Category Archives: Jubilee


Time for the annual review of where I’ve spent the last year. Despite living on an island in the north Pacific for eight months of 2011, I managed to fit in some roamings and spend the night in a few fabulous places:

Sitka, AK*
Anchorage, AK*
The Shrine of St. Therese, Auke Bay, AK
Douglas, AK*
Salmon Lake, Tongass National Forest, AK
Bethel, AK
Samsing Cove, Tongass National Forest, AK
Juneau, AK
Fairbanks, AK
Denali Park, AK
M/V Kennicott, Alaska Marine Highway, Juneau, AK to Bellingham, WA
Seattle, WA*
Camano Island, WA*
The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA
Columbia, MO*
Chicago, IL
Bowling Green, KY
Comer, GA
St. Louis, MO
Spokane, WA
Lynn, MA
Groton Long Point, CT
Vancouver, WA
Portland, OR*
Bellingham, WA

25 different places (tied with 2010)

8 different states (Alaska is a big one, ok?)

new states visited: 0

1 country (or does sailing through Canadian waters count?)

*indicates repeat visit

Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA
Wedding Day
Most Beautiful Farm in the World: Jubilee, Comer, GA
Salmon Lake in the Afternoon
Salmon Lake, Tongass National Forest, AK
Whale Tail, Square in New London
Whale Park, New London, CT


Let’s Go Get Married in a Field!

So, I made this blatant appeal to WordPress and then just drop off the face of the blogging world. Totally lame, I know. I promise to return to better blogging efforts lest people think I’m not worthy of having received the “freshly pressed” honor!

But this past month I had the pleasure of being able to travel around the U.S. visiting one of my best friends in Chicago while attending a conference for returned volunteers (such as myself, I am an FJV–Former Jesuit Volunteer— now, after all!), then I returned to Jubilee Partners, where I volunteered prior to moving to Alaska while living in community and working with refugees in Georgia, and finally I wrapped up my three-part trip in Columbia, Missouri spending a week with my elderly grandmothers who live in the same town and don’t talk to each other; they just talk to me about each other.

The most beautiful part of my trip was seeing my two wonderful friends, Leslie and Caleb, who I volunteered with in the spring of 2010 at Jubilee, get married back on the Jubilee farm in a simple, family-oriented ceremony.

Wedding Day
The Stage was Set for a Beautiful Ceremony

The big oak tree (the Jubilee “wedding tree”) stood as the focal point of the backdrop with a cloudless sky and warm sunshine filling the field as the flower girls ran up and down the aisle before friends and family arrived.

Flower Girls Down the Aisle
The Flower Girls threw Colorful Autumn Leaves
L&C Ceremony
The families participated in the ceremony, leading them through songs, prayers, and their vows.
Jubilee Friends at the Wedding
Members of the Jubilee community looked on as yet another pair of their volunteers met, fell in love, and returned to Jubilee to be married.
L.C. and me
And, of course, I got a picture with the bride and groom. We were quite the trio when we all lived together at Jubilee.

Between all the wedding planning, Leslie, Caleb, and I even managed to fit in late night dance parties in the kitchen (with or without music), a toothbrushing party, and a trip out to Trapeze in Athens for some local brew. Thanks to Leslie and Caleb for a beautiful day and to Jubilee for allowing me to return to visit and share in the special occasion!

Culture Clash

When was the last time you wore fisherman boots at a hip-hop concert performed by a Native Alaskan? Oh really, you’ve never done that? Well, on Friday night I found myself in that exact scenario. And while I listened to “Half Smoked,” a local Sitka rapper who is the son of one of my co-workers, with a fog machine on stage and green lasers shooting around the room, I couldn’t help but think of a few recent culture clashes I have found myself in.

I joked with people before I came to Sitka that I was trying to experience the greatest culture shock while remaining in the same country. But honestly, with globalization who really needs such a drastic geographical relocation to find interwoven cultural experiences and expressions?

