Tuesday, January 10, 2012

hired: June 2011

Friday night I had applied for a RN position in the Perinatal Special Care Unit. Monday night I received a call from their manager. She scheduled me for an interview the next day at 1:30.
I spent the morning at Kinko's putting final touches on my portfolio. I sat for a panel interview with 4 professional women firing questions about myself, clinical situations, ethical situations, and interpretations of fetal heart strips. I went home feeling good, and uncertain.
The next day I sent off thank-you cards. Wednesday I was called by the enthusiastic manager. "You put here on your resume that you are enrolled in the Summer Session of the Regional Perinatal Systems Course. We just called them and found out you're fourth on the wait list."
I had just found that out too, earlier that day when they called to tell me that.
"So we really want to offer you the position, but you have to be enrolled in that class first. Try to see if there is some way they can guarantee you a spot and then we can guarantee you a job. Oh and side note, when are you scheduled to take the boards?"
"In a month and a half." I said.
"Okay well I reccommend you reschedule that. To process new hire paperwork you'll have to take them in the next 2 weeks. Okay?"
"No problem."

I spent all hours of the next week and half studying for what I thought I had a month and a half to do. I sat for the nursing boards and passed. The elation of becoming an RN was unlike any high I have ever experienced. I jumped up and down in my living room and screamed at the top of my lungs. I hyperventilated a little. I screamed some more. Then I focused in on pestering the coordinator of the Regional Perinatal Systems course. I brought her a portfolio and tried to convince her of my absolute need to get into the class. I think there was a group of us waitlisters doing the same thing because she completely restructured this 2 month (16 hours a week) course by increasing the class capacity to 70 and moving it into the Medicine Lecture Halls on the UCSD campus, which meant, I was in.

Finally, after what felt like years and years of desire and work and struggle and blessings- I was taking the next big step. I accepted a position as a registered nurse on a unit specializing in treating women with high-risk pregnancy. I couldn't be happier.

You never know

One of my longest childhood friends was in the midst of having her baby. She had asked me to be her doula, so I was there in the room. Her husband was too. In a hospital with a very high C-section rate and very few women who attempt a "natural birth", Nora was trailblazing one breath at a time. She has always been an incredibly strong person. Her mind is strong, her body is strong, her convictions are strong, she has a strong voice. So it didn't surprise me that she met each contraction head on. I watched her face and scanned her body for signs of suffering. Doulas reverse suffering back into pain. She moaned "These are like period cramps on steroids" but she was dealing really well. Her face had the smoothest birthing expression I had seen in a long time, even the nurse was impressed. When Nora stepped into the shower and her husband followed I stayed back in the room. The nurse had been coming in and out of the room all day. Having just graduated nursing school I was envious of her work. Twice a year that hospital announces openings for new graduates and thousands of people apply for just a few positions. She walked back in to put more paper into the fetal heart strip machine. I desperately mumbled a prayer for something to be made of my time with this nurse.
That is when she turned around and said "So what are you?"
"What am I?"
"Yeah, I mean, are you Nora's friend? Or a doula?"
"I'm both!" I said.
"Ohhh... okay. That explains it. You guys are so comfortable with each other, and you're so good at what you're doing. Really."
She sounded so sincere.
"Thanks. I love this." I said, pointing around to the scene.
"I can tell."
"I also just graduated nursing school. I want to do nursing in labor and delivery."
"Well give me your name and your number and I'll give you mine!" She pulled a paper towel out to write on. "You would be awesome here. Seriously. I've worked here for over 20 years and I've found one other person this way before. You should apply!"
"I did. But I'm waiting for the next session because I wasn't called back the first time."
"Okay. Well once there is an opening and you apply again, email me, and I'll talk to HR cause you belong here."
Then she handed me the paper towel and walked out.
Drowning in a sea of jobless desperation this 10-minute interaction gave me a renewed sense of hope and inspiration.

Snatch the opportunity

A month and a half out of nursing school and it seemed all my classmates had been going on interviews and some of them were getting jobs. I had neither. People outside the nursing world constantly heralded this career path as wise in that there would always be work. Perhaps nurses are in high demand... but not really in Southern California, and not really right now.
I thought my resume set me apart, with my time in Ghana working with Ma as her midwife's apprentice, my 3 years back home volunteering as a doula in the local teaching hospital, my insane passion for birth. I also was finishing up an optional externship (which I paid to do) in a postpartum unit at one of the more prestigious hospitals in San Diego. I was scheduled nights and was supposed to work this particular Friday evening but each time I thought about going in I felt strange about it.
Later that day one of my closest friends from nursing school called.
"All of us are going out tonight. Come! It'll be fun."
After debating whether or not I should go in to the externship, and being a pretty responsible person who hangs out with responsible people, I was surprised when I was convinced and supported to cancel my shift and go out for Mexican Food.
Sitting around the table while they discussed having passed the boards (I hadn't yet), sat for interviews (nope), and gotten jobs (not even close) was a little disheartening. I held on to the hope of merely knowing the nurse I had met at Nora's birth.
We went back to our friends house and started up a bonfire. I put my jacket on and slouched back into a chair. I decided to just listen and remove myself from active conversation.
All of a sudden I heard a voice amplified from around the corner. It was Eliane, our friend from Brazil. Her accent stood out as she mentioned getting an email about an open position for new grads at Sharp Mary Birch, the largest women's hospital in San Diego. It was a random position- most new grad positions wouldn't be posted for another 4 months.
As if possessed, I stood up walked over to her and asked her to follow me to a computer. She looked up the position and sure enough it was still open. Registered Nurse: New Grad: Perinatal Special Care Unit. Something in me had to get home and apply. I couldn't be at the party anymore. People tried to convince me to just hang out and do it the next day but I refused. My friend drove me home early and I spent the rest of the night finishing up the application.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The time is close...

On May 7th I'll be a nursing school graduate!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fluffy the whale

Before I left on this last trip to Ghana, my friend (who also happens to be my hairstylist) started talking to me about this project her friend's kid was doing at school. I was sitting relaxed in her chair, while she clipped and explained.
Stuffed animals were being sent out around the country and expected to be taken on adventures with strangers. Like the whole "flat stanley thing". Somehow she ended up with 2. I offered to take Fluffy the whale to Ghana- write about what happened- and return him safely to a fresh pair of hands.
I didn't pack much this last trip. In fact, my backpack was pretty small. But I did manage to get Fluffy in there and he had a great time. Below is the entry I typed into Fluffy's journal. There is a lot more to be said however writing it in 5-year old language sums it up pretty nicely. I am curious to see if there is any progression of ideas generated by the youngsters or if this idea fades away and gets blown out like a flame. I carry with me a small burden to help this man and his school... but because my primary focus when I am in Ghana is typically on the Health Center I am opening this up God's leading.


I brought your little whale friend on an adventure to a tiny village in Ghana, West Africa. I am a nurse and the whale came with me to work in a health clinic in the middle of the tropical forest. In the tropical forest there is a village with a very long name. It is called Boamadumase.

Our whale friend had a lot of fun in Boamadumase. He spent time at a clinic where he got to say hello to sick children. They liked seeing him. It made them feel happier.

One day a man walked from 10 miles away to see me at the clinic. He said he wasn’t sick. But he said he really needed to talk to me. So, I sat down and talked with him.

The man told me he was a teacher and he had just opened a new school in a village that was very far. He said the children in his village had to walk over 5 miles to get to the closest school, and they had to do this every day. Many of the children are very young (like you) and walking 5 miles is too hard for them. So because the school was too far, and they were too tired, they had to stop going.

The man did not like that the children in his village were no longer going to school. He decided to open his own school. He asked me to come and visit. I said I would love to.

Do you remember how I told you these villages are in the middle of the tropical forest? That means the school looks very different than how your school looks. First of all, there are over 60 children but they all share the same classroom. Their school is just one big structure in the middle of a piece of farmland. It has no walls! It is pretty neat, because the man grows corn on this farmland and the children eat the corn for lunch. When you are inside of class you can look all around you and see the corn growing.

The children sit on benches made from wood from the local trees. There aren’t many benches so they have to sit close to each other and share. These children are very good at sharing because they don’t have a lot of money so they have to borrow a lot of things from one another. A lot of times they even share their pencils by writing their name on their paper and passing their pencil down the row of benches. This means that they also are good at waiting for their turn. They are very patient children.

When I saw the school I was very happy that these children did not have to walk so far. I stood in front of the class and told them I was from America. I brought our whale friend and told them the whale had traveled from America too. Everyone loved the whale. A 3-year old boy asked if he could hold it. I don’t think he had ever seen a stuffed animal quite like it! He hugged it and I could tell he wanted to keep it forever. I was afraid to take it back from him because I thought he might cry. But like I said earlier they are good at sharing so he gave it back and said “thank you very much”.

Before I left the school the class sang me a song. They wanted me to say hello to all my friends in America also. They also wanted me to say hello to all of the whale’s friends. So “hello” to everyone in Mrs. Boring’s class!

Lastly, the teacher told me some sad news. He said the school did not have any desks or books. I think it would be very hard to get a good education without any desks or books. He also said the people in the village did not have any money to pay him for teaching. He had invited me to the school to show me how the school is helping all the children but he asked me one question before I left.

“Is there any way you can help us here? We want to make this a great school that can stay here forever but we have a long way to go.”

Like I mentioned earlier, the people in this village are very patient. I told them they may have to wait for a solution to their problem but to keep doing their best in the meantime. I also let them know I would pass along their special request to all my friends in America and maybe someone would have a great idea or have a bunch of great ideas about how to make their school great. I have been going to Boamadumase every year for a long time now. When I left I said “I am going for now, but you will see me again, and next time I will bring more hope!”

