I’m currently listening to my United Pursuit playlist (one of my favorite bands), still in my jammies. It’s a lazy morning, which gives me a great opportunity to get some writing done!
I cannot tell you how life-giving this past week has been! Both Liasor and I were fighting some serious jet-lag (which was only intensified by all the flight delays during our journey last week), but I think we are finally becoming somewhat acclimatized. We’ve been getting loads of rest, and we’ve been venturing out into the city of Oxford more and more. And oh yeah, major update: we finally got our luggage last Thursday! What a relief because we were starting to get really creative with outfits and laundry.
Since last post, we have a few more wonderful updates:
Firstly, I am now working too! I know what you’re thinking: Last post I mentioned that I needed a break from the full-time work routine after feeling run-down. What happened to that, right? Well, that’s still the same. No full-time work here. But I’ve been blessed with the most incredible arrangement. Let me explain...
This past week, I’ve been accompanying Liasor to Wendy Jame's house (Wendy is the scholar and friend who has arranged for Liasor's summer work). I mentioned in my last post that Liasor is helping to sort out some old archives and recordings which shed light on the history of the Uduk people. Much of the material comes from Wendy's earlier work as an anthropologist in the southern Blue Nile region along the Sudan/Ethiopian border. Each weekday evening, she and Liasor review the transcriptions and translations that he is working on and they discuss edits, working hours, and new developments. I have been tagging along, trying to absorb some of the material and the language. Some of the recordings are very light-hearted and include music and songs. Others are full of heavier content, describing the horrors of war, displacement, and loss of life. I have been humbled hearing stories about the Uduk people through their many movements and this has been an opportunity for me to learn a lot. At the beginning of last week I began to feel like there's still so much I need to learn and I wasn’t sure where to start. Maybe Wendy sensed that, because she unexpectedly suggested a wonderful proposition. She asked if she could hire me as well to type up her handwritten field notes from over the years (the ones in English of course) and help transcribe some of her recordings that were conducted in English. I told her I would be more than happy to help. This will give me the opportunity to learn more about the discussions she and Liasor are having and be a more active part of our meetings. I’m truly honored to do this. I’m planning to spend a couple hours each weekday on this work.
Wendy James also gifted me with each of the books she has written regarding the Uduk people, which include excerpts from the stories that Liasor is translating, provide details on a lot of Uduk history and culture, and trace the more than 20 years of the Uduk people's displacement and movement from one place to another. She also gifted me with recordings of the Uduk Primer language books being read aloud, the same ones I started studying last summer with my two T’wampa teachers in Doro Refugee Camp. So not only can I continue to go through the language books to learn T'wampa, but I can listen to them on audio over and over, to help with pronunciation. I’m happy and humbled to not only be able to follow along with the work Liasor is doing, and discuss it with him and Wendy, but to also receive some great resources to learn more.
Being a part of this work is also important because I know these stories mean a lot to Liasor and to his family - to our family. Only through reflecting now am I seeing that the Lord has given me incredible opportunities to learn more deeply about the Uduk culture, first through becoming a part of Liasor’s family over these past 5 years, then getting to live with his extended family in Doro Camp last summer, and now through being a part of this project which gives me access and a deeper understanding of Uduk history. This work is also helpful to us as we think about strategic plans for Uduk Hope Inc. And in everything, I've found plenty of time for my personal projects, time to explore the city, and time to think.
This work has also increased my desire to do a personal ancestry study for my side of the family. I had wanted to do this for years, but after our visit to the National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. last week I was given resources from the museum's ancestry library to do a deeper search. So that might be another project I start over these next few months.
Outside of work, Wendy took us on a great tour of the city center of Oxford on Saturday to see the grand span of spires and university buildings, hear some of the city’s history, and to note some shops and cafes worth visiting. It felt great to finally make it to the city center! She also drove us to Kidlington, a suburb of Oxford to see where things are situated. It was a lovely morning tour, besides the swarms of tourists in the city center (at one point Liasor and I got out of the car and were engulfed in a group of tween study abroad students from somewhere in the E.U.). It was actually kind of frightening haha. Yesterday evening, Liasor and I ventured back out to the center city when it was much calmer, and we got a few great photos.
