Monday, June 27, 2011

Day One of VBS & CAC: Goats, India & Jai Ho!

This week I am working at First Baptist Church of Austin's Vacation Bible School and Creative Arts Camp. The theme this year is The Heifer Project, an organization that allows people to donate money in order to buy animals for people in impoverished communities in the world. If you haven't heard about them, I encourage you to check out their website and learn about their approach.

In the mornings, I am teaching Missions, which really delves into what the Heifer Project actually does. Each day we'll be focusing on a different animal that the Heifer Project uses, and then on Friday, we will vote on which animal the children want to buy with the offering money they brought for the week.

Today we talked about goats and India. I had a globe and showed the children where India was, and where Texas was--they were very impressed that it was just about halfway around the world! We talked about why goats are so great, especially for poor communities--adaptable to many climates, can deal with rougher terrain, cheaper than cows, another form of milk that doesn't have lactose, etc. We heard a story about a girl named Reena who never got to go to school, but when she got a goat from the Heifer Project, she got to start her own business with the money she made. We learned that everyone who receives an animal must take a class on how to best take care of their animal and of the earth. We learned that an important aspect of the Heifer Project is passing on of the gift, so in the case of goats, giving one of the kids that were born from the goat to another family in need in the community.

In the afternoon, I partnering with another teacher to do "Move with the World" where we are combining drama and dance. We met yesterday and planned a great curriculum for this week which I am very excited about, and will focus on the country of the day. We therefore are incorporating a dramatization either of a folk tale, or just a short skit, and then dance from that area.

Today, we continued to learn about India. We acted a short scene in which a group of US Americans goes to visit India and gets to learn some Indian dancing. The first dance we did was a sort of version of dandiya, or the stick dance, a traditional folk dance from India done at festivals, weddings and other celebrations. We used paper towel rolls as sticks, and danced around, tapping them together and clapping with partners. Then we did a version of Jai Ho, a dance done at the end of one of my favorite movies, Slumdog Millionaire. I basically did the same thing for the chorus, and the rest of it was just a lot of movement around that I made up as I went along and the kids followed what I did. They seemed to have a lot of fun and I definitely did!

Overall, day one went really well and I am excited for the rest of this week!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What's happening next year?

I will be moving to Los Angeles, California on August 6, 2011.


Actually, this shouldn't be a surprise to most of you. I don't even know who reads this, but I'm going to hazard a guess that we know each other. So, if you know me, you know that before I graduated last fall, I had thought about doing a service year, and that in February I decided on five programs I wanted to apply to, and that in March and April, I applied to four of them, and that in May I was accepted into three, and also in May, I officially decided to become a Jesuit Volunteer.

The programs I applied to were Mission YearGood Shepherd VolunteersLutheran Volunteer Corps, and Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Why did I pick JVC?

It was a difficult decision. All of these programs are similar in some ways and then each have distinctions that set them apart. So my reasons weren't necessarily picking JVC over MY or LVC, but just when I added up all the pros for JVC, it felt right.

So what were those reasons? They're easily summed up by the four values of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Community has always been an important aspect of my life. I've always loved my big family, my church families, my dance families. The communities I am part of are a big part of why I am the way I am. Community is important in shaping who we are, in being our support in times of struggle, allowing us to teach each other. During my year in JVC, I will be living in community with other Jesuit Volunteers.

The agencies JV's work with are all involved in some aspect of social justice. The homeless, intimate partner violence, prisons, refugees, immigrants, hunger, disease... etc. We have a responsibility to the downtrodden of our society. This is why I chose to a service year in the first place. I may try to act for social justice in my daily life, but I have never taken the time to devote my life completely to service. And now I will.

JVC is faith based, in the Jesuit Catholic tradition. The last few years I have explored a lot in my spirituality. I have come to my own decisions and had my own conversations with God, instead of relying on others to tell me what to believe. My sense of justice has also stemmed strongly from my faith. Throughout the year, we will have spiritual retreats and learn more about our spirituality as part of the JVC program.

The world has gotten so busy these days. We just have so much stuff. With JVC, I will be paid enough to get by and pay all my bills, but it will be a different lifestyle than I am even used to now. I am going to have to improve my cooking skills and learn to get by with less. As part of preparation for this, I am trying to rid myself of unnecessary junk I have. I won't be able to take much with me, so I'm packing things up, both as part of learning simplicity, as well as the fact that this is the fourth time I've moved in four years, I'm tired of moving all this crap every year.

I will be working with Urban Compass in Los Angeles. My assignment is for a year, from August 2011-August 2012. Probably the real tipping point on why I chose JVC was the particular interview I had for placement with Urban Compass. I am drawn to urban ministry, and have always been drawn to prevention programs for temptations that affect young people, especially in an urban setting: gangs, drugs, dating violence, crime, gun violence, teen pregnancy, etc. Urban Compass is a partnership between Verbum Dei High School and 112th Street Elementary School, serving the children of the Watts neighborhood in LA, one of the most economically depressed in the nation. It's an after school and summer program designed to give these kids homework help, enrichment activities, even field trips to show there is a world outside of Watts. It is also simply serves as a place for kids to go, and keep them off the streets. As my dad said when he was working on keeping after school programs in Durham--the hours between 4 to 6 are prime time for juvenile crime.

