Southern Girl


Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

When I made my first trip to the South my freshman year of college to help with the rebuilding/recovery efforts in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, I came home with three very important conclusions about what life would be like if I lived in the south: 1) My hair would always be curly due to the humidity. 2) I would weigh approximately 300 pounds due to the excessive amount of good food (this is the trip in which I first discovered chicken and dumplings). 3) My name would be Lizzy Mae, because people say your middle name after your first name, that’s just the way it is.

So now that I have been living in the south for several weeks, I am seeing which of these is becoming a reality. So far, my hair isn’t that curly because it’s not very humid here yet. But I have warned everyone about the hair disaster that will daily occur once the humidity percentage is higher or the same as the temperature. Also, I don’t weight 300 pounds yet, but that’s probably only due to the runs I have been going on. Though we do not eat traditional southern food here (nothing is deep fried), I eat about five times more bread than I ever have in my life. I think I mentioned this in the last entry, but I cannot emphasize how much good bread there is here. For instance, yesterday at lunch I had three PERFECTLY baked rolls and at dinner, I managed to limit myself to only two slices of the delicious cardamom bread. Both of these were taken right out of the oven before being served. I will never be able to eat store bought bread again. And finally…yes, I have acquired a southern nickname. Unlike my prediction from my first trip however, my middle name is not Mae, therefore, I am officially Lizzy Haas. Before any of you (Annie or Brittany!) get too excited about calling me this, there are a few guidelines that must be met before you can call me this. You must be in Georgia with me and we must be in the country, not the city. Last week when in Atlanta, my friend Leslie tried to call me Lizzy Haas and I told her she couldn’t, because let’s be honest, in Madison County it sounds normal, in Atlanta, it sounds ridiculous. At first, my nostrils flared with indignation when my fellow volunteers Stina and Leslie implemented this nickname. However, as with many other things here, I have chosen to embrace it for now, and I hope that it won’t follow me outside of Madison County. I am aware that putting this on my blog makes it very tempting for others to begin calling me this, but I will not respond, so don’t bother trying.

I would once again like to emphasize to everyone who thinks I am addicted to Starbucks that I have still only been one time since being here. And to be fair, it was one that was in a grocery store, so really… does that even count? (Actually, I wrote this while at Jubilee earlier and in fact I am now sitting at Starbucks using the internet. But this is the first REAL Starbucks I have been to and it is only the second Starbucks drink I have consumed. And since it is so warm out and I am in fact a “seasonal drinker,” I ordered my new favorite warm weather drink: Grande Iced Coffee with sweetener, and I must say it is incredible).

Not only do we make up ridiculous nicknames for each other and regularly have dance parties, we have gotten pretty good at creatively entertaining ourselves. For instance, to celebrate Mardi Gras this past Tuesday, four of us went to the gas station in Comer at about 8p.m. and bought four delightfully cheap bottles of wine and then ten of us gathered in my room (don’t worry I had my Christmas lights on, so there was mood lighting) and had a wine party. Who says you can’t be classy in rural Georgia? It was such a success I think many of us agreed we would need to do it again soon, perhaps next time with some cheese.

Besides the normal daily work at Jubilee, we have the chance to go on the occasional excursion. Last week we traveled to Atlanta to visit the Open Door Community (like I wrote about last time) and this week a few of us had the chance to go back to Atlanta again, this time for political reasons. I have never been active in politics of any sort, so this was quite a learning experience. A couple of the partners here, Al and Robbie, have spent years visiting death row inmates in prison and working to see that the death penalty is abolished in the state of Georgia. Having very little knowledge of the politics of Georgia or the death penalty, I’d say I was highly unqualified to make a trip to the state legislature to lobby against the death penalty… but I went anyway. And it was incredibly interesting. On Tuesday morning, after leaving Jubilee early, we arrived at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta across the street from the state capitol to meet with those in charge of the organization Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP). There they organized us into groups and informed us as to who our representatives were based on the county we were from. I suppose I was a bit of a poser, since I am in fact NOT from Georgia, but perhaps we can let that point go at the moment. After getting organized and being given our main speaking points, we headed across the street to speak to members of the House of Representatives. I had heard stories of people being rude, not even coming out of the chamber if they weren’t interested in you or your issue, or perhaps worse, coming out but leaving abruptly and not really listening to your ideas. So I was prepared to see something along those lines. However, we spoke to both representatives from Madison Country, one for about ten minutes and another for about twenty. Al and Robbie, who have been making these trips regularly over the past several years, said it was the most time and attention they have been given. That being said, they didn’t exactly changed their minds, but they listened and shared some of their own ideas as well. All in all, it was very interesting to see our government at work.

