Life at Jubilee

Well after two and half weeks here I’m falling into a routine and understanding how life works at Jubilee (though there are still some things I need to work on, like better timing of when to do my laundry so that it doesn’t all end up hanging to dry in my room due to a rainstorm). After all, I was only at Alta for two weeks and I definitely understood what life entailed there! But things are a bit more complex here; the history of Jubilee is incredible and the people here are inspiring. I apologize if this entry is a bit dry. Last night my friend asked, “So, how’s the new job? Wait . . . is it a job? What are you doing there?” So here is a bit of information to attempt to answer that question. I’ll explain and you can tell me if it’s a “job.”

The first full week here was orientation, which included basic introductions to the property, the animals, garden work, the school, etc. as well as several thorough sessions of teacher training. By the end of the week we were all ready to get out of our seats and start working! On Monday morning at 8:30, Blake, a partner and the work coordinator, holds our work meeting where all the volunteers receive their work assignments for the week. Every volunteer rotates teaching English classes and providing childcare for the refugees kids while their parents are in English classes. When we aren’t teaching or watching the kids (we are usually assigned to each a couple times a week), there are plenty of other jobs/chores that need to get done around the property. We work from 8:30-noon and from 1:30 until 5:30 with devotions and an hour lunch break at mid-day. Generally the jobs you do during the morning are different than the ones in the afternoon. Obviously all of our time is very structured, but none of it feels busy or rushed. The evenings can be quiet for reading, or full of laughter if someone gets a game going. Because we live here without TV and minimal access to the internet, many of us sit around talking, drinking tea, writing letters, reading, or watching Jacob, the cutest one-year old child I have ever met, who belongs to Lisa and Ben, two of the other volunteers. Jacob acts as a constant source of entertainment and as Emily, a fellow volunteer from Canada, said the other night, “I can’t imagine ever being accustomed to that much cuteness.” Along with the evolving evening routine, Stina, another fellow volunteer from Minnesota, and I have also implemented Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning runs. Ok, we just implemented them, so there has only been one so far, but we’re off to a good start 🙂 Many of the partners also have high school or college age children who are fun to get to know and hang out with. They live pretty normal high school lives, but come home to quite a diverse community that I’m positive their peers don’t experience! Rebecca, a high school junior, just brought me her English essay to proofread. Is it weird that I’m strangely excited to read it?!

Throughout the workday, everyone goes about their tasks as necessary and there isn’t a “boss” who we must report to, so the work environment is somewhat relaxed but everyone remains diligent in their work. Each day of work can be very different. Yesterday, I was randomly assigned to prepare both lunch and dinner (it normally doesn’t fall on the same day, but that’s just how it worked out!). I spent a good part of the day in the kitchen, made several trips back and forth for laundry, but still had a great day. People are in and out of the main house all day and there is always lots going on. It’s rare to find a dull moment here. For our other jobs, the volunteers are generally assigned to chores/tasks that various partners are in charge of. For instance, every Tuesday morning I help one of the partners, Al, clean and prepare the guest houses for when visitors come, and on Wednesday mornings I am in charge of doing all the laundry from the guest houses and making lunch for the community. Most Friday afternoons I will be assigned to help Don, one of the founding partners of Jubilee and a founder of Habitat for Humanity, as his correspondence assistant. So there is a variety of work and plenty to keep busy with.

Another unique quality of Jubilee is that people are constantly moving through here, whether it is refugees, volunteers, college groups on spring break, or just weekend visitors of family, friends, or even strangers who have just heard of the place and want to check it out. So that an open INVITATION to anyone interested to see what life is like here. The more the merrier 🙂 It’s a community after all and people are welcome all the time. Don’t let the fact that it is in Georgia scare you away! I promise we are not rednecks here, far from it! You might just get put to work, but since that’s how the community functions, that just helps to give visitors a real sense of what the place is like.

The Jubilee property is about 250 acres. I must admit, that just like I thought I’d never find myself living in Georgia, I also never thought I’d be living on a farm. The property here is really beautiful though; there are lots of woods to run around in, three ponds with swimming and fishing, a large organic garden, canoes to take out, and bikes (that sort of feel like they’re going to fall apart) to ride on the dirt roads. All the volunteers live in the same area and each of the partners have their own houses or apartment style accommodations. I have probably the greatest room, with, yes, my very own sleeping loft! I am slightly obsessed with it and couldn’t be happier with my little nook. The refugees live in their own homes in what is called the “Welcome Center.” The Welcome Center is located about half a mile from the main community house. The members of the Jubilee community do not live separate from the refugees to cause segregation, but instead the refugees are able to have their own living space (just like they will in Atlanta), they can make their own meals that they are used to, and get into a rhythm of life somewhat normal to what they will experience once they move.

