyan community with the blessings I have been given. I am reminded of this income gap every time I pay for rent, splurge on a $4 drink or $20 meal, and come home to greet my apartment’s security guard knowing that he makes less than $200 a month. At the end of the day, I am the one going home to my gated apartment complex-with unlimited internet, hot showers, huge bed, and refrigerator stocked with my favorite foods. I may experience prejudice, but unlike African Americans and Latinos back at home, it is because I am easily part of the 1% here. It’s a twisted and sobering identity to grapple with: while I try to extend grace to the few Kenyans who see my skin color as profit opportunity, I am also trying to figure out what it looks like to use my privilege for good- and be smart about it.

A friend's neighborhood in Kibera, one of the slums in Kenya
This is an open-ended, disorganized post because I have no answers; and of course there are still so many things that I don’t understand. Two months in Nairobi is barely enough time for me to gather my thoughts together about a whole new racial system- where suddenly black is the majority; and it seems that “white” and “asian” practically mean the same thing. Racial issues are tough enough to tackle in one’s home country, and it is a completely different monster when you are an ex-patriot. It sucks to know I may be treated differently because of my race, or that people sometimes address me only by my skin color, or that people slap stereotypes on me before they get to know me (I've had people ask if I knew that Africa was a continent- not country, if I support Trump, if I do karate, or if I eat dogs.) If nothing else, my shallow experience here with prejudice has given me a better understanding of the injustice many of my black and latino friends encounter on a daily basis. Nairobi has given me the opportunity to learn what it is like to be stereotyped by my race, and also challenged me to think more deeply about the privilege my "whiteness" brings. If God used Moses' privilege as the prince of Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery, I am sure God can also use my privilege to bless my community around me, too.

Thankful for my Kenyan friends <3

Con tanto amore,

Friday, February 5, 2016

My Blazing, Gypsy Italian Summer: l'estate da vivere

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold." 
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

stormclouds over the alps in Aosta
It’s been over four months since I’ve returned from Italy; seven since I left LA for the film program CinemadaMare (Cinema of the Sea). Quite frankly, up until now, I didn’t have the heart, or the courage to write about my journey in Italy. Posting this entry has an aching sense of finality to it as I let summer 2015 go and embrace the new year. It’s a bittersweet moment, but I know I have to move on in order to grow.

When the plane took off in the summer haze of late June 2015, and I made my journey to Europe, I wondered if I had over-exerted the wanderer in me and made a mistake running off again- barely a month after returning from Tanzania. I wasn’t ready for Italy, I thought. Traveling yet again to new territories had begun to scare me. Perhaps I didn’t want to move around anymore. Perhaps I just wanted to settle down with the guy I was dating then and be normal. Little did I know I was headed straight into the craziest, most beautiful, and emotionally-charged supernova summer.

midnight dancing in the rain
When young, international filmmakers are thrown together- creating, dreaming, laughing, crying, finding a way to make the best out of refugee-like living situations, a special bond is formed. I think back to my first impressions of people a lot- my subconscious labeling of people whom I didn’t have the privilege of sharing life with yet. Some I saw as players, small tyrants, and attention-seekers. Others I marveled for their talent, popularity, or graceful mannerisms. And many I simply was too overwhelmed by new faces to slap a label on.  But gradually, as the weeks flew past, living in community melted quick judgement and even cultural stereotypes, because beneath first impressions is vulnerability, and vulnerability is the start to a tight-knit family. I will never forget the day I watched one of our staff tearfully share how he had not seen his little boy in over 9 years- how every penny he made was saved up for his son. Until then, all I had known of this man was that he was an anxious, temperamental soul with a taste for alcohol. Nor will I forget our last night in Venice, when I took turns playing the piano and sharing music with a new friend. In that moonlit moment, it was as if every stereotype I could have ever slapped on him melted away, and I saw not his physical self, but understood his soul for what God had created him to be.

