Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pictures, and some musings.

Sorry for the grainy quality of these images - I had to resize and compress them to be able to upload them.

Here are the kids at the Zamani daycare. BYU students have been working with Zamani for a long time; they have helped build a couple of the buildings, and raised money last year to put another toilet in the bathroom.

Okay, I thought I had turned this picture, but evidently forgot to and now don't know how to do it on this page.
This wasa curious little girl who came in to peek at our meeting with Mama Yoyo, Zamani's director.

Zamani is in Duncan Village, one of the poorest and most dangerous townships in East London. Current townships are the remains of apartheid era squatter camps, when people were removed from their homes and forced to live in areas set aside for their particular race (Group Areas Act).

Note that almost each roof you see is a shack less than 20 foot square, usually more like ten feet square. The poverty here hadn't really hit me, until I saw a woman in town literally scoop a crust of bread out of the gutter and walk away, eating it. That same day, I came to Duncan Village - I want to express the difficult economic situation there to some degree.

A bit in the way of contrast, this was the braai (barbecue) at the Stake Father and Sons activity - the long sausages that were served are called boervoers (bo-er-vours(h))

Musings. This was a writing exercise in preparation to complete a class assignment on development and social change. I post this because I thought it might be interesting. I ought to warn: it's an experiment in sociology and Mormon doctrine, and probably includes a lot of my personal philosophy. I do not and cannot claim it as Mormon doctrine. Also - it's incomplete. I think the answer will, eventually, be simple. This is still quite muddled.
”You must widen your gaze.” What is the point of work? On what does the economic system depend? Society? Culture? In theory? On what should it depend? This is the great question of world order, the central question of the social sciences – what is the engine of the world?

"In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread, all the days of thy life.” Survival seems to be a basic thrust.

Wait – then it is dependent on the needs the Lord has placed in us. The need or desire to survive, the desire to love and be loved, the desire to become like our heavenly parents.

So, love, family, fulfilling the measure of our creation. These are the impulses that drive us. Truly, I think survival is simply a strong correlary to the other ones, but I do believe that it is subordinate.

Then fulfilling the measure of our creation, trying to gain the mind of Christ. That is what makes people move, act, be restless.

Love, then, and fulfilling our family covenants – making and keeping Gospel covenants – is indeed what impels us onward- inspires us onward.

Then, what are the prerequisites for Gospel service? For fulfilling the measure of our creation?

Mortality – a place to be tested, where we can learn and grow. The Lord has taken care of this one. Atonement – a way to be reconciled to God, after the Fall, a way to be forgiven; a way for us to gain experience, and yet be reconciled. From seminary and the Gospel, I assume then that the Creation is the remaining element – I had rolled this up into Mortality, but technically there was that physical element first, then the moral, then the spiritual.

The prerequisite conditions are then already in place. But what needs to happen in those conditions? The ground is cursed for your sake, and by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread all the days of thy life. Work- but more importantly, the exercise of agency in difficult circumstances leading to rewards in accordance with accountability (in the context of justiced and mercy). Work could probably be defined as the exercise of agency in difficult circumstances. Why? To grow, and become more like our Heavenly Father, to have joy – Men are that they might have joy, which requires agency, choice. That they might know to choose the good and reject the evil. The purpose of life then is to choose Christ; which so doing implies exercising faith, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, being endowed, being sealed in the temple for time and all eternity, and receiving all and any other ordinances the Lord would have us receive.

The point of school, then, is to teach children to choose good; to choose God. Secular schools simply seek to do so covertly, in response to some of the evils taught in apostate churches or involved in the philosophies of men.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. First, what are the prerequisites for choosing God? Life (in mortality, anyway, in this time granted for repentance), and building the kingdom – but what is building the kingdom? Building up the members and structures – no, really just the members. The ”structures” are simply patterns of member behavior; or codified patterns of member behavior. So, building up the members – no, proclaiming the gospel, redeeming the dead, and perfecting the saints. What does it mean to perfect the saints? It means to grow in Christlike attributes, I think.