Perhaps one of my favorite activities during my time at Jubilee was when we took the refugees to a University of Georgia gymnastics meet against UCLA. I personally had never been to a gymnastics meet, especially not one of a NCAA national championship team, so the fireworks and fanfare at a gymnastics meet were quite unexpected. Obviously, the best part though, was experiencing it with the refugees. Walking into a huge sports arena, mingling among other spectators, and watching the ridiculous flips, spins, and jumps became all new to me as I tried to imagine what it must be like to see it through their eyes. How ludicrous and overwhelming must it all have seemed?

There were also so many moments when the Karen and Karenni refugees blended with southern American culture and I observed it all with my northwest perspective and I honestly had to laugh in total amazement at the whole scene. I definitely had one of those moments when I attended a wedding for two of the refugees held in a small white Southern Baptist church in rural Georgia. How do all those elements come together? Of course, it isn’t really a “white church,” but there certainly wasn’t much integration among the local white and black communities. The wedding was performed in both languages, a hymn and Karen songs were sung, and the church was packed with refugees, Jubilee folks, and the usual church-goers. The church ladies went straight to work after the ceremony getting the potluck dishes ready downstairs in the fellowship hall while the Karen performed a bamboo dance outside. I texted my friend Sharif telling him a few details of the event, and he responded, “Bamboo dancing at a wedding in Georgia? You lead quite the life, Liz.”

And it would seem as though Friday’s hip-hop concert only proves that statement to be true once again, which was, of course, topped-off by Saturday night’s activity of attending a wildlife cruise! (Seriously, I just feel like a jerk bragging right now, this is what happens when you volunteer, you get to do cool things and go amazing places!). My entire house of JVs got to join in on the fun since it was a fundraiser for Big Brother Big Sisters where one of my housemates works. We first journeyed just offshore to see sea otters and bald eagles. But things got really interesting when we went all the way to St. Lazaria Island (a former wildlife refuge) where we saw puffins! And then . . .  (yes, it kept getting better) we boated out to open water to see humpback whales!!!!! AMAZING, totally amazing!! It was a perfect night on the water and ranked right up with the African sarafi in Botswana in terms of wildlife experiences/encounters. Pictures will be coming (to prove I’m not making this up!).

Before starting the second week of work on Monday, two of my housemates who were taken out fishing on Sunday afternoon walked in with six salmon, which were promptly cleaned in our kitchen sink and one of them cooked for dinner. It simply does not get more fresh than that. They were just pink salmon, however, and I am learning that just like the wine snobs in the Napa Valley, there are fish snobs here in Sitka. Our friend Tyler, who took them fishing, won’t even eat pink salmon but reserves his efforts only for the King Salmon. For now, we’ll take pink, but perhaps in a year my tastes will be more refined.

Among all the consumption of great salmon, attendance at hip hop concerts, and viewing of wildlife, I have jumped into my second week of work, getting to know co-workers better, going to hear cases in court (which so far has been super interesting!), getting more training, and generally learning the many elements of what it takes to run a shelter, provide support for women in crisis, and what exactly an “advocate” does. Yes, I realize that was a long, drawn-out sentence, that’s why it captures the essence of what I’ve been up to! Time is already moving along quickly and like everyone else, I’m sure next August I’ll be asking, “Where did the year go?” I’ve mentioned to several friends that I’m excited to see what stories I’m telling in November, March, July as I watch the year unfold and another set of friendships and a new community develop.

Thank you again for the comments, love, and support.

Classroom Learnings

Let me tell you a story about Sai Meh.

She’s a 30-year-old Karenni woman who left the refugee camp in Thailand to move to the United States one year ago with her three children and her 38-year-old husband who has throat cancer. They came to Jubilee in August 2009 and Sai Meh was in the English class I taught for my entire time at Jubilee. Not that I had favorites as a teacher . . . but she was my favorite. She worked hard everyday, even though everyday, without fail, she asked me how to spell the word “weather.” She laughed at herself (to the point of tears one time!) when she made mistakes and she remembered the most random words, like “lucky,” which she’d throw into a sentence just to surprise me sometimes. When I said goodbye to her (almost) six weeks ago, she burst into tears as I hugged her goodbye.

