While I’ve been feeling pleasantly surprised and especially blessed that London has produced some new, meaningful friendships already, one of my priorities going in to this year was to continue to practice the art of being a good long-distance friend. Making new friends here will keep me sane and happy in London; keeping old friends will keep me grounded in who I am and why I came here in the first place. No one here knows the pre-London Abby. That’s refreshing in some senses. But it’s also slightly dangerous in that, if I didn’t have old friends remind me of who I am and where I’ve come from (from where I’ve come), friends who are able to historically contextualize my present doubts and desires, I’d maybe lose sight of myself a bit. Good thing I have these faces goading me to be the best me I can be.
Madeline. Forever one of my sweetest, dearest, prettiest friends.
Alex. Makes me think more than anyone else, in uncomfortable, beautiful ways.
Andrew. Goober of a best boy-space-friend for four years.
Ben. One of the most eccentric, passionate, enthusiastic kids I know. I can’t (can) believe they allow him to be a teacher for disadvantaged Latino kids in Miami.
Ari. I will forever appreciate her practicality, her listening ear, her ability to put things in perspective, her big-picture mentality, her adventurousness, and how she challenges me to not think shallow-ly.
Stuart. Let’s just say he’s a special boy who unexpectedly walked into my life mid-summer and who continues to make me smile. A lot.
Mels. MAKES ME SO HAPPY. This girl has such a soft heart, and a knack for speaking truth into even the most muddled parts of my life.
KJ. Can make me laugh and think like no other, and is changing hearts across the world (in Moldova, in this picture).
Austin Boston. One of two of the greatest brudders. Ever. Such an encouraging, positive, loving boy.
I’ve been going on lots of awesome dates recently. Here are some of the lovely people I’ve been courting.
Sherry. I had her over last Friday (along with Christopher, who you’ll meet in a second holdyourhorses) to make … get ready … pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter sauce from scratch mmmm. She’s British. I have a British friend.
The following day, I went day-explorin’ with Christine, a fellow Vandy grad, in Brick Lane. For you Nashvillians, I FOUND EAST NASHVILLE, nestled nice-and-neat in East London. Lots of hipster pants, lots of yummy food, lots of gentrification. Mmm.
Oh, and that’s a steaming cup of mulled wine in her hands, my new favorite thing.
On Sunday, Annie from HCD and I took a trip to Cambridge for a Lumineers / Civil Wars concert. News broke yesterday that the Civil Wars are, in fact, civilly warring, and that we got to see the last concert they’ll have for at least a year.
I’m convinced no evil or bad things can touch this magical place.
The (un)happy couple.
Today, I had two one-on-ones with a new sweet friend named Amy (also a Rotary scholar) …
And a junior from Vanderbilt named Christopher, who is also very sweet.
London, you got some good eggs.
Phew. I’m all birthday-ed out. Tonight we celebrated the lovely Lauren (an HCD friend) with pumpkin carving and plenty of pumpkin-flavored food.
My contribution was this concoction (what it looked like, and what it should’ve looked like). Pretty close, huh? White chocolate pumpkin spice hot chocolate. With rum.
Canadians are darn serious pumpkin carvers.
Jack and apple cider.
I scored with my Rotary hosts, Clive and Ruth. Tonight, I had a quieter birthday evening in their lovely home outside the city. Their two daughters, Julie and Rachel, came as well, along with Julie’s boyfriend Mark. They cooked a yummy fish pie (don’t worry — it tasted better than it sounds), veggies, some type of scrumptious mushroom-goat cheese-herb concoction, and bday cake.
Seriously. Did I say I’m lucky?
People started trickling out after cake, but a good bunch stuck around until 3AM or later for charades, conversations, and plenty of laughter.
It’s happening. I’m growing to love these people, who made me feel so, so special on my special day.
I cannot believe how lucky I am. Just short of five weeks ago, I knew no one here. That was never really a concern, because history has shown me that there are good people everywhere. I was not expecting, though, to feel so comfortable, so loved, so quick.
