Philomena + the beginning of movie reflections

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. It is partially because of the nature of my new job, but mostly because it’s my favorite date activity with Eric. Each movie tells a story that touches me a different way and changes my life just a tiny bit. These aren’t the big blockbuster movies (though, those a fun too) – most of these movies are the less well-known but more well-told stories of the human spirit, which leave me wanting to be a better person as I exit the theater.

Unless I write something down, I tend to forget that it ever happened. And these movies move me so much that I feel compelled to write about them and reflect on how they’ve impacted my life. Only positive reviews (aka “life-impacting” movies) will be written about here. And I encourage you to go see each and every one of these…in theaters, if you can, to support these films.

Image

Philomena (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2431286/)

An old Irish woman, Philomena Lee, searches for her son who was taken away from her against her will after she became pregnant and gave birth to him in the convent. Together with a former BBC journalist, she finds out the truth about her son.  

Based on a true story.

There were lots of amazing moments in this film (let’s take a moment to thank the indelible Judi Dench for making that happen). Moments that made me cry, moments that made me laugh, and that one moment of pure joy when all is good in the world.

But the moment that I remember the most was none of those things. It was the moment at the end, after a terrible injustice committed against one person has been revealed, when the viewer has one of two choices. To be angry or to forgive.

So, what do you do?

On one hand, our former BBC journalist (smart, successful, somewhat jaded, and highly critical) friend who takes us through this journey with Philomena reacts with anger. An anger, that with all things considered, feels completely justified. An anger that matches the level of the injustice that has happened. An anger that stands up for what is right and refuses to stop until all things are right with the world again. For me, this is the type of anger that can boil up when something fundamentally wrong happens.

But on the other hand, Philomena (our Irish, humble, unassuming, romance novel reading, and optimistic old lady) reacts a different way. [And let’s not forget that she was the victim of this injustice.] She forgives. And in that singular act she transforms from the victim to the victor, triumphing over years of judgment, bitterness, anger, and revenge.  

Compared to this true story of Philomena Lee, I have experienced very little injustice against me. But I couldn’t help but wonder, would I have the same amount of courage to walk through the door of forgiveness instead of anger? Could I take action without judgment?  Could I fight for what is right without falling into the trap of bitterness?

The power in one act of forgiveness can triumph over the worst injustice. And it takes the true story of an old Irish woman to remind us that, once again. 

The California Effect

I’ve been in LA for two months now and something amazing has happened.

I’ve started running (gasp).

My last foray with running was in high school when my friend convinced me to join the cross country team. We began training over the summer with “fun runs” which were in fact, not fun at all. I’ve never experienced what they call “runners high”; instead, I was more familiar with the feeling of wanting to pass out after sprinting to the finish line of a 5K. After one season as the laggard on the novice team, I quit long distance running for good. 

Fast forward 12 years and here I am running on the beach with my boyfriend early in the morning: Image

For the past two weeks or so, I’ve been waking up between 6am-7am and working out in the morning with Eric. Day one was hard. I could hardly make it once around the lake. Day two was even harder. My muscles were tight and each step was painful. Day three I wanted to quit. I was running at the pace of a moderate speed walker. Disastrous.

But then something magical happened the last two days (Day 10 & Day 11). I think I may have experienced “runners high” for the first time. Eric and I ran nearly 4 miles along the beach (personal post-high school record!). Legs felt good on the pavement. Breathing was in sync with my steps. Mind felt clear and fresh. Amazing! 

You can do it too! I’m sure of it. 

  1. Go to sleep early! If I get to bed by 11pm waking up around 6 or 7am doesn’t feel too bad. This may mean eating dinner earlier and getting ready for bed earlier too. This sounds intuitive, but I always managed to find myself sleeping after midnight because I was hanging out or watching TV. 
  2. Find a good reason! The reason I started running in the morning wasn’t because I wanted to run, or to get healthier, or to be more productive. In fact, I started to work out in the mornings to spend time with my boyfriend. This may seem silly, but we found that our days are so packed with people that mornings were ideal to get quality time together. 
  3. Run with a friend! Or, in my case, a boyfriend. Somebody that is committed to the same schedule, lives relatively close, and won’t judge you when you are going slow or wanting to die. I used to get nervous running with friends because I was afraid that I would slow them down, but if you’re honest with your friend about your skill level / goals then you’ll be fine.
  4. Have fun with it! Discipline is easy when you are having fun. Whether it is competition or progress or silliness that is fun to you, incorporating something interesting helps out a lot. I like to play in the sand, look at beach houses, and challenge myself to go farther and faster than before. 

