Doors, and Windows

It’s been a while. Since the end of DTS I have experienced sporadic longings to blog; but these have usually been dispersed as I paddled to keep my head above the swirl of colours, emotions and events that have swirled in my consciousness. Sometimes I gave up and floated on my back. Or on my face, until the need to breathe forced me up again. Stifling, exhilarating, confusing- all of the above. But definitely consisting of doors and windows- albeit far too many to simulate in one blog post. And now, today it is four months exactly since I graduated, and with a little more clarity, I know that I want my words to be heard.

Which words? And where do I begin? I have chosen to start with a draft I wrote four months ago on debrief week, the end of DTS. And perhaps go on from there. This was a very clear cut door. And it all got hazy and exciting from there.

Debrief week is draining because the past six months have hit me like a sledgehammer. I swing from tears to nostalgia to energy highs to napping all afternoon. The mellow March skies and clear nights are the background to processing and transitioning- what to call it? Life changing sounds so cheesy. While struggling with extreme tiredness pulling me down and old habits and thought processes trying to insinuate themselves into my character, the sunset thrills my heart and makes me see the thread of everything I’ve done, all the  sunsets I’ve seen, linked together and unchangeably part of who I am. If I choose it. It’s coming to terms with sorrow and loss and great joy all at once. Losing an ultimate frisbee game or losing my one on one due to visa issues; the bittersweet of going home, starting to long for stability but afraid of losing the amazing dynamic of living with my team…. along with sleeping and trying to journal it all? Not easy to balance. Quite a lot of the time I just want to binge read and eat chocolate. (Die-hard symptoms of true exhaustion.) 

On the other hand I can’t wait to write more of my stories. I did this, right? I’ve seen life from the sea and met some people you’d normally only expect in fiction. And I plan to write all of this down!

I was thinking about all the things I could measure DTS by, and physical appearance struck me- all of my jeans are ripped now, and I wear them with pride. I have acquired and lost so much clothing that my wardrobe is now apparently only describable as ‘Nyasha-like’- whether this comes from my insistence on wearing board shorts in March, or the teaming thereof with my 100% knitted fairisle ‘Jesus loves even me’ jumper, I am at a loss to discern. I don’t have my long braids any more (I do miss them.) I do however have one rebellious dread, as well as a streak of red hair, the result of my room mates spending the afternoon with bleach and red dye.

‘Ripped jeans’ entirely used to be my goal in life. But I don’t need them any more to be individual. I don’t even believe that I need to focus on being individual any more. That is part of life. Most days I can live that. Most hours, I know that I can see in colour and that there’s better to come.

Future blogging, I salute thee.

Photo cred: Benjamin Clegg


Re-entry ramblings

I have sucked at blogging since the end of DTS. But yes, almost a month ago, on the 10th of March, we graduated! And the huge journey was over. I’ve still been travelling since and in some ways haven’t had time to land and process, but @flyingspin says it so well. Follow her blog! 😀

Flying Spin

DTS is over, and suddenly I’ve been home for a whole month. What? I know! Contrary to popular belief, I have not dropped off the face of the earth. I’ve just been going through what missionaries call “reverse culture shock.” It means feeling disgruntled because you’re different, and home is different, and “home” isn’t what you expected and sadly not exactly the way it was when you left.

I went from being constantly surrounded by people and having my good friends literally steps away, to actually having to plan to meet up with people and hang out. From being discipled constantly to church once a week. From going nonstop all day every day to having no schedule whatsoever. Plus a thousand tiny things I’d never really noticed before. Like how the cars here are huge. And the supermarkets. And how we have hot water with good water pressure for AS LONG…

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Day Two in Newcastle

Since last blogging, I have spent a week serving and participating in the once-in-a-lifetime experience that is one’s first DTS gathering. This happened at Holmsted Manor, a YWAM base in West
Sussex (where my sister was born, coincidentally), and I had the privilege of worshipping God with 50 or 60 people my age whose only reason for being there was being passionate about their relationship with God and with the world. It was definitely a challenging week- even if I hadn’t stayed up till midnight a couple of nights, the long days would have been tiring- but incredibly rewarding. And, as we felt God tell us beforehand, full of surprises. I didn’t expect to go deeper in my relationship with God, letting Him touch areas of my life and past hurts that I hadn’t before, while kneeling on a floor-size map of the world praying for healing for humanity. The topic of the week was ‘Celebrating Real Love’- 1 Corinthians 13- as it was leading up to Valentine’s Day. Real love is a good thing to think about. Worth building your life on.

On Saturday, our DTS team split up, the dread and anticipation of four months! We only have two weeks apart, but our reunion will take place in Harpenden at the beginning of debrief week- ten days before THE END. So goodbyes were emotional and I keep expecting to find Ashley, Jenna, Seth, Joshua or Bart hiding behind the curtains or watching movies in bed. They’re not- they’re in Bristol and we’re in Newcastle and our communications are limited to extremely confusing group conversations about which city is cooler. (Clearly, the north.)

The story of how I missed the bus to Newcastle is quite an entertaining one and deserves to be told. But it’s past midnight, I’ve been up and about since seven and I have to put the soup I just made in the fridge before I go to bed. I’ll write it out in full and share it some other day. Suffice to say I got to spend Valentine’s Day roadtripping and made it to Newcastle ahead of my team.