Yesterday was my birthday. And I was blessed all the day long. Alison had been excited since Day #1 to throw me a potlock birthday bash, so we tossed out some invites to people in my program, people in Rotary, and random connections I’ve made here in my short time. I was expecting maybe a quiet, intimate group of 10. Then all this happened:
Sherry, a Londoner and a friend my dear friend Alex met while living in Kenya one summer, stopped by about an hour early to help me cook a goat cheese-sausage-fig pizza. We had never met before, but she sweetly brought me a red velvet cupcake from the most famous bakery in town. I have that sneaky feeling this girl is going to be a good, good friend.
While that was happening, Alison sneakily decorated her room with balloons and posters galore (our flat doesn’t have a sitting area, so we converted our rooms into a big, flowy parlor), and arranged two of my old and new favorite things — sunflowers and cider — on my mantlepiece.
The two French girls who live in the flat below Alison and me, Annabelle and Suzanne, carved a birthday pumpkin.
Then, my celebrators started showing up. Lots and lots of them. I was astounded and humbled and very, very happy.
Laura, HCDer, from Colombia.
Cara, who I met at an LSE send-off event in Atlanta, and Christine, a Vandy grad.
Tim (Vandy senior), Harriet (Naveed’s British girlfriend), Elizabeth (just graduated from the program I’m in now), and Naveed (my Vandy TA).
Debonair Matthew, an Australian Rotary friend, who I found re-enacting Jurassic Park scenes in the kitchen a little later …
… made a raspberry chocolate birthday cake.
And Sofie, a Norwegian HCDer, sang me Happy Birthday in Norwegian and gave me the biggest, warmest hug.
More in the next post. I am one very happy, very lucky 23-year-old.
It means so much to have these two sweet girls thinking about me and supporting me from all the way Over There by wearing Kansas shirts.
I knew coming over here that it’d be a reminder in what it feels like to start all over, with no social base whatsoever. I also expected to have to navigate the tricky acrobatics of friend-making. And friend-keeping.
We’ll talk about friend-keeping later, but honestly, I think I might’ve learned a thing or two in college about how to make friends, or at least make friends the Abby Way. The Abby Way, I’m finding, is rather simple. Just ask people on dates. Not group dates, not dates in loud places where you can conveniently divert your attention to the singer on-stage to avoid awkward silences. Dates like tea. And cider. One-on-one.
Australian friend Matthew and I did tea and chocolate biscuits. San Francisco friend Cara and I did (tried to do) a virtual rain exhibit [more the come later]. Flatmate Alison and I decided to visit our little neighborhood pub for some folksy music and fall cider. All in a day.
Almost three years ago, one of my dearest friends, Madeline Swayze, gifted me “the blue book,” a devotional with prayers and thoughts from Christian writers, organized into many chapters by topics like “Soil of your Soul” and “Grasping” and “Letting Go.” I haven’t used it consistently, day to day, but it was a regular part of my prayer life throughout college, and has traveled with me to Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and now London. Aside from transcontinental traipsing, this book has seen me through a lot: uncertainty about my future, spiritual ruts, one bad break-up, transitions, questions. More than all that, it’s seen me grow a little.
Today, I started the very last chapter in the book: “Home.”
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” - Luke 23:39-43
Here’s my homage to maybe one of the best gifts I’ve been given. By the end of this week, the little blue book will be placed on my shelf. Other books will come around and I continue my walk. But the little blue book will no doubt be on every bookshelf I own.
A lot has happened since last weekend. I can’t tell if this is going to happen often — feeling like a month has flown by in the short span of 7 days. Maybe things will slow down once I start to own this crazy city a bit more. I have a hunch, though, that London will keep things dynamic.
This week I:
1. Met the people in my HCD program, and am BLOWN AWAY by how impressive they are. We’re quite the eclectic bunch: 7 of us are from the States (but one is really from Eritrea), 2 from Canada (but one is really from Iran), 1 from London (but really from India), 1 from Ireland, 2 from Japan, 3 from China, 1 from Azerbaijan, 1 from Nigeria, 2 from Colombia, 1 from Holland, and 1 from Norway. 4 boys, the rest girls. I can tell we’re going to love each other a lot by the end of this.
2. Was warmly welcomed over Greek food at my host Rotary club, Barkingside.
3. Attended many a post-grad mixer, pub crawl, cocktail hour with administrators of my program, who are equally as awesome and impressive as the students.