Growing in Christlike attributes requires living, interacting with others, serving others, -exercising agency righteously, praying for them. It doesn't seem to require economic resources beyond simply being alive. However, living longer increases our ability to grow – it increases the number of choices we have. The quality of our lives appears to increase the degree to which we can help others to grow – it provides a security net which allows for a greater degree of mercy, I think. Mercy ultimately allows us to become what we could not otherwise become, through the Atonement, and in mortality it allows others to become what they could not otherwise become; to learn from otherwise debillitating mistakes. But this happens on an individual level – the wise stewardship of personal resources must be a key element. Gathering resources, (financial, economic, social, political, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) and then using resources for righteousness, ”while the sun shines, before the night of darkness wherein no man can work.”

Social use of resources would probably just be extensions of individual wise stewardship of resources – i.e. those who use their own resources wisely expect that of their government and society. Note that ”wisely” here does not mean ”greedily,” or miserly. Resources are meant to be used and enjoyed; the earth is here for the benefit of man. Not to be exploited – ”not by extortion or excess,” but to ”gladden the eye and enlighten the heart,” given for the benefit of man. Thinking of the earth and its riches like the rch experiences available to us in our bodies seems to be a good analogy (gratitude to Prof. Chip Oscarson for this idea) – if we treat our earth like we treat our bodies, that seems to be about right. Neither a museum piece to be kept in a glass case, nor an object to be abused, but as a temple – to be respected and enjoyed, and used. (Note: unlike a temple, or our bodies, the earth IS separate from humanity, and we are to be wise stewards or caretakers of it. Men and women are the children of God, whereas nature and the rest of creation is the workmanship of His hands – although I love nature, man is more valuable than animal. That said, the rest of creation is an essential part of our lives – subordinate, but necessary and wonderful.)

Proclaiming the Gospel requires the freedom to practice religion freely, to speak freely, the freedoms necessary to live the Gospel. Incidentally, it does not appear to require political freedom, the freedom to elect or choose leaders, although democracy seems to be conducive to the exercise and existence of religious freedoms.

Redeeming the dead requires temples; which demand a certain degree of economic wherewithal and political or social autonomy; however, again, this does not seem to need to be much beyond existence (with the Lord's blessing – see the poverty of the Saints in Kirtland and Nauvoo).

Returning to the recurring theme of all three events, the importance of being alive, the basic need is to live. Beyond that, not much else sems to be required, other than access to the Gospel – to the words of the Lord, to the doctrines of truth, and to the Lord's priesthood power here on the earth.

So, the first link in the chain is to help people stay alive. Adequate nutrition throughout life and the healthcare to extend and improve life as well become high priorities. To get nutrition and healthcare, work must be performed – crops must be planted, seeds must be harvested, meat must be butchered (vegetarians may disagree with the must, but the point remains), etc. Medicines must be produced, doctors must be trained, etc. Shelter is probably more important to health than almost anything else – warmth, sanitation, etc. Homes; houses, places of residence, etc. In economic and sociological terms, the system that supports the greatest number of individuals, then, for the longest period of time, is preferred. This priority allows for differences of opinion and differences in approach – i.e. Some believe corporate agriculture is more sustainable than local agriculture, etc. That question can best be determined by research, especially into ”basic indicators” - infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, life expectancies, etc.

This brings me to a rather startling revelation – living apparently ought to, generally be prioritized over dying with freedoms, except where living takes us farther away from God (the benefit of living being to come closer to God). This is difficult for me to reconcile. Men are that they might have joy – so which is better – a life of slavery or glorious death in a noble cause? I feel a kinship with Hamlet – whether tis nobler in the mind to bear with a sea of unending trials, or, by struggling, to end them?

Apparently, this question has a situational answer. In the Book of Mormon, one of the leaders mentions that they go to a defensive war; that if the Lord had commanded them, they would suffer themselves to be brought into bondage, but as the Lord had not commanded them and had instead commanded them to defend their wives and their children even if it required bloodshed, they went to war. I think it is also so in our own lives – sometimes He calls us to bear with our trials, and sometimes to end them, even at the risk - or cost, or sacrifice, or gift - of our own lives. The Lord will ask us to do that which will bring us and others closest to Him; but that knowledge is only truly available to God. This underlies the absolute need of revelation in our lives.