Just this morning we said our first goodbyes to a refugee family headed to Atlanta. This Karen (pronounced Ka-rin, not like the woman’s name Karen) family, from Burma, has completed their two months here at Jubilee and will now be more permanently resettled. Many of the volunteers hardly knew the family because we have recently arrived and have not had much of a chance to bond with them, but already it was sad to see them go. I think many of us were nervous for them as they embarked on the beginning of their American lives without the help of the Jubilee community. Still after two months, they know very little English and they have the very difficult task ahead of them of settling into American life. It is especially poignant to recognize that, though they have the daunting tasks ahead of them of getting jobs, paying rent, grocery shopping on their own, getting the kids in school, etc., they have significantly more hope for a future than they did if they were still in Thailand in a refugee camp. Before they left, we gathered in a circle at the school this morning and those who knew them could say a few remarks about their time here, which was translated by Ehk Kaw, one of the former refugees who lived here and now acts as a translator to the families. We then sang them a song as a blessing for them to go on their way. On this rainy, gray morning (what is this Seattle?!) we all followed them outside as they loaded up in the van and waved goodbye as they drove down the driveway.

But two new refugee families are on their way! One family arrived this afternoon and next Thursday another family will come. They are both Karen families with four children! When the van rolled up the driveway today, we stood outside with a “welcome” sign and waved. We opened the doors of the van to peek in our heads and say hi. They looked exhausted. Understandable considering many are picked up straight at the airport after a journey of over 24 hours. It will be fun to see a family progress in their time here from day one.

Through many conversations here with the partners and reading the book “With Our Own Eyes” written by Don Mosley, one of the founders of Jubilee, as well as Habitat for Humanity, I have learned about the incredible history of this place. Compared to the work that Jubilee has done and participated in in the last thirty years, the work here seems very tame and subdued. For example, Jubilee has helped to house tons of illegal immigrants as they make their way to Canada, they have been sought out by the IRS for withholding their tax money because they do not support military action, they have built this place from the ground up never using construction companies, asking for help, both financial and physical, from friends. The philosophies and radical thinking behind and within this community are eye opening and inspiring. We had some visitors from Columbia Seminary in Atlanta yesterday and once I described to her a little about the volunteer program here she asked me, “So did you come here as a sort of self-discovery?” I kind of wanted to laugh because that sounded a little ridiculous, as well as pretty selfish considering Jubilee calls themselves a “Christian service community.” We don’t play new age music and burn incense here ok? But I think my response to her was accurate, I said, “Well, I don’t think that was the main purpose. But I don’t know how you could spend time here and not learn more about yourself or discover new insights about how to live your life.” So yes, on some level I’m sure my time at Jubilee will be a “self-discovery,” although that phrase leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But I’ll keep you posted as to what I discover . . . about myself or otherwise 🙂

So do I have a job? You tell me.

The “Art” of Traveling and Miscellaneous Thoughts from the Road

As many of you know I’ve spent a significant amount of time driving around this huge country of ours recently. I was recently asked by a friend, “So what state are you a resident of again?” as he referred to my nomadic tendencies of this past fall. When I drove out to Wyoming this past summer in June 2009, somewhere near Bozeman, Montana I turned over 50,000 miles in my Subaru Impreza lovingly named Joey. (During my time in Utah, however, Joey finally received a full name and his legal name is now Joey Sender Romper Stomper). When I pulled into Jubilee Partners in Comer, Georgia on Sunday January 3rd, the odometer read 72,600 miles. In the last six months I have driven about 22,600 miles—a little outrageous to say the least, especially considering that prior to this year, the lease we had only allowed us to drive 12,000 a year. I now plan on staying in the same spot until May, with only a few possible small adventures on the side, so I think Joey will have a much deserved rest . . . at least until I have to drive back across the country to Washington sometime around the beginning of summer.

Obviously I enjoy traveling, but it’s not just the new places I get to see and the experiences I have: I enjoy the actual act of traveling, I mean sitting on a plane, or in the car, or on a train—however it may be that I’m getting around. Often times you can’t do much when traveling, and though some people find the limitations obnoxious or maybe even suffocating, I find it liberating. On a plane you’re finally away from cell phones, in a car you certainly can’t read, and generally you’re confined to a small space so you have to learn to sit still just like your mom told you to do when you were little. If you didn’t learn as a child, don’t worry, modern transportation offers you another chance. Of course there are any number of distractions of radio, iPods, and cell phones that we can use to forget our brief confinement, but I’d argue that the “art” of traveling is diluted when we enable those devices.

