27 October 2016

What Chronic Pain Teaches Me About Culture

Hi, world! It's been a long time since I've written here. But I'm feeling reflective, so here I am. :)

Over the past four years I have dealt with a lot of physical, chronic pain. It started in Uganda and has continued since moving to MN.

It started with a pothole.

Let me explain.

In April 2012, I was riding to visit some friends on a boda boda. It was just getting dark and we hit a pothole. There are potholes everywhere in Uganda but I remember that one because of how I was holding on to the boda behind me and got the wind knocked out of me when we bounced. Within a matter of hours I was in so much pain I could barely turn my head. I saw a doctor after a couple days of terrible pain who said it was likely a whiplash type injury, gave me some muscle relaxers, and suggested I try getting a massage or two. If that didn't help, she suggested I see a physio (English term for physical therapy). The meds and massage helped enough that I let it go and came back to the States about a month later.

After returning to the US I started to suffer from regular and horrible headaches and migraines. Since then I've also been rear ended several times (am I invisible?!) and I continue to deal with neck pain, headaches, migraines, and muscle spasms.

I know. This is kind of personal and may not seem to fit with the types of cultural and library related things I usually write. But I believe it IS culturally related.

You see, over the past few years, I've found myself trying many different remedies for my pain, each rooted in it's own cultural practice of healing.

I've tried:
  • Prescription medication
  • Over-the-counter medication
  • Herbal cremes
  • Prescription medicinal cremes
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Yoga
  • Prayer
  • Exercise
  • Sauna 
  • Massage

And in trying all these things, I've discovered is that for me it's the intersection of all these methods and, dare I say, cultures that have led to (some) healing.

I grew up in what I think is a pretty American with regards to health: eat a balanced diet, go to the doctor when you get sick, take meds when you don't feel well. But as I've gone through this journey of regular, chronic pain, I've realized that healing is not always as simple as taking a pill.

The other day I went for acupuncture and as I was resting in a chair, needles poking out of me, I thought how different Chinese medicine is, especially when it comes to acupuncture. After the acupuncturist puts in the needles, she says to me: "have a good rest" and I nap or doze for about 45 minutes. And it occurred to me, rest IS healing. And maybe learning about other cultures doesn't only teach us cursory things about how people live or work, but can also teach us how to heal.

I'm not healed by any stretch of imagination. I still have 3-4 headaches or migraines a week, which often result in staying in bed more than I'd like. But I'm learning that if I let go and trust the ways in which people heal from multiple cultures, healing does come.

And grace. By giving myself grace walk through this journey instead of fighting the pain, I can use it as a learning experience. A chance to learn about other cultures, other healing practices, and about myself.

I hope someday I don't have to deal with regular pain. But in the meantime I am trying as hard as possible to see the bright side -- that I have much to learn about other cultures and the ways they view healing and the body.

13 May 2016

Where Does Your Heart Live?

Last Saturday, the air smelled like smoke. Wildfires in Northern MN and Canada, sent smoke down to the Twin Cities, creating air quality warnings and filling the air with the faint smell of smoke. When I woke up I went downstairs to make coffee and with the windows open, the cool morning air smelled just like Uganda: a bit of smoke, the smell of burning, cool air, and sunshine. My mind and heart were immediately brought back to a place I call home. I felt sentimental all day, thinking about my Ugandan friends, wondering how they are doing, and missing East Africa.

Contrast that sentimentality with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude 3 days earlier as I drove home from dinner with friends at a local restaurant. Gratitude for the city we live in, the community we are developing, the green leaves, and warm weather. I just felt so thankful for where we are now.

It was strange, in some ways, to feel such love for two very different places within a couple of days. I almost didn't know how to hold my love for both at the same time. It made my realize that my heart lives in both places, here in MN and in Uganda. And, if I'm honest, my heart lives in many places.

Sometimes I feel sad that I am not one of those people that has lived in ____ "my whole life". I think about how last month we traveled to Tuscon to attend my husband's best-friend-since-Kindgerten's wedding. I don't have a best friend since Kindergarten or a friend I've known my whole life.

But I have something just as precious: friends around the country and the world who have shared their stories with me and been a part of my story during the times in my life I needed them most. I'm realizing that with all the moving I've done, including at least five places in my twenties, my heart lives in a lot of places. I've left pieces of my heart behind that say, "I was here and I love this place. There are people here that I love."

I'm also realizing that neither situation is better than the other. It's not somehow better to have lived in one place for a lifetime and it's not better that I've moved a lot. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and the situations are just different. No matter if someone has moved a lot or if a heart lives in one place, we all have the power and choice to tell a good story. I've chosen to tell my story in many different places. Some people choose to tell their story in one place. But I'm learning that it's not the setting that makes the story. It's the characters. Our stories are beautiful because of how we choose to live and love others.

Ultimately, my story and my heart are scattered around the country and the world. And I am grateful.

04 May 2016

Reading Africa and the World

I recently heard this TED Talk and was thoroughly inspired by this woman's story of reading a book from every country in one year.

After hearing the TED Talk, I looked up her blog because I wanted to learn more. For example, how did she read that many books in one year? And how did she choose just one book from an entire country? And, of course I wanted to know: What books did she read from East Africa? I was totally inspired and fascinated by this project. (I just checked out her book to learn more!)