I learned that the best kind of love was when I knew someone well enough to have been hurt by them; and still knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are a beautiful and worthy human being. The best kind of love is when I see the fingerprints of God on each and every person around me- in their generosity, in their laughter, their humor, their desire to understand one another, and their desire to love and be loved. By the end of the program, I grew to deeply love because I began to see that this is only a fraction of how Jesus must love them too. And gradually, the lessons I learned about love began to be reflected in my own animations created there. They were stories about my family.

I grew accustomed to waking up to 60+ people around me: some hungover, some asleep on their air mattresses, and some already running around with their film equipment. In one particular city, all 80 of us were given one gym to sleep in together, and so we found ourselves stacked side by side together like sardines, one air mattress after another. But what life it was to see people constantly around me, whether it was playing basketball, editing videos, napping, eating fruit and yogurt out of a mug, or drinking matte! Anytime I needed a friend, I found at least 30 in that stuffy gymnasium. The following week we were living, for the first time, in a convent, where we we had our own rooms, bathrooms, and real beds! But I will never forget the first few days of arriving in Aosta when all of us carried an expression of forlornness or loneliness because we didn’t know how to handle being separated from each other. We were feeling the cost of privacy in every shut door, with every wall that separated our lives from each other.

gathering luggage at our new location
silly shenanigans in Maratea
In moments like this I begin to understand the disinterest the Tanzanian Maasai had shown to living in our developed countries, even after touring them. “It’s so lonely,” they had complained. Now I understand. I had once described our living conditions (no privacy, suitcase living, cold showers, gross communal bathrooms, and no stable location) to someone, and in horror he exclaimed “And you want to go back to that?” But in exchange for the incredible community and camaraderie I had experienced in Italy, poor living conditions are a small price to pay indeed. I would give up all my comforts here in a heartbeat just to see all of those lovely faces again. This community had seen me at my best when I was directing my own animated films, interviewing in Italian, smiling at everyone I saw; I felt like the darling of Cinemadamare. But they had also seen me at my worst- days like those in Muro Lucano where I was insecure, hurting and didn’t want to do anything but lay on my air mattress and drown in depression. In between ecstatic, sunshine-filled days; were also moonlit hours of sitting in silence together, contemplating heartbreak, adulthood, and purpose.

Personally, this summer challenged my creativity and faith in a way that no other experience ever had. Artists are free-spirited, unbound by rules, and live for expression. Christianity, on the other hand, has it’s set of values, traditions, and an ultimate purpose that can seem extremely legalistic. I happen to be both an artist and a Christian, and thus found myself caught frequently in a crossfire between both identities. Adapting to this new bohemian culture in Italy meant adopting a new lifestyle that may not align with "western/conservative" Christian culture, yet were not "unbiblical." For example, light social drinking, dancing, and producing controversial/thought-provoking content became something that I thoroughly enjoyed with friends. We weren’t there on a “mission”, we were also participants of Cinemadamare who happened to be Christian, but for me- to hold onto Jesus as my identity had made all the difference. It grounded what I knew to be true of myself amidst waves that could have taken me anywhere. And on that foundation, I discovered a growing purpose not only as an animator, but as an artist to express the beauty I saw in people- whether through language, music, writing, poetry, illustration, or animation. 

Conversazione con Riccio
A Room Without Sense
Io Ti Vedo (I See You)

Fast forward to February 2016, and I find myself back in East Africa, wandering around the city of Nairobi like the little nomad I have become. Instead of over-exerting my inner wanderer, I returned with an increased thirst for adventure and a re-kindled desire to be challenged.

soooo thankful for my East African family in Nairobi!
Cinemadamare was a lot of things to me: a film program, a love story, a cultural modge-podge, and a summer that challenged me creatively, emotionally, and spiritually. I think of the day when my two friends and I were the only people atop the peak the Italian alps watching a snowfall way in the distance on a greater mountain.  Or the moment we had just finished filming a Bollywood flash mob, and stayed up late in the evening filming some strange film with medieval costumes and Venetian masks. Or that night in Venice where we got lost and walked past abandoned hospitals to find ourselves on a film set in strange Tim Burton-esque costumes in an abandoned theatre. And there was the day when the four of us escaped to Sicily and stayed at a party too long, so instead of making it back home we drove to a beach house and fell asleep on the pier. I slept on a docked boat, and the three others in lawn chairs. And I remember the times when I saw people break- whether it be from a disapproving father, a loss of identity after trauma, or the most common-heartbreak. But I also remember seeing people opening their hearts to a newfound international family and radiating pure joy.