And with big smiles, they all said goodbye to me and goodbye to our whale friend.

If any of you want to know more about the school or if you have anything you would like to tell me my name is Kacie and my email is newkacie@gmail.com

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Encounter #1

I glanced across the room and saw a 70-year old woman with a nest of orange hair, waving me over to look at her screen.
"How can I help?"
"I want to get to the email." she said.
"Which email?" I asked.
"The Email!"
"Do you have email?"
"No. Can you help me get it?"
"Sure." I wasn't sure if she was ready to have her mind completely blown by 'the email'. But I dove in head first any way. I typed in www.gmail.com and the logo popped up.
She let out a huge exasperated grunt and gave me a look, as if she was through dealing with people who just didn't get it.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Well, this isn't what I asked for. I said I wanted 'E'mail not 'G'mail."

Excerpts from the Elderly

Back in the U.S.
Started 4th semester, last semester.
I think I understand the greater picture here (regarding what I am about to explain) however I do believe there could have been a better, more impactful way of learning about the elderly.
We are on our community health rotations, which means it is time for us students to leave our (now) familiar hospital setting and venture out, explore, and mingle with "the community". For this, each student is placed either in hospice, a women's clinic, or a senior community center.
I am in the latter.
Initially when I was placed at the senior community center, I had no expectations or really no idea of what I would encounter, except seniors- of course. However, much of what I am doing is completely unrelated (at least in the linear sense) to health.
I am helping tutor a computer class to people age 65 and older. We help them learn how to use the internet, sign up for facebook, surf AARP.
How is this going to make me a better nurse?
Typically I let my optimism override all, plucking positive's from experiences and building them up to form some type of mental structure that to me looks nice, keeps me satisfied, and draws out the deeper side of life. But I have now spent 2 of my clinical days walking around a computer-filled classroom explaining to people that a double click is different than a single click.
So in an attempt to really see the beauty in an otherwise VERY slow rotation I am going to start recording the funny encounters.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Action from all angles

Our 2 weeks is coming to a close. Erica and I are waiting to catch our bus back to Accra where we will spend tomorrow at the beach and then hop our flight back home and return this coming weekend.
It seems to be a non-stop medical adventure. We have both agreed that much of what we have been dealing with has been rather acute and intense. Your prayers are much appreciated.

Yesterday morning I woke up and prepared myself to help in a delivery with my old friend Afriyie (the midwife now). Being in the ward with her felt like the good old days, when I first started my apprenticeship in 2006, except now she is the head midwife.
I could hear the laboring mother already in the labor ward, vocalizing her pain, which for women here means they are about to push their child out. I unknowingly put on the last pair of gloves that the clinic owned and assisted in the delivery. It was a perfect birth of a beautiful baby girl. (Erica raised money for the trip and spent that afternoon in Kumasi buying much needed drugs to stock the depleted dispensary and more gloves)

However the night did not go as smoothly. We spent a good portion of our time in the back of an ambulance (which was really only a fast car with oxygen available), where Erica and I performed 30 minutes of CPR on a 3 month-old who had to be transferred from our clinic to the local hospital, and then, to the next biggest hospital. It was a night of a lot of fast-decision making and many firsts. The story is a long one, and graphic, so I'm saving it for my blog for those who are interested. The end result was undefined. It was getting late and we were far from our village with no money and no food. Our job was done and we had spent hours with this child. We couldn't wait around any longer to know whether the baby would survive or not, however the CPR sustained her life and our skills were very much needed. The ambulance drivers took pity on us and drove us all the way back to the clinic for free- and a very interesting conversation ensued regarding care across cultures. We shook hands and promised we'd add each other as friends on facebook and keep in touch that way. I had a grateful moment that communication had become that easy. And maybe one day, we'd be working the ambulance together again?

On Monday Erica, Agyei (the translator), Mabel (a healthcare assistant) and I took a bush taxi out into a very, very remote village. We had decided we wanted to do a 1-day wound clinic and serve people who lived too far to walk to the Huttel Health Center. We carried with us (in a big red backpack) supplies to cleanse and dress wounds. Slowly people lined up. We took them one by one and sat them on a bench underneath a big tree. They slowly unbandaged wounds that had been wrapped up in dirty old cloths. Let me just say I typically find this type of thing to be utterly repulsive. Originally it almost made me not want to be a nurse. But something shifted on this day and the Good Lord has given me a new tolerance! The most exciting part of the day was the discovery of an 11-year old with Buruli Ulcer. Buruli Ulcer is a local flesh-eating bacteria that infects a person and utterly destroys the place it decides to inhabit. I have seen limbs completely scarred and unusable due to the buruli ulcer. However it is very easy to treat, especially when detected at the early stages. Much of this comes down to education. We called the girls mother over to look at her wound. We asked her why she hadn't sought medical care. She said because it wasn't a painful wound (even though it was larger than a large slice of salami) so it hadn't posed a problem. I told them it wasn't painless (that is a telltale sign) but it would continue to grow and there was a good possibility if she didn't seek care her daughter would lose her leg. She seemed to understand and said they'd come to the clinic the next day for a referral letter to the big hospital. I told them they have a free program for Buruli Ulcer patients. Treatment is free and they even provide incentives of chocolate milk (Milo) and sugar.
But even with all that they never came to get the referral letter.
So we loaded up in a taxi again (a few days later), went back out to the village, and found the girl and her mother. We said the exact same thing we did a few days ago and we delivered the referral letter. Repetition and repeated attempts seem to be essential here. At times it can become a little frustrating, but hopefully, ultimately, it works. I re-bandaged the wound (hooray!) and gave her a See's candy to put a smile on her face and a little anticipation in her future. Then we made sure her next weeks taxi fare was paid for so she would have no excuse to not go.

So that is a little of what is going on here. We called the family I stayed with my first night (the 4-pillow family) and they said to please come back and stay with them while we are in Accra. So that is where we are headed. Oko and Angela leave back to America on the same flight so I am sure we will be taken care of up until we leave. However your continued prayers are much appreciated- I truly believe they have enhanced this trip.

Poverty and Riches

A lot happens in one week. I'll jump right in.
New Year's Eve was quite special, and incredibly simple. Around 9 pm, the head nurse at the clinic (Ma Vic) brought Erica and I to an old worn-down schoolhouse. We sat at dilapidated desks while the room slowly filled up with local villagers. About an hour later, the pastor arrived with his bible in hand and a message to share.
"I'm surprised by how spiritual everyone here is." Erica mentioned earlier that day.
For the life of an average Ghanaian in Boamadumase (our village) there is no separating life from God. And when the New Year approaches it is very evident. All day celebrations and all night dancing- all in the name of Jesus.
We were tired from a long days work and weren't quite sure we'd make it to 12:00. The clinic has been very busy. We've been thrown in the middle of it and I am quite pleased to say that this time around I actually have something to give back! It is very refreshing.
The pastor began his New Years Eve message in English. I looked around the room and realized Erica, Ma Vic, and I were the only ones who'd be able to understand. I leaned over to her "This message is for us" I said.
She smiled.
"No, literally, it's for us. It's in English."
"Ohhhh, okay." she said.
The message was beautiful, especially after what we have been experiencing. All day long people show up at the clinic needing medical attention. Many of these people exist on the famous "less than a dollar a day'. That does not translate well when one needs to seek healthcare. Like yesterday...
A man stepped on a sharp piece of metal and the sole of his foot lacerated down to the muscle. He needed bandages and a tetanus injection. That is about 5 dollars. But that was also the money for this weeks food. So there is a decision that must be made. In these situations there is a lot of cause for desperation.
And this situation is everywhere. Most of us Americans are the minority of what is really happening in this world.
Stepping into this is uncomfortable, in that I am American and I have resources and this is temporary for me. How do I best approach working in a situation like this, spiritually, financially, and physically??? Do I pay for his care? What about all the other people?
Erica and I first met this guy at night while we were buying dinner. She saw his foot was bandages in a dirty cloth and asked to look at it. "He needs to follow us to the clinic. Why hasn't he had this taken care of?"
I asked him in Twi. He said "menni sika".
I don't have money.
"For God says! I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink" the Pastor preached from Matthew 25 "and I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat!" The message struck deep in my soul. "What you have done to the least of these, God says, you have done onto God!"
After we wrapped the man's foot, gave him a shot, and sent him on his way- he turned around and asked us for dinner money.
"I don't know" I told Erica.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"Well it's complex. We've given him free care- he should have enough for dinner now shouldn't he? And I only have a 5. It's a lot. We can't be giving this much out to everyone who asks. And does he REALLY need it?"
5 Ghana cedi in the village is equivalent to giving somebody $50. The difference between what he needed and the smallest change we could offer was almost embarrassing.
I began to intellectualize the implications of giving this money through the same old common mental pathway. Meanwhile he stood in front of me watching me think. I hate the existence of the gap between my mind and his reality. The words, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat" permeated my thinking. We gave him the 5.
Then the pastor moved on to the next line of his message- which he only said in Twi. "For I was a stranger and you took Me in."
I looked across the classroom. Many of those people had invited us over to their place for dinner. Others have comforted me through friendship over the years. Ma Vic opened her doors at 2 am one early morning after I had a terrible nightmare and has been letting us sleep in her tiny house, on the living room floor, with the rest of her family ever since.
The 5 ghana cedi paled in comparison to God's greater picture of community. Perhaps that man couldn't pay for his healthcare or his dinner that night but there we were to step in as God's presence. And maybe I wouldn't have been able to sleep the rest of my trip had I not a peaceful place to rest my head? We are so intricately involved in one anothers lives in ways far beyond what we see or know.
After the sermon, we danced wildly and sang until our voices grew hoarse. Then Erica and I looked at our watches and realized we were far from making it for the New Year's countdown (do they even do that here?).
We walked back together to get ready and go to bed, however as we laid in bed we talked in the dark about the past few days, all that had happened and the message that night.
"Hey check your watch." I said.
"It's 11:54."
We waited 5 minutes, and with our headlamps on did a duet of a countdown, with shadowy smiles, underneath our mosquito nets.