Today was our first outreach day. I helped pick up loaves of bread, baps and teacakes from Greggs in the morning for the breakfast club we helped out in, in the middle of Byker. (I studied the Byker wall in year twelve geography, which is bizarre…) A few kids from the estate came to eat cocoa pops and play games, although I did spend most of the morning tidying up the craft cupboard. Sometimes you just have to- and also it’s so good to be able to serve stressed-out people who clearly don’t have enough time to fulfill all the visions they have for their area! I think it’s one of the most appreciative and valuable things a short-termer can do. In the afternoon we did have a chance to build more relationships- I got to don a bright yellow Scripture Union hoodie and wander around Byker with Elisabeth and a frisbee, seeing if any of the kids hanging out (it’s half term) wanted to play. Approaching people in England, and English, is vastly different and much more intimidating. But I’ve decided I would love to bring more colour and creativity to the neighbourhood, after chalk-drawing with some of the girls we hung out with (Next Wave everywhere, of course.) The people here are really beautiful and I want to connect with them and hear their stories and see them free to be themselves, which only comes from your personal relationship with God…

Finally, we went straight from ‘Detached’, as that outreach is called, to the ‘Globe Cafe’- an international students’ gathering run by a few of the churches in Newcastle, which is basically a super cool idea. I wonder if there’s one in Liverpool? As it’s Chinese New Year, there were around 250 people there and I spent most of the time bouncing up and down the corridor with flasks of coffee. It was a lot of fun though- I did get to talk to someone from Colombia, and try to make a Chinese lantern. We didn’t make it home till 11 and then I decided it would be a good plan to make soup for tomorrow’s lunch. Some people’s kids. I need to go to bed.

Wieder Unterwegs

Sunday, 8th February, 2015
Sitting on the floor of Tirane Airport. Sarah is reading ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ to me, while Ashley eats Haribo Berries, Joshua plays on his Kindle, Bart reads, Marina sits, and the others recline on their rucksacks baggage in various attitudes. Having arrived at the airport at around 7.30 to see Kellie off on her earlier flight, we discovered we can’t check in till nearer our flight (at 11) so we get to catch up on sleep and all that kind of thing.
Reading ‘Fellowship’ makes me so contemplative about journeys and our hobbit backpack lives that I want to stare at the passing grey clouds and think about where we’ve come from (this airport) and who we are now, passing through it again. In the circle of it I know i’m not the same.

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
And I must follow, if I can….

Right now the Fellowship are trying to decide which of dangerous roads to take- Caradhras having fought them off, and Moria being equally ominous. (I don’t know why my 6 AM brain thought it was important to tell you this; but as I typed, I will post.) 

To the sea, to the sea
The endless waves that whisper in
Have brought their words to me
And I can’t stay

But this time i’m as excited and curious to go back to England as I used to be as a little MK coming back on furlough. Nah, not like that. I can’t wait to see friends and familiy and spend almost two months there with my DTS (post-DTS travelling included), and I feel a combination of travel excitement and something that might be the joy of being home-ward bound. England still isn’t quite the Shire to me. Like the Elves, I think the sea, or the spirit of it, will always call. But that doesn’t mean I won’t love being there and feeling the unfamiliarly familiar. Tesco and Pret a Manger and memories that are good, now I’ve been away for five months. And this is the most important thing- it’s not the end of the adventure.

I was getting fearful about my non-existent plans, post-DTS. I realised I was doing my best to fill the empty months with all sorts of adventuresome plans- mostly to fill the space in myself that I fear will return when I go home. But God gently reminded me that he loves me. He’s the one who’s made me with a love of freedom and adventure and he’s not going to leave me or abandon me. Wherever I am, I can be living life to the full. I remembered everything I’ve done over the past few months and how my creativity is restored and I see God’s joy in all the brushstrokes of the sky. Therefore, I will trust him with the next few months, even if it’s not easy. And if the prospect of a four-year commitment to Oxford, in the most pressurised and mainstream of environments, frankly causes my wandering heart to quail

I think Albania will only seem real once we arrive in England. Seven weeks! I have loved it here. Things I will miss:

Going food shopping for the team and buying fresh produce and olives and raisins per kilo. Garr. 😥
The sound of Shqip
Folk dancing
The fresh bread in the bakeries…
The beach and picking up shells by the YWAM base in Durres
Views of the mountains
Albanian cuisine. Yes, I know. Stuffed bell peppers, bean soup and byrek- filo pastry with spinach….
Taking my shoes off at the door to someone’s home… (I’ll still do that anyway…)
Albanian hospitality and faces. I love these people. I think I could live here and I hope to come back.