Liasor and I have begun to find a rhythm of life in the city and we’ve tried a couple of great local restaurants and have visited a couple grocery stores to find our favorite. We also created a working budget (our Faith and Finance class would be so proud). Now the key is to stick to it. I’ve been cooking a little bit more, but I've also been enjoying some wonderful pre-prepared meals from our local grocery store that just need to be popped in the oven. Sing praises! And they’re actually tasty and filling for Liasor, hallelujah! I’m still working on my cooking repertoire. I think I’m a decent cook with a couple killer recipes up my sleeve, but I’m not super consistent in feeling motivated to cook. I’m working on that. Liasor is a great cook in my opinion, but he doesn’t enjoy cooking either. So we just kind of take turns and that seems to be working for now. But these pre-prepared meals have freed us up for some good productive work time and a couple Netflix binges. One of my favorite shows just dropped a full season on Netflix, and Liasor has notified me that Game of Thrones just came out again last night on HBO so I may have to start watching too if I still want to hang out with him on Sunday nights/Monday mornings. And also Ed Sheeran is in the new season, and he's been one of my favorite singers since 2012, so that's incentive.
I’m also excited because I think we may have found a church to attend. A couple months ago, I researched a church called Trinity Church Oxford; it’s a Gospel-centered community that's a part of the City to City Europe network (which is connected to the Redeemer City to City network started by NYC Pastor Tim Keller). We tried to go to the evening service yesterday, but no one was there and the church building was locked. I'm guessing that they only have evening services during the school term when the university is in session. So we'll have to try again next week in the morning time. I’m excited to visit and hopefully develop a church community away from home.
I’ve been doing my own personal bible study, and the following verse has been on my heart lately:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Whether helping to restore someone lost in their own follies and mistakes or supporting someone who has experienced a lot of external pain, how do we carry each other’s burdens? This hit home for me because quite a few people in my life have experienced a lot of pain and suffering recently, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I can comfort them and love them well. There’s no singular answer, so even amidst this great time in Oxford, I’m praying to learn how to shoulder my friends’ and family’s burdens as they have done for me countless times. Please say a special prayer for our Uduk family members in South Sudan. I mentioned in my last post that violence recently hit Doro Camp and the immediate surroundings, and the results of that violence have caused our family great pain and a weighty burden. We’re hoping for changes in that area and for peace for the people.
Life is full of hills and valleys, as our new favorite song describes so well (see the links below), but we believe next week will bring some more joyful moments. We’ll get to meet a visiting scholar coming into town to see Wendy, and then my birthday is on Wednesday (#26!). Wendy is giving us that day off so I have to figure out what I want to do for my birthday. At our wedding back in April, we had a date jar where guests could write fun date ideas on popsicle sticks. We couldn’t bring the jar with us on this trip, but we grabbed a handful of the popsicle sticks to get started with all the cool suggestions. I may have to consult them for birthday ideas.
We also found a fitness center that is within walking distance from us, so we’re looking to join this evening and I’m planing to attend a lyrical hip hop class a little further out in the city tomorrow. Can’t wait! So there are quite a few things to be joyful about and look forward to.
You've heard a lot from me this week, but next week Liasor will share some of his thoughts on our time in Oxford, the work he is doing, and the things that have been going on regarding family and friends. Stay on the lookout for that.
Thank you again for your prayers and for thinking of us!
Our summer 2017 journey has finally begun! We are currently in Oxford, England after a long whirlwind journey. We will be in Oxford for the next three months, then (newest development!) we will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for an additional 2.5 months.