4. Joined an informal soccer team with Brits from my flatmate Alison’s program at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
5. Was introduced to Dutch pancakes.
6. Went church-shopping.
7. Explored the city with a new friend Annie from Chicago and found these guys …
Annie and I ventured to the top of the towers for this view of The Shard (the tallest building in Europe), etc.
The London Eye and Big Ben
This weekend, I escaped to the countryside for a welcome orientation for all Rotary scholars studying in Great Britain (for a refresher, that’s England, Scotland, and Wales) and Ireland. The conference itself took place in Exeter, about a 2.5-hour train ride southeast of London, home to a gorgeous cathedral, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley, and purportedly the narrowest street in the world … literally (Parliament St., 25 inches). I met lots of scholars studying all sorts of things in London — film, social entrepreneurship, public health — and may actually have made my first friends here!
The host family fairies worked their magic once again: I stayed with Charles, an Exeter native and loyal Rotarian, and his Welsh wife Ann — introduced in December of ‘57, engaged in January of ‘58, and married in May of ‘58 — in Topsham, outside Exeter. Topsham is a small town of 5,000 “on a good day,” as Charles said, and is stacked on a river that spills into the English Channel. The pair was incredibly generous, incredibly hilarious, and incredibly in love.
Before meeting at the manor of another Rotarian for dinner Friday night, I chit-chatted with my parents-for-the-weekend over tea and, get this, scones with CLOTTED CREAM. I was warned about this stuff before I got here. It’s just as thick, but surprisingly more pleasant, than it sounds.
Dinner was fish n chips (what we would consider French fries), ironically from a restaurant called Little China, and strawberries n cream (clotted as well) and about 1.5x as many wine bottles as people.
On Saturday night, the festivities multiplied. I got to hold an Olympic torch that one Rotarian ran from somewhere to somewhere nearby; had my first pork sandwich from a real pig roast; and danced Irish jigs ‘til late with Rotary scholars and Rotarians alike.
I loved this weekend. LOVED it — for the new friends, for the warmth I felt from the Rotarians who welcomed me and housed me, for the chance to see a small part of this beautiful country, for the reminder of how blessed I am to be here. Charles and Ann are expecting me back in the seaside village of Topsham, and said I could use them as home base if I want to get away from the noise and grime of the city. I think I’ll take them up on that offer, maybe more than once. Toodaloo!
Well, I’m off again! Poppa H always has called me a “moving target,” so in keeping with tradition, when it came time to decide what to do after my Vandy career sadly and sweetly ended, I don’t think it surprised me nor the ones close to me that I set my sights abroad … and they landed on London!
Back as early as junior year, I became a finalist for the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, a flat $27,000 stipend awarded to “servant-leaders” interested in pursuing graduate-level education internationally, as well as being an “ambassador of goodwill and better friendship.” Goodwill? Friendship? Heck ya! So I signed up, and will be representing the Leawood (KS) Rotary Club District 5710 during the 2012/2013 academic year as I pursue an MSc in Health, Community & Development at the London School of Economics.
Now you might be wondering, “What is that mouthfulofa degree gonna get you?” Well, to be honest, I’m not sure yet. HCD has told me I’ll emerge with a better understanding of “how health and social development professionals can work in partnership with target communities to improve well-being, fight disease and build ‘health-enabling’ social environments.” After some life-changing experiences this summer working with victims of domestic violence in Nashville’s courts, as well as with some awesome maternal/infant health outreach workers in rural Appalachian towns, I’m pretty set on focusing my studies, research, and extracurricular involvement on women’s health as a window into family and community health. But as far as what HCD is “setting me up for” or how it’s going to “make me marketable” … d’oh. I’m opening myself up to the mystery that has always been my future (and yours, and yours, and yours) and just hoping that it lands me where my heart and the world’s need meet.
Beyond academics, and in keeping with the trend I’ve witnessed within myself with each new place I visit or live, I’m going to walk away from this year changed. And as goes the prayer with every transition I’ve made over the past four years, I pray that that change is in the direction of Christ. I pray that Abby Hannifan of August 2013 is more of Abby Hannifan than she’s ever been. By that, I mean I hope my heart and mind grow in such a way over the next year that I become a closer approximation to the person in Christ God hopes me to be.
