Monday, October 1, 2012

Evening comes, as does the dawn

When I returned to Kenya last week, a few people from my community sent notes reminding me to write...“Travel safe and keep writing!” I marvel at how gracious people are given my lack of posts in recent years - they still encourage me, and act as if writing is still something I do frequently.

The truth is, it is harder and harder to write. Often, it’s because there is not time. Perhaps more than that, it’s because there’s no brain space: no room for inspiration - just for rest in preparation for the next day and all that must be tackled.

Sometimes it’s utterly due to life in Kenya. Sometimes it’s not Kenya at all, it’s just me, my baggage, my journey. And sometimes it gets too personal, which is funny, because historically it had to be – it was the only damn way to tell the story honestly.

Mostly it’s just exhaustion that has no equal and no sense. What did I do today? I took an early taxi to work and cooked dinner for a friend and her family. But the day came full of tragic news from friends at home, sore knees from yesterday’s stumble and cockroaches hell bent on keeping my heart pounding. As simple a day as any, and yet each hint of a breeze or brush against a piece of string sent me leaping for certain a dirt-brown creature was upon me. That anxiety accompanied the day's ordinariness, so that tonight just five days in I’m exhausted. So strange after a rejuvenating dinner that the nightly crash from balancing the blend of inspiration and excitement and its counter of anxiety and fear of failure still comes.  

I’ve done enough work in the last year to know that no dream is realized without confronting this fear. I know that discomfort is the companion of opportunity and growth, that success can mean pushing through unbearable doubt and loneliness. So I’m doing it, and loving so many of the moments therein. I feel blessed and fulfilled so much of the time – and I share that in the small ways I can since I rarely can do so in longer thoughts on the page. But the personal, and the honesty and the damn-it-all remains. Tonight, I guess I need to share that here. Like the ache of muscles after a brilliant workout, the struggle is sweet - yet still a struggle.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

In which I make a meager metaphor

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one ever that this summer has been busy. Busy in the best of ways - new experiences, new people, new challenges. I have felt more in my element at times than I have in ages: healthy, energized, inspired and in awe of the world around me. The transition to life in LA was relatively seamless - I have dear friends here, I walked into an incredible fellowship right away and I landed in the most beautiful, vista-enshrouded home with amiable housemates and a mattress that didn't send my back into spasms (as moves often do). Perhaps most importantly, I have been living right next to downtown (where my office is) so of all the places in the world, LA has provided the easiest commute I've just about ever had.

Partially as a result of said absent commute, I haven't got my bearings yet with the freeways. Though I've talked "big talk" about relignquishing my reliance on Google Maps, I continue to enter my destination point each time I get in the car, and attempt to use it to navigate as I drive. Somehow, this tool is proving less and less helpful. In the last day I've missed approximately 7 exits (no exageration) and often found myself headed directly out of town as I attempt to get to the center of it.

At each of these moments, when I've managed to pry my eyes away from the road directly ahead or the tiny map I'm clinging to, I can often see where I'm meant to be going quite clearly (hard to miss a looming metropolis as it fills your left-hand window). When I manage to glance up and gather my bearings from the utterly obvious markers (ocean/mountains/city), I'm reminded that I know this place better than it feels like I do. I've also been here for long enough to have a sense of where I am the vast majority of the time - so why is it so hard to let go of the prescribed directions and trust my intuition?


Every glorious experience these days seems to remind me why letting go of the highlighted path in favor of one's growing knowledge of self, desires and strengths is the ONLY way to get where you actually need to be. I've spent over an hour in the last two days (days that started early on little sleep and ended late - in short, days in which I had no time or energy to spare) trying to follow prescribed paths that ultimately led me away from where I was going. These detours increased my frustration and fatigue while delaying the nourishment and rest that awaited me at home. Had I looked up (driving) or looked inward (life in general), I probably would have arrived much sooner and saved myself quite a bit of money (driving) and anxiety (life in general).

So there it is: a Google Maps take on GETTING THERE, whether by way of a Subaru station-wagon or, in the larger context, by those tugs of intuition that result from doing the work/exploration/growing that teach you what path you're on. Because really, there's no short cut to get where you're going - but you certainly don't have to drive in circles just for the hell of it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Words + pictures + patience = story

I've started my summer fellowship, and as we gear up and share our history and leadership stories with our cohort, I've had some time to reflect on this journey.

If I could have presented my life as I'm currently living it to the "temporarily brave" me that left my job back in 2007, I never would have believed what was in store. How many people get to realize what was once a timid dream? I feel blessed, constantly.

At the same time (and perhaps even more so) the practice of being my best self has never been harder. The momentum of opportunity, the reality of doors opening can sometimes propel you forward while at the same time threaten to stretch and pull your limbs just a little too taught.

Yesterday, while listening to an 83 year-old former school district superintendent/Governor/flight instructor/John Deere salesman talk with passion about how to better educate children, I was reminded of a core identity I've discovered and taken solice in on this path.