bollywood flash mob
escaping to Sicily
strange Venetian masks
It was only natural to experience heartbreak in such adventures, because we had fallen in love with each other. Many of us (myself included) hurt deeply after the program because we had loved deeply. For my part, I feel that everytime I reminisce on Cinemadamare, my heart grows a little bigger because I can feel the burning love we have for each other, even when we are separated by oceans and borders. As with the end of any healthy relationship, my summer of 2015 leaves me with shining memories, keepsakes that make me braver, stronger, and kinder to face the world around me. My Italian adventures had imprinted on me a curiosity to search for God in the broken places, and inspired me to bring out the beauty I know is there. Grazie, Cinemadamare, for teaching me to love freely, create fearlessly, and learn ceaselessly. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Waiting Room: rainy thoughts from Frankfurt

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost." 
 Jack Kerouac, On the Road 

Cold and rainy Frankfurt

I find international airport terminals an incredibly fascinating place. There is a strange energy of the unknown amidst all the security checks, bustling and rolling of carry-on luggage, running footsteps to catch a close connection, catching a quick shut-eye on a chair. It’s a place where all kinds of people converge for reasons I will never know, going to places I will probably never find out. Just a few hours ago I saw a pair of German brothers snickering at a man who was snoring up a storm in a quiet lounge. An Iranian woman tried to ask me something in broken english, but because I couldn’t understand the initial question, we somehow began discussing how Chinese and Iranian culture have similarities. I met an elderly Croatian lady who proudly told me about her son, who was a doctor in San Diego. International terminals are places where I can catch snapshots of people’s lives, but rarely have the opportunity to hear the whole story. And yet we are all strangers in a foreign land- trapped momentarily in a traveler’s limbo. We are not in our native country, nor have we arrived in our country of destination. I like to think that we are all in one big Waiting Room together.

It’s a rainy day in Frankfurt today and honestly it looks miserable. I’m glad to be inside bundled up in my hoodie and munching on leftover french fries. 3 hours until my 9-hour flight to Nairobi and I’m still feeling pretty stellar despite having come down with a nasty cold 2 days ago. In a desperate attempt to fight a resurrecting sore throat on my last flight, I downed a glass of cognac and discovered two things: I really like the taste of brandy, and it was a fabulous substitute for cough medicine. Win.

Despite having a thousand unknowns whizzing around my head right now, I’m actually feeling pretty zen about the near future. I have an incredible group of local friends there, a nice apartment to live in, and I figure that everything else will fall into place. At this point I’ve traveled and transitioned so much within 2 years that I’ve come to expect the anxiety that comes in the weeks before my departure. Traveling, I believe, takes a great amount of faith and calm surrender because so many things outside of your control will go wrong. Sometimes you arrive in a small town in Italy and realize that no one is around to call you a taxi in the middle of the night. Sometimes you get lost in Germany but no one speaks a lick of English and you speak even less German. Sometimes, you’re just downright stupid. But God had my back every time even in the messiest of situations, and so this time I know this trip will be no different. The risks and spontaneity of travel forces me to acknowledge God’s faithfulness every time.

