Saturday, May 12, 2012

How to tell...

Thank God I've already told you some of my stories here, but there are so many more to tell and so many more people I hope will want to listen.  However, when I get home, I fear I'll be asked so many questions that all I'll be able to do is look with a blank stare and say, "I don't know."

My mom told me that lots of people want me to come speak about my experiences. I expected that. I look forward to it. I dread it. Yes, I know I've just contradicted myself.

Here's the deal: I am pretty good at sharing stories, at least in writing. I can't speak a story nearly as well as I can write one.  I am also not good at reciting the cold hard facts: statistics, figures, dates. This has become increasingly clear as I've been around people who are good at remembering such things or who want to know them.  This is clear when I read my guidebook and promptly forget what I've just read. On top of this deficit, I have not done a great job in keeping notes about everything I've seen, heard, experienced...

I know the "objective" facts are important (of course, the "facts" may change depending on who's reporting them; so much for objective), but I don't care about them as much as I care about the stories behind them and here's why:  I think sometimes people get so focused on the numbers that they...we...forget that each of those facts and statistics is a person, an animal, a tree, a life-giving water source, or something else real, tangible, beautiful in its own unique way.

I like to focus on the small pictures, sometimes to the detriment of the larger one... I want to see the reality of one or two, to feel the reality as well as I can when I'm not living it myself.  At the same time, sometimes the reality is so awful that I want to put my hands over my ears, close my eyes, and scream. Even when I witness or hear about some horrors, I find them hard to believe... I hope my accounts will feel real to whoever chooses to listen, because some stories are begging to be told.

I hope my audience is as concerned with the stories, the real ones about real people, as I am. I fear some will only want to know the easy stuff: the cities, monuments, and museums I've visited, the foods I've tried, the souvenirs I've bought. While it will be nice to share those things, I have to admit, they're not the stories I'm most eager to tell. I want to show people (you?) pictures of my seventh graders, the ones who learned the words to "Siyahamba" and then created their own version of it for my going away. I want you to see the dry rivers we crossed over, the ones that were dry even after a good rainy season. I want to tell you about my "man class" and my teens who are struggling to find their place in the world, all of whom continue to shower me with love, despite our increasing physical distance.  I want to tell you about checkpoints (a blog about which has been months in the making and still isn't quite right) and protests. Most of what I want to share is not the easy stuff, but it's the stuff that matters.

The first challenge  in preparing my presentations will be this: to  use the small pictures to exemplify the big picture, trying to make clear complexities I'm not even sure I fully understand.

There is so much I didn't learn, so much I may have seen and not fully understood or absorbed, so much more to know... As I think about trying to put these months into concise informative presentations, I fear that I will disappoint by not being able to answer questions, disappoint by not focusing on what others want to know, disappoint because this journey was so deeply personal that I can't possibly make an "objective" presentation, disappoint because the lessons I learned were not the ones I was "supposed to" learn.

As I think about the lessons I've learned, some are laughable in their simplicity.  Make my bed (This won't make the cut for any presentations). Conserve water (a lesson I find easy to forget when I don't face its immediate repercussions). Share (still learning to live it). Let the little things go (a lesson I needed to be reminded of just today when my perfect equilibrium was upset over a few Euros on a restaurant bill). Sure, there are many others. They're still unfolding.  I hope I'll find the words to express them. I'm struggling right now to do so.  I hope I will not disappoint you with what I have to share. All I can say is I've done my best to soak in what I could. I'll do my best to pour it out, too. 


  1. Cory, I've loved your posts--and a comment I must make on this one is that after living in Europe for three years and in Saudi for two---and lots of just visiting world places in between---the only important stories people continually want to hear, after all this time and even right after, are the personal ones. The "little" things that touched my heart---My impressions. The guide books have done the rest.

    Political statements run in the media of all countries will prompt questions from folks and they will want you to be on their side---no matter what "side" they are on. My opinion after living with those on all sides is that I must present humanity that only I experienced. Judgements are left to God. People are fascinated with those personal experiences and they can put them into their own frame of references in the freedom we are so blessed with.

    For me, your travels have been a reminiscing of all of mine----and I've enjoyed going along with you. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you, Carol, for reading, for joining me on the journey, and for your comment.