I am in Ghana, alive and well, along with Erica. Thank you for your
prayers up until this point. They have been doing us well and I really
appreciate it! It has been really great to see how God has worked out
what could have been potentially distressful situations.
One hour before I was to leave for Ghana I got an email stating the
person who was going to pick me up could no longer do so. I was
getting in at night and typically stay with friends while in Ghana's
main city, Accra, however obviously some plans had changed.
As I was on my flight over to Frankfurt I realized I was going to miss
my Ghana connection. The vision became pretty clear. I was just a few
short hours away from being one of those travelers I had just seen on
the news; stranded in Frankfurt, exhausted, sleeping on an airport
As I walked off the plane I stuffed one of their tiny pillows in my
bag, thinking I needed to get crafty, but feeling a little guilty for
doing so.
The day ended up a very tiring one. When I saw the line to rebook my
ticket the only motivation for standing in it was that it would only
grow longer the more I waited.
"Excuse me? How long have you been waiting here?" I asked a man in the middle.
"Four hours." He said blankly.
I felt a sense of doom. Where would I sleep? When would I catch my
next flight? Would I make it in time to meet Erica who was flying over
2 days after me? However God quickly reminded me what this trip was to
be about. Putting trust in him.
I joined with the others, and the next person who stood behind me
looked to be of African descent. After a few minutes we started
talking, he was from Ghana. He, his wife, and three children live in
Atlanta and were going home for the holidays to visit his family in
Then after a few hours of standing in line we became friends. When we
finally reached the front of the line (five hours later) we went to
shake hands and say our goodbyes.
"But actually" Oko, my new friend said "where will you be staying
while you are in Ghana?"
I told him I was still figuring that out.
"No need to figure that out. You will stay at my family's house. You
are our sister now!"

When we arrived in Ghana they set me up like a queen. His family
seemed to be very rich, with a large house, nice cars, and real art on
the walls. We enjoyed a feast-like dinner with over fifteen people,
full of laughing and merriment. They hired a driver (and refused
payment) to bring me to the airport the next day to pick up Erica and
to drop us off at the bus station (to make our way up to the village
where we will be working) And then, they brought me to my room. "You
will stay in here" they said, opening the door to a nice big bed with
fresh, soft sheets and four pillows. I have never met a Ghanaian who
owns four pillows, let alone on one bed!
When I went to unpack my bag and I pulled out the tiny pillow I had
taken from Lufthansa, I didn't really feel bad for stealing- I felt
more pathetic mixed with a deep sense of gratitude and awe. I held
that pillow- and I looked at my bed- and I realize how often I do
this. I have this idea that I need to take care of myself, figure it
out, provide, make things work. But then God, the source of all
provision and creative ideas, steps in and makes everything so much
When I went to sleep I asked for him to make this a trip where my
mindset was less of the little pillow mentality and more focused on
His greatness and His plans.

Monday, December 13, 2010

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

On the road again... soon

2 more days and my third semester is over. I would compare the first two semesters to ripping off a band-aid. I was so focused and they happened so quickly I didn't have time to feel their pain. This last semester though seems to be really drawing itself out. Tonight I am finishing my third 30-page paper of the last 2 months. I used to write stories but now I write papers.
I rented Motorcycle Diaries the other night and watched it with one of my nursing school friends. I think we are both feeling the need to cut loose because when the beginning of the scene where Gael Garcia Bernal swims across the Amazon at night to the Leper colony flashed on the screen we started to clap and squeal. If the song of my heart could be played out on screen this is the story it would sing. I think the same for her as well. We are in nursing school for a reason. We want to save the world. And I don't even really know what that means, except that there are people hurting in incredible ways and I want to be available to ease their suffering.
This journey of nursing school inspires me. My professors try to encourage us with their tales of the horrors that they endured during nursing school, the embarrassment, the insecurity. They give us little winks to let us know they understand the perils. I enjoy what they say for the sake of a good story but I have to say my tale will be different. There has been nothing horrific and very little embarrassment. Insecurity though, yes. But overall I hold this experience very close to me as something special, the developing of a different self.
So back to adventure.
I am returning to Ghana.
I miss my friends. I miss the clinic. I miss speaking Twi. I miss everything.
I bought a ticket and I leave on Christmas. I will return to San Diego in January for my final semester.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Semester 3

Nursing School Semester 3.
Time is moving quickly. I am finally in my Obstetrics rotation. This time next year I will have graduated and become an RN and hopefully (if I get in) will be attending school to become a Certified Nurse-Midwife.
I sometimes still feel like the girl who mopped the maternity ward floors in Boamadumase. I become nostalgic for Ghana, for the village, for the way the women used to birth with the cool breeze flowing in through the shuttered windows and checkered curtains. I miss their moans, the ones that expected it soon to be over, the ones so confidant in their bodies and birth. And I miss the common sense unobstructed by rules. When a laboring mother was hungry, she ate.
I am learning a different way now. I am keeping an open mind during my 12-hr. shifts- attempting to understand our system and how this particular hospital sees and responds to its mothers. Something inside of me still feels bound though, like i'm in on a secret that hasn't been let completely out yet. the radical secret of trusting your body.
so i look to my blessing who has appeared in the form of my clinical professor. a certified nurse midwife herself she rounded up our group of students the first day and passed out crayons.
this is my woman, i thought.
she had us draw pictures of what we think a nurse should be prepared with during a labor. we all drew similar pictures. we were all right.
we also did introductions, and while we spoke of ourselves i saw in our professors eyes that she was actually listening. she was fully engaged and completely present.
there is something very intimate about being well listened to. it is a true skill and i believe for people like me who do not consider this a natural strength, it requires perseverance and a lot of practice. i'm going to try more.
also, this angel woman knows how to actually teach! i am starving to hear what she has to say. she is answering these old petrified questions that have sat in my psyche since my first attempts at asking Ma.
I miss Ma, but all knowledge obtained from her was through observation. She made it very clear to me the first day i started my apprenticeship she was not there to satisfy my curious mind. she was 74 years old and tired. "watch and you will learn" she'd say.
now, wisdom is pouring out like streams of long-awaited gold and i will listen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

PartI- When the spirit is stronger

Our clinical teacher sat at the head of the table, with a list of the day's patients in hand. She's a slow talker allowing us ample time to make the decisions we need.
"Room 94 is a burn patient. Who wants a burn patient?"
She scanned the table, looking at the 10 of us. We returned her look with blank stares. I wanted to want to say I'd take him but I was scared.
"90% of his body..." she mumbled.
I wasn't interested.
"Okay..." she said "moving on. We have encephalopathy in the room next door. Encephalopathy anyone?"
We aren't trying to be cruel- but if the patient's heard the way we chose them in the morning like items off a menu they may take offense. Which is exactly why we do this in private, with the door closed. It isn't mean, I remind myself, it's efficient.
"I'll take the encephalopathy." someone said.
"Okay, done." She crossed the name off the list. "Next is... multiple trauma. Anyone want a multiple trauma?"
Multiple trauma was claimed quickly.
"So about the burn patient- no one wants him?" she asked again.
One of my classmates said "I'll take him, but I'm leaving the floor early so I don't know if thats a good idea."
I sensed an internal nudge, so I went with it.
"I'll be here all day" I said "I'll take him."
"Okay Kacie, go ahead and take him."
Deep breath. What had I gotten myself into? Today was going to be difficult.
I remember going on an RV trip with my mom and dad (when they were still together), my brother and sister when we were very young. We may have taken a vacation to some theme park, or a water park, or i really don't know. All I remember from that journey was watching my mother read a newspaper article about 2 young children who got caught in a house fire. The story spread across the page with their before and after pictures. I remember standing at the foot of the RV wondering what was wrong with my mom. Maybe she had been crying? I remember her petting my soft cheeks and telling me she loved me and she was so thankful for us and our life. I asked her what was wrong but she didn't really say. I snuck in to the RV to look at what she was reading and I never forgot.
Being burned may be among one of the top most devastating injuries a human could have to endure. And hearing stories of people being burned hit me on that level where humor, peace, and fairness don't reside. This however, is not a sad story... this is a story of witnessing when the spirit is stronger than the body- a story of hope- of resilience- of beauty.

to be continued...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spending time on lock down