We were given Wednesday off this week to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Most of the day was taken up by various items on my personal “to do” list, but a few of us headed to Athens where we attended an Episcopal Ash Wednesday service. I particularly liked being back in a liturgical service, especially after many weeks of going to different churches (non-denominational, white Baptist, black Baptist, the ecumenical services at Jubilee) and it was a great way to begin Lent. My favorite part is always confusing people the rest of the day when you have ash on your forehead. And seeing as the priest was generous with the ashes, I definitely got some looks.

On Thursday night, we also started what will likely become a recurring event with a post-dinner night run. I have been unusually inspired to run since being here which may be related to the fact that I know if I had stayed at Alta and skied all winter I would have legs of steel by now. Though enthusiasm for running was minimal among volunteers here just weeks ago, I have now gotten six of the other volunteers to run with me at various times, mostly just by being annoying and mentioning it relentlessly to them. Of course now I’ve made it my goal that by the end of the term, all the volunteers will have run with me at last once. It might be a stretch, but it’s worth a shot. There were six of us that headed out into the dark country roads of Madison County and into the quiet streets of Comer on Thursday. There was just enough of a moon to light the way for us and we all managed to avoid potholes and twisted ankles. I must say, it was one of the best runs I’ve been on since being here and we all ended the day feeling quite satisfied with ourselves.

Saturday was the sunniest, warmest day we have had since I arrived here. It practically felt like a summer day in Seattle and absolutely everyone was out playing. Though my winter has been short (comparatively) everyone seemed to be ready to shake off a case of cabin fever and as my Grandma Haas always say, “Blow the stink off.” It just so happens that I introduced the slackline on Friday after work and it has officially taken over Jubilee. There were requests for me to put it up again on Saturday after lunch, so I headed out, with a following of children (and volunteers) behind me, to put it up on the volleyball court. After putting it up around 1:30pm, it was finally taken down around 6pm and I don’t think there was more than about ten seconds throughout that entire time when there wasn’t someone on it. It is quite the hit and I think we will have some expert slackliners by the time the volunteer term ends in May.

One last event to report on this week: I ended the week by going to a contra dance last night. For those of you who are like me and didn’t know what that means, it’s like square dancing but there’s a caller and is usually danced in groups of four that rotate so you end up dancing with everyone in your line. I must say, it was a good time. Another volunteer, Stephen, and I decided we could categorize the different types of dancers that there were. While he named a few types of female dancers (example: the ones that try to swing the guy instead of allowing themselves to be swung and the shoulder movers), I was in charge of classifying the male dancers (example: noodle arm, over-zealous spinners, hand movers who think dancing is primarily done with their upper body, aka: my friend Lucas). Obviously it was entertaining and it was quite an eclectic group as well, all ages, the old hippies, the young college students, etc. Another cultural experience in the south for sure. I did manage to get one of the worst blisters I’ve had in a long time last night while dancing, but it was completely worth it. And since I liked it so much, you’ll all be happy to know that there are two opportunities a month for me to improve my contra dance skills 🙂 I’ll be a pro by the time I return north.

So there is a bit of a recap of the week. Obviously lots going on and with the improved weather and many visitors currently at Jubilee I don’t think things will slow down any time soon. Thanks to everyone who is keeping up with me and for your comments and updates on your own lives. Much love to all.


An Epic Place to Wake Up

Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

Here is a list of every city, town, or place I spent the night during the year 2009:

(Note: I’d love to take credit for this idea, but it was in fact my friend Annie who posted her list of cities on her blog first. And she originally got it from our mutual friend Andrew. And I traveled so much in 2009 that I couldn’t pass up such a cool idea, so thanks Ferg!)