I do wonder about how I might change when I come back from Nairobi; how Los Angeles may feel alien again; and what new lens this time I will be given to see the world through. For a while, my return from a spectacular summer in Italy meant that I had to wrestle with a new version of myself and a new perspective on the world. What I experienced in Cinemadamare set my following months on a course that I had not anticipated, and now I find myself zooming back out to a new adventure. Out of Los Angeles, out of the Waiting Room.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Refining Fire

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Job 23:10
I’ll admit it. Coming back to Los Angeles after a year of traveling has not been easy. Somewhere in the middle I ceased to know where home was anymore, because Los Angeles became no longer home, but a rest stop for me to gather my life back as much as I can, and run off in another direction.
In Counterfeit Gods Tim Keller wisely states “You don't realize God is all you need until God is all you have.” I would like to add an asterisk that it’s not so much what I don't have, but the hurt over what God has taken away. Technically, I still have a lot compared to some; but I am brought to my knees when, in one week God stripped away my stability, future dreams, international community, a healthy relationship, and quality of life. I returned to an arid Los Angeles a little shattered and frantic to piece a different me back together. In these moments how can I do anything but to cling onto the fact that my identity is not dependent on my talent, success, wealth, or love life? How can I, when situations are out of my control and God (unfortunately) insists on reminding me that when everything else falls apart, He remains faithful? And He is.
These days, knowing that Jesus (not me,) gives me strength for every new day, is the only thing that makes me brave enough to face anything. Paul says in 2 Corinthians: 
“He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 
In tough periods such as this, being thankful is the best way for me to witness how God continues to provide for me. I have amazing roommates, international friends who constantly encourage me, incredible friends in LA who care for me, and landed a few animation gigs that I could not have gotten on my own. And perhaps the best part is that in my brokenness God is still teaching me to love others by highlighting the beauty in every person I see. Through Jesus I am retaining my capacity to love, find joy, and be at peace. Never once did I ever walk alone.
It’s been a tough transition to jump from paradise into a wilderness. As reflected in my excessive Facebook posts, summer 2015 was a brilliant star that burned in me a passion for life and expression. Upon landing in LAX, autumn announced itself as a painful season of change that threatened to quench whatever flame was ignited in the summer. Yet I’m beginning to understand that God is bringing me through a different sort of fire. In sports people have a saying that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Likewise, the Bible often refers to God as a metalworker: "I will... refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people'; and they will say 'The Lord is my God.'" Perhaps it’s God’s strange sense of humor after all, that my surname is AU- the chemical symbol for gold.
I’ve still got a lot of fight in me, because I know God is faithful.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tutaonana: Goodbye, Tanzania

"All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

on the road to Maasailand
This was the quote I took away with me as I graduated from USC almost exactly a year ago. In a flurry of graduation caps, cardinal and gold, I was sent off into the world—wide-eyed, excited, and unsure. Life up until this point had been so structured for me, and for the first time my future lay before me: wild and unchartered. God gave me a nudge and so I jumped, hand held firmly in His, into a strange new adventure… and here I am in Tanzania a year later, begrudgingly counting down the days till my departure.

The past few months with Pamoja have been quite steady: Work all week and hang out with the Pamoja community, rest/homegroup on Saturday, and church on Sunday with an occasional town trip. But every once in a while, I get to go somewhere awesome and spend the rest of the month reflecting on it.

During the month of March I had the incredible experience of going to Maasailand out in Simanjiro to visit some of Pamoja’s Maasai friends. (Honestly, had I not been slacking on my entries this trip should have deserved its very own post lol.)

packing for the trip
Maasai are a tribe of herders who usually live out in the bush (aka the middle of nowhere,) and spend their days taking care of their goats, cows, and families. Getting out to Simanjiro in the first place, however, was already a doozy and made me realize how much I took the paved roads in the U.S. for granted! 
busted tire
cow crossing
Apart from hours of feeling like I was sitting on a bucking bronco for 6 hours, there were so many things I took away from the trip to Maasailand.
  1.  Having to do your business in the bushes is actually quite freeing: You know initially, having grown up with toilets to pee/take a dump in nearly my entire life, the idea of squatting and potting seemed kind of gross. However, since there are no rest areas along the roads of Tanzania, but tons of trees and bushes, I quickly realized that no toilets meant I could go whenever I want, wherever I want!