Excerpt #2 from Mental Health Journal

Yesterday was the most mentally intense day of my student nursing career thus far. I did not abide by the 15-minute rule and I suffered for it. I will admit that. My patient was a narcissist and had antisocial personality disorder. I had eyed his profile on the morning report sheet thinking he would provide me with an interesting day and a great starting point for my disorders analysis paper. The morning reporting nurse quoted him saying "I want to be a personal assassin and kill all the pedophiles, drug traffickers, wife-beaters, and gang members." Added to this list was a subset of individuals he wanted to take care of because of "personal" reasons; his 6 month old baby included.
So back to the 15-minute rule.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I think this rule is fabulous. It may have spared me quite a bit if I would have listened to it, including a very intense pounding headache which lasted for hours.
The day was fascinating. Communication is such a complex skill. The psych ward is filled with people whose greatest tool are their mouths; patients and providers. I can see myself watching, learning, soaking up techniques from every direction. I see the way a skilled doctor can readily release information from a person just through proper intonation. She asked him "Why?", the way a child asks a parent. This happened directly after he bragged about his marksmenship and the ex-girlfriend he was planning on killing.
I had sat with him earlier that day and heard the exact same story, told with less clarity and more anger. I didn't ask 'why'. I didn't even think of that as an option. We were probably on our 30th minute of the interview, 15 minutes gone too long for a student nurse. I didn't ask 'why' because I was working so hard on perfecting my mask-like appearance- the one that I wanted to so clearly portray as 'what-you-are-saying-is-not-affecting-me." Every look of disgust, appalling gasp, cringe, tear, or incredulous laugh I wanted to express got shoved down my throat deep deeper all the way down- away from the surface. It worked, so he continued, talking and talking about insane ideas he may one day make a reality.
But at the end of the interview, the one the doctors were conducting, a glimmer of hope sprung out of his mouth. They had asked him "We will make this very clear and we're sure you already know this. YOU ARE IN HERE FOR SAFETY REASONS."
He nodded.
"But," the male doctor continued through a very serious tone, "is there anything else you want to get out of being here?"
The patient said quietly and what appeared to be, genuinely: "Yes. I want to stop thinking like this."
It wasn't much, but it was enough hope for me to grab onto. I needed something. I am still grappling with the idea of these people who supposedly are born without souls. I don't get it. It doesn't fit very well into my idea of life, or my idea of God. It is too confusing, too big, too much for me to wrap my head around. When I was talking with the patient in the morning, when it was just him and I, he emitted a coldness that made me wonder. I listened to him explain the clothing he had picked out to assassin people in, meanwhile the thought sat heavy and motionless in my mind like a dark raincloud. Does this man have a soul?
During his afternoon interview with the doctors they were able to pull out more subjective information regarding his childhood.
Abusive deceased father- check.
Alcoholic mother- check.
Disruptive childhood and depression- check.
Cruel brothers - check.
Not many friends and a lifetime of being made fun of- check.
History of violence. none.
History of arrests. none.
Mainly, the theme that rang loudest in my ears, was his desperate desire to feel that he belonged somewhere and that he mattered. It wasn't something he was offering up; and it wasn't anything I was able to extract from him; but watching the doctors simmer down his anger and his grandiosity to a puddle of humanness was too much for me.
Again, the question haunts me. How does this happen? What are the factors involved here? Have I, in some way, contributed to someone elses state that may be similar to his? Has my meanness, my lack of insight, my insensitivity been a proponent of evil. Was the quiet homely girl in 6th grade that I teased and called "musty Misty" from a tribe similar to his? A tribe of the less fortunates. A tribe of the kicked dogs. A tribe of the silently enraged and plotting?
Wanting to kill your 6 month old baby in the gruesome way he detailed to me is a thought he will have to take 100% responsibility for. I understand this. In fact, his entire life is a life he will have to take 100% responsibility for. And for whatever genetic defects are present in him, the creator of those will handle that. That is not my business. But my business is healing, is offering the light, is suggesting the person climb up the mountain not off the cliff. I am learning. I am trying. But some days are harder than others.

Excerpt from a true teacher

Second semester of nursing school; mental health. I have been spending my time in a locked psych unit (as a student, not a patient :)). We have an assignment to journal- to process the interactions and our observations and experiences.
I am at a school that is not the most organized or efficient, but they make up for it in student support. The culture of the school allows for intimate relationships between students and teachers and I'm finding it to be incredibly helpful.

Journal #1
Teacher asks: What is one concern you have about this clinical rotation?

From the last paragraph of what I write:
I don’t like the idea of assuming what people are feeling, hearing, and seeing is “not real”. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a spiritual matter I am talking about. I often wonder about these people and the spiritual oppression or possession they may be under. I wonder how many of these people are needlessly suffering under demonic control. I wonder about freedom. What would freedom look like for each of these people? Is it always so gradual, or could it be immediate? Why would God allow a human to exist that has no conscience and then chooses to do bad things? I guess my concern is following the stories and observing the paths of which the human experience can travel down, and of knowing how I am not much different than the tortured soul in front of me.

Teacher response:
There is alot to respond to here, but the most important thing is the last part about the spiritual situation of these patients. We talked a bit about this after clinical this week, but this is what I would say to you. I don't know why a lot of bad things happen. I have seen patients that I suspected were truly evil, and I have seen plenty of suffering. Mostly there is a continuum of good to evil in all of us, and it just depends on how spiritually grounded/disctracted we are at any given moment. THe healing from addiciton, for example, has an awful lot to do with finding a spiritually grounded center again after a lot of, often, pretty bad behavior and harm to loved ones. It is a humbling journey to re-build those relationships. At the same time, I have seen deep spirituality and devotion in families despite devastation from chronic mental illness. WHy is one family strengthened and another is destroyed? It seems to me that it is in the same old spiritual path we all walk. Illness is illness. It is not the whole person or the whole story. If we can educate patients about that, then when the depression is so powerful that it feels like God is far away, maybe the person can recognize that it is the depression talking; it is not the reality that God has abandoned them. Whether you call it demons or something else, the reality is that the path back to God is a healing journey that includes spiritual care and ministering to the deep pain that we find in front of us. In the healing care we provide, God exists in us and that strength, hope, and love is what we give to our patients. There is no room for darkness in that ministering.

THat's my take on it from my own practice. We sell hope for a living, as far as I am concerned. That is of God...whole story in a nutshell. We represent the light and the truth, and the darkness doesn't hold up too well in the face of that light. I watched Star Wars on TV the other night. It's a bit like that scene where Luke confronts Vader, unwilling to accept that Vader had totally turned to the dark side. Luke's belief in the "good in him" helped Vader find that good in himself. Remember how Veder took his mask off and thanked LUke as he died renouncing the darkness? Most patients don't have it spelled out that clearly, but it's that kind of a process that we support as we help them to find their inner spiritual strngth and goodness. OUr unconditional acceptance of their value as children of God is often the vehicle for their being able to find spiritual peace.

WHy is there so much darkness? I don't know. That question is above my pay grade, and I've basically stopped asking it. I do know that this life is about growing spiritually to become more like Jesus. We are all a mess at one level or another. It is the journey towards godliness, spiritual communion with God, forgiveness of self and others, etc. that matters. You and I have been blessed with that ministry of healing. That's all I really know. I have that job, and it is a blessed thing to be doing. I sell hope, and it is my gift. I need to use that gift the best I can to serve my God. The rest is up to Him. This whole business is an act of faith. It's a great life!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For my 29th birthday my family and friends came over and we gave my front yard a make-over. We tore out weeds and piled them up, we dug out old scroungy looking plants, we clipped, we trimmed, and then... we replanted with bright orange and purple flowers everywhere! It looks beautiful and is a reflection of all the love in my life. I am truly grateful!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Second semester- I wanted to write a little more (blog-style) because it feels so good. It is that therapeutic release of my right-brained self. I am caught up in a left-brained world right now. It is very interesting- spending all of my days amidst people and institutions that are so science-oriented. Life becomes very practical, and a subculture is bred where the citizens attempt to corral everything into precision; their schedules, their futures, their questions, their answers. It is a subculture where people don't like to not have answers. I find myself staring at the gap, between what is happening and what should be the right answer, to be growing exponentially bigger. The more I learn, the more the gap widens into a great great canyon.
Last week I started to despair (a little) over this. Nursing is much more in-depth than I expected. I want to be a great nurse. I want to understand diseases and medications and interpersonal relations and laboratory results and...
I want to be a good nurse.
To keep me sane, to keep me from worrying about this and to progress me in the direction of my goals I decided it was time to buy a box of crayons and a big white sketch pad.
You will most likely not find me in front of my computer anymore studying. I will be in my backyard, laying on the grass, sketching out the clinical manifestations of liver cirrhosis (using "brown licorice" of course), or putting happy faces on the mob of friendly immune-boosting white blood cells decorating my page.
My dear friend Sophie, the doctor I met in Ghana while volunteering at the health clinic, has served as a true source of inspiration for me throughout the last 2 years of my schooling process. She hasn't said anything, or counseled me, or given me direct advice. But who she is, her energy, her drive and her perseverance have continually encouraged me in what I am doing. She made it very clear to me that most of what we get in life is because of the sacrifice and the hard work we have put in along the way.
I remember one day on a village outreach where she put her stethoscope around my neck and placed the diaphragm up against the frailest chest I had ever seen. I heard a swooshing sound. She moved the stethoscope around to different parts around the child's heart and all sounded like water flowing down a river. "He's got what you might refer to as "a hole in his heart"." The patient was tiny and wasting away. His mother sat there with a very plain, resigned look on her face. Extreme poverty, most times, squelches even hope for one's own child. But Sophie referred him to a hospital in the big city, tapped into the emergency patient funding at the clinic, and 1 open-heart surgery and a year later we visited a very vibrant, healthy, fortunate little boy.
Later we talked about her career, the satisfying aspects and the more mundane parts, the challenging times. She told me more about having dyslexia and trying to write competent doctors notes. "And school wasn't easy. but i met a really good friend, and we'd study together the way we learned best. I had to do it the way that worked best for me even if I looked silly. We would draw everything out. That's pretty much how I got through med school!"
I noticed tonight when I opened my sketch pad to study my drawings; the colors and shapes and the weird quotations popping out of body parts that i was enlivened to draw more and study more. I also saw the canyon of unknowing shrink just a tiny bit.