Some other items on the wish-list for this upcoming year:
- Learn to cook, and budget
- Wear my retainers every night … for my readers who just got out of braces (can I get a hey!!), do it no matter how dorky you sound to those who see you in your jammies! Otherwise you’ll end up like me, a rebel non-retainer-wearer for four years with shifted teeth and $X00.00 out of pocket for a new “dynamic plastic” retainer
- Take a multi-vitamin every day (in case my pocket book shrivels so much that economy takes precedence over nutrition)
- Do it the British way and start to like tea
- Join a book club
- Grow an herb garden in my super cute kitchen window
- Ride a bike to school as much as possible. For the times I can’t, learn to do something productive with my hands on public transportation.
OH, and excuse the confusing title of this blog. I’ve decided to centralize my travel blogs, and just add London chronicles to guatemole. Feel free to read about last summer! It was the bomb!
I knew I was in for a different Latin American experience in Panama when about 90% of the women waiting to board the plane were dressed in hideous fluorescent jumpsuits.
So there are a few things everyone should know about Panama:
Women wear hideous fluorescent jumpsuits. (No matter the body type, unfortunately.) With matching scrunchies.
It is hot as Hades. And muggy as … there’s no comparison. I’ve never been that wet, that long.
The food is fatty and fried as heck. Fried bananas, fried fish, fried chicken, fried rice. That’s about all the bus stop cafeteria had to offer me. Oh, and hot dogs.
Wanna go there yet? Let’s talk about the good stuff … because the good stuff is beyond wonderful enough to overshadow fluorescence and lizards in your bed and obesity. Here we go.
My reunion with There’s A was heart-warming, as usual. Our trusty couch surfing host David was kind enough to pick Theresa up at the bus stop, then pick me up at the airport. Lucky ducks we were to pick a host who is on vacation AND who has a car AND who has a big heart, because he ran us around that city like crazy. Here’s a glimpse of what we saw:
Panama Viejo. Juxtaposition at its finest.
The Canal, por supuesto.
Casco Viejo, this artsy, ritzy New Orleans-y area.
AND we ran into Balbina Herrera, Panamanian almost-president in 2009. She must’ve thought we would’ve known who she was without David’s explanation, because she snootily approached us with an outstretched arm, expecting us to kiss her hand or something. We blew up her ego even more by asking for a photo. I’m skeptical. Theresa is obviously patronizing.
There she is, looking like a good presidential candidate by going to church.
Then David took us for some ice cream. BASIL-FLAVORED? Yes please.
To pass the time digesting, we had a photo shoot. Goofballs.
David is headed to U of Arkansas grad school in August for his Fulbright scholarship. I plan to return the couch surf favor by letting him shack up at Vandy if he visits Nashville.
Then we did some city-scape hunting.
I’ll miss these colors.
Soccer by the ocean.
David convinced us to stay another night when it was revealed, after an hours-long salsa lesson on his patio til 5 AM, that we gringas stink at salsa. So we stuck around the city an extra day to go to a FOUR-HOUR-LONG salsa class at a casino. But did I walk away more confident? Absolutely not — Latinos have rhythm in their blood, I swear. And it’s just downright demoralizing to hear “just feel it and move your hips freely” about 50 million times. I walked away feeling so un-sexy.
The next day we fared David well and headed to the absolutely charming Chitré/Los Santos/La Villa, where Theresa has been studying all summer. I met this divine snack called patacones. Basically smushed fried plantains. Be ready, Towers Suite #503 (is that our suite numba, suitees?). I’m going to be cookin’ like a Mexican grandma and all her friends this upcoming year.
The pace of life in La Villa is astonishingly relaxed. People sit on their porches or lay in hammocks maybe 70% of the day. The other 30% they drink malts. Or wander around the central square stalking the only two gringa girls in the city. Or sit on the terrace and drink Ron Abuelo (Grandfather Rum, literally translated).
So we lived like the locals and did just that (except we were the stalkees, not the stalkers).
Isn’t she the cutest.
We also went to the beach, by bus and bike. And ate more patacones. It was lovely.
Beach goddess, pic-a-nicking on peanut butter and crackers.
Leaving my bestie was sad sad, as always. But I had things to do, like go to the Ambassador’s residence in Guatemala City for a private, guests-on-the-list-only party with Jessie Bullock (who is very important and cool) for my last night in Central America. IS THIS REAL LIFE (YES IT IS).