 

 

From Boston to Dallas

Brother and I just got done with a 2,300 mile / 7 day / 5 city road trip! We started in Boston and just arrived back in Dallas last night.

I’m a huge fan of road trips. I remember doing a lot of them when I was younger, mainly because as immigrants to the US, our family wanted to see the country but couldn’t afford to fly all over the place on a grad school student’s lifestyle. Thus, it was out of the backseat window of our old trusty four-door sedan that I first encountered Yosemite, Mt. Rushmore, Washington DC, and lots of other places that I’ve now probably forgotten (sorry Mom).

My brother, who is 10 years younger than me, never really did too many road trips. So last week we embarked on a road trip which was part college tour, part moving trip, part vacation, but mainly brother-sister bonding time. Here are … 3 photos from each city:

** Special thanks to Missy, Sam, Phoebe / Jeff, and Andrew for hosting us along the way!! **

NYC: Columbia University, 911 Memorial, Times Square

DC: Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, George Washington University

Durham / Chapel Hill: NC BBQ, Duke, UNC Chapel Hill

Atlanta: Coke Museum, Georgia Tech, Ebenezer Baptist Church

New Orleans: Café du Monde, Bourbon Street, Muriel’s Jackson Square

My favorite part of this entire road trip was getting to know my brother. When I left for college, he was still a little boy in elementary school. Now, he’s turned into a bright young man with his own personality and sense of self. After 36 hours of driving, I’ve learned that my brother is an incredibly kind and compassionate person, who sympathizes deeply with anybody who has ever felt different or out of place. He’s smart and has a knack for engineering and an interest in quantum mechanics (!). He is pretty brilliant with Chinese, still struggles a bit with English grammar, loves complex video games, has gotten pretty strong arms/abs, is a loyal and patient friend, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. And on top of all of this, he’s developed a funny bone (which I did not inherit) and is apparently pretty popular with the ladies too.

I am deeply proud of him – proud of how far he’s come and proud of the man he is becoming. I am looking forward to future trips together!

Happy Healthy Breakfast

I am always thankful for the roommates that introduce me to these wonderfully simple and delicious meals. This is my new favorite breakfast. Special thanks to Tina!

Strawberries and Greek Yogurt Breakfast

Ingredients:
Greek Yogurt
Fresh Strawberries
Honey

Preparation:
In a bowl, scoop two generous dollops of Greek yogurt. Cut fresh strawberries into quarters and sprinkle on top. Drizzle with honey and serve.

Back at Home

After two years of eating Seamlessweb and 10 days of Cameroonian food, it feels so great to come home and eat a simple, healthy meal.

Smoked Salmon Tartine

Ingredients:
Smoked Salmon
Sprouts
English Muffin
Lemon Dill Sauce
Lemon Juice (optional)

Preparation:
Toast English muffins until slightly brown. Spread lemon dill sauce. Place sprouts and smoked salmon on top. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve.

*****

Special thanks to my old roommate Kathy for introducing me to this delicious recipe.

*****

P.S. For dessert, cherries.

Culture and Change

Professor Tih is, in a word, incredible.

He is the founder of WINHEEDCAM. But it doesn’t stop there. He also built 3 major hospitals, 15 health clinics, one school, one bank and a resthouse. Not too shabby eh?

The man is constantly traveling but we were lucky enough to meet up with him during our time in Bamenda and travel with him to the nearby city of Bafut to see a palace.

Our tour guide shared with us that in Cameroon, the villages are ruled by “kings” (or otherwise known as “fons”). They live in huge complexes with their many wives, children and helpers. Amongst other things, their job is to keep the peace in the villages, make judgements in disputes and preserve culture. They are associated with these five royal animals. There are over 200 fons in Cameroon. This one that we visited was, our tour guide shared with us, his dad!