  2. Freshly roasted goat meat is awesome: The Maasai slaughtered a goat for us the nights we were there, and Kirsten and I were invited to watch. This is a huge testament to God’s work in the community, because originally Maasai men wouldn’t even eat meat that was seen by a woman. I felt a little bad for the goat, but not too bad because honestly she had a way better life than the factory bred animals we eat at home. Maybe that’s why she tasted so yummy- I don’t even know the words to describe what it tasted like! Chewy, smoky, rich in flavor, with a hint of wilderness and Maasai to it.  Just thinking about it now makes me hungry, but I’m not sure when I’ll ever have the chance to taste similar roasted meat again.

    leading goat to slaughter
    dinner :P
  3. Smiling, and trying your best to communicate goes a long way: Some of my fondest memories in Maasailand was trying to communicate with a couple Maasai women. Both of us speak very little Swahili because my mother tongue is English, and theirs is Maasai, but once I got past laughing and figured out how to say “God bless you” in Swahili, their smiles and hugs and grasping of hands said much more than words could ever express.
  4. I became particularly fond of this kid named Samson...
    it probably helped that he spoke a little more Swahili lol
    we couldn't communicate well with each other,
    but the women and kids hung around us and were so welcoming!
  5. Life isn’t better out here in the bush, but it certainly points out some flaws from my culture, such as the lack of community and happiness: The Maasai have a really simple lifestyle compared to mine—stripped to the core with only the bare basics, and yet they have such a joy and depth to their community. When asked if they would ever like to live in the west, for instance, the Maasai immediately answered “no.” Even though many of them have traveled to North America, our material wealth cannot make up for our lonely souls, nor can it make up for our constant desire to search for a higher purpose.
  6. building a house out of mud and cow dung
    maasai kids LOVED photos!! (except maybe not that particular baby)
    I usually had to sneak pictures unless I wanted to be lost in a crowd of kids
    tents we slept in
    watching a cow give birth (it miscarried T.T)
    scenery out here is beautiful, but the winds can be brutal
  7. God is moving in the Maasai and raising up local leaders: It’s incredible to hear some of the testimonies from the men and women here who discovered Christ for themselves (not foreign missionaries) through dreams and are now centering their lives around Jesus. They are now growing into a community that promotes education, encourages more respect for their women, opposes FGM (female genital mutilation,) and strives to be a light to other Maasai communities.   
    Maasai leaders meeting about their school system

Lastly, here is an audio clip (this was recorded at night) of the worship songs they sing at night. They write their own praise songs that apparently change quite a bit over time, but it’s beautiful!


With my last days in Tanzania ticking away, I find myself reflecting quite frequently about what I have learned my first year out of college, and I think it can be summed up into two points: that 1) missionaries are not exempt from the struggle bus, and 2) God can still work through us despite our struggles.

Chapter One of my post-grad story kind of became a "wilderness" experience, and much of this came with unrealistic expectations of what it meant to be a missionary. I think that sometimes, when we (myself included,) think of missionaries, we think of stellar, superhero Christians who perform above and beyond. Missionaries are the people who punch Satan in the face with powerful prayers, cast out demons, bring entire communities to Christ and stay on top of their quiet time, right? But I’ve realized that the danger of that misconception is that as a missionary to Skid Row LA and Africa, I hold myself to the same unrealistic standards. And when I fail to meet them, I begin believe in the lie that I have also failed God.

But thankfully, when one is surrounded by good community and seasoned missionaries, I’m reminded in tough moments that God never intended for us to journey alone. Ecclesiastes 4 says "Two are better than one, because they have return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" I have been blessed to live with people from such diversity of cultures, academic backgrounds, personalities and lifestyles—to whom I can learn from and lean on. Living in community also produces a beautiful vulnerability that demonstrates our need for God’s grace to unite and strengthen us. I may not have poured out my heart and soul here at Pamoja, but just knowing that we are a community that constantly prayers for and serves one another is often encouragement enough.