It seems so strange to me that seven weeks ago we stumbled off a plane and stood sleepy-eyed waiting for Dag, the pastor of the church we worked with in Fush Kruje, to pick us up. I was extremely tired from a 24-hour journey and a very long pack the night before, which dulled any apprehension or irritability I may have been feeling. I was standing in a completely new country, faced with the prospect of going to church in an hour, armed with what I’d not got rid of in my slow-motion whirlwind of cramming my life of three months, into a 20-litre rucksack and my violin case. As well as my team. And a few Albanian phrases I was afraid to use in case I was pronouncing them wrong.
How have my relationships, possessions, and I myself changed since then? Clearly my Albanian was better, second time around in Nene Tereza Airport- we even had to remind Anthony that ‘faleminderit’ (thank you) wasn’t going to work in Istanbul or Stansted. (I might just keep using it though.)
To start with the simplest thing, probably also most relieving to my team and leaders, my packing time is down to a mere two hours from the entire day it took me to pack when leaving the boat. Also my bag is quite sleek and beautiful, with no sandwich bags hanging off it! Still looked like a hobo in my sleeping bag in the coach station but I can’t help that… 

Monday, 9th Feb: Cafe Nero, by Victoria Street Station….. hour 24 exactly since I woke up to start this journey. Still around 6 to go, provided we find the rest of our team and… and…. make it to Holmsted! So pray that Kristin gets through security! Now I have to go and find food but hey, I’m back in England. 

Over and out.

Pomegranates are my favourite fruit

I only found out a few weeks ago that my watch tells me the date and day of the week. What a super-watch it is. It wakes me up in the morning to an obnoxious beeping that I only sleep through sometimes. It has done no more than lose a button and become hideously scratched during a Canadian mosh pit in the downstairs hallway of Next Wave, over the course of my adventure. Along with my trusty iPod shuffle (2008 model- can survive being dipped in a cup of tea, if you were wondering) it’s the only piece of technology I brought with me that’s survived the journey. Apparently the simple is best.
Simplicity leads me on really well to eating simply, which I’d been meaning to blog about since… last blog. And I’ll talk about relevant outreach stuffs later. While we were working with the church in Fush Kruje, they started a three-week ‘Daniel fast’. For the Biblical reference, it’s Daniel 10 I believe- where Daniel describes a vision of the future that God gave him. This happened when he’d been ‘in mourning’ for three weeks, eating ‘no meat or wine or fine foods’. For the church, the purpose of doing this was to commit to focusing on what God was saying to them for the New Year. I got really excited about it when I heard, so for three weeks I took on the challenge of no meat, dairy, sugar or grains. (Apart from birthdays, because I did turn 19 over that time and I wanted to eat bakllava…)
Did God give me revelation about the upcoming year? Clearly there should be a simple answer. I haven’t even journalled about it yet so I have no idea what I’m about to type. It wasn’t the easiest three weeks. Sometimes I felt like I was floating around in a mess of who I used to be, scrambled with outreach and a thousand different people. But eating simply, made me feel simple on the inside as well. It gave me less to worry about and I suspect my body thrived on not having the stress of a tonne of dubious food to digest and worry about. Other than while staying at a YWAM base where I obviously eat what’s put in front of me, it made me decide that raisins for breakfast, avoiding bread and sugar and meat and dairy of course, is a lifestyle that suits me pretty well. This also made me appreciate food SO much more. I eat much more slowly now, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. And who knew how sweet and chewy dried fruit is, or how filling fresh carrot sticks and home made hummus can be?
Quoting Romans 14, I recognise that this isn’t for everyone, but it is something that brings me a lot of joy.
Alongside this, I learned some things what I suppose you could call ‘the hard way’, if ‘the hard way’ is through practice rather than theory. It’s as good a way as any to learn, because after all, why should we compartmentalise thought from action? They’re usually worthless without each other.
I learned to take time out and journal and appreciate quiet. This was incredibly difficult in our house in Lac, where we had four rooms (not counting bathrooms and hallway) and each one had at least one person sleeping in it. But it’s worth the intentionality of running outside early in the morning to catch the dew-breath and the sunrise and say hi to God before anyone else is there. I can see I’m better at that now. Now we’re staying in the YWAM base in Durres, which is in a rented hotel right on the beach, and this morning was the first time the sun had shone. The painting on the horizon was just fantastic and totally worth running down two flights of stairs- tiles on bare feet- and sing-humming the ‘Chariots of Fire’ theme while running down the sand and wavelets. I picked up a pearly shell with a hole in it which I will hang on a chain. And that’s a memory I’ve made. I learned that all moments are worth investing in because they are unique. Take away the distraction of food and you can either be bored or choose to notice the details.
My watch has beeped to tell me it’s 10 on the hour (it truly is a wonderful invention) and as you are surely wanting to know about outreach this morning, I will tell you briefly before I sleep. For our very first outreach day in Durres, we had a ‘creative outreach’ slot- we got to choose what we would do with a morning in the city, with no outside resources or translation or knowledge. After asking God what he wanted us to do, we spent the weekend making little origami boxes and filling them with chocolates and notes saying ‘ti je c’muar’- ‘you are precious’.
On our finally-sunny morning, in a square with fountains, I got to play my violin to children and old men in long black coats who play chess. Seth and I walked down the main street jamming while the others handed out our little ‘surprise’ boxes and talked to people. We made some friends and made people laugh, something that comes increasingly easily when you commit to doing it. I ran through the fountain, got wet feet, was totally showed up by an old lady who played ‘Oh Susanna’ with some rocking double stopping on my violin, arranged to meet up with some people in a grocery store who apparently appreciated us walking in there playing Mumford and Sons… it was a good morning. People are awesome. And it was awesome, not because I get a personal kick out of it (because that honestly would be worthless) but because I asked God to give me the strength for a very extroverted outreach and I guess he did because I felt grounded and alive the entire time.
Sailor is signing out. Last week in Albania.