I am a story teller.

So why has storytelling been so hard now that I am running a business that has such a profound story to tell? Oh how I've struggled to get the words out lately! I set goals, I set aside time - and yet the message is lost in the transatlantic flights, the hustle to pay the bills, the seemingly never-ending packing and unpacking of bags. I have been increasingly fearful that my words, my energy and my passion will be lost in the heartache of changing times and the growing feeling that I'm more of a permanent observer than a central character in the paradigm I come from.

But, as it often does, the dawn begins to break gently. In the past few days I've been reminded that perhaps the loneliness and often completely oppressive sense of belonging nowhere and everywhere at the same time might trace to my detachment from this core knowledge of who I'm meant to be. Once again, there is a trickle of hope that I'll find the voice and energy to get the words out.

Some of these words need to be committed to fundraising letters and raising support to make a return to Kenya a reality. Some of these words can begin to compliment the images that have flowed in their absence to keep some small piece of my storyteller going in the midst of defining these new roles and opportunities. Many of these words need to be shared for those who have no voice, for the women of Sasa Designs and the countless others they represent.

To all ends, as I sat down to write tonight I stumbled upon a neat way to share some of the photography I've snapped using instagram in the last year. Take a look, and perhaps consider ordering some cards or a print? I get a small portion from each purchase - and you can have a visual reminder of the journey I am so privileged to share with a truly international and utterly inspiring community.

Click here to see what I'm talking about - and please feel free to email me at meganmacdon AT gmail DOT com if you have any questions.

Asante sana for the space to share these thoughts and hopes for the continued support to tell the stories I am discovering along the way.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Did you know "sasa" also means "what's up?"

I suppose when you stop blogging regularly, it serves you right that your blog platform ups and changes itself - making the very process of writing a post wildly discombobulating. All that aside - I did do some writing recently - although as usual, it is somewhere else. For those who aren't on Facebook and availed to my numerous posts, please take a look at why the work we are doing at Sasa Designs by the Deaf is so important: The Roots of Sasa Designs. I continue to marvel at this winding path my life is on - it delivers the most INCREDIBLE opportunities to learn and serve, time and time again.

I must also take the opportunity to share another link, one that is not quite as easy to throw out there - but one by which this work is made possible. Yes folks, it is true - I am officially an economic development specialist in a missionary's clothing. I am still more tempted to call myself the "mission-not" - it just has such a nice ring to it... Still, the reality is, I'm doing this work because I feel called to do so, and I don't for a second doubt that God made this happen. My experience in Kenya, my renewed passion for empowering these amazing women and my propensity for living out of a suitcase with a swarm of june bugs to keep me company at night (wait, what?) compel me to this work. If you are able to help support my work, you will find the opportunity to do so right here. I'm working on a newsletter, but the reality is there aren't enough hours in the day to build this business and pursue my own support - I suppose that's where faith comes in!

I also want to mention that I will be working in the states this summer, thanks to a fellowship that I also hope will help raise funds for my work here. I'll share more about that once my placement is finalized - it's going to be a BUSY summer indeed!

Mom and I get our SASA on!
Stay tuned for a return to normal blog programming (as in highly sporadic, soul-searching observations about humanity) soon!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The start of my summit list

I took some time in Ghana to reflect on my life thus far as I began to chart next steps. One night I was thinking about all the beautiful moments I've had around the world, and how thankful I am for a collection of memories that surpass any photograph I could have taken. I started to write them down and I look forward to adding to this list as memories resurface and new experiences are had. I am calling this my "summit" list in tribute to the beautiful vista each of these moments offered.
  • Cuban cigars on the coast of the Mediterranean with my brothers.
  • Watching the 2010 world cup in Kenya.
  • Starting alone, ending amongst friends hiking through Cappadocia.
  • Singing in the Sistine Chapel (I have never been so certain of God’s presence).
  • Watching my mom talk to sheep in the Scottish highlands with my Dad and nephew.
  • Walking through a soft layer of snow in Red Square late at night after the ballet.
  • Fireflies on the evacuation path during a tsunami warning in Vladivastok.
  • Bioluminescence that looked like diamonds on a nighttime dhow ride in Lamu.
  • Trekking the Routeburn with my siblings.
  • Arriving at my destination after my first solo roadtrip in South Africa just as the sunset behind the mountains.
  • My first salsa lesson in Costa Rica.
  • Hiking in to my family cabin with my best friends in the middle of the night.
  • Getting stuck behind an elephant in Amboseli.
  • Arriving at sunset in Ithala.
  • That first cold coke in Tanzania.
  • Squid hunting in Corona del Mar.
  • Pear icecream on a solo walk in Paris.
  • Singing with my cousins in a Gondola at Christmas.
  • My first leisurely walk through an African city at night in Accra.
  • Laguna de Apoyo.
  • Dancing at Mar y Sombre.
  • Carmel beach at sunset with family.
  • Running in Rongai.
  • Bela's birth.
  • Cracked crab at my grandparents table.
  • Trying to leap over a rafter in Zurich.
  • That moment when I held a baby, sat next to a teenager and comforted a dying child.
  • Root beer floats in a half-built house in the Oakland hills.
  • Stargazing in the middle of a high school football field.
  • Yoga on the beach on Christmas day.
  • Dancing with wild abandon in Accra.
  • Watching the sun set from my surf board at Old Man’s.
  • Napping with my nephew in Moscow.
  • Walks with my nephew in Berkeley.
  • A surprise birthday party in the middle of a ski hill.
  • New years, champagne, a hot tub and friends.
  • Ice skating through Gorky Park.
  • Singing the national anthem as we landed after every choir tour.
  • My dad's solo singing tribute to the MacDonalds at Glencoe.
  • Snowball fights in Nkandla on the morning I left Sizanani center.
  • Camping in a field of geodes in Namibia.
  • Laughing until we cried with mom and dad in the back row at church on Christmas eve.
  • The feeling of driving a pickup outside of Nairobi.
  • Skinny dipping for the first time by moonlight in Namibia.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Here and there