When I was in Zambia this past summer I was talking with Father Dominique, the priest we worked with in Zambezi, as we walked back from visiting a nearby village. He told us of the many journeys he makes throughout the rural northwest province of Zambia as he tries to visit the eighty different parishes he is assigned to within a two-year period. He told how he usually starts in his truck, but also brings a canoe with him, as well as his bicycle. He said once the road ends at the river, he throws his bicycle in the canoe and starts paddling. After he crosses the river in the canoe, he pulls it ashore and gets on his bike. Once the land becomes impassable on bike he continues on foot to arrive at his assigned church. Talk about a journey, Father Dominique is no stranger to travel. And you can bet there is no option of a radio, cell phone, or iPod for him. As I explained to him how I would be driving fourteen hours to my summer job once I returned to the U.S. I told him that I was looking forward to it and felt like it was a good time to think. He responded cheerfully saying, “Yes, I always like the time to think on journeys. It gives me a chance to empty my trash.” I absolutely loved how he phrased it! As I’m sure you can tell, Father Dominique was an incredibly thoughtful and entertaining gentleman. So throughout my last 22,600 miles on the road, perhaps I have “emptied some of my trash,” but I have also just laughed as I’ve encountered so many new things and places. Below are some of the random thoughts I’ve had during my many miles on the interstate and beyond:

Sure signs that you’ve spent too much time driving:
1- You have a red, sore spot on your elbow from where you rest your arm on the door of the car while holding the steering wheel.
2- You have listened to all the recent podcasts of “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and you feel as though you could call Peter Sagal a close friend.
3- You can identify the different symbols each state uses on the signs for their state highways. Utah’s is a beehive; Kansas uses a sunflower; Washington’s is a profile of George Washington; Idaho, Georgia, Texas, and Wyoming use the outline of their states . . . I’ll stop there.
4- You begin to appreciate the precise placement of the windshield wipers because the angle which they are at minimizes the obnoxious little triangle at the bottom center of the window that doesn’t get wiped.

These are a few tips my friend Kayli and I picked up during the first few days of our road trip this past fall. Lessons learned on the road so far:
1- Always know where your headlamp is in the car before it gets dark.
2- When you set up a tent and pay for a campsite, be sure to flip the sign to say “reserved” instead of “open tonight,” we learned it makes for an awkward situation otherwise.
3- Keep deodorant handy at all times.
4- Carmen the Garmin (GPS) frequently does not what she is talking about and will often lead you astray.

You know you’re in Utah when:
1- You realize that big puddle you keep seeing is the Great Salt Lake.
2- Your 22 year old friend has a receipt in his kitchen from the “Beverage Control Store”
3- Mormon temples are more frequent than gas stations.

You realize you’re in Texas when:
1- A John Deere pulls up next to you at the gas station.
2- The “Share the Road” signs have motorcycles on them, not bicycles.
3- There are more state flags flying than U.S. flags. Oh the lone star…
4- You cross water sources with names like “Kickapoo Creek”

And finally, you know you’re in New Mexico when:
1- Towns have names such as “Truth or Consequences.”
2- Convenience stores have homemade “Wanted” signs posted on the bulletin board near the grungy bathroom.

Joe-ja (aka- Georgia): Some Initial Thoughts on Living in a Red State

I’ve compiled this posting over the last few days, so some of the references to days may be a little off.

So I’ve come to rural Georgia . . . willingly. Many of my friends have been shocked by this, and I must admit I never thought I’d find myself here, especially after telling people I wanted to ski for the winter (but that’s another blog entry that I’ll have to write later). But I have a reason to be here (at least until May) and so far it’s been a great experience. The Christian community I am a part of is called Jubilee Partners. It’s is a liberal oasis located in northeast Georgia. The property is situated on the border of the town limits of Comer in Madison County, supposedly the county with the most chicken coops of anywhere in the country. That should give you an idea of the setting. The property here is really pretty (but maybe it just seems that way so far because the humidity hasn’t set in), it’s a mix between camp and a farm. It has permanent residents, volunteers like me who come in for few months at a time, and refugees who live in their own homes a little further away on the property for two months before they are permanently resettled by an agency in Atlanta. I have to say that after being here a week I hardly noticed the fact that I was in Georgia (perhaps that was due to unseasonably cold temperatures that have hit the South and remained here for several days. So much for breaking out my t-shirts in January!). Until a walk with another volunteer yesterday I hadn’t even left Jubilee property in four days. The small town of Comer remains to be explored (as does much larger, nearby Athens which I hope to get to this weekend), but we have a volunteer group date for Saturday night at the local pizza place that will no doubt give us a great introduction to the small town.