But as it turns out, fons now play a bigger different role in their communities. While they are still keeping the peace, the fons are going to university, studying abroad, working in government and playing a big role in the development of each of their villages.

Each fon has a “board of directors” or small group of notables that he goes to for advice. We learned that Professor Tih was a notable for several fons in the area, one in each of the villages where he works.

In fact, Professor Tih has worked closely with the fons in order to acquire land for his hospitals, get local support for his efforts and fundraise. Without the help of the fons, he told us, the community would not welcome any of the buildings he’s built or support the services he’s providing.

Culture plays a huge role in successful development and missions work. Many could have moved to Cameroon to build hospitals, schools and banks. But Professor Tih was uniquely equipped to make an impact. Because he was born in a nearby village, studied at university in the capital of Cameroon and completed graduate coursework in America, he understood the culture and the area well enough to come back home and serve his people.

When I asked him how he decided to leave Boston and return to Cameroon, he told me:

“I love working with the poor. If I left Boston, nobody would notice. But if I leave Cameroon, many people would notice because I have been able to make an impact here.”

Meet Therese

Welcome to Therese’s new house.

Ten years ago, Therese and her three children were living in Bamenda making very little and struggling to find money for school fees and rent. That’s when she started borrowing from WINHEEDCAM.

Her first loan was 100,000 CFA (equivalent to just over $200 USD). She used this money to start a small fruit and vegetable shop. After she repaid the loan and got fresh capital, she grew the shop into a small store. And the store eventually turned into a restaurant.

Two years ago, she bought this plot of land on the hills of Bamenda. She began building a house.

Last month, Therese and her family moved in.

Therese was reserved when we first met her near the marketplace. But her smile broadened as we walked up the hill to her new home and she grinned with pride when we asked if she wanted a picture with her in front of it. I joked with her that she’s now a graduate from the WINHEEDCAM loans. But she quickly retorted that she was planning on getting another loan. And with the new money, she wanted to build up her business so that she could make enough money to furnish the inside of her house and paint the walls.

“There’s still more work to do!”

Therese is an exceptional example of a woman who combined a small loan with a large dose of determination to create an entirely new life for herself and her three children. But for every Therese, there are still hundreds of women living in poverty, struggling with disease, stigmatized by disability and marginalized by men.

Indeed, there is still more work to be done.

*****

Photography by Cristian Lim.

Perspective

The Cameroonian friend who took us to the market was also our driver during our time here. Over the course of 10 days and after spending a weekend together, we got a chance to get to know him and become friends. He’s a humble, soft-spoken 24-year-old young man who lights up when he talks about automobiles and just finished refurbishing his own taxi. He rents a home in the quarters where he lives and cares for his older brother.

We had some good conversations about cars, sports, religion, education and relationships. We swapped stories about what it’s like to live in Cameroon and America. We talked about our dreams and what makes us happy. He told us a story about the man with 33 wives and hundreds of children.

He told us that this was the first time that he had encountered foreigners who were this open with him.

As we neared the last day, he asked for our email addresses, saying that he hoped to keep in touch with us. To say hello to faces he may never see again.

That’s when my heart broke.

This is just the thing about short-term trips. Over the course of two weeks so many friendships can be formed. Stories shared. People who come from completely different backgrounds who would have otherwise never met gather together and get to know each other. It’s like getting to know a long-lost family member – this time in the family of believers.

But inevitably, there comes a time when you leave. It may be after two weeks, two months or even two years. After some time, people go home.

And sometimes, they never return.

Short-term trips are a good place to start, but more often than not, they are not enough.

It takes much more. Like the teacher who had been teaching children in Bamenda for over 20 years. Like Professor Tih, the founder of WINHEEDCAM, who is tackling poverty and sickness in Cameroon. Like the doctors who have left their homes in America indefinitely to build a new hospital in a nearby village. Like the mother who has taken out a loan and started up a business to give her children the opportunity to go to school.

Real change takes sacrifice. It takes commitment. It takes the guts to never give up.

It’s a lesson learned that real change – the kind that makes the world a better place for those around you – takes a lifetime of dedication.