Well folks, Xela and I are no longer. But I have a feeling I’ll be back in the future (more to come on that in a later post … I added another huge to-do to my women’s program checklist my last week at the clinic, and want to return to see it actualized). I’ve been building up a list of things I’m going to miss about Xela ever since Day One, it seems like. I’ll get a little sentimental here, if you permit me:
I’m going to miss my quaint little apartment … my gas stove, my temperamental shower head, eating by the romantic glow of headlamp during power outages. And yes, even the rebel living room tile that was placed wrong, throwing off the whole floor design. And I’m going to miss feeling like such an independent grown-up, shacking up all by myself for the first time in a foreign country. It should probably be on everyone’s bucket list.
I’m going to miss having an avocado man. And a mango lady, and a blueberry lady. I’m going to miss the bakery knowing my weekly ration of eggs. I think I would’ve done well growing up in a small town, micro-managing my grocery list. Shopping at Price Chopper just ain’t the same.
This might sound egotistical, but I’m going to miss being different, and therefore, especially attention-drawing (e.g. I’m going to miss the Mayan woman with ancient wrinkles on her face smiling at me the whole bus ride to Guate because I suppose I’m an exotic specimen of a human to her).
I’m going to miss Miriam. Deeply. Her sarcasm, her goofiness, her passion, her tirelessness, the way she loves loves loves on her women.
I’m going to miss the colors. Guatemala calls itself the country that invented colors. Well, I kind of think God invented colors, but maybe Guatemala is being really holy with its use of it.
I’m going to miss the slow pace of life here … having time to sit for hours in a café with Karen and talk about big deal things … not fretting if I have to wait for forever for a bus because there’s always a cute Latin American baby to gawk at … drinking a whole hot glass of tea after dinner … making full-blown, non-pre-packaged meals multiple times a week … going to bed at 9:30 if I want to.
I’m going to miss my boys. That may sound silly, because I’ll see them in a month at school. But it won’t be the same. I highly doubt we’ll get the chance this year to cook a meal together like we have so many nights recently, talk for hours, maybe watch a movie, maybe go on an ice cream hunt, all together. The crazy Vanderbilt life for over-achievers with drastically different schedules just isn’t conducive to that. But I’ll love on ‘em when I can, and keep reminding them that they are oh so precious to me in so many ways.
I really could not have dreamed up a better summer. God has been so abundantly good to me … by strengthening my friendships, showing me a whole new world of women’s health advocacy I didn’t know interested me, growing my heart in challenging but beautiful ways, providing me with safety and good health in all my crazy adventures, and nudging me just a little closer toward becoming the woman in Christ He desires me to be. I feel very full and enriched leaving Guatemala. And I am so grateful for that.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37: 3-4
As a treat for reading all that, here are some pictures from our epic weekend trip to the capital to see Harry Potter, and our retreat to Antigua for a day.
What’s the first thing we do upon arriving in Guat City on a 4 AM bus? Find McDonald’s breakfast, of course. Yes, those pillars are made of coffee beans. And yes, that is plush lounge-style furniture in the back. AND YES, THIS MCDONALD’S HAD BANANA BREAD.
It was the best. Not only because of the movie … Oakland Mall in Guat City’s ritzy Zone 10 has waterfalls that fall from the ceiling and spell words. And lots of other glamorous things. I saw my first-ever Guatemalan boob implants there. And
plenty of way too much hair gel and high heels.
Antigua at night. Celebrations ensued.
Gearing up for the women’s soccer game with identical oatmeal pancakes. Dorks.
I’m off to Panama tomorrow. And while I don’t know if posts about Panama necessarily fall within this blog’s mission statement, I definitely won’t leave you guessing what There’s A Nelson and I do during our romantic love reunion. Stay tuned. (And pray our first couch surfing host isn’t a creep.)
I’m going to be MIA for a couple days. You see, the boys and I are being stupid by taking a bus at 4 AM tomorrow to the capital to see Harry Potter. And then we’re going to Antigua. AND THEN I GO TO PANAMA TO SEE THE ONE AND ONLY THERESA NELSON. But I’ll try and give you a report before then.