I guess the main point here is that systems that favor more people are usually preferable over systems that prefer less, assuming that they increase the ability overall of people to come unto Christ. I take great issue with rich, white Americans, or powerful minority Americans, who suggest that ”we” (the world) should stop producing so much food, to protect the environment, or whatever. Someone once admitted to me, ”Yeah, perhaps we wouldn't be able to feed as many people, but...” This strikes me as very elitist – the people who make such comments are rarely the ones who would be affected by the loss. They are not the ones who would die.

Anyway, this comes up in context of something I heard at a conference on Tuesday to prevent human traficking. ”Children's rights trump culture – culture is something that should enhance and enrich our lives, not detract from it.” I thought of how rights are culturally determined; although I agree with that position, it requires either ethnocentrism or a philosophical foundation of absolute truth/objective, non-culturally determined standards. I have attempted to demonstrate and illustrate such a philosophical foundation here, based on my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Restored to the earth by the hand of the Lord in these modern days.

With such an understanding, I reject the position that increasing standards of living (as measured in medical life expectancies, etc.) is inferior to ”cultural preservation.” Stated positively, life trumps culture. Again, drawing on something from the conference (actually, the next phrase in the previous quote) - ”and culture is always changing! It's always evolving.” I spoke with Rebecca, one of the people there with me, about it – and I came to the conclusion in the conversation that change is inevitable. The point of development or effort, or whatever, is to manage the change that happens; to make certain that the change is positive.

Critques of society, at least in Gospel terms, ought to recognize the prioritization of values in order to best help bring about the ”immortality and eternal life of man.” Perhaps this is my deep-seated objection to much of what I have read in the field of sociology. The vocabulary and mental exercises of the discipline are excellent, but I think that often, sociology is based on or used to justify a worldview rejecting God.

Similarly, critiques of development are only valid insofar as they address the imperfect (and occassionally malicious) execution of helping othe people. I reject the position that we should not strive to help others as best we know how; rather, critiques should help us better know how to help others reach or progress according to absolute goals. With a philosophical foundation allowing for objective criteria, or at least criteria that supersede culture, this is possible. I've heard of Catholic scoiology, based on Catholic doctrine. I guess that I am trying to develop a framework for Mormon sociology.

I make a bit of a mistake here - the priority is not in preserving life, but in preserving opportunities to choose righteousness, to become like our Heavenl Father.Back to the purposes and activity of life. Survival is, usually, a prerequisite of coming closer to Christ. Another activity that generally helps – well, there are a thousand things. Even surivival is not a given – sometime, we may be asked to give up our life.

It's whatever the Lord asks us to do. Hence, the need for continuing revelation, for we often do not know what is best in a given situation. Personally, and as a world – prayer and prophets, service and scriptures.

In these days, we have living prophets who lead and guide us, who help us to understand our duty. We pray to discover our individual path in that world. We follow the Lord's commands and the Savior's example, and we come closer to Christ. We fill the measure of our creation, and experience joy therein. This, truly, answers the questions of both personal and collective activity (when coupled with revelation). It is right to follow and serve the Lord, as He directs, both in our individual and social (or collective) behavior.

It's interesting – as I was wrestling with these ideas – What is the nature of the world? How am I to understand and consider the global and national systems that I study? - I listened to April General Conference in the background. As I typed and considered, the talks from the first general session described duty, responsibility, our relationship to God, and the purpose of life. I found some of the answers I was looking for in the talks playing in the background. I will conclude, as did Bishop McMullin (I believe) - ”Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes I think).

And a bonus picture for those who read through the musing: Hudson, my host family's dog.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Culture Shock

I've spent the last few days struggling with culture shock. Interestingly, I dismissed culture shock when we discussed it in class – I felt that I hadn't really experienced it while I was in Sweden, and so didn't need to worry about it for this trip either. I assumed I was one of those lucky few who adapts to new cultures without difficulty.

For reference, culture shock is the mental discomfort experienced by travelers who find themselves robbed of the cultural cues that make the world make sense. These are usually small and subconscious: the way a man looks at a woman when he wants her attention, and when he does not; the appropriate topics of conversation with new acquaintances; the implications and connotations of association with other members of society of various socio-ethno-economic backgrounds; the meaning of friendship.