“Teacher, I very sad you leave,” she repeated. Tears streamed down my face and my chest hurt even more when I told her that I didn’t think I could come back to Georgia to visit within the next year, knowing that I was committed to my JVC year in Alaska.

As with all the refugees, pronunciation is a serious issue when they learn English. Sai Meh’s English had improved SO much since she arrived at Jubilee (I’m told) and there was a noticeable difference from my arrival in January to my departure in May. Despite being able to hold a decent conversation, the other teachers and I decided it would be a good idea to really work on pronunciation. So, I went to class a couple months ago prepared with a sheet which had two columns of words that rhymed, but had different beginning combo letter sounds (example: chair vs. share, chip vs. ship), for her to read aloud. The other students in class happened to be absent for medical appointments that day, so I knew we would make some serious progress as we repeated and practiced the ch, sh sounds.

As we went through the words, I tried to also make sure she was familiar with each of the definitions. When we arrived at the word “ship” she looked up and said, “Teacher, I don’t know.”

“Yeah you do, it’s like a boat. You know, ” I walked to the board, drew my finest two-dimensional sailboat and pointed, “a boat.”

“Oh yes, boat,” she replied making that “ah-ha!” head motion convincing me that she clearly knew what she was talking about. “Yes, boat, very scary.”

Feeling a little concerned that perhaps she wasn’t actually grasping what I was talking about after all, I pried further, “What? Why is a boat scary?”

And there began the explanation of her escape from Burma at age 16 when she left her family, climbed into an over-crowded boat attempting to successfully cross the river to Thailand where she hoped her life would no longer be threatened by the Burmese government. Other people, desperate to leave Burma, kept climbing on board, but they couldn’t take any more people. Not exactly in these words, but through hand motions and what descriptive words she knew, she explained how they threw materials overboard as water began coming into the boat, in an attempt to keep the boat from completely sinking. As the water rose many people lost many things along the crossing.

When she arrived in Thailand, she hiked for one month up a mountain to reach the refugee camp on the other side. She ate “cookies” along the way and asked people for food and help. Don’t ask me how, but she made it to the refugee camp, and at some point shortly after, reconnected with her family.

She finished her story and the small classroom was silent. Uhh… let’s just say, it was a little hard to return to the lesson plan at this point. Frankly, I didn’t really give a shit if she could say ship. I knew she knew what a boat was, and I knew she knew that a boat was scary because she had to risk her life getting in one in order to save her life.

During all those classes of her laughter and dedicated hard work, I had honestly forgotten that she had run for her life. I had forgotten she was hated by the Burmese government simply because of where she was born and the family she was born into. She had come to the United States hoping life was better than what she had experienced before. I learned that she persevered. I learned she is a refugee.

The End (for now)

Well, this will be my last post from Jubilee. Hard to believe, but May has arrived and time here is winding down. No one is particularly excited for the transitions we will all be experiencing (even though many of us are going to great places and on wonderful adventures in the near future!). Just to keep things interesting, I like to “go out with a bang,” so this time, I’ve injured myself. While playing a great game of soccer on Saturday afternoon with some other volunteers and the refugee kids, I thought it might be a good idea to slide tackle a player to prevent a goal from scoring. The goal was blocked! The bad news is, though it has been described as a spectacular play by witnesses, I’ve hurt my knee, stretching my MCL and possibly the other ligaments in my knee. Don’t know all the details for sure since an MRI would be needed to see all the damage, but after two doctor visits it’s confirmed that in fact I’m not making it up. I do know that I’ll be hobbling in a knee brace for 6-8 weeks. Awesome. Guess that means no hiking in the Tetons, huh? So… while I’m trying not to throw myself a pity party about how I move at about a quarter of my normal speed, I’ll share a few more things that have gone on here at Jubilee.