Laç-ing onto you

Laç (pronounced latch, evidently) is a small town perched in the foothills of the mountains that distantly overshadow the sea. What’s this, week five of outreach? Welcome to week five. This is a high speed blog post but in other news:

My phone exploded. So I have no phone.

I completed full push-up circle, 1-10 and down again, doing full on dude pushups. So I finally have sort-of visible arm muscles. WUUUUUT!

I got to paint on walls with children. (Well with paintbrushes and paint. The children also used paintbrushes and paint.)

I did a lot of action songs and teaching.

I cooked meat meals for my meat eating team, and apparently I cooked them well. (Mystery meats, mwahaha. It’s not like I’m eating the roadkill.)

I saved money (with Joshua’s help naturally) on the weekly food budget. I then made chocolate covered oranges with said money. (For everyone, not just myself.)

I climbed up a thousand stairs to St Anthony’s shrine on the hill-top and prayed for Laç and that the huge cross which stands there would truly be a symbol of freedom and not bondage to tradition.

So we are working with two different children’s ministries here which is great. Our school leader Kellie has rejoined us, with her frisbee, both of which are wonderful things. But this is our final week before we head off to the YWAM base in Durres for our last 10 days in Albania, on the 29th! We already did intercession and praying for the DTS that’s just about to start there, which was very exciting. Writing words of encouragement we felt God give us for them made me so excited as that was US just four months ago and we’ve come so far. I can’t wait to meet them. Then we’re off to Blighty, Holmsted Manor for a week long DTS gathering with at least two other DTSs on their lecture phases. I’m really excited to be where my sister Sinead was born, see Daniel and Tamara who taught us on our very first week of DTS, show off England in February to my team. Then Newcastle for two weeks and back to Harpenden for debrief week, frisbee games and graduation on the 10th of March.

I have to go and teach English to children. So I must leave. I would love to talk about food though. Especially as I just finished a 3 week Daniel fast (eating no sugar, animal products or grains) and am full of interesting food thoughts that I want to verbalize and process. Apparently this will have to wait, however, as I just don’t have time right now.

Sailor is signing out. Hope this helped.