Let me give an example. Solitude and quiet are both fairly standard concepts in North American / Northern European culture; we even use the expression “peace and quiet,” positively to denote a state of equilibrium, homeostasis, or rest. This is not apparently a common South African theme.

More importantly, the expectations based on that theme are not effective or useful as behavioral guides in South Africa. It is not so simple as, “Everything is the opposite of America” - rather, the pattern relies on different – unknown – logic. Hence, anxiety.

The lack of quiet particularly unnerves me. My roommate listens to music, the domestic servant leaves the television on, precisely so that it ISN'T quiet. I find it difficult to finish my notes with all of the sound, and get behind, which in turn causes further anxiety, which in turn makes it more difficult to concentrate and work. Fortunately, I have some control over this, and will work with my roommate in the future to establish a measure of silence.

Back to the past few days, I found unexpected help in one of the local families here. I was to attend a youth service with the family's Baptist church, and so Auntie and her daughter picked me up. On the way, we stopped at her brother's house for what was intended to be just a few minutes; when Auntie's brother found out that he had a guest, I was invited to join them for the poikei, and it became an evening. I sincerely hope that I haven't overstepped any bounds with this family, as they have been astoundingly generous to me with food and friendship.

Anyway, the man talked and laughed with me, and Auntie, and I again had a very good time. He mentioned specifically how, when you travel, you go through some rough adjustment (he is quite the traveler himself), and he offered his friendship when things were a little tougher than usual.

His timing was impeccable, as things were tougher just then. I had considered not going to the services that evening as I was not feeling well. I knew my illness was from mental stress – culture shock – not physical ailment, so I went anyway, but it was a tough day.

The man's conversation and offer of help had two important effects. First, it legitimized my struggles. I was, and am, neither weird nor weak for experiencing some discomfort in adjusting to a new culture. Also, it was not offensive for me to have some difficulty adjusting. I have some wiggle room; some room to be human and to succeed and fail. Second, it reinforced the idea that I am not alone in my time here, and it is nice to have someone else to turn to.

Advance the clock to Saturday. I attended a stake father and sons' activity here, which consisted of sports, and a scripture quiz period, and food. It was great to spend the morning and early afternoon with fellow priesthood brethren; however, these interactions did not entirely allay my feelings of discomfort and unease. To some degree, I was less comfortable after the activity than before; the common doctrine was comforting, but the differences in approach, sporting rules, and social interaction were a little disconcerting.

What really helped was kneeling down in prayer. There, I felt, strangely, that I ought to watch a particular movie I brought with me. This struck me as odd, as part of my anxiety came from the fact that I was (and am) almost a week behind in my field notes – roughly thirty five pages of writing that I need to finish very quickly. Prayer did not remove my anxiety - I still bore a painful weight at the back of my mind – but I had an idea of what to do.

In following the prompting to pray, I discovered that my computer had viruses and needed to be cleaned, which took almost an hour; in that time, I re-read the article on culture shock we had discussed in the prep class. Rereading the article further legitimized my difficulty; the article listed several of my feelings as symptoms of culture shock, and identified some of my specific concerns as normal and temporary. The assurance that these struggles are only temporary was particularly important – this will not be a miserable experience, I will be able to get my work done, and I will be able to fully appreciate my time here.

Somewhat reassured and calmed, I sat back to watch “Master and Commander.” It's my favorite movie, or at worst in my top three, and so for me, watching it was a delight. When I first wrote this blog entry, I described the movie as “reaffirming my cultural knowledge” and “speaking to my artistic and cultural ideals.” Although that is correct, let me cut the jargon. The movie depicts men behaving with valor in extreme circumstances. It displays and glorifies bravery, loyalty, courage, and friendship. There is very little moral ambiguity in the film, and the questions of morality brought up are discussed in acceptable terms. If any anthropologists are reading this, refer back to my previous terms. I found the film inspiring; I always do, in fact.