We’ve all done a lot of reflecting on what our time here as meant, living in community, working with refugees, embracing a simple lifestyle, etc. My time here has been truly beautiful and I’m grateful to have spent these last months here. Last Thursday we gathered together as volunteers and Christina, one of the partners, facilitated a discussion on things we’ve learned, rituals/practices we want to take away from Jubilee, any revelation we’ve had, questions that we now have, etc. It was very broad, we could make personal lists and share whatever we felt we wanted to. So I thought this would definitely be something good to look back on, and perhaps others might enjoy seeing things I’ve been thinking about and learning. This is merely brainstorming, some are just brief sentences or fragments, some may seem incoherent or perhaps refer to an inside joke of sorts, but below is the list I wrote myself.

-Apparently it is possible to live an alternative lifestyle without losing your mind.

-Settling down is possible, roots do grow (sometimes even when you don’t want/expect them to) and they are good.

-Time is incomprehensible and invaluable, shared conversation and experience are irreplaceable.

-Experience vs. Lifestyle

-The South is tolerable—maybe even fun?!

-Small(er) town is positive/preferable

-What does it mean to know someone?

-Serving really is the least I can do.

-Slow down and listen.

– Money: Stop spending it, Clothes: Stop buying them, Gossip: Stop saying it, Cell Phone: Stop talking on it/ put it down and stop texting, Fast food: don’t eat it.

– I do not need Starbucks.

– The people you are around are the most important people.

– Lifetimes of faith/service: Coffee, Don, Robbie—levels of commitment beyond understanding

– Give, even when you don’t want to/think you can’t.

– Keep running, it feels good. (Note: I would just like to reflect on the irony of that one now in my current state!)

– Have a conversation about a book—for fun!

– Make it work, go beyond the surface, plunge deeper even when it’s “stickier.”

– Communication is only sometimes about words.

– Farms can be beautiful, not boring.

– More is not more.

– Community is not simply a group of people.

– Feed others, then feed yourself.

– Monday hugs.

– Greens can taste good.

– Strip malls hurt my soul.

– Shut up every once in a while, give your two cents only when you know that it’s worth two cents.

– Pretending hurts, so stop that right now.

– Worship is wonder.

– Clean up.

– Look around.

– Inefficiency is good?

Happy Times

Fun Afternoon!

Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

Time at Jubilee is running short and, though I have a lot of thoughts about leaving and how difficult it’s going to be, I don’t particularly feel like thinking or writing about it (at this point, the other volunteers and I are resorting to denial). So instead, I’ll just continue to share the happiness of this place with you and attempt to convey the joyful flow of life here.

This past weekend’s biggest hit was the slip n’ slide. With a family of eight that arrived two weeks ago, the five teenage kids absolutely loved it. The run and jump technique was mastered by even those who looked hopeless in the beginning. At least two hours of Saturday afternoon were spent at the slip n’ slide, constantly adding more soap to keep it slick, and crashing into one another as we all piled up at the end. It was simply beautiful. This was of course followed up with another water activity: a jump in the pond. The slip n’ slide was significantly more refreshing, however, because the water from the hose was actually cold. The ponds have really warmed up and don’t quite offer the cool dip they once did. The only cold water found in the pond was at my feet when I jumped in and felt the deeper layers hit my toes. Otherwise, think warm bathtub water.