I want to share some posts from a few sites I've had the pleasure of writing for recently. The first is a post prepared for Vittana about the research my colleague and I conducted leading up to the launch of Opportunity International's first micro-loan for higher education. I am still "high" on the experience of getting to dive into the education arena. As my work continues to evolve, I come back to education over and over. Sometimes, it's a step removed (as in my current work, which focuses on empowering women...who in turn ensure their children go to school), but it's always at the core. Development policy and practice is crazy complex to say the least - but if you measure your returns based on quality of life, opportunity and equality - there is no better priority than education at every level.

Read about a day in my life with Opportunity International Ghana and Vittana here.

The second set of posts are for Go Girl Magazine - a site I learned about after connecting with an amazing group of women following a bid for a spot as a blogger on a trip to Kenya with Vestergaard Frandsend last summer. I wasn't chosen for the trip, but the organizers put all the applicants in touch via a google group, which led me to Go Girl (coincidently, the founder/editor had recently started working at the Rotary Foundation - go figure!). Besides a monthly writing gig, the group also led to a new friend in Kenya named Georgia, who I got to meet in person back in October. Georgia works in PR and when we met for lunch in downtown Nairobi, I had my dear friend Maggie with me. Quick to recognize a promising young woman, Georgia has taken Maggie under her wing and even hired her to help with a few of her work events. Maggie finished high school last year, but does not have the funds to attend university, thus Georgia's mentorship and friendship has been that much more appreciated. All this to say that writing for Go Girl is just a piece of an ever-unfolding story and a reminder of how powerful online communities and connections can be.

You can see my posts for Go Girl here (start from the bottom). I write about my quest to find and embrace "home" wherever I am.

I will be resuming my 30 days of Asante posts soon - now that I am back in the land that reminds me to say THANK YOU every day, no matter what.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

With each OPPORTUNITY, a new DOOR opens

When I tell people about the last five years of my life, I always say that once I was brave enough to step away from my current reality and say out loud, "I want to go back to Africa," door after door flew open. All these years later, metaphor becomes reality. I recently began a 4-month contract with Door International, a mission-based organization that serves the deaf community around the world.

One of our artisans, Anna.

I have long been drawn to any service provided to people with physical disabilities in the developing world. The longer I live in this context, the more aware I am of people unfairly ascribed to lives of isolation, humiliation, dependency and general dehumanization as a result of some physical ailment outside of their control (often the result of poverty and the lack of immunizations or poor healthcare in general). A few weeks before I finished my fellowship with Vittana working at Opportunity International in Ghana, I received a job posting from a friend in Nairobi for a Business Manager position. Door had been looking at social business opportunities to provide jobs for the deaf and raise funds for their programs. Having worked with a jewelry consultant that specializes in helping non-profits start businesses, the program had been launched, but needed someone on the ground to develop a local supply chain, navigate shipping and customs issues, take over wholesale and retail responsibilities and oversee the artisans directly. I threw my hat in the ring, another in a long line of steps taken in faith that if it was meant to be, it would.

Winnie, one of our artisans wearing the "Her time to shine" Onyx Necklace.

A few weeks later - here I am! I'll be working with Sasa Designs and helping market our organic farm through the beginning of May, at which point we will review our progress and whether the business can support me working full time or if I am able to raise my own support (I tell you, I didn't see life as a prospective missionary coming - funny where God puts you!). For now, I'm diving in, getting up to speed and learning sign language as fast as I can. And yes, I'm still working on my thesis, which is of course directly tied to this work in the first place. A door opens and things come full circle once again...stay tuned!

One of our artisans, Rose.

All photos by my colleague Whitney Simons.