The film also provided me with my favorite piece of music – Bach's Prelude to the first Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in G major. The music itself brings peace to my soul. Together, the music and movie were precisely therapeutic and brought me through the mental test I was experiencing. The tumult in my mind was stilled. Although I still experience frustrations, those frustrations are no longer accumulating.

The theme of this week, then, is simply that prayer works, and that living in a new place isn't always easy. Pray for help, do what you feel inspired to do, and you'll get what you need, and don't worry about discouragements that come.

Note: I apologize for the lack of pictures today. I missed loading them on my flsh drive somehow, so I will try and do that tomorrow instead. Expect another, picture-only post or edit from me here in the very near future.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Joy of Africa

Late post, due to internet irregularities. Another post coming soon.

I've been here for a week now, and the growing impression I get from Africa is that people are loving. When I first stepped off of the plane, I was excited and very tired, but I really had no idea what to expect. I was picked up by my facilitator Macrae and roommate Brandon; after the long plane ride, their enthusiasm and friendliness seemed far greater than I expected of them. I was surprised by how happy they were. I think that reception, coupled with friendly fellow-flyers in the Johannesberg and East London airports, and kind and curious South Africans sitting next to me on the plane rides there set the tone for my stay here.

I don't mean to exaggerate – my first few days were very difficult. Apart from the utter exhaustion I felt the first day, and by the end of the second, third, and fourth days, during the first two days I really struggled with small offenses. Little comments from the people in my group came across as insults, and my personal cultural mistakes weighed on me like unresolved guilt. This has been my culture shock thus far – it required a lot of personal prayer and rest to overcome it, and to come to peace with my cultural mistakes. Such as they were! I'm sure there are more, and worse, to come – the worst I've done thus far is to mess up the counting in a taxi and get a woman frustrated at me.

That experience too, though, illustrates the love I see in these people. The woman to my left took the collected change from me, counted it out, and supplied some of her own bills in order to make the change work appropriately. After I thanked her for her help, she waited for Brandon and me when we got out in order to warn us to “watch [your] bags – there are a lot of totsis (gangsters) here.” ****

Similarly, on one of the days I was in a dark funk concerning one of the members of our group, one of the taxi conductors recognized me from the day before, and greeted me with, “Hey, my cousin! Long time no see, eh?” and joked around with me. It turned around my whole day. Another example – my hostess invited us to join a family party for her son's fifteenth birthday. There, she stated that the party had two purposes: first, to celebrate her son's birthday, and second to introduce two new additions to the family. I was floored. In the course of the party, and since, she has made it a point to encourage us to become like part of the family.

In the days following my bout with culture shock, things have only gotten better. During that first family party, Brandon and I were invited to a school soccer and dance festival by my hostess' brother, who is a principal. We went there, and Brandon, who is a great break-dancer, performed his routine. The children at the school came up to talk to us, and invited us to perform with them in a little exhibition later – I was roped into it as well, actually. My performance was certainly the least of the group and a little embarrassing, but the kids cheered anyway. The principal treated us like kings, and had food brought in for us, and drinks, and saw to it that we were enjoying ourselves. All for two crazy strangers from America!

Yesterday, we were invited to a coloured family party, called a poikei (“poy-key,” and I'm not sure of the spelling). Here, coloured means of mixed black and white descent – its not a slur at all, but simply the correct appellation for a particular ethnic group.

A poikei is a barbecue/stew party, with a big black cast iron pot with chicken, vegetables, and a type of curry gravy (There's a non-curry variety as well). The whole thing is served on a plate, and then eaten with hands and bread. It's amazingly delicious, and very reminiscent of fufu. (The similarity to fufu was a pleasure in and of itself; I asked and discovered that there IS a South African variety based on corn, and the Aunti (the coloured woman who invited us over) offered to get me a recipe or make it for me sometime while we're here. Aunti gave us a tomato and onion gravy dish with boervoers (classic Afrikaaner sausage) too, just so we could try it out (it's eaten with hands as well). The whole event was very informal and very friendly – the kids in the family were singing and dancing, and when it was revealed that I used to sing, I was asked to stand up and perform. Brandon was asked to breakdance, and the other kids break-danced (broke-dance? Did break-dance?) with him. Laughingly, the children helped us learn Afrikaans, and Rebecca and I taught them phrases from Swedish, which they had fun wrapping their mouths around. Everyone greeted us warmly, joked and laughed with us, danced with us, and generally made us to feel truly like part of the group. All of this relationship built on Macrae's good relationship with the family from last summer, of course, but there were no barriers in our interaction. All of us were woven into the family party, welcomed and loved as if we'd known them all for years.