As I was poking around her blog, I found a post that mentioned an Africa Reading Challenge. Basically, a challenge to read 5 books from Africa in one year. Again, I was fascinated.

Most of the people who read this blog know that I am not much of a reader. I read only a handful of books a year, if I'm honest. It's kind of embarrassing, actually, considering that I am a librarian. I say only half-jokingly that I have a minor panic attack when a student comes up to me and asks: "Do you know a good book I could read?"

But, anyway...

When I do read, I am most often drawn to books about Africa or other parts of the world, which is probably why I've found both of these challenges so fascinating. Obviously from the title of my blog, I believe that stories are important. More than that, I believe that by learning the stories of people who are different from us, we will gain perspective and grow in understanding of the people around us. If we are willing to listen to others' stories, we learn from them and their experiences. I often say that if I don't immediately click with someone or if someone drives me crazy, I probably need to learn his or her story so I can be more gracious towards them.

I recently finished reading The Queen of Katwe, which was such a fun book for me to read since it's about a girl in Uganda. I currently have Congo: the Epic History of a People checked out from the library. But these different challenges have also reminded me the importance of reading about things and places I know nothing (or little) about. Reading about Uganda is fun because it's home to me in a lot of ways. But if I really want to grow in my understanding of the world, I need to look beyond what is comfortable and be willing to listen to the world.

31 March 2016

Focusing on the Positive

I've been thinking a lot lately about my role as a librarian and where or how I fit into the librarian "mold". This academic year I am the Chair of the Library Department and it's been such an interesting (and challenging) experience as I work through what it means to be in this leadership role. New things often cause me to question my abilities and myself and, to be honest, I'm struggling a lot lately with self doubt.

For example, this year I am often tempted to think that:
  • I am not an expert leader or librarian. 
  • There are colleagues in my department who are much more skilled in talking about information literacy, institutional culture, departmental goals, and at interacting with administration. 
  • I am not an expert at reference interviews and I am not good at teaching classes.

If I am willing, new things can also help me learn about myself and my strengths. Not feeling like an expert doesn't mean I am bad at those things. I am learning that while I may not always consider myself an expert librarian, I am really good at doing certain things which help my department and students. If I don't focus on these good things I am easily intimidated, wondering if I am the right person for this leadership role or for the library. (My poor husband has talked me off the "I'm quitting my job!" ledge more than once this academic year.)

So, in order to focus on the positive, here is a list of things I have discovered and re-discovered this school year:
  • I am getting really good at writing diplomatic emails and seeing the good in what everyone is saying and doing. I like to find the middle ground!
  • I am good at helping students who need only a little encouragement and help.
  • I am really good at (and really enjoy!) chat reference -- helping students online via chat service.
  • I am good at listening to my colleagues when they need to talk.
  • I am an energetic teacher and good at explaining things simply and directly. I don't use big words...and that's ok!
  • I really enjoy working with English language learners.
  • I'm good at welcoming the sheepish, "I'm new to the library" or "I have a stupid question" students.

So, there you have it. My attempt at positive self talk.

I am learning so much about myself and about leadership this year. And about how to believe in myself when I feel inadequate and overwhelmed. But I am reminding myself to focus on the positive and on my strengths.

And I am reminding myself (again and again!) that doing hard things, the things that scare me or feel overwhelming, are always worth doing.

I feel so out of my comfort zone lately.
So here's a reminder of a time I was totally in my element: in Africa. :)

03 March 2016

A Human Library

On Tuesday we held our Human Library Event. It was amazing.We filled almost every "Reader" spot available and afterward everyone -- Books, Readers, Moderators -- told us what a wonderful experience it was.

Just a recap: a Human Library is an event which encourages people to not judge a book by it's cover. Volunteers agree to be Human "Books" and share their stories. "Readers" can check out the Books, hear the stories, and then engage in meaningful conversation. Many, similar events allow for one-on-one conversation but we chose to have small groups meet with the Books. Moderators helped move the conversations along.

It was a lot of work, I'll be honest. But I was invited to work with a wonderful group of people to figure out logistics, find Books, create signs, recruit Moderators, etc. We had a lot of details to organize.

And in the end, it was beautiful. As one of the organizers, I was too busy running around to check out a Book. But I did get to walk around during each session and simply observe. It was hard not to tear up a bit, seeing people of many ages, cultures, and ethnicities sitting together, talking, listening, and sharing.

I heard people say these things afterward:

"I never saw the library more alive as it was yesterday."

"The room was buzzing all morning."

"The energy was palpable."

"That was life changing."

I know there are crazy things going on in our world. I know there are bad people out there. But I can't help but wonder: how much of the awfulness might be solved if people would just talk? And listen? Human beings have a lot of things to disagree about. But our stories are more similar that we realize. What would happen if we focused on what we have in common? On what brings us together? Instead of what tears us apart?

I like to think the world would be a better place.

For a visual representation of the event, here are a few photos from the Normandale Community College Facebook Page:

Faculty volunteers Shelly Freese and Aimee DuBois assist Human Library session attendee.
Posted by Normandale Community College on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mari Harris (right) is a "book" participating in the Human Library.
Posted by Normandale Community College on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Amy Tix is a "book" that is part of the Human Library session.
Posted by Normandale Community College on Wednesday, March 2, 2016