Fush Kruja and ice in the flower pots



Today is Monday, right? I was just up on the roof terrace painting the sunset. God is a better painter than I am- so every time I looked up from a hesitant brush stroke or attempting to mix the tint of the sky, he had added another flourish of cloud or drench of light and I just had to laugh at my attempt to keep up. Eventually I turned my back on the sunset and let Him enjoy that because the mountains are equally and epically beautiful. I painted until my toes were numb and then came back inside. I don’t know what these mountains are called- other than Kruja, the one right above us- but they could be the Grey Mountains and I can almost make out the beacons of Gondor on the snowy peaks in the distance. #nerd alert….
One week into outreach! We have established that today is a Monday. So this is my ninth day in ‘Shqipturia’, and my first afternoon off. I honestly don’t know where to start. Every time I eat, I think about blogging, and sometimes I seriously consider turning my blog into a food log. Maybe I should just move to the Mediterranean and eat olives and fresh apples and feta cheese for the rest of my life. Fear not, food will be mentioned. My two ‘responsibilities’ for our outreach phase are food- with Joshua and Marina- and ‘hospitality’, with Jenna and Marina. Hospitality involves buying gifts for people we go to visit, also toilet paper (for ourselves) and making thank you cards. But it’s food that really motivates me- especially the challenge of keeping our team happily lunched and breakfasted without a fridge or stove.
But I’m starting at the wrong end of the story! I didn’t mean to begin with talking about shopping in Albanian and how much I dread going back to England where the cucumbers and spinach won’t be freshly picked and the bread baked every day. (Is that pretentious of me- to enjoy real, fresh, quality food so much? Even those among us not of the vegetarian persuasion enjoy a sandwich of Albanian olives and ‘djathe’- feta-like sheep’s cheese-, garnished with oregano and perhaps a slice of pepper or a few young spinach leaves or red onion. ) I enjoy the shopping almost as much as the eating. Today Joshua and I headed out solo shopping for the first time as Marina isn’t well. We had to figure out how many sandwich and salad ingredients we could afford with 100 lek per person per meal (in Albania you use lek) and then buy bottles of ‘Kos’- lumpy natural yoghurt- cinnamon, oats and raisins per kilo for breakfast. Then, choosing which brands of mayonnaise and pesto to use for our pasta dinner on Wednesday before speed-walking home for lunch and team announcements. (We were only twenty minutes late. As you can tell my punctuality has improved. (No it actually has…))
Because I took the afternoon off today, I got to enjoy ‘tidying up’ therapy. Living in this house feels a lot like being a child in Mozambique. We used to build tiny huts or tepees of reeds, plaster them with mud, build little fires and cook in tin cans. I’m so glad to be living this way though. You appreciate a hot shower so much more, the little things like the ability to have a cup of tea in the morning, or to have dry socks. We live in comparative luxury because each of the three bedrooms has a heater and we have hot running water and a roof terrace to enjoy. My hands are cold as I type, because our living room isn’t heated, but that may have more to do with the fact that they are always cold- also we have been living in shorts and flip flops for three months and to go suddenly to 10 degrees, and having to wear shoes is upsetting. I almost wore my flip flops out today anyway. But then I remembered that from what I’ve seen, Albanians really don’t like bare feet! Which makes me giggle. It’s a good thing we’re not here in summer. It would be much more of a challenge to be culturally appropriate. Back to tidying up- being alone in the house meant I got to make despotic decisions like which corner to keep the washing up bucket in, what shelf the bread should live on and how many carrots we get to eat tomorrow. I made a menu because it makes life so much more classy.
Before I forget, I can’t wait to get back to England and learn more about nutrition and cooking. Helping with food is teaching me to budget and be resourceful and creative with meal plans- but I still want to have an allotment, learn to scavenge in hedgerows and make gluten free muffins. And never ever eat at MacDonald’s. Something I am increasingly passionate about- and would love to hear people’s views on- is the role of food in our lives and how it brings people together. I really love to make good food for people and I think we abuse our bodies and taste buds. We settle for filling our stomachs too often, or fall the other way and get addicted to chocolate and wine. I think balancing a respect for food with a willingness to eat anything that you have to, would be ideal. Also, if I ever have a chance to live in a van or some other tiny house, I would love to see how much you can get away with not buying. Live off chestnuts in the autumn and elderflower cordial in spring.
I have no idea what I was talking about before, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I should return to the beginning of the story. Which left off on the bus, in Malta, not that far away in miles but the whole sea away in culture.
Oddly enough, I had never flown with friends or had a layover in an airport before! Actually that’s not true. School trip to Iceland. But I can assure you that we didn’t sing ‘Start Wearing Purple’ on a travellator to an audience of air hostesses, in Manchester or Reykjavik. Along with smelling all the scents in Victoria’s Secret, having sliding and floor spinning competitions and trying to get let into the Emirates Lounge, we made ‘mother mix’- when you take a bag of peanuts and a bag of raisins and everyone else’s trail mix supplies (apart from the ones involving sesame because Sarah is allergic to sesame) and pour it into an empty yoghurt pot you brought with you and eat it sitting on the floor at 4 am for breakfast. Then we boarded another plane- bound for Tirana at last! I ate my vegetarian plane meal (which for some reason consisted of fish), threw away my once-more-empty yoghurt pot and then we were coasting down a rainy runway. Albania looked grey.
Half an hour later I was sitting in church, warming my hands at the wood stove when they weren’t being shaken by people. My memories are a little blurred. I was extremely tired. I remember eating ‘byrek’ and cheese and potato soup for lunch and going home and falling asleep. Then up at 5pm for the daily prayer and worship time at the church.
This evening is my first time not going, because I am actually super tired. 9 out of the 12 of us have been sick and taken time off, so this is my first chill time by myself. I love sharing a house together. But it does make it hard to find quiet times. On the boat we had quiet time from 8:15 to 9 every morning, so it was easy to climb out on the bowsprit or go for a walk to pray or swim or read. But here, it’s too cold to go on the roof in the morning, so even though I try to get up at 6:30 every morning, by the time I’ve warmed up and done some pushups (cos yeah) usually other people are up, boiling the kettle or getting breakfast or pretending everyone else isn’t there so they can be ‘quiet’. Then after breakfast we might have worship or intercession as a team- which is always really close and good- or we might have to head straight to the church to start our day. Every day has been different so far. We helped plan, and took part in, the first ever Christmas celebration in the square. We’ve been to different house groups and prayed with people in surrounding villages. We did maintenance (I have whitewashed trackies now) at the church. Today people went on house visits. We went to the Roma community to play football, dance to beatbox music and play games the children taught us. They are beautiful, so beautiful. But now I am deeply tired and it’s been good to have a quiet afternoon to process. I barely have enough time to journal… #nerd
The more we pray with Albanians, or for Albania, the more we have ideas of what to do here. I feel like I’m starting to understand how God can use us. People are so ready, so much fun to talk to and have dance parties with (yes, it was Ashley’s 19th yesterday and we did it Albanian style)- but it goes beyond that as God challenges us to share what we’ve learned, bring what He gives us to bring. The church here is amazing and incredibly passionate for God. Have you ever had an eight-year old tell you that before you came to his church, he felt God wanted to fill you more with the Holy Spirit- and come and pray for you? It’s so encouraging and astoundingly full of joy, this faith. And I can’t believe it’s only been a week because the people are so committed to relationships. They love to dance and play music and give hugs. I could live here. Apparently I am ‘Shqiptari’ now anyway, as I can introduce myself in ‘Shqip’ and I guess I have the right skin tone. I am about a foot too tall though. Anyway, it’s like starting to see in colour. One of the things we felt God told us before coming here was that we were meant to help ‘turn up the colour’, to bring the light that allows the rich colour and potential of this people to be seen. And I can see it happening. I generalise, so don’t be offended. But I wish that people in the West hadn’t sold their souls for the sake of comfort. It breaks my heart that this could be our obsession. That we could say with pride ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ and tell ourselves we have no need for other people, pretend we’re not meant to be outside our homes and comfort zones. I believe we are called to live differently. For myself, I still don’t know where that’ll be- in Albania or Germany or England or the rainforest somewhere- but for the first time in my life I am excited to be alive now, in this decade and this generation. If God has ever been alive, He is alive for us as well and he’s just waiting for us to decide He is all we need. When we do that, things we have all been waiting for will happen. He says so- he promises that he will pour forth his spirit on us, that we will dream dreams and prophesy and see change in the world. And if there is a God, He must be one able to keep his promises.
Fundamentally, this is what gives me a reason for living and enjoying food and hugs and mountains and breathing. To be able to face the world with a reason for being alive seems like something worth living for, to me.
This is how I know it’s worth it- on our final sail, from Siracusa to Gozo, we anchored overnight in the Blue Lagoon on Comino, and went swimming in the morning. Now one of the things one is meant to do on Next Wave is jump off the bowsprit. But basically, I was terrified to. I knew it had to happen though. I desperately wanted to- and what better place to do it than the Blue Lagoon, in December, at the end of our lecture phase and sailing season? In spite of all this, I stood at the end of the bowsprit, holding onto the flying jib, for at least fifteen minutes trying to convince myself for or against. I don’t know if I would have done it if Kristin hadn’t come and jumped with me. Then, I don’t know if I would have done it if, at the end of the day, I want to live life to the full. I want to jump off high places and never be afraid and see the world in colour. I was terrified. I closed my eyes and opened them and realized I was in the water and full of adrenalin and it was a perfect finish to sailing. Riding the bowsprit into Mgarr Marina, I realized I was terrified to stand there three months ago.
It’s good to be alive. It’s so good.
I am essentially not using the interwebs for our seven weeks in Albania. So if you have any specific questions, do comment or email or whatever, and I’ll try and answer them in my next blog post- I just probably won’t be around to chat. Even though Mediterranean hot chocolate is very very good, and there is a café with internet just around the corner.
So, one week in! My high point was probably the ‘all night’ (aka six till midnight) prayer meeting two nights ago, where worship gradually became more and more Albanian-sounding, minor chords and claps, until De Na Da and Arti started circling, stamping and dancing to the rhythm, and I joined in and we danced and laughed and danced some more. Also praying for a woman whose knee was healed- she straightened it. Also watching Nacho Libre in ‘team time’, in sleeping bags all piled on a camp bed which is now bent in half because apparently you can’t put six people on camp beds, even if they are double.
Sailor is signing out. I guess I’m not a sailor any more. Nah, we’ll always be sailors, because we can….