This is the new green, also I am quite pleased with the artichoke that finally decided to grow in my garden! I've been waiting 2 years for it!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

first semester nursing school finished!

First semester nursing school is finished. I survived. One of my classmates likened it to a a dehydrated person trying to get a drink out of a fire hydrant. You won't get nourished but you won't die. Assignments, essays, papers, nursing care plans, tests, quizzes, skills lab, caring for patients in the hospital- the load does not stop- the more you learn the more you realize you don't know anything.
That is exactly how I've felt.
Yesterday I had some extra time, extra energy, and I had no idea what to do with myself so I painted my living room lime green. I did this with one hand while I held the phone with my other and talked to my friend. She told me about her recent backpacking trip out into the middle of nowhere. I started to breathe more deeply listening to her, wishing to run off into the woods somewhere too, pitch a tent, jump in a stream, itch from being exposed to wild things like bugs and plants. But for now during 2nd semester I suppose the closest I'll get to anything green is my living room.
August a medical missions trip awaits me in Haiti...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't freak out

It's the first week of nursing school. When I hear the professors say we are "student's" I can immediately identify with that. When I hear them say we are "student nurses" I have to remind myself they are talking about us, about me. The first two days were filled with anxiety and symptoms of the flu. The office is out sick today and a lot of the students are coughing and ill. I promised myself to take the stairs but when I get to the top I can tell I'm a little sick too. Our Professor made us repeat out loud our phrase for the first week of classes- "Don't freak out". The reminder is working, along with a prayer on the way to school. God I need Your peace, thanks.
I am surprised by my response to finally getting here. I thought I'd be ecstatic, full of energy, ready to take it all in. But instead I find myself more like a nervous child peering in to the deep end of the pool, wondering if when I jump I'll come out alive.
I know I will. I have tenacity. I have passion. I love learning.
I'm not waiting to be pushed in, to flail around and splash water everywhere. I am going in headfirst any minute now.
I told my boyfriend I bought my stethoscope today. We were on the freeway and it was loud in the car. "It was $100" I noted.
"You bought soap for $100?" He asked, incredulously.
He turned and looked at me and smiled. "Ohhhhhhh. It's really happening. You are really becoming a nurse."
It seems comical that it takes a material object to help penetrate a deeper understanding of where my life is heading, however I can completely relate. Like a marathoner at the register buying her lightweight aerodynamic running shoes, or the chef-to-be purchasing his first nice knife set, these things set the mind in gear. They are tangible evidence that something big and different and exciting is going to happen. They are also tools of measurement.
The man at the store explained that the stethoscopes in his hand were expensive for a reason. (obviously) "Go ahead" he said "buy the cheaper stethoscope for 20-30 bucks and you'll be fine. But once you graduate and start making more money you'll probably come back and get this one." He held up the Litman Classic II S.E.. It wasn't the best, but it was a lot better than what I could afford, and it sang loudly of newness and promises and superiority the way coveted items usually do.
I looked at my new nursing student friend. She wanted to go for the cheapie. It was dangling off a hook and she was eyeing it with a resigned look in her eye. But I liked the idea of delivering babies as a certified nurse midwife with a well worn, well traveled, well loved Litman Classic II S.E. light blue stethoscope slung around my neck. I liked the idea of seeing it and occasionally reflecting on where we (the instrument and I) both originated from and all that it took to get us here, almost like a medical wedding ring.
At least for the next 15 months, I am heavily involved with my professional dream. But because I am already certain I want to marry it, that I want it to be a part of my life, a part of me, for the rest of my life, I charged up the $100 with a very clear picture in mind and without a hint of regret.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I was at the front of the class, lecturing about really exciting subjects like resumes and cover letters. Half of the people were engaged, and the other half needed some caffeine, sleep, or interpreters.
I also couldn't help but be distracted by the Congolese woman who cringed and gripped the the rim of her desk every few minutes. She didn't seem to be bothering anyone else, but her facial expressions looked too familiar to me.
I took her to the side and asked her what was going on. She said she was in labor but could wait until lunchtime to worry about it, she really wanted to finish her resume. I asked her how many children she has had and she said five. I politely suggested that being a grand multip and waiting any longer might not be beneficial for her or the baby, even though it would have made for an incredible story. she smiled, waited through another contraction, and told me she knew what she was doing. she'd been through this before.
I didn't see her for 2 weeks until she came in to let me know she was sorry that she didn't finish the job club training. I laughed. "I'm sure you had more important things to tend to. And any way, when DID that baby come?"
"Right after class." she said.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the next step

i start nursing school in less than a month. i am excited about this, and nervous. i have quit my job and am finishing up microbiology and organic chemistry. i have had my head in the books and have had very little time or creative energy for writing. i think about the day that i will be delivering babies as a fully trained and accredited midwife and it revs me up. i imagine myself working with women in refugee camps abroad. i imagine myself in america, in appalachia. i have never been to appalachia but i know the people there are poor, and it is rugged, and i am attracted to those things.
i originally shied away from the nurse-midwifery route because i was afraid of the prerequisites. i had avoided science and got a degree in art. then, while i was volunteering as a doula at the local hospital i had a realization. i looked around at the nurses and the doctors and the midwives in the room and i thought "what do they have that i don't?".
i am certain many of the people in that room were much smarter than i.
i am certain i was more intelligent than some of the others.
but what they all had that i didn't was grit and a period of time where they worked their (excuse my french) asses off and forfeited everything to become what they wanted to be.
i am ready for that time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We were back in the corner of my office, where no one could see us. Noor was sitting in a chair in front of my desk, as I was proofreading his resume. He was telling me stories, grand stories of his work as an interpreter with the United States Army. I had heard similar stories before, or so I thought. I nodded my head and continued to scroll my finger down the page. I was taking it in, but also, I was multitasking- so in reality I wasn't taking it ALL in.
Until he took off his shirt.
A big hairy man belly was staring me in the face. And it was decorated.
"See here?" he said, tracing a thick pink zig zag scar from his low hip diagonally across his abdomen. "And here?" He turned his back to me and pointed to 2 star-like holes. "I'm a miracle." He began laughing hard.
"Are those bullet holes???"
"Yes Miss Kacie. I was shot 5 times. See? Here, here, here and two times through my hand. Ha! Really. Straight through the front, and over my heart. But that was all on the second attack."
I put his resume down, and spent the afternoon learning more about this man who had been in my class for over 2 weeks and I apparently knew nothing about. He invited me for dinner that night, and I awkwardly ate with him the meal his wife prepared for us. Young and beautiful and painfully shy, she cowered behind a corner in the hallway and poked her head out every couple of minutes. The rice was fluffy and soft and smelled of spices. Noor brought out a stack of pictures which showed of a time where he was dressed in fatigues and strapped with an AK-47. He didn't look younger then, the war hadn't aged him the way it does some. Instead, his story, his past, his experiences, they energized him. He radiated a certain confidence that I hadn't seen in quite some time. He said he never wanted to give it up. He never wanted to stop working for the US Army. He loved it. But after his second recovery his Sergeant got him an expedited special visa and flew him and his family straight to San Diego. He told Noor, "You gotta get out of here. They're after you."
I took him to a few security agencies in attempts of finding him a job. I wrote special letters of recommendation explaining all that he had been through and how he had succeeded. But I advised him to keep his shirt down in the interviews.
That was 3 months ago, and he is still unemployed.
Today when I drove home from work I saw a teenager standing at the intersection across from my house. She had a fresh cardboard sign; "Hungry. Please help." It jostled me, seeing this young, lonely, semi-attractive girl begging. I watched her secretly count her dollar bills and then stash them away. I wondered about her, as I'm sure most people do.
Why did her situation seem more sad to me then the man I had seen that morning? Why was I so disturbed and intrigued?
I put my head out my car window. "Hey where you from?"
She turned and answered "Huh?"
"Where are you from?"
I saw her eyes and they told of her age. She looked to be about 15. They also told of something much more.
"Well, ya Florida. But I've been here since I was 13."
There is nothing more sad than a child who has lost hope.
"Why aren't you working?" I asked the loaded question, but the timing of the light forced it into superficiality.
"I've tried to find work and there aren't any jobs. I need to eat."
She had a preteen whine in her voice, like I was her parent and she was justifying herself.
"I understand." I said. The light turned green. "It's hard. But there are jobs. You will get one." I gave her an encouraging smile and drove over to my house.
When I got inside I thought about her a lot. I wondered about life, about the ingredients that can rob a person of their zeal, that can push them to scribble with a big black felt pen words of desperation for all to see.
How do people find hope? How do they lose it?
Hope isn't designed to be elusive. I think about my own depressions. I think about who and what offered me hope in those times, and surprisingly, it wasn't the grand gestures that pulled me up. It was the small doses of encouragement from oftentimes unlikely sources, at unlikely times; humans are designed to receive, and offer, encouragement. It is one of our most powerful tools.
Of course, there are people who have survived incredible odds and through that they have evolved in to very serious, very potent messages of hope. Noor is one of these people.
But then there are the rest of us, millions of us, who through small commitments and momentary decisions, also help empower and fuel the engine of humanity into beautiful places.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It isn't that easy