Our journey started a couple weeks ago when we left our jobs for the time being, packed up all our belongings and put them into storage, and left Rochester with two suitcases each and a personal item. As much as we love home, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for another adventure now that it has come our way. I'm excited to live more simply with less possessions over the next few months (although there are quite a few wedding gifts I'm excited to reunite with when we return).
Our plans in England:
Like I mentioned, we will be living in Oxford, England for three months. My husband Liasor (it feels great to say my husband! #newlyweds) will be working on a translation project for an anthropology professor emeritus of the University of Oxford who is also a family friend. She lived for many years with the Uduk people of Sudan (which is the group Liasor is a part of) and she collected many stories and oral histories. Her recordings describe the daily life, history, and culture of the Uduk people. Liasor will be translating these recordings from T'wampa (the Uduk language) to English. These recordings date from the 1960s to the early 2000s and cover narratives from before, during, and after the Sudanese Civil War, describing life at home in the Blue Nile region and life displaced. Liasor has already been translating some of these recordings remotely, but this summer we're excited that he can work on this project full time.
My plan is to rest! I applied for a few jobs in Oxford because I initially wanted to work too. I was accepted to one position as an English as a Second Language teacher for international teens studying in Oxford, but the organization wasn't able to provide me with the necessary work visa sponsorship that I need to legally work in the U.K. So for now I will be focusing on some personal passion projects (like blogging, language learning, editing our wedding video, and strategic planning for Uduk Hope Inc. which is an organization that I help Liasor lead that focuses on supporting refugees in East Africa). I also downloaded a list of diverse dance classes around Oxford and I'm so excited to potentially start dancing again. For those who don't know, dancing is a primary passion of mine that I've somewhat neglected this past year. I'm also hoping to learn more about cooking, meal planning, and budgeting since we'll be living much more modestly without me working.
It's actually quite freeing to take a break from full-time work. It'll give me the opportunity to assess where I want to go next professionally. If you read any of my blog posts from last summer (when we were living in Doro Refugee Camp in South Sudan) I was so excited to have left the stress of grad school at that time and move at a slower, more life-giving pace. I wanted that climate of reduced stress to continue when we moved to Rochester. However, this past year in Rochester was far from restful, to say the least! I'm thankful for all of the learning experiences I had while teaching full-time this year and the logistical management that wedding planning taught me, but I am beyond exhausted mentally and physically, and there are so many things that make me uniquely Christine that I haven't invested in recently. So perhaps God has a plan for this period of time without a job, because I have a tendency to be an anxious, stress-prone workaholic. And that's not healthy. This past year I feel like I experienced panic attacks and high stress situations continuously amidst so much work, lack of clarity professionally, wedding planning and transition, and my whole being screamed for rest. Well, I believe rest has finally come in the form of a new adventure. What a paradoxical beauty, finding rest in adventure. And what a gift, because the Lord knows how much I love adventures, traveling, and languages! (Speaking of languages, I'm hoping to listen along while Liasor does some of his translations so I can learn more T'wampa. Fingers crossed!)
I want to focus on being present, growing spiritually, reflecting on this past year, and giving up streams of thankfulness because God has been good in our lives even at our hardest moments and even in the midst of tragic news regarding our family in Doro Refugee Camp. It would behoove us to pray and to seek God as we think of ways to be of support to them and others in Doro where violence has recently hit. Which leads me to...