One note here: coloured people dance! Brandon break dances, and I dance if there's music. After I got out of my shell and got used to the party, we went into the living room and started dancing. Really, we joined the kids (one about ten, one girl about three, and then about fifteen between the ages of fifteen and nineteen) (not all sons and daughters, but all relatives and friends) already dancing. Heather taught one of the sons, (who had been only half-jokingly hitting on her the whole evening) how to waltz, and Heather and I tried to teach everyone how to swing. We were only partially effective as teachers – I don't know if we got the pretzel across this time – but everyone had fun. Not everyone danced right by the speakers- rather, everyone was dancing through the house – but the dancing right by the speakers went on for a long time. That was the same at the school we visited – whenever there was a lull in the soccer (football here) games, or even when there wasn't! - people were dancing to the music.

Maybe that's a better word for the feeling. There's a lot of love here as well, but I stand by the title of this post. It's the joy of Africa – infectious, social, vibrant, alive.

That joy doens't have to be irreverent, either. The members who prayed in Church yesterday prayed beautifully, personally. In the prayers opening and closing meetings even, the speakers poured out their hearts to God. This is hard to explain – the prayers were not inappropriately personal, but were uttered in the spirit of love and worship. It's not just a cultural issue either – I've heard prayers that were more and less sincere from Africans before – but the spirit of the prayers given was inspiring.

It strikes me that this is not a place of loneliness. People here are together with each other, or they are together with God. Or both.

I like it here.

****(Perhaps some explanation is necessary – everyone gets into large combis (15-16 passenger vans) that travel regular routes. Sometimes there's a driver and conductor, other times just a driver. Everyone knows the rates for travel around town, so each person gets in and then passes their money forward, saying “one,” or “two” or however many passengers they're paying for. Those in the front, or the conductor, work out the different amounts and make change, and then pass it back, sometimes saying “one at twenty,” or “two at fifty” depending on the number of passengers paid for and the bill provided. I sat in the front on that occasion, so everyone passed their bills up to me.)

This is my first step in Africa - where my foot first touched African soil. Er, cement. Ground. - It was kind of a rush, actually.

This is my roommate Brandon, a poli-sci researcher and break dancer. Here he is doing windmills. The kids loved it, and a second group broke out windmills and flares too.

Here are the kids, dancing. More kids later came onto the pitch, and danced. :-)

Here are Janie and Rohilo practicing the Swing moves we taught them. They did really well, but got a little tangled in the pretzel.

And here is J'lill (Jalill or Jalleel) and I making strange faces for the camera. Jalill was the one hitting on each of the girls in our group during the party.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

There we go...

Up, up, and away!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Preparations - Long post

Well, two more days, and then I awaken for a plane ride. (I'm not sure about that last sentence. To awaken is intransitive in Swedish - how is it in English? Maybe the present tense is awake. Yes, that sounds better. I awake for a plane ride)

I have been preparing. Apart from studying a little Xhosa, (Oi, what mixed up language I will have in three months or a year!) I spent today packing a suitcase, which I believe will be able to hold all of my possessions for up to a year. I have to give a lot - all - of the credit for this accomplishment to my mother, who is blessed with the ability to warp space inside suitcases.

I've spent the last two weeks reading a text for my sociology course (Development and Social Change, or "Why the author thinks you should be angry with America." But some of the critiques are well-founded), getting vaccinations, buying malaria medication (thank heavens for local grocery stores that give 11 months of malaria medication for $27!) setting my finances in order, and so forth.

The most important preparations I have undertaken, though, have nothing to do with travel at all. These past two weeks have been so much slower than my previous thirty, even with travel preparations. I have had time to sleep, to relax, and most importantly, to study and think.