celebrating one of the kids birthdays!
going to miss these girls when I leave
goofing off :3
poor fuzzface got spayed last week lol, but she's back to being her silly self again now!
Despite months of spiritual wrestling, I look back on Africa and see God’s grace working through my skills despite my shortcomings. It amazes me to see what I have been able to accomplish, and what Pamoja has accomplished in 6 months. By the end of the month I will have completed thirteen 40-page full color comics for distribution. Pamoja is currently in a state of expanding, and we are taking on new media projects, partnering with local east African churches, building more housing for future missionaries, and recruiting new members to our team. Our God is able! Even on the days when I don’t want to talk to him, or feel totally unproductive He has surrounded me with awesome community, solitude when needed, and the cutest furry friend. In a few days I can leave the country knowing that we have helped make financial literacy more available to hundreds of thousands of people.

on set with Wewenami- our kids puppet show
screening Nipe Jibu- our film musical, to Maasai at night (photocred to Steve Wozny)

Jeremy partnering with a Kenyan pastor to distribute 300,000 copies of a discipleship curriculum 
Mwanangu, our puppet show's main character

a newly tiled tree from Kirsten that I like to call the tree of Gondor :3

This mid-term mission was humbling because it’s long enough that my project will make a difference, but short enough to know that most of the heavy lifting is still done by those who have spent decades on the field, and those people deserve medals. Nevertheless, I love the fact that regardless of how long I’ve been here, every day, every second we live for God’s kingdom adds a tile to His mosaic of a redemptive story. After I leave, Pamoja will carry on with it’s media work and community building, but it has been an honor to see God’s hand in this ministry and be a part of it. I hope to return again.

sunset over Pangani beach in Tanzania
Catch you on the flip side, fabulous friends :)

p.s. for any of you going to Urbana 2015, I’ll be there with the Pamoja team so come say hi!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Small Missionary, Big Mission

Hello everyone!

I apologize for the delay in posting- I have added a few things to my schedule so life has started to become busier for me. I’m happy to say that after 3 months of trying to figure out how to best make cost-efficient, yet aesthetically pleasing comic books, we have finally figured out the workflow and I finished Comic Book 1 out of 13! Although this first book took me 3 months to complete, the weeks and weeks of troubleshooting and planning have paved the road to efficiency, so now I am able to complete one comic book in about a week. Here are some photos:

My fuzzy cubicle buddy has multiple sleeping positions in a day

These comic books series will be distributed all throughout East Africa, to be accompanied with 13 30-minute animated episodes! Our partners, VisionFund and World Vision have been really stoked about the quality of our projects ☺ It’s really quite something to see what a small group of dedicated, passionate people can do.

And if you’re curious, here are some of the other projects Pamoja has done, including one of the first Swahili television series for children, and a beautiful Swahili musical about a girl choosing freedom and love over enslavement to spirits of witchcraft (a very real issue here in Africa.)

Apart from work, I have also been exploring a lot more of Africa- I went to some safari trips, I went hiking a few weeks ago with a friend, joined a community group from church, and I also made a dress out of some traditional fabric that I bought!! My language skills are also improving- I wish I had more time/discipline to practice on my own, but I’ve also realized that the best way for me to learn is just to go out there, speak Swahili, and not be afraid of sounding like an idiot. But above all, I have also been reflecting a lot on why God has placed me in Tanzania, and the lessons I have learned here since.

Sunday outing with church friends
I made a kitenge dress!!

Tash photobombing me
some of the awesome feser kids

waterfall hike in a national park!

natural hole in the middle of a hugeee fig tree
we were sooo lucky to see lions in the national park


Small Missionary, Big Mission 

When I hear the word “missionary,” one of the first images that come to mind is a radical evangelical Christian—actively proclaiming the gospel in a third world country. Maybe she runs an orphanage, takes bucket showers, and lives in a hut with the people she is trying to reach. Maybe he has to keep his faith a secret in order to avoid persecution from the government. I sometimes think of John the Baptist—arguably one of the first missionaries, and envision some crazed hippie dressed in camel hide eating bugs and honey—screaming “REPENT!” and baptizing anyone who would listen.