I am coteaching a daily job club, an employment-readiness class to about 45 refugees. Many of them are from Africa; Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan. Some of them are Burmese; Karen and Chin. And I have a handful of people from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. The group is interesting and the class is going well. My favorite times are when a job-related subject paves the way into something much deeper, something which allows for desires to be expressed and communal pains to be shared.
During the first week, my coworker, Rufael, and I decided we would start with the basics. To build a good house there must be a solid foundation, and none of my clients are going to get a job with bad breath and body odor. "This food in America" Rufael explained, "is what makes for the foul-smelling odors. I am sorry to say Kacie, we were never smelling like this in our home countries. We ate fresh. Our sweat was pure. Things were fine! But the food here? Have you read the ingredients?"
We decided a day's lesson on Hygiene was essential.
I cringed when I first saw the handouts. Rufael had come up from the copy room with stapled packets in his hand and gave them to me. They were still warm. I flipped through some of the pages, each had 3 or 4 simple childlike pictures of every day products important to health and cleanliness. The first page had a bar of soap with the caption "Soap". Underneath that was a toothbrush and toothpaste.
I figured we didn't have enough material to make it through the first hour, let alone the entire morning, but he seemed confidant so I went along with it. Secretly I was embarrassed, and I didn't want to offend the class by treating them like kindergartners.
I walked around the room and passed out the papers. People looked down and slowly read the names of the images underneath their breath.
Most of the participants of the training are not new to the U.S. They are mothers and fathers who receive welfare money and are required to complete mandatory educational hours each week to continue getting their checks. They are supposed to be building their employability skills. Most of them, I assumed, knew they should be brushing their teeth. I looked at Rufael and let the bottom corners of my mouth slack a bit. "I don't know..."
He gave me a serious nod. "Its important. Teach it."
I held the picture up for the class. "Who in here knows what this is?"
They stared at me, listless and blank.
"Oh c'mon!" I said, smiling. "Who in here knows what this is?"
I saw one of the beautiful women, who always comes to class draped in fabric with sequins and pastels, look down and smirk.
I feel so stupid, I thought.
Noor, the Afghani father of 2 who worked 5 years as an interpreter for the US Army, raised his hand. "It is soap."
"Good." I said. "And beneath that?"
Amina, an outspoken Somali woman who has a tendency to challenge even the most neutral comment shouted out "Toothbrush and toothpaste."
I told them a story about when I was living in the village in Ghana. "My roommates were all men, and they kept close watch on me. Some mornings they would go into town and buy a big batch of porridge, then bring it home before I had woken up. They'd knock on my door and ask if I wanted breakfast and I'd go out to eat with them. But before they'd serve me a bowl they'd send me to brush my teeth. They came to the conclusion that because I didn't automatically brush my teeth in the morning before breakfast, they thought I didn't brush them at all. I didn't speak enough Twi to explain to them that I brushed AFTER I ate, and they couldn't understand me when I tried to explain. It didn't make sense to them. People were supposed to brush before they ate."
The class laughed and said it was true. When you wake up in the morning, you need to brush. I told them Americans think it is best to brush after you eat, to keep your breath smelling nicely. We talked about bad breath and bad first impressions and how ultimately it could cost you a job.
Amina raised her hand. I could barely talk for more than 3 or 4 minutes before she had something very important to say.
"I don't see why it matters if you brush before or if you brush after, for us it doesn't, because we don't use toothpaste."
Some people, I'm assuming the ones who use toothpaste, laughed.
I didn't believe her, in fact, I was starting to tire of her constant challenging.
"You don't use toothpaste?"
She sneered and cocked her head to the side, without answering.
I asked again, more direct. "You don't use toothpaste?"
I couldn't get a response from her and she was visibly annoyed. I decided to move on. Rufael had included an image of mouthwash, which I don't consider a necessity but tried to briefly touch upon before Amina yelled out in an accusatory tone, "We can't afford all this! Who is going to give us this stuff? You tell us we need this but we can't afford this!"
I could feel a reaction forming and I knew it wasn't professional, so I tried to stand in silence and think of something more diplomatic to say. The class took my silence and filled in the gap. People began shouting their opinions back at Amina.
Verbal warfare had been ignited. It was like a runway of opinions each with its own accent to match. After one person had fully expressed their thoughts on her comment, the next was just around the corner waiting to be released.
I didn't try to calm anybody, or hush the class. I looked at Rufael and our eyes locked. She had hit upon a social nerve.
"How can you say 'Who is going to give us this stuff'? How can you say that?" Someone yelled from the back. People murmured in agreement and in disbelief.
The class simmered down and a hand delicately shot up. I called on the woman, a dignified intelligent lady from Eritrea who rarely spoke out. She shifted the papers on her desk in circles and took a deep breath. "You know, I don't know how people can be expecting the American government to give them everything. I had to leave my country. I believe we all had to leave our countries, because of war and because our governments could not provide the things we needed. The Americans have let us live here. They have given us safety from our wars. They have given us a lot. I do not think it is right to ask for any more. I will take what is given to me and I will work hard to be a better person."
Some people really liked what this woman had to say, and they gave heavy nods in agreement.
Amina shot back. "How many children do you have?"
"One." the woman said.
People had begun to sit back down in their chairs and turn to the front of the room. I wanted to harness the energy, the concepts, and the spectrum of feelings in the room and use them, but I wasn't sure how so I let the comments continue.
Ariel, someone who struck me as consistently jolly, asked if she could speak.
"Sure go ahead." I said.
"Every day" she started "we make a choice for this or a choice for that. When a person says they cannot buy something it is because they have chosen not to because they think it is not important. The teachers are here to tell us these things are important. The toothpaste is important. You see? The teachers are trying to help us get jobs. So maybe instead of buying new clothes you should save your money for other things."
This elicited a round of applause, and Amina sunk deeper in her chair.
Because of Amina's consistent attitude of purposefully setting up roadblocks to explain why she wouldn't or couldn't get a job I I was allowing for the continuation of an avalanche of comments which seemed to be burying her alive.
Rufael made a short speech about prioritizing needs versus wants and made note of how he himself came over as a refugee and understands their challenges. When he was finished everyone was quiet and waiting.
Far in the corner of the classroom sat a very dark, very small woman from Uganda. She spent her entire life as a secondary school teacher, yet she reminded me more of a librarian. Sort of mouseish, extremely quiet, respectful in her demeanor. She stood up slowly and unwrinkled her pant suit. "Miss Kacie, I am listening to everyone and I understand what they are saying. I also am wondering if people are understanding what Amina is saying?" She looked at Amina. "I am sorry, but I think I know the problem you are facing because I have the same problem. Can I ask you..."
"Go ahead." Amina said.
"What amount of money do you receive from welfare each month?"
"And how much is your rent?"
The teacher looked at me. "This is the problem. We come here as refugees and we are thankful to be here, but we are resettled in to poverty and it is very difficult to get out of that. Amina, how many children do you have?"
"I have the same. I am being honest when I tell you that I cannot afford toothpaste. I do make choices, but they are for example, the choice to keep my electricity on instead of brush my teeth with paste. There are many things we are grateful to know, but not all of them we can do."
I scanned the room. I saw the weary faces. Many people were relating, whether they were voicing it or not. The challenges began to rain down in front of me and the reality behind it was exhausting.
It is hard to reverse roles without an actual relevant prompt in that visualization. But imagine the difficulties you or I may have if we had to personally live through combat, watch our family die, perhaps our husbands or God-forbid our children. If you are a woman, which most of my students are, you have been most likely raped. On top of this your home is no longer safe and your neighborhood, your city, is no longer the way it used to be. You have to leave and you do not have the time, or the mind, to gather yourself together. Eventually you get sent somewhere safer, but you don't have a choice. The UNHCR has decided to send you to a country where you don't speak the language and really, you don't know anything about how to survive there. You get on the plane, you get off. You slowly learn about who to ask for what. You can survive with what is given to you. You are wounded from what you have experienced but life in this new place is not stopping for you so you drag yourself along and do your best.
I realize every person who lives as a refugee has their own unique experience. But the above scenario is not far from typical and it is important to meet people where they are at. Many issues which arise at work, from a direct perspective, can be irritating and sometimes overlooked as something less important or less severe than the issues they are truly pointing to.
Unemployment was a symptom of something much more complex.
Somebody asked me earnestly "Miss Kacie, can you please ask the city to increase the amount we receive because San Diego is an expensive place to come and live!"
I laughed a little, wishing it was that easy.
"Yes, if we could just get some more money, I think our life might be easier and we could do the things you are telling us to do and also, I think it may free our worries. Because right now, living like this, I stay up at night and think and think and think. I wonder every night how I can help my family."
"It is difficult to take the welfare money but I do not know what else to do. We have the mandatory hours to keep each week or else they stop our check. So we go to class, but also, I have 7 children and I do not have a husband. So if you can give me a job it would be better. I do not have the time to look and to go to class."
The day continued like this, where everyone began to share their stories and personal challenges. The stories were waiting to be told, one by one, and I could tell it was relieving the tense atmosphere. It elevated the level of camaraderie between the classmates, but honestly, for me, I felt like every story, every voice, each issue was a big black billowing cloud of polluted smoke, and I was suffocating.
I like injecting hope and promise and vision into dullness and apathy. But the issues my students are dealing with require a special kind of strength that is nurtured mostly by people who have been forced to develop it.
It is called, "long-suffering".
To stand in front of a class and give them words of encouragement about issues I haven't had to face seemed close to futile, and at the same time it is all I have to offer.
I do not have jobs to hand out, and I can't give money away. I can't fix people's problems. In a room where the problems grow exponentially, and in direct relation to this my utter helplessness is magnified, I am made aware of a different purpose.
I sat down at the front of the class and let go of trying to have any control or trying to be able to fix anyone's problems. I took a deep breath and I opened myself up as a conduit for all things good. I wanted to be available for God.
At the end of the day, Amina and I talked privately. She put her head down on my desk and broke down crying, wiping away the flow of tears with the long fabric of her hijab. She looked precious and sad and really really tired. And I saw that she wasn't the confrontational tough girl I had previously been interacting with, rather, a scared, brave, and uncertain mother trying to hold together the pieces of a delicate life.
When I got home from work that day, I did the most inconsequential thing, really the only thing I could think to do. I went to the corner store and bought her some toothpaste.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Mother's Love