Seattle, WA*
Spokane, WA*
Tacoma, WA
Boise, ID*
Atlanta, GA*
Columbia, MO*
Hayden Lake, ID
Twin Falls, ID*
Missoula, MT*
Wallace, ID
Denver, CO*
Golden, CO
Kootenay Pass, British Columbia, CANADA
Austin, TX
Bend, OR
Portland, OR
Bellingham, WA
Cypress Island, San Juans, WA
Ogden, UT*
Moab, UT
Bryce Canyon National Park, North Campground, UT
Zion National Park, South Campground, UT
Prescott, AZ
Santa Fe, NM
Tatum, NM
Meridian, MS
High Falls State Park, near Macon, GA
Bluffton, SC
Washington, D.C.
Jackson, WY*
George, WA
Moran, WY (Grand Teton National Park)
Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park, WY
Terre Haute, IN
Zambezi, ZAMBIA
Lusaka, ZAMBIA
Livingstone, ZAMBIA
Chobe National Park, BOTSWANA
Alta, UT
London, England, UK

15 different states (I did travel through several other states, but did not spend the night.)
5 different countries
40 total different places

Needless to say, not many nights were spent in “my” bed. My sleeping bag and I have bonded a lot and I must say that one of my new favorite items is my silk sleep sack, which is possibly one of the greatest inventions ever. I slept in it every night in Zambia and couldn’t have been more pleased (except for the night I woke up with a cockroach in my bed, but I can hardly blame the silk sleep sack for such an event!). Now that I am at Jubilee, I do have my own bed that I can count on sleeping in every night. It is in a delightful little loft in my room, which I am absolutely in love with and tend to talk about it somewhat obsessively on a regular basis. It is so cozy and is probably one of the greatest ways to utilize space. It even has a skylight in it that allows me to wake up to bright sunshine every morning. Are you convinced that my loft is amazing yet? In fact, I think I’ll go crawl up there right now and read. Night night.

The Unexpected

One thing I have found to be true in Georgia is that the weather forecasters are very accurate. I mean, you can actually plan your day’s outdoor activities based on what it is that they predict (which is more than you can say for Seattle’s weathermen). So despite discovering this over the past few weeks, when snow was in the forecast for today, I still shrugged it off and thought, “It’s Georgia. It’s not going to snow. I’ve already said goodbye to snow for the season.”

Needless to say, there’s about two inches on the ground right now, and big, wet flakes continue to fall, not just in flurries, but in a downpour. I can’t say I was all that thrilled about it initially. On my drive out here I thought that Kansas was the last place I was going to have to see snow for a while. But I’ve since come around regarding today’s snowfall, because after all, it is beautiful. All the pine trees are covered, when you walk through the snow here red muddy footprints follow you, and the quiet that only comes with the falling of snow makes this already peaceful land even more serene.

The refugee kids of course love it as well. The word delighted doesn’t quite capture their enthusiasm and excitement as they ran around in it this afternoon. So I suppose, I’m willing to be excited to see snow one more time if it means that several children are seeing it for the first time ever.

Tomorrow will complete my sixth week here at Jubilee. That seems virtually impossible and, of course, as with anything fun, it is going by ridiculously fast. Since I have not been as faithful in my blogging as I promised, I have quite a few things to report. I’m sure they will be somewhat haphazard and unorganized though.

Notable happenings since arriving: I have been to Starbucks ONE time. For those of you who have stock in the company, you may want to reconsider. I have gotten creative and invented what I lovingly refer to as a “Jubilee mocha” — a packet of hot chocolate mixed with the Kroger brand coffee brewed in the coffeepot downstairs, with a touch of milk, not too shabby! I have made two purchases with my debit card in the last six weeks. Once to refill my gas tank for the first time since arriving here and the other for toiletries, otherwise that’s it. And frankly, I couldn’t be happier about it. The food here is amazing. I was a little concerned when I found out (after arriving) that they eat mostly vegetarian and meat is really only incorporated into dishes, but is never the main course. I leave the dinner table generally in pain from how much I’ve eaten, because when there are freshly baked sweet potato biscuits, or sweet potato salad, or Bosnian bread, or egg salad, or Lisa’s rolls, or peanut butter cookies, or homemade vegetable stew, or . . . I think you get the idea, it’s just hard not to fill your plate full every time. I’ve eaten more bread here in six weeks than in the previous 22 years of my life combined.