However, tonight, the first Friday night since arriving at Jubilee Partners, a group of us headed out a few miles down the road to a “gospel bluegrass” concert held in a building called the “Gospel Tabernacle.” It was incredibly, stereotypically southern. If I didn’t think I was in Georgia before, I know without a doubt that I am now. The band was full of very talented musicians and very opinionated singers. With lyrics something along the lines of, “I won’t trust that rag head, diaper head, to fly my plane . . .” nonchalantly stuck in the song I could no longer deny that I found myself in red state. I considered walking out and running in a northwestern direction as fast as possible about the time that the lead guitarist began his preaching about his granddaddy who was a sharecropper who survived the depression and how he was an honest, hard-working man unlike people today. When the political commentary came out about how we need to get the “bums out of the white house” during the next election and go back to the “old way” because everything “new is bad” I could no longer keep a straight face or look at the speaker. Thankfully I was sitting next to another volunteer who is from the Bay Area so I could quietly moan to her as the man spoke of his conservative agenda.

Despite this abrupt encounter with southern culture, I am very thankful to have come to Georgia to be a part of a progressive Christian community that is anti-war, anti-racism, anti-death penalty and has some incredibly interesting thoughts and intentions. I may be in the South, but the environment I live in is incredibly unique, for any location. I have told most people that I came here to teach English to refugees, which is true, but there are quite a lot of other details about my time here. Jubilee Partners is an organization that began thirty years ago and branched off from the parent organization called Koinonia located in southwestern Georgia. Koinonia is also the organization from which the idea for Habitat for Humanity branched off. So Koinonia, Habitat for Humanity, and Jubilee Partners have all been founded or started by many of the same people but have remained separate organizations with slightly different intentions. I’m sure I will be able to recite all of this much more comprehensively after I read the book With Our Own Eyes that Don Mosely (one of the founders of Jubilee Partners and Habitat) has written about his whole experience. So I will be teaching English to refugees from the country of Burma a few times a week and taking care of the refugee children a couple times a week while their parents are in English classes. Much of the rest of my time during the “work day” will be jobs that help to contribute to the whole community. We have been given assignments based on our preferences and I am also helping to prepare guest rooms for the many visitors that come through, I will work as a correspondent assistant to one of the partners (a partner is simply a long-term resident at Jubilee, unlike me who is just a short-term volunteer), I will do various painting jobs around the property, help be a host to the college groups who come here on spring break, along with the normal chores of everyone in the community to do laundry, clean, work in the garden, prepare meals, do dishes, etc. We live simply here without TVs, little access to internet, growing much of our own food, raising a milk cow, goats, and chickens and creating much of our own fun and entertainment. I’ve already gotten out Scattergories once and I’m hoping that is just the first of many future appearances! Since I do have some time to take a break and reflect on all that has happened in the past several months during quieter moments here, I have great ambitions of being able to reflect on and write/blog about some of my experiences throughout the fall of traveling and visiting many friends.

Today, is now Sunday and I’ve come to Athens for church. My friends from Wyoming who went to UGA told me of a church to check out. To my surprise, though none of my friends who I worked with in Wyoming this summer live in Athens anymore, they were all at church this morning visiting!! It was a great surprise to see all of them sitting nearby. Last night, the other volunteers and I headed out for a night on the town at the local pizza place in Comer. It was fantastic, particularly because it was karaoke night! Caleb, one of the other volunteers, made his debut karaoke appearance in Comer and did quite well, but the show was stolen by the nine-year who sang (with attitude) “Gunpowder and Lead” and “Before He Cheats,” two sassy country songs. It was hilarious. There are two other karaoke nights coming up and we’ve already noted the dates so we can make a return appearance.

As I was sitting outside “Jittery Joes” coffee shop today after church talking on the phone to my friend Molly in Germany, an Oscar Meyer weiner car drove by. I had to interrupt Molly to tell her of what I was witnessing on the street. She of course cracked up and said something that I feel captures my thoughts on being in the south exactly: “To paraphrase John Mayer, ‘Why Georgia, why?'”

Maybe in a few months I’ll be able to answer that question. For now, it still remains a mystery 🙂