I was sitting at a table after church, enjoying a post-sermon meal, and having fun watching the pastors son devour a chocolate chip cookie. I asked him if it was good and he said "yeah".
"How good? Like, on a scale from 1 to 10, ten being the best ever, how good?"
He had dark smudges lining the corners of his mouth. He looked up, cocked his head to the side and said "8".
"8? What would make it a 10?" I asked.
I thought he was going to say they needed to be softer, or warm, or accompanied with milk. I was sure he would, in some form, want to improve upon the cookie itself.
But without stopping to give my question a second thought he put down his dessert, looked me straight in the eye, smiled dark-teeth and all, and said "if my mom made 'em."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Midwife chronicles

A friend sent me a link to this documentary which follows the story of a midwife in Mozambique. I watched it and welled up with passion. I love midwifery. I love the strength of the women (and men) who are called in to this profession. If we could measure wisdom in years, I often think midwives may run eternal. I sometimes wonder if being given this journey is one of the best things that has, and will ever happen to me? And I look forward to all that I have to learn...

Another clip of video journalism that is much shorter than the story above, but just as powerful and full of heart is a 7-minute story about an American midwife in Malawi. It is a very sobering glimpse into the realities of childbirth in Subsaharan Africa but a video I have watched again and again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I am listing 1 place below which offers a program to sponsor a child and provide him/her with an education.

Homeless Children International is an organization I worked with in 2003, where I visited, taught, and played a lot of soccer in a Kenyan elementary school. Originally HCI-Kenya began because of 1 man who decided to reach out to the street children of Nairobi. Most of these children were addicts living in slums, and he helped them through recovery and sent them to school. I remember walking to the marketplace with an 8-year old student and she asked me if I smoked cigarettes or sniffed glue. I said no. She said, "That's good. I quit all that when I was 5."
Due to the volatile nature of recovery the man who started HCI decided to build a place far away from the city, from temptation, from gangs, from distraction. He chose the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is here where I fell in love with Africa.
Although the website is out of date and a little bit shoddy the program is alive and well and continues to grow in very creative directions. It is too bad they do not document this via the world wide web (However I do receive letters that keep me updated). There are many kids who pray daily to be sponsored (believe me I've heard the prayers!) so if you are interested, here you go...


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some thoughts on our Nieces and Nephews

I was outside of the birth clinic one evening, walking in slow circles on the lawn, drinking water and thinking in the pitch black. There weren't any laboring women inside and my room was stale with the days heat. I was staving off bedtime, when I would have to go and plop down on my old foam mattress and force a premature sleep. Nighttime in the village is severe in its presence, and somehow always happens too early and continues forever.
I walked behind the clinic, to a clearing where the moon hangs high and spills light onto the surrounding fields. It is a beautiful spot, a semi-hidden nook where a solitary evening can stay that way, where sweet echoes of 'this is my life' dance through my heart and spread a smile across my face.
But this particular evening I noticed my friend David was there, sitting with his back against the wall and his neck at a 90 degree angle, looking up at the stars. I went and sat next to him.
David had recently been hired at the clinic, overseeing administrative details and taking care of the villagers National Health Insurance paperwork. I asked him about his work, how he liked his new job. He said he loved it, he was thankful that he was able to work for Foundation Human Nature and continue aiding in the process of allowing the clinic to flourish. He was glad to be learning.
I was happy to see him there because the previous year when I had met him he was living in a very tiny village about 3 miles away from the clinic working on his family's farm and volunteering at the clinic on his days off. Sophie (the Swiss volunteer doctor) noticed his capabilities and recommended him for the position. By the time I returned he was in it.
Earning a paid position in a village is difficult but David is the type of person who seems to travel through life holding on to the tail of 1 giant miracle. The miracle has dragged him through different times all of which have proved to be a stepping stone for his next chapter.
He told me about his past, how he was educated in the next village over, in one of the wall-less, pencil-less, chair-less classrooms. Somehow, in an environment which squelched most children's ability to learn, he excelled, and he LOVED school. By the time he had made it to Secondary School (high school) his family could no longer afford to keep him enrolled, so he occasionally returned home to work in the farm and save up his pennies.
One of his uncles living in the city agreed to pay the $10 school fees and he returned. David was given a position as a precinct which also helped to alleviate some of the other costs that came up. He explained the work as "yelling and controlling hundreds of boys during mealtime in the cafeteria. But it allowed me to stay in school, so I did it."
"I can't imagine you yelling." I said, laughing. He is a soft-spoken, genteel.
"I can yell, I can make people fear me, really. If I make my face like this and say 'Hey! One serving only! Enough rice for you!'. Do you see?"
He still was not threatening but I agreed.
The longer we talked the more it began to dawn on me. I had taken my entire educational life for granted. Every school, every class, all my teachers. My books, my assignments, my choices in subjects. My learning aids, my group study, my resources. The opportunity to study abroad.
I had never ONCE thought that I was privileged to have received any of it.
I love school there is no question about that. But as an American I felt I was entitled to all of it and it sat in my hands like a fistful of sand. It was ordinary and therefore under appreciated. Many times it bordered closer to a duty than anything else.
David cradled his like a precious emerald, fending off any attempts life made at stealing it away.
He opened my eyes to this invisible gift.
The more he spoke the more I could feel my insides cringe. As if every story of every attempt he made to pursue one grade higher, every cent he pocketed from selling maize, every torn paperback textbook he wore down to the last page was held up in comparison to what I had been given.
Placed in context, in a village-setting where not much had changed since David was a child, his testimony saddened me. The fact that something as commonplace (in some parts of the US) as graduating high school was considered a MIRACLE here? Is this disparity not detestable?
And what about the other children who held just as much promise but did not have a rich Uncle. What about the other children, who thirsted for knowledge; who could be little chemists, or teachers, or lawyers, or engineers but who will never be taught to read.
Poverty is a disservice to mankind, keeping people trapped in a dimension they are born to rise above.
I would like to state here that I do not believe in a hierarchy of callings, for example that a doctor is more important or has an existence which is more valid than a farmer. Both require different forms of intelligence and both jobs play a vital role in society. However, I do not believe each individual who is born and raised in an agrarian society is optimizing their specific potential; and therefore wouldn't it be incredible if they could afford to develop in to their natural skills and abilities? Or better yet, their passions?
Which brings me around to the bigger issue here and a question I have often reflected upon... Is discovering "who you are meant to be" or "living out your purpose" a luxury sought after only by those who have the time and the means? Or is it a God-given right?
If perhaps it is a God-given right, is it my duty- your duty- our duty- to reach out and lift up and become the rich Uncle?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

To see your neighbor

I often seek to know, but will never fully understand, the lives of my clients before they boarded their plane with a ticket in hand that said "San Diego".
And that is why I love home visits. I learn so much. When I walked in to the tiny 3 bedroom apartment I bottled up my opinion that this boisterous Congolese family of 10 was going to need a bigger space. I sat on their couch and sank deep in to the cushion. Their 3 year-old daughter was in the middle of what was soon to be a 15 minute headstand. But all the other children were busy running around at high speeds, bouncing in to the walls. Their father walked over to me with a huge smile and beat his fist up against the wall.
"I like this." He said, with a proud look on his face.
"The wall?"
"Yes! The wall! My children have never had one before. We have been feeling the breeze for all of their life." Then he peered around the room and lowered himself in to a recliner, contemplating this new blessed life.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Journey from Iraq into Disneyland: Part II