We do still refer to our bedrooms as cabins and talk about going ‘on deck’. Note: our very first night was so strange. The five of us trainee girls lay on our mattresses and beds, without cosy curtains, and waited for the sound of the sea and the rocking of the boat to send us to sleep.

Fare thee well!

Only two days behind the date 😉

Sea burial


It’s almost twenty minutes past midnight and my packing adrenalin has begun to calm. This is my last night on Next Wave and the very early hours of this Saturday seem like a good time to breathe it in, listen to the quiet and then sleep in my unfamiliarly bare bunk. Then up at 7 to post my German grammar, Italian phrasebooks and Christmas present Harry Potter books home at the early opening ‘Malta Post’. Finally, pulling on our overstuffed rucksacks and boarding the ferry that brought us here more than three months ago. I will give my pet rock Pedro a sea burial in the Gozo channel and also throw in a very tiny message in a bottle that I’m praying will wash up on English-speaking shores. Or any shores. It’s my goodbye to the sea- just for a while, I hope. If only I could share, whether through bottle-messages or blogs or song, how truly romantic life can be. Maybe you would hate to live on a boat (strange people do exist, after all.) But then, I think, you would find what does make you feel fully alive. Like the family cheese business in Siracusa. More thereof soon- I’ve been meaning to blog about it passionately for over two weeks.
*What are your views on random Capitalisation?
Hoping I don’t get sick from typing on the bus, winding through the cactuses and sandstone caves and stacked sugarcube houses of mainland Malta. The journey again, traveling with my best friends! Seth got it- it’s like leaving Rivendell, the restful paradise of Gozo, and the real mission begins. I’m wedged into a corner with my oddly heavy violin case (you wouldn’t believe how many books and pairs of socks you can fit around a violin) and vagabond travel gear. My rucksack has sandwich bags and shoes and paraphernalia hanging all around it, but that’s OK because as soon as I put it in a sack and check it in I’ll only have two bags to take care of. Then I can enjoy two flights and an 11 hour layover in Istanbul, to the full. (No sarcasm intended- I am incredibly stoked for all of it. I can catch up on sleep- apologies to my mother but I haven’t slept more than 5 hours a night for quite a few days- and Seth and I will walk around and busk in the airport if such things are allowed. There is only one way to find out.
This is the bus that brought me here three months ago! 96 days on Next Wave, somewhere in the vicinity of 600 nautical miles, some Sicilian postcards, Italian phrases and a jump off the bowsprit later, it’s goodbye to the sea and into the incredibly beautiful unknown. I give thanks with all my heart to God for what he gave us. We stood on the ferry and watched Next Wave shrink into Mgarr, the figures of the Cotitas and Kyrah waving from the bowsprit, and heard the bell ringing for us the way we knew it would. “Don’t forget your old shipmates!” Next Wave has been so good to us. Gozo has- God has!To have the chance to walk away changed and alive lessens the sense of loss. Maybe we’ll never see the boat and those friends again. Maybe some of us will. All I thought, watching the blue of the channel and the last sight of the cliffs, was that I give thanks with all of my heart for God’s incredible goodness in drawing us near to him, smiling at us and inviting us to leap free.
So Next Wave isn’t home any more, not for now. My bunk is stripped of my photos, notes and doodles and disinfected for the next person who’ll call it home. My possessions are either with me or given away- or, like Pedro my beautiful rock who was just too heavy to fly, given an honorable sea burial midway across the channel. We left him behind like our own tiny cairn in the middle of the sea where we’ve learned so much. I apologise for the excessive poeticism. It’s not necessary to my point. In the very stillness of no words, I don’t worry about the finesse of capturing a moment. It’s not what matters.
I’m tired of blogging for now so I will leave you. I’ll be back.