Our plans in Ethiopia:
In October we'll leave Oxford and fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I'm super excited because it's been a long-term dream of mine to visit Ethiopia. Until a couple weeks ago, it didn't look like traveling to Addis after Oxford would even be feasible due to finances and logistics. However, thanks to an incredible gift from a close friend, we are now definitely traveling to Ethiopia, and we won't just be passing through but staying from October to mid-December. Liasor and I are humbled by this gift and opportunity. The purpose of our time there is to make some strategic connections and partnerships on behalf of Uduk Hope Inc. For those not familiar, Uduk Hope is an organization started by Uduk members in Rochester, New York who desire to mitigate the challenges that their loved ones face in refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia. Liasor is currently running the organization and I help to support by serving on the Board of Directors. Last summer, we spent six weeks in Doro Refugee Camp visiting family and completing research to determine the organizational strategy of Uduk Hope. Since then, we have synthesized a lot of the research and have been meeting with a social entrepreneurship institute in Rochester to help us further develop and design the organizational scope and makeup of Uduk Hope. We currently have a few programs in operation that focus on needs that were expressed during our summer 2016 research. But now we are continuing to refine and design Uduk Hope, and this trip to Ethiopia will greatly help with that. Our goal is to develop partnerships with a few key organizations and institutions in the area and to do a lot of strategic planning. We will not be returning to Doro Refugee Camp or South Sudan at all during this trip, because there is too much unrest and insecurity. We'll primarily stay in Addis, the capital of Ethiopia. Please be praying for our connections and meetings, and for a smooth trip.
The highs and the lows of traveling:
Once we left Rochester in June, we traveled to Cleveland to visit family for a couple days. It was super nice to see everyone in Cleveland and spend a lot of quality time together. Then we flew to New York City after long delays in the Cleveland airport. We arrived in NYC tired and exhausted, only to rise early the following morning for a day-trip to Washington D.C. to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture with friends for the 4th of July. It was a wonderful experience that would require an entire separate post to fully describe. What a great museum; I highly recommend it to everyone. We'll have to go back because we were only able to see a portion of the exhibits. We spent a couple more days in NYC then we took off for London with a layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. Our flight from New York to Iceland was delayed by four hours, and two of those hours were spent sitting in an unmoving airplane waiting for a long line of other planes to take off. So we ended up in Reykjavik, Iceland later and longer than we expected, because our connecting flight had already left by the time we arrived. We were rerouted to a new flight, but when we finally flew into London, we found out that the airline left our checked bags back in Iceland! We were told that our bags will be shipped to us in the next couple days so please be praying for that. We were already sufficiently stressed, and then it took us a while to figure out how to get to Oxford from London because we arrived late at night and the bus we needed was no longer running. In the end we decided to take a taxi to Oxford.
Finally, after so much movement and stress and exhaustion, we arrived in Oxford last night and we couldn't be happier to settle down for a little bit and sleep.
Where we are staying in Oxford:
As part of Liasor's working arrangement, we have been provided with a lovely garden house during our time in Oxford called "The Annex". I had no idea what a garden house was before this trip, but essentially it is exactly what it says it is. It's a house in the backyard garden of someone's estate. We love our home for the summer! It's small, cozy and surrounded by nature.
I already had one embarrassing blunder trying to figure out the stove in our home. Below the stovetop, it has both an internal grill and an oven and I didn't recognize at first which was which. (I was so accustomed to the typical American stove which only has an oven below the stovetop). After playing around with some knobs, I figured out that the oven is the lower of the two and now all is good. Oh, silly American moment.
We cannot wait to explore Oxford. Liasor has visited before so he's super excited to show me some of his favorite (or should I say favourite) places and discover new ones together. Today we got a brief tour of some nearby streets and we got to visit a couple shops. I still haven't been to the city center yet, so hopefully that will be tomorrow's adventure. Oxford seems like a very bike-friendly city (I've seen countless bikers already). I'm sort of hoping to rent a bike for the summer because I LOVE biking around town! I biked nonstop when I lived in Cordoba, Spain and I biked a bit when I lived in NYC, but that was kinda scary.
Anywho, I'm looking forward to spending some great quality time with Liasor this summer and hopefully we'll find a great church and make some new friends. We are also hoping to take a belated honeymoon trip (maybe back to Spain where we first met), but time and expenses will tell. Either way, I plan to keep my blog updated regularly so I'll keep you all in the loop. Thank you for your prayers and support! A special shout out to our family for giving us a place to stay in Rochester and Cleveland after we left our apartment and stored all our things, and for spending a wonderful time with us before our long 6-month journey. We made it to Oxford safely and we love you all! Until next post!