A new family arrived this weekend as well, parents and three children. We have said hello, but have yet to spend much time with them since they are just settling in. They joined English classes today and were already singing English hymns after their orientation. Seems like they should be a fun family to spend some time with. Things are pretty full at the Welcome Center once again with these two new families. It is of course bittersweet for all of us volunteers, however, with these new families arriving knowing that we are going to have to leave part way through their two months here at Jubilee. Our English classes have entirely changed with all the newcomers, and I am now teaching Sai Meh (who has been my student the whole time I’ve been here) and Jun Paw, a 21 year old. He previously worked as an assistant in the medical clinic at the refugee camp in Thailand and has fairly good English skills, but with big gaps in grammar. So though he can’t really write a correct sentence with a plural noun, when asked to describe a medical condition that might refer to someone holding his stomach, he doesn’t just say, “stomachache” like Sai Meh. Instead, he responds, “You have severe abdominal pain.” It’s almost hard to not laugh when he says things like that because they come as such a surprise! Teaching certainly comes with a set of surprises each day. So with his varying interests and levels of English ability we are having to get creative in order to cater to both skill levels in this same class. Jun Paw (note: in case you’re reading that name and think it sounds slightly like John Paul, that’s because it does. He was named after the pope, but because people frequently can’t spell or speak with accurate pronunciation when filling out paperwork to register as a refugee, many names get lost in transition, and upon arriving in the United States they legally become named things like Jun Paw when that wasn’t exactly the original intention) has lots of varied interests that we’re trying to incorporate into class like learning how to drive, learning geography, and playing music. These, however, are slightly different than Sai Meh’s (a 30-year old mother of three) interests. But when I heard Jun Paw playing “Hotel California” by the Eagles on his guitar during break time last week, I discovered an opportunity. For Saturday morning’s class I printed off the lyrics and brought my iPod to class to play for him while he unscrambled all the different lines. It was a highlight for sure.

This weekend was also celebrated with a great mother’s day lunch prepared by Josephina, one of the wonderful mothers here at Jubilee. We enjoyed incredible food and sunshine as we sat out on picnic blankets. And I can’t forget to mention the homemade ice cream we churned on Saturday night. It really doesn’t get much better! And yes, I will be needing to go on more runs with all of this great food recently.

So though I only have two more weeks here, I’m still trying new things as often as possible and I really feel as though I’ve been growing more into my southern name, Lizzie Haas, as time has progressed. I started small, first hanging out with goats occasionally, learning how to chop wood, planting sweet potatoes, and now I have volunteered to bottle feed the baby calf that was born  almost two weeks ago. Which means, I get up at 7:20am, throw on some jeans, put on my boots and head out to spend about 60 seconds offering the calf a bottle slightly larger than a Nalgene with a giant utter on it. He’s pretty cute I must admit. There was a list in which the community could suggest names for the newborn calf, but the actual privilege of picking the name from the list was given to Emily, a high school student who is the daughter of a partner family here, and me. Together, we took the list out with us when we fed him one evening, tried out the names, and both agreed that Oliver was a perfect fit. So Jubilee now has a happy cow family: Rhoda the mother, Elsie (last spring’s female calf) and Oliver 🙂 After feeding Oliver in the morning, I walk down to the donkeys, Maybell and Jack, where I fill their water buckets and give them a little morning brush. Maybell and I have bonded already. Jack and I still need a little work, but it’s precious. Stay tuned for pictures.

The weekend before last, the other volunteers and I headed to Vogel State Park in the North Georgia mountains for a camping trip. Though we weren’t in too deep, I got my first little taste of Appalachia and we did cross the Appalachian Trail . . . in a car. Maybe one day I’ll do it on foot. It was a rather rainy weekend on and off, a little more like camping in the Northwest actually, except when it rained it was hot. And I must say hot rain is not really a concept I’m familiar with. We went on a modest four mile hike on Saturday and did camping type things: played cards, made s’mores, sat around the camp fire, etc. We may have gotten the car stuck in a ditch while attempting to leave the campground. But fear not, because the maintenance man was working on Sunday and we made his day when he had to go get his tractor to pull us out (literally, I’ve never seen someone drive a tractor that enthusiastically). We were smart enough to have reserved two walk-in campsites also so as to avoid being next to RVs and having cluttered neighbors among the woods. Turns out we made a great decision. RVs were plentiful at the drive-up sites and I’m pretty sure there were some people at that campground who didn’t even step foot on dirt that weekend. As we walked back through the campground we passed a giant RV with the name “Bounder” on it and a little logo of a cute kangaroo.
“Bounder?” I said cynically to Leslie and Caleb after a brief rant about Americans’ “Take it all with you on a get away weekend” approach to camping/traveling. Caleb responded saying, “Yeah, doesn’t it just look like a giant . . . metal . . . bounding kangaroo?!” It was just such a fitting comment to capture the whole absurdity of the situation that I found it particularly funny. On the way back to Jubilee last Sunday, we stopped at Tallulah Gorge, which was really beautiful, but I felt like I was in the Amazon. Humid, cloudy weather, lush vegetation all over . . . Ok actually, I’ve never been to the Amazon, but I imagine it being somewhat like that. Point being, it felt very tropical and come to realize, in fact, I’m still in Georgia. Who knew?