PS. Apologies for this being a week behind time!

Of Mountains and Men

Dear World,

Can you believe that tomorrow is December? In England, Christmas season would be in full swing (as 50% of my readers, according to my blog stats, will know.) Liverpool always has a faux-German Christmas market (the juxtaposition of ‘faux’ with ‘German’ is making me happy…) and nets of golden fairy lights over the streets, with the beautiful idol of consumerism, a huge Christmas tree, in the middle of Church Street, in the middle of town. I’m not homesick, exactly, but I would love to be rehearsing Christmas carols in choir. My heart longs for the harmonies of Julia Grey’s rendition of ‘Silent Night’ and the joy of singing Jesus in.

However, one can’t complain of two Christmases and that’s what I’ll be getting. Boat Christmas, a combination of Finnish, American, Canadian, British, and Irish customs alongside as many Brasilian Christmas songs as I can sneak over the loudspeakers when no one is looking, will be celebrated on the 14th, before we go on outreach and most of the staff go ‘home’ for family Christmases. This morning we were supposed to hang out with a local youth group on board, but that got cancelled, so instead we dressed up in extremely musty Santa suits. I made paper chains and snowflakes, we sellotaped tinsel to the walls and hung up baubles, and we tried to fix the fairy lights. Alternating sounds of ‘White Christmas’, ‘O Holy Night’ and Brasilian Christmas carols* served only to increase the ambience and joy.

*It’s not Christmas without Brasilian Christmas pop. Youtube it.

I do miss listening to Handel’s Messiah, all the way through. Sarah feels the same way so we bonded over our acapella version of ‘Unto us a child is born’. It was beeyootiful.

At the moment we’re still in Catania. Since we lost our motor dinghy in the storm at Cefalu, we’re having to wait for a new one to arrive. Our contacts in Sicily are buying it for us. Note: I want to have a Sicilian heart. Not only do they grow the best oranges I have ever eaten, Sicilians are so beautifully hospitable and generous that I am inspired. I want to give people what I have to give. More on that note later! In the sails from Cefalu to Messina, and Messina to here, no one was allowed to fall overboard, for difficulties of rescuing reasons. So we shouldn’t really sail to Siracusa, and back to Gozo, without one. Catania is fascinating- a combination of identity and tourism, under the grandeur of Etna. The architecture is achingly beautiful. On our first day here, we stepped into a rosary shop. The lady told us that in 1693 (I think) the city was entirely destroyed by an eruption and earthquake and rebuilt- hence the lovely Baroque atmosphere. That’s given me an idea- I should see how much Vivaldi I can remember from my grade 7 violin and go and play in the square. So far our adventures in Catania haven’t equalled much more than swinging on a merry-go-round that we found in a park. We discovered from some eleven-year old boys that if you hung off the top surround by your arms your whole body flies out and if you stare up at the trees you barely get dizzy. I think one of the effects of living on a boat is that as soon as you’re on land, you look for a moving object to be on and try to get as seasick as possible.

I also climbed a volcano with Kellie (school leader), Kyrah and Kathryn. To cut a long adventure short, we got to somewhere near the top, after a gruelling climb made happy by acquiring a dog and eating hummus and cherry tomatoes. Note: climbing an active volcano equals climbing on tephra (volcanic ash.) Climbing on tephra is a similar level of exertion to scaling a gravel cliff, only 10,000 feet high. This means I now have sore feet. The descent was like sliding down a sand dune and our dog friend stuck with us all the way. His name was Pietro. Even the dogs here are hospitable.

I won’t try to describe the misty wonder that is Etna in November when it’s  not erupting. You should experience it for yourself. When descending the mountain, watching the red sun in the clouds that surround you, leaves you feeling clean and with a sense of slowly waking from a dream, you realise why the mountains were the ‘high places’ of ancient worship and the pilgrimages of secular today. Before I got bored of Bear Grylls’s autobiography (in all due respect), I decided to follow his advice and climb more mountains with people. It’s a special bond and a similar feeling to what I experienced when I slept on deck for our night sail from Messina to Catania. Far, far too rarely am I alone in the transcendent grandeur of creation’s solitude.