Pondering has yielded rich rewards. Gordian knots I had thought impervious to steel have obediently unwound themselves. I don't doubt the general course of the past year - it has been better and more intense than many other years put together - but I feel I am through it now, and ready to begin another. In the past two weeks, my unanswered questions have been answered; the wounds of my soul have been salved, my mind has been set at rest. The benefit of pondering has been illumination.

Take a scholarship application, for example. I was surprised today to find that I could articulate my goals cohesively. I know what I want to do; I feel I understand my spiritual responsibility in my career, and I believe I have several appropriate ways to enter the field. Here's a short excerpt from the essay I'm submitting tomorrow:

I plan to establish and improve systems of education around the world; specifically, I want to work with Muslim communities around the world and establish schools that encourage children to practice a non-violent form of Islam. If I am able, I will work with the Chinese government to establish culturally appropriate schools for Uygur populations in western China. Alternatively, I will work with the Indonesian government and USAID to establish schools promoting moderate Islam in rural areas of Indonesia. ...
Personally, my experiences living abroad have expanded my perspective on morality, on ethical behavior, and on friendship. Exposure to multiple cultures and lifestyles has helped me to become a better person; most importantly, such experiences have informed and enhanced my religious belief and behavior. I feel that international experiences have helped me to draw closer to my God, and to better understand His divine influence in my life and in society at large. That increased understanding, in turn, has given me a greater interest in education globally. I believe that I have a religious duty to serve my fellowman, and I feel that my personal calling is to serve through the international development of education. Therefore, my interest in international affairs and global issues is centered on the development of education and is tied very directly to my faith and to the performance of my duty to Deity. ...

I intend to encourage cultural understanding and personal development through my academic and professional career. Through that increased understanding, I intend to invite peace in volatile regions of the world. I plan to develop working relationships of trust and understanding with leaders of communities and governments; through such understanding, I hope ultimately to help prepare the way for individuals to receive the blessings of the Gospel.

I could not have written that a year ago. I didn't have the vision of it.

Another example:
I recently read Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. Apart from being a personal hero, I think that Mr. Mortenson is the closest example I have of what to expect in my life. A good friend and mentor challenged my plan for the future; he counseled that I will want a different set of plans when I have a family. I already knew that this was my calling, but the book opened my eyes to how my family life will likely be. Though it is not ideal for everyone, I know that it will be ok for me. Indeed, I believe that this career is what the Lord would have me do, so this arrangement will be ideal for me. Another friend reminded me, after I had come home - If you're where the Lord wants you to be, that's the safest (and I'll amend that to best) spot for you to be. She's right!

Best of all has been this realization: all of my experiences of the past year, when I have done right, have helped prepare me for the adventure I embark on now. I feel no fear, only a low and growing excitement. I intend to come back better than I am, and I feel that this truly is the beginning of greater things to come.

We shall see!

"And so came the dawn, like a page turning on a new day. He looked to the East and saw only light. He looked in his heart and felt only happiness" - Songs at Daybreak, Michael Taylor

As a test, I'm also including here some pictures from the past little while. These are random; again, this is only a test.

Me, fresh off the plane coming home

Sailing with my little brother. Afterwards, I went out on my own in a little boat with black sails, and managed to capsize the thing twice. Fortunately, I also managed to right the boat twice. :-D

At a young men's activity on international cooking, I taught the young men how to make fufu and egusi soup; I learned on my mission from some wonderful Nigerian and Ghanaian friends.

This is me, demonstrating how to eat the soup. Take a lump of the fufu, roll it into a ball with the hand you're holding it, put an indentation into it using your thumb, and then use it to scoop your soup. It's a manly thing in Nigeria to just swallow the thing whole without chewing (you leave the meat in the soup until the end and eat it separately, so you don't choke); the bigger the piece, the more manly. Of course, I had to demonstrate. :-D The young men loved it, and fortunately, we didn't have to perform the Heimlich on any of them. :-D

Here's the egusi soup, in a slightly out-of-focus picture

And, the audience feedback. (One of the young women stopped by as well) I would suspect they were just being nice, but they all had a lot of fun eating it, and a good number asked me for the recipe.