After our meal Rozelyn, Nabeed, Isa and I moved to the couch to stretch out and digest. Post-dining is around the time when I begin to feel guilty, when I begin to doubt if I am a valuable employee and not just some satiety-seeking creep. But if I have learned one thing from my travels it is that America is the only place where people can eat and run and not terribly offend. So I face a dilemma, of whether to teach my lovely immigrant hosts a cultural lesson and most definitely hurt their feelings, or to spend an extra half hour and keep our relationships strong. I always choose the latter.
"Do you cook like this every day?" I asked, impressed.
Rozelyn shook her head yes, and hung her head heavy. "Every day Miss Kacie, every day."
Looking at Rozelyn can make a person tired. She is in her mid-40's, but if her hair turned gray she could pass as an 80 year old. I cannot imagine the journey she has traveled, and nor would I want to. Much of what she eludes to is too much for my imagination to bear, too graphic and disturbing that i prefer to not even write about it here. It is mankind at his worst, and these memories are seared so deeply in to the psyche that we spent only a few minutes digesting our lunch and she began again.
"You know at times Miss Kacie it became so horrible, that I tried to make a joke with some friends. They would ask me how everything is going, during the war, and I would say to them, it is just as happy as Disneyland. I no longer knew what to say, so I just said this." She laughed to herself, incredulously.
At times it is uncomfortable because I don't know what to say. I don't want to minimize her experience with filler conversation or wrong words muttered, so i try to remember in the power of stories. When a victim is given a chance to share their story, when they have reached a point when they CAN share their story, a divine work begins to happen at a deeper level. I believe they are closer to healing, to some sort of freedom, to knowing their truth whatever it may be.
So I sat and listened and a little thought began tinkering away in the back of my mind.
My sister became a manager of the busiest Jamba Juice in all of America last year. This Jamba Juice also happens to be located on Disneyland property in Anaheim, which in turn, allows for her to obtain 3 free daily passes in to the park. The tickets are meant for mostly employee related business, but with 3 a day, everyday... c'mon! My sister has a big heart and not a lot of time to spare so after a few months she had to make some rules. I backed off from asking her any Disneyland favors, not wanting to be another secret headache she said yes to.
But listening to Rozelyn speak, and holding the power to make something happen, I had to give her a call.
When I finally got back to my office I wrote her a brief email explaining their situation and asking for her magic. She wrote back and said of course. I called Rozelyn to ask if this was something she thought Isa would want to do and she gasped and said she wanted it more, but that "Of course Miss Kacie, for Isa too."
We set a date 3 months in advance, to give her time to save a little extra money (I informed her of Disneyland prices!) and frankly I thought 3 months of excited anticipation could be a healthy medicine. The night before we left I called her and asked if she was prepared. I was worried they wouldn't have enough money to buy food and she wouldn't know how to pack food to-go.
"If anyone is a professional at preparing for a day it is me." She said. "You know, when I was applying to become a refugee, do you know what I had to do? I had to travel 12 hours on a bus once a week and get in line at the UN by 4:00 in the morning. Then I would stand in line ALL day until they shut their doors. I would pack food, but once you were inside the building you could not bring your food in. Sometimes you were inside the building all day. So believe me Miss Kacie, I am very skilled at this. I will bring food tomorrow, I am finished preparing it. But even if I don't eat I am fine."
I told her to wear comfortable shoes and bring a hat and that I'd see them at 7:30 am. She hung up with power and enthusiasm.
The next morning I had a slight premonition that I should buy them a disposable camera. I wasn't planning on spoiling them, the trip up to Anaheim was as much for me as it was for them. I hadn't seen my sister in awhile. I wasn't giving them extra money or buying them souvenirs. I was just a vessel transporting them into a dream. But I wanted them to be able to capture this dream in an image, or multiple images, that would last forever. I stopped by a Rite-Aid and bought a cheap camera and some sunscreen.
When I pulled up to their complex Nabeed was waiting in the grimy parking lot smoking a cigarette. Isa came bounding from around the corner and Rozelyn scuffled after him with bags hanging from every inch of her arm. Nabeed walked over and gave me his sweet smile, along with a handshake.
"Good Morning." He said, making serious eye contact as if to thank me already.
I hurried around to the back of my car and pulled the surprise out from a plastic bag in the trunk. "I was thinking you didn't have one of these..." I held it up "...so here you go!"
Both Rozelyn and Nabeed caved in to one another and looked up at me. "OH! How wonderful, how wonderful. Oh wonderful! I sent Nabeed to every house last night asking to borrow a camera, but no one here owns a camera. Even this morning he woke up and went around looking for someones camera, just for a day. Oh you do not know how great this is, oh! Look Nabeed, look, a camera!"
He grinned and I saw where his son got the sparkly eyes.
Despite all the beauty of that morning, and when the memory of Nabeed dashing to the Chevron counter to fill up my gas tank faded, I found that I was tired and amazingly... a little bit grumpy. Rozelyn pointed out that the rolling hills north of San Diego looked very similar to the mountains in Iraq. "It snows there you know." She wanted to chat, she was excited.
As much as I've tried, I've reverted. The mornings are not my time, so I smiled and rolled down the window and tried to wake myself up. I looked back at Isa who was clueless about the day. He didn't understand the power behind the word Disneyland, I could tell because he didn't perk up or recognize it at all. The car became humid with food smells so I had to ask. "What food did you bring?"
"I cooked chicken and potatoes."
I smiled at the thought, a sit-down meal on the go.
I learned once we arrived that from my house in San Diego I take less than 3 turns to get to Disneyland and I felt foolish for not having visited sooner.
My sister met us in the employee parking lot, where she walked us through Disneyland's Downtown- an area to eat and shop before you get in to the park. She filled them up on Jamba Juice smoothies and watched Isa as his eyes illuminated each time he saw a person wearing something with Mickey Mouse embedded on it. I watched him as the contagious thrill of Disney began to infect.
She looked at me and said "He has no idea what he's in for, does he?"
I laughed and said no.
"Kace, I'm here everyday and I can't stand walking through Disneyland, but look at his face! We might have to hang out."
I didn't take my eyes off of Isa, because his joy was so pure and overspilling it filled me up. My sister was doing the same thing. We could barely talk because we were smiling so much, and laughing at the mere idea that Isa's world was about to turn 3 dimensional and begin talking back to him.
Each time we passed through a line, whether it be bag check or getting our hands stamped, I noticed Nabeed became flustered and panicked. After having spent the last few years in lines at border crossings and getting stopped by Iraqi police, in United States immigration, in airports, at the United Nations- being questioned, scrutinized, and carefully interrogated and considered, I tried to explain that there are no interviews to get in to Disneyland, you just walk through the line and go.
The day was cloudy with a slight breeze, so my sister and I decided we had enough energy to deal with it for a few hours before retreating to her house to catch-up and relax. Isa's gait had turned in to a full-blown bounce, and he suddenly perked up with a confidence I hadn't witnessed before.
I'm glad we stayed, mostly because I now have a new perspective of Disneyland. Even though many consider it to be the happiest place on earth- including Rozelyn, Nabeed, and Isa- I'm sure we could all now agree that there seems to be an awful lot of bombs.
The first ride the parents laid their eyes on were shooting rockets that peacefully glided around in a circle. Similar to the Dumbo affair, but park goers nestle themselves into a rocket instead of an elephant. I was holding Isa's hand when I looked back and saw the two of them bent over in hysterics, pointing at the "amusement".
My sister asked what was so funny and Rozelyn blurted out "In Iraq we have the real thing flying through the air!" Then Nabeed wrapped his arms around his stomach as if to hug himself to stop the laughing. I saw my sisters mind shift, a subtle awareness of a world different than what she knows. We laughed, because it was funny, even though it wasn't.
As a child I always loved Mr. Toad's wild ride so I convinced our pack to wait in the short 15 minute line and take a spin. The three of them crammed in to a cart in front of us and flew off in to the darkness of make-believe. Tess and I loaded up and just as we were going in to a dark cave-like room a fake bomb exploded and shot us around. Lights began to flash and dry ice filled up the area. I never remembered Mr. Toad's Wild Ride reenacting a war scene? Our cart sped through into another room where explosions were occurring on every side of us. I grabbed her arm and screamed out a few cuss words, dodging the figures of the exhibit stole my thoughts. What had I done? I tried to catch a glimpse of their faces as they sped by on the opposite side of the track, but all I saw was darkness. More bombs, more rattling, more disarray.
When the ride finished I jumped out and ran over to Rozelyn. She looked a bit shaken, but her husband and Isa appeared just fine. "How was that?" I asked, embarrassed at having claimed that as one of my favorite rides.
"Ahhh- it was..."
"Scary?" I asked.
"I would like to go somewhere happier than that."
My sister had ideas that ToonTown would relieve our last experience, so we trudged across the park and immediately Isa was in heaven. We walked over to all the fake cars, the bright blue cars and bright orange cars and he climbed inside and drove like a madman. ToonTown literally looks as if you just flew into your children's Saturday morning cartoon set and decided to spend the day. Isa was obsessed with the cars and Nabeed had to gently remind him that other kids were waiting. We turned the corner and laying in front of us was a fake TNT handle which supposedly linked up to the second story of the ToonTown home in front of us, where a pile of explosives is activated which causes ANOTHER explosion and the entire house to light up, shake ferociously and spit thick clouds of smoke out from up above. It came as a complete surprise, just as our nerves were settling and we all were feeling easy again. I looked at Tessa and shook my head, while Nabeed and Rozelyn ducked for cover. Isa was oblivious. I ushered them out of the area as if a true attack had just taken place and asked them if they were alright. Rozelyn laughed a true laugh and shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I was not lying when I told people Iraq is as nice as Disneyland. From all that I have seen I think they are taking their ideas from my country!"
Her husband looked fine, he was enjoying himself by watching his son's delight.
"Yes, Nabeed is not scared because we are familiar with this Miss Kacie. But here, it is not real, so it is funny. Why Americans do this for fun I do not understand, that is what is funny! Actually I am happy Miss Kacie. Did you see how Isa did not notice a thing? There are bombs all around here and he is just fine. He is doing well. I don't think his life in Iraq has done the same thing for him as it has for us. I am very happy for this, I am very glad to be here."
After this my sister and I forced them to follow us on a manic search to find the real Mickey. He was our only safe bet, unless he now stored ammo in his pockets or carried an AK47. As if a divine force had carved out the way, we quickly found Mickey's house where all visitors are welcome, there were no lines, and hugs were given freely. When Isa nuzzled his face into Mickey Mouse's stomach and stretched his arms as wide as they could go without ever making them around and wanted to refuse to let go after a few minutes of intense gripping (but has been raised with better manners than that so he didn't) I knew the trip was worth it. I never thought watching a kid hug a big fake rat could restore such peace, but it did.