And here I am, sitting on a queen sized bed after taking a hot shower, typing on my macbook pro with unlimited Internet in Tanzania, trying to decide if I want to keep my hair green or not (although the power did just go out). Unlike John the Baptist, it is highly unlikely that I will be beheaded here, or significantly persecuted for my faith—but I too, am a missionary.

Over the past few months, I have been musing over why God chose to place me here, in the relatively peaceful country of Tanzania. Instead of traipsing through jungles or wandering LA’s skid row, I work in an office. I am not actively fighting against homelessness, human trafficking, or injustice, or poverty. On a normal day you will find me staring at three screens rendering out gazillions of comic-book images. I have no heart-wrenching stories of “starving African children” to share, but I can tell you about the frustrating hours I have spent wrestling with Autodesk Maya and reorganizing computer files. I can tell you about the tight-knit community that Pamoja shares and the dreams we have dreamed together, in unison, for East Africa. They are lovingly and painstakingly pieced together with visions of Swahili musicals and stories; intertwined with the hope of weaving more of Jesus into Tanzanian culture. And I begin to wonder whether God’s intention of leading me here was.

one of Tanzania's beautiful national parks
I’ve learned that missions work isn’t always explicitly “humanitarian” or “charitable” –nor should it be. In fact, when missions is run purely out of “passion” without education and professional expertise, it often does more harm than good. Our popular Christian culture has done us a disservice by convincing us that the ideal missionary runs an orphanage in some developing country. As an animator with a heart for missions therefore, I never dreamed that there might even be a place for me in the mission world outside of sharing with coworkers—and I am sure that I was not the only soul feeling misplaced.

But one does not build connections with an elderly, traditional Hong Kong woman and an educated Muslim Tanzanian in the same way. Likewise, to spread the hope of the gospel means that different people must approach this task with different tactics. Admittedly for quite some time, I was having internal conflicts because unlike the Los Angeles Urban Project where I lived in unsafe neighborhoods and befriended people in shelters—efficient missions at Pamoja means getting the comic books printed and distributed. Our different focus and goals require different strategy. If I took bucket showers, hand washed my laundry, and had no electricity, nothing would be accomplished—and I daresay we would even be laughed at. If we don’t come up with creative ways do missions outside the box, we will only ever reach people in the box.

There are a number of things I’ve learned since coming here, and perhaps the biggest blessing and challenge was knowing that animation is needed in missions—that creative skills are so useful in bringing stories filled with truth, hope, and love. Sometimes making financial literacy comic books feels small, because this isn’t the grand, cinematic, spiritual-warfare-ridden mission that I envisioned. But in addition to curbing my ego, I am blessed that I don’t have to live in fear due to my faith, and that I can come home to a clean apartment, hot shower, and warm bed every night. This is the missions field that God has called me to for the past few months—a softer, more comfortable place for me to experience God’s quiet majesty—but missions nonetheless. Maybe in a few years my missions field will be elsewhere—safer, or more dangerous—who knows? For the moment I am learning to delight in my role as a small missionary, taking part in God’s big, big mission.

Coffee tour- and yes now I have green tips in my hair ;)

Prayer Requests:

Container shipment 
In order to print and distribute the financial literacy comic books I am making, we need the huge shipment of printers we ordered from the states 6 months ago. However, they are still in government custody and we are waiting for them to release it to us, which can take anywhere from a few days to months. We are already delayed in delivering the comic books to some of our sponsors, and we cannot do much without the printers. Please pray for a speedy delivery of the printers to Pamoja Ministries!

Software issues 
One of the annoying things about working with the animation software Autodesk Maya is that it is such a deep program with such a high learning curve, that when something goes wrong it can hours to work out. I am much more familiar with the workflow now so many of those issues are minimized, but prayer for problem-less days with the program would also be greatly appreciated.

Lately many of us have been getting sick with some type of flu- I was sick briefly last week and just got a minor fever again today. Please pray for health for everyone- our staff, volunteers, missionaries, and local friends. There is a lot of work to be done already without sickness.

elephants for days :D
Asante sana everyone for your support and prayers! Sending love to everyone back home.

Con tanto amore,