The director of the program I will be working with next year was interested in my experience growing up in Durham. I by no means grew up in the ghetto, but it's hard to escape some of the issues Durham has because of the pervasiveness. There are people I grew up with that joined gangs, some of whom are now dead or in prison. And I've known people that have died by gun violence. She was also very interested in my dance experience. I do have an interesting background--I am most trained in modern dance, but for the last four years have been very active in my ballet folklórico troupe at St. Ed's. I also know a bit about quite a lot of other types of dance: African, tap, ballet, hip-hop, lyrical, jazz... Dance for me has always been a way to connect with people, and I am so excited about teaching dance.

Next year is going to be a life changing experience. I don't expect it to be easy, I know it will be one of the most difficult things I've ever done, but I also know that it's part of my journey.

Thank you for reading. If you would like to donate to JVC, to help fund me and other volunteers and support us, please follow this link.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Story of My Life

This was a piece I wrote for creative writing class my sophomore year. April 2009. I have a bunch of stuff in my drafts folder, but this blog is getting so ~serious~ so I wanted to lighten it up a little :)

“Story of my life.”  This phrase is uttered quite often by those of my generation.  Urban Dictionary describes it as a phrase used “when one, usually a negative, thing happens to you often.”  People might say, “Man! I got no sleep the other night! Story of my life!” or “My professor assigned us a paper and a test on the same day—story of my life!”
Seeing as I can be a bit dramatic, it is a phrase I tend to overuse.  Then one day last week, three events occurred within an hour that made me really want to say, “See!  Story of my life!”
It started with the other dancers and I going to try on denim skirts at Wal-Mart.  In Ballet Folkl√≥rico, we were learning a dance for the Baja California region of Mexico and part of the costume was a denim skirt.  When we got there, I grabbed a size 10, my normal size, though I suspected it wouldn’t be fitting since I’d gained some weight.  It did fit, though a bit snug, so I was told to try on the next size up.  I come out of the dressing room with the size 12 skirt on, which fit better, but the problem is that the skirt couldn’t go straight down in the back because of the size of my ass.  So I proceeded to announce to the whole store,
“Okay, the size of my ass is not going to change so the skirt’s not going to go straight down…”  Then one of the alum girls pointed out--
“We just want all the skirts to look uniform, you know what I mean?  So try on the next size up and we can always take it in at the waist.”  I sighed and tried on a size 14 skirt (two sizes bigger than my normal size) and finally the skirt went down a little straighter in the back.  To be uniform like the rest of the girls, I have to wear a skirt two sizes bigger than normal because of the size of my ass.  Story of my life.
A variation on the phrase “story of my life,” meaning much the same thing, is the newly popular catchphrase “F my life,” or “FML” of fame. is a site with moderated user-generated content with short anecdotes that describe negative events and occurrences that happen to people in their day.  Each anecdote begins with “Today” and ends with “FML.”  The site has become very popular in its hilarious, embarrassing, sometimes horrible tales of what happened to someone and ruined their day.  The phrase “FML” has even started to turn up in everyday use, commonly replacing “story of my life.”
The second event occurred about twenty minutes later on the phone with my mother.  Because of the frustration and also hilarity of the previous situation, I thought I’d tell her the funny story.  My parents aren’t super conservative but something they always took issue with when I was growing up was cursing.  Every once in a while, something slips, especially a word like “ass” which I don’t consider to be that offensive.  So midway through the story, my mother cut me off and said,
“Naomi! Use the word ‘butt’ when you’re talking to your mother!”  My mother is crazy (though everyone’s mother is crazy).  Story of my life.
Rounding off the hour of the story of my life, the third completely unrelated event involved a bowl of soup and my bed.  You can probably imagine what happened.  I heated up my soup in the microwave and set it on my bed for a minute while I was sitting down.  Trying not to jostle the soup bowl, I sat down slowly, but that didn’t really work.  The soup bowl turned over and half of it dumped out before I could catch it.  There was soup all over my sheets and my legs.  I burned myself and made a huge mess and only ended up with a half bowl of soup for the trouble.  I am incredibly clumsy: story of my life.
Three separate events within an hour.  All could be summarized with the phrase, “story of my life.”  Though the phrase “story of my life” tends to have negative connotations, it doesn’t have to.  I could just as easily interpret these events with different summaries.  I could say “I have a nice curvy ass: story of my life” or “I have wonderful parents that want me to be a good person: story of my life” or… I’m not sure I can find the upside of spilling soup in my bed.  That one will just have to remain in the FML category—Today, I spilled hot soup all over my bed, burning myself and making a huge mess in the process. FML.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

This morning I came across the idea of writing a letter to your sixteen year old self. A few famous people have written some, so I thought I'd try it.

Dear 16 year old Naomi,

Things will get better. I know you think that everything has to change for it to get better, but it doesn't. You think all your problems will be solved if you go to California for college, but you don't, and you ended up with a pretty nice life. And we(?) are finally going to live in California in a few months, so it's not like you never get to go.

Sometimes it is okay to let things go. Not everything needs to be a Big Issue. This is something you will still need to work on in five years, but maybe you could start now.

It's okay that you have no idea what you want to do with your life. Five years later, you only have a vague idea, but you've figured out how to trust God and let life take you where it goes. Something you should probably remember: "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." A lot of things have not gone according to plan, but things have been good anyway.

Love, 21 year old Naomi

P.S. He's never going to love you like you love him. And it would be awesome if you could just figure that out now instead of suffering through that for the next few years...

Visual aid: me at 16...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

photo post

I've been some pretty places lately, so I'd like to share some of my photography from the last month or so.