We’re eating on the floor tonight and I have to record this moment! All the bench cushions from the benches surrounding the saloon have been laid on the floor. Checkered sheets are our table cloths, some people have decided to wear shirts, there is worship music echoing from the galley and opposite me what looks like all of the boys is squeezed onto the remaining bench discussing knots. I cannot describe the love I have for our community. I suspect that the best part of any community is indescribable and yet discernible.

So we had a spontaneous ‘dress smart and lie on the floor to eat curry’ night. We lined up all down the saloon floor, from Mike Oman, our speaker to this week and one of the pioneers of YWAM Zimbabwe, to me trying to baptise Seth (aka ‘the captain’ from earlier posts) in his dish. After dinner clean (my work duty for this week (I have realised that I use far too many brackets in my writing)) we went right into community gathering. This is always one of the highlights of my week- even when we don’t complete the evening by playing ‘picture pass/ telephone pictionary’ as we did tonight. We always have worship and a teaching, in various forms. Singing to God is something I love but have been experiencing challenge on recently.  The challenge is simple: I love to sing, and I love to play my violin. But what is my real motive? A Scripture says that without love, both those are empty noise, entirely pointless and not even musical. (1 Corinthians 13.) Like everything on DTS (God’s message is so poignantly simple), it comes down to examining my heart motives. Not to do anything pointlessly. Learning to wait for what God says instead of filling the space with what I can do. And this is good, good, good because growth is confusing and painful to make it growth!

I may have quoted this before, but it’s worth repeating. It haunts and excites me: life is not what I thought it was, but far riskier and far better….

‘Our actions do not fall short of our beliefs, but are the concrete material expression of them.’

What do you make of that?

The dry facts (I couldn’t think of a better title)

The English student part of me, dear readers, insists on having an eye-catching and humorous title. But blogging on the spot makes it hard to think of one and as I need to do a boring catch-up anyway, I shall simply give you a timeline of events up to now. You can have your skull bored out and then next time it’ll be exciting, I promise!

Sailing Gozo- Sciacca: The sea was beautifully calm. I learned to helm by the stars. Kyrah prayed ‘God please send us lots of dolphins right now!’ Then we saw lots of dolphins. I had never seen dolphins before and they were elegant and joyful. Fellow-trainee Seth (otherwise known as the mysterious Captain) and I are on 4-8 watch, which means we have four hours on duty and eight hours off. This means very early bedtimes and quite a lot of half-asleep stupor- but also sailing into the sunset, watching the sun creep up over the distant coastal mountains, and raising the sails so we can leave the 8-12 watch to take them down again. (Raising sails is more fun than lowering them, as you might have guessed.) 

Sciacca: a historic walled city where crowds of youths on mopeds zoomed up and down the quayside watching us living our lives on our boat. We had Vicky Bolton’s week of teaching on ‘Bible Overview’, to which I will hopefully return at some stage because although I was, so to speak, weaned on stories of the kings and the reason Jesus walked the earth, I have never felt so excited about it. Re-enacting the story of Israel and Judah, including reading Lamentations aloud while burning our cardboard model of Jerusalem, may have helped. I cried. I’ve realised I cry a lot more and I think it’s a good thing. I believe they call it being healthily in touch with your emotions. Or just sensitive to how incredibly beautiful God’s creation is. 

Sciacca-Palermo: We saw more dolphins! 

Palermo: Jet-black horses pulling colourful buggies. We climbed a mountain on what I hope was a Roman road, switch-backing up terraces then bush-whacking over the rocks, dodging lizards till we could see right across the island from Palermo under lashings of rain and sunlight on our left, to the radiant blue Mediterranean away on our right. This was a challenging week, once we had descended the mountain, but good things definitely came out of it. Anne Sloan was teaching us on ‘Identity’. For those of you familiar with Myers-Briggs, I discovered that I am INFP- I process internally and dislike working to deadlines. Other than learning to put myself in a box (which is NOT the purpose of Myers-Briggs) I realised that- trying to come up with a soundbite- actually never mind. (I apologise for my appalling writing style- I’m thinking on the spot.) For now I’ll just say I’ve had a huge amount to process and I would rather not restrict it to meaningless words. I will be back on this topic! 

Palermo-Cefalu-Termini-Cefalu: I got seasick. We lost some mooring lines and our motor dinghy but God kept us safe in a storm! 

Cefalu-Messina: I started learning to play the accordion. I stood on deck as we sailed east and 

Messina: I fully intend to act out scenes from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in some park or piazza! 

My progress in Italian continues: 

  • Parlo molto poco Italiano. 
  • Una caffè decaffeinato, per favore! 
  • Abitiamo sul un nave. 
  • Grazie mille! 

As you can tell I am practically fluent and will soon be ready to move on to the basics of Albanian, because GUESS WHERE WE’RE HEADED ON OUTREACH?

For that reason I must leave you for the joys of Albanian phrases and national foods, because I’m presenting it to the rest of the trainees tomorrow afternoon! I’m pretty certain my laptop’s about to die and also I’m really tired of the music they’re playing in this cafe. I will be back soon. The adventure continues till the day I die!

PS. It’s really sad when you think about it, how unpolished my blog has become. Let’s just take a moment.

The life of a battery is too short to be perfectionistic!