Along with the weekly trips to Athens, which have become a bit of a tradition with the other volunteers on the weekends (you still have to go out and act like you’re 22 every once in a while ya know!), I have also been attempting to take advantage of some of the more “cultural” experiences here. On Martin Luther King Jr. day, along with several others from Jubilee, I attended a black Baptist church in a neighboring town for a celebration service. It was fantastic. Lots of yelling from the pulpit, an all men’s chorus (which was all black, except for one of our volunteers here, Bernard, who looked dashing in the front row with his bright red hair!) that sang many songs worth swaying to, and there were enough “Amen”s yelled from the congregation to finish a year’s worth of prayers at any other church.

Perhaps one of my favorite outings so far was a week ago, last Friday night when I attended the Madison County High School girl’s and boy’s varsity basketball games. I felt like I was in a Disney channel movie and I expected Zac Effron to walk in at any moment (has anyone seen “17 Again”? Be honest… great film). The game was truly amazing. I attended because one of the families here has three kids in high school, and Emily, a freshman, and I have become buddies. The game had every stereotypical element of high school: lots of PDA couples lining the halls, people smoking in the bathrooms, a fight that broke out at half time as the teams walked back to the locker rooms, ditsy girls sitting in the front row but turned around flirting with the boys behind them paying no attention to the game, and cheerleaders in a yelling competition across the court from each other. Thank God I’m not in high school anymore. It was also delightfully southern. This is Madison County, Georgia we’re talking about here, ok? This county has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state of Georgia along with some serious drug problems. I had to fully embrace the southerness of it all when I looked down the row and this large African American guy was gnawing on a piece of fried chicken in the middle of the game. It was beautiful, SO much good people watching. The basketball game was epic, a true county rivalry. There was one white guy on each team. The first basket was a dunk and got the crowd even more pumped up than they already were. These players looked like they could be in college, fully tattooed arms with matching attitudes. Unfortunately Madison County wasn’t able to pull out the win, but what did I care? It was still a show!

This past Tuesday, the volunteers took a trip to Atlanta to visit the “Open Door Community,” which was established around the same time as Jubilee (1979ish) and works with homeless in the Northeast part of Atlanta. Not only did we visit there, but we got a chance to hear from people who run “New Hope House,” which works to support the families of those who are on Georgia’s death row. We heard about their ministry to those families and to the prisoners themselves. We also had the privilege to hear from a former death row inmate, which was fascinating to learn about his experience and his recent freedom. Finally, we heard from the brother of another man who was on Georgia’s death row, but who committed suicide while waiting for his execution. The stories are fascinating and having never taken much of an interest in the politics of the death penalty, it has caused me to reconsider many of the mainstream prejudices I have acquired due to ignorance on the subject.

Yesterday morning we said goodbye to the second family who has now moved to Atlanta. The family was a single mother with three children, all of whom brought a wonderful spirit of energy to Jubilee. We were all very sad to see them go, and it was impossible not to let a few tears go when I saw the oldest son, who normally always has a bright smile on his face (and who became my fiercest competitor in ping pong) crying as he climbed into the van. So the cycle of people continues to flow through Jubilee. The next few weeks holds visits from lots of different friends and family members of the community, followed by three straight weeks of college groups visiting in March during their spring breaks. Things will definitely stay busy here!

Relationships with the refugees are growing, the young children who we take care of in child care are becoming much more comfortable with all of us, runs with other volunteers have been great, so all in all, things are pretty wonderful. I have to give a big thank you to my Aunt Christy for mentioning this place and recommending that I look into it. I cannot even imagine being half way up a ski hill in Utah right now 🙂 Other upcoming events include a lobby day at the state legislature, which a few volunteers get to attend (including me, yay!) regarding the death penalty, a visit to a monastery, the day off for Ash Wednesday, and who knows what else. Much love to all.