So that’s basically the report. Things are very good. Humidity has set in, my hair will never be straight again in Georgia, runs are a lot sweatier, evenings are all the more enjoyable when the heat of the day is over, particularly in a hammock :-), everyday I discover some new, scary looking bug that I didn’t know existed before and I usually kill a few spiders before bed. Snake sighting count: One (and hoping to keep it that way). Much love to all. Thanks for reading and being interested in my time here in the South! I’ll be heading north soon, but for now, I’m still soaking up as much of southern life as possible.


Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05


Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary explains solace like this: 1) to give solace; CONSOLE 2) a: to make cheerful b: amuse c: soothe

When I think of Jubilee this word often comes to mind. For anyone here on this property–refugee, volunteer, or visitor alike, I think this place provides solace for so many. I’ll try not to get too philosophical, but in an attempt to post more regularly, I will share a recent moment of solace.

Above is a photo from our volunteer photo scavenger hunt last week. I won’t argue with the fact that it sounds like an activity for 5th graders, but it was absurdly fun (for more photos click on the flickr link and be amused… especially the three men in a tub photo!). One of the things we had to do was to all put at least one foot in the pond. The pond has rapidly gained popularity with the increase in temperature, and it is most definitely provides solace, especially after a hot afternoon of mulching!

After a dip in the pond immediately following dinner last night (I know, I know, not supposed to swim on a full stomach), several volunteers and I headed out for one of our evening walks. We tromped down to see the goats, but were stopped along the way by an encounter with a beaver. The night was quiet and we all stood silently on the footbridge for probably about ten minutes before continuing on our way. It was cool initially to watch the little guy go about his business, but after a few minutes I became restless. Um, why? Where did I have to go? At first I was annoyed by the fact that no one else seemed to be moving along and then I had to ask myself, why do I keep trying to move along? I was struck by the fact that I had so much trouble slowing down… even here at a place where not all that much happens quickly. Why not embrace this moment, like so many others at Jubilee, where there isn’t an agenda waiting and I don’t have to rush off to the next thing? Pretty much all of creation was singing around me last night on such a warm, pleasant evening, and I was focused on the action of walking, not the essence of life where I was walking.

Once we did continue on our way, we strolled into the goat pasture and at dusk just hung out with the goats, watching them munch away with their kids nearby, scratching their heads if they came close. They certainly didn’t have much of an agenda for the night.

A few of us continued to town, where we purchased the local pale ale and an ice cream bar (after burning so many calories walking we had to be revived you know). When we returned to Jubilee, we headed to the balcony of the K-house, lit some candles, and played hearts. Solace indeed.

A friend recently told me in an email he spent the entire day on the back porch of his parent’s house playing cribbage with a friend and he said it was perfect. I responded to him with this story of last night’s walk and said, “I dare say it was perfect also. I appreciate people like you who appreciate moments like that. More of that in the world and I think we’d be on to something.”

That could be a completely bogus idea, because not much of life is really ever that simple. But what if for once, we just let it be? I tried it last night and it worked out just alright 🙂