journal: days 1, 2, 3

September 23, 2009

6.23.09

before embarking on our travels, in the Tallahassee airport, my bag got checked and I got checked. the bag could be because I have a 50 foot piece of webbing and 5 quick links in there as well as a maglight flashlight that could double as a weapon. as far as me getting checked…not sure why, but they sat me down (i felt like I was about to be interrogated) and the woman asked me to turn my hands over palms up, rubbed a circular piece of strange-feeling paper over my palms and said “I have to go test this…wait here.” my thought was “sweet…they think I’m bomb threat or something. do i look shady?” she put it in her computer and this crazy lookin’ bar graph came up on the screen…then she came back and said I was ok. The bag and I got through…no bombs. 🙂

currently I am sitting in the JFK airport. Today has been long…and it’s only 6:30pm. Next flight in T-minus 1 hour and 50 minutes. As I type, my middle sister is in labor with her first child, and my first nephew. Which is crazy/excitingand i wish i was there! 😦

The next flight we hop onto is our first international flight. We had a 10 hour layover in NYC today and have another 12ish hour layover in Cassablanca, Morocco, tomorrow. Then our flight to Cotonou, Benin, where we will (hopefully) get a couple of hours of sleep before our first screening at 8am Thursday morning. (AGH!) We will be looking mighty rough I am sure.

I have not been able to sleep yet on flights today…the first was 45 minutes (Tallahassee to Atlanta…THAT’S SO QUICK!) and the 2nd was 2.5 hours but I am a horrible sleeper and despite the earplugs and bandana around the eyes and travel pillow…alas, no dice. after only 3ish hours of light sleep last night … i’m TIRED.

this is random and scattered…just like NYC. We sat in central park for a bit, had pizza at a place called “Tiramisu,” walked around the Metropolitan Museum of art for a while…got to see some beautiful photography, Michaelangelo’s first painting, and went on the roof to see the city scape. We did a LOT of walking with heavy back packs. The subways were intersting. You really see ALL KINDS of people in NYC. All nationalities and personalities. There was a dude in the subway with a haircut straight out of the 80’s…looked like he just stepped out of the cosby show. it was amazing.

Thursday – 6.25.09

It’s been a full couple of days. Let’s start from where I left off. Flight from NYC to Cassablanca, Morocco. It was kind of crazy…definitely my least favorite leg of the trip out of 4 flights. Started out by some guy behind us while boarding yelling obscenities (all of them) for whatever reason. Serious anger issues. That was unnerving. Then JUST outside the airplane door, a man was asked to check his carryon because it was too heavy and he was refusing. “I am NOT leaving my bag. You CANNOT have my bag.” etc, etc. He was pretty adamant, which was sketchy. Then mister police man decided it would be a good idea to SCREAM at him for a couple of minutes…which we all agreed later that he overdid it. power trip or something maybe? It was intense. And I was next in line…staring at the ground, waiting or the scene to end. They let him on. Just before take-off he came from the back of the plane to where we were and put his bag in the compartment right above our heads. We were like great…a bomb, right above us. sweet. Then dude-bro obscenities sat right across the aisle from me. So I got to hear him be loud and rude and bribe the stewardess to get everything he wanted. (sigh) There were also about 80 small children and AT LEAST 6ish crying babies. It was chaos. We were EXHAUSTED by this time also. My chair did no recline and again, I did not sleep on this flight…it was a long 7.5 hours. Then when we finally got to Morocco, all the police at customs were wearing masks and we had to wait forever and be checked out by this sonar thing to make sure we didn’t have SWINE FLU. Apparently they think we have it…and they don’t want it.

As we were in line going through Customs, we met a gentleman from FL (Moroccan born) named Hassan. He’s a high school principal in Coral Springs (i think) which is random. Anyway, he interpreted for us as we were asked many questions before we could go through…Everyone around us spoke in Arabic. Some knew a little broken english. Not the customs guys though. I don’t think they liked us. The other airport people were friendly and helpful. Hassan offered to help us get around via train/taxi advice and a ride into the city with his mother and brother who were coming to pick him up. We were sketched out at first so we had a huddle while he grabbed his bags and decided that if his mom showed up we would, but if not, we would opt to take the train. His mom did come…she was super cute and old and like 4 ft. 11 and kissed us to greet us and welcome us to her country. it was really sweet because he hadn’t been back to Casablanca in seven years. Before I go on…know that this family was the sweetest most hospitable group of strangers I have ever met…they were amazing. they brought 2 of his nephews and they rode the train so that we could fit in the car…we were so floored at their kindness, it was not an inconvenience to them at all, which was beautiful to me. So we rode into the city with Hassan and his family. us three girls piled in the back with his mother. and we somehow fit four people’s luggage in the back of the car…which had a broken window. and now, our first crazy foreign driver experience. it’s wasn’t too bad, but definitely different than what we americans are used to! Hassan’s mothers house where he grew up was in the thick of the city. He said that people have offered her millions for it but she will not sell it because of all the memories and what it means to her family. They gave us a tour of their home. It was a 2-story, beautiful home with tile walls, and very ornate couches, curtains & rugs. it was awesome. we cleaned up a bit and brushed our teeth which was nice…(except i used the water without thinking…but thankfully it didn’t make me sick…and thankfully i didn’t make that mistake again). We left our heavy carry-ons at their house. (we were SO thankful that we didn’t have to carry them around for the day!) Then Hassan took us to the nearest bank to exchange our money and gave us advice on places to see. Mind you, he JUST got back into the country to see his family for the first time in 7 years, and he wasn’t hesitant to help us in any way we needed. we were pretty floored at his hospitality to complete strangers. it was natural to him. beautiful to me.

Casablanca was really pretty and very historical. An old city, and on the coast, very tropical looking with palm trees and pretty flowers all over the place. We checked out the mosque there, it’s one of the biggest in the world. it was a beautiful building..i took lots of pictures. Casablanca was the first place I’ve ever heard the Muslim call to prayer which was strange. But it was neat to see the dedication of those who would pray every time they heard it. Makes me think, am I as dedicated in prayer? It was eery though to hear the voice speaking in a language i didn’t understand over loudspeakers as you’re walking down the streets. new experience for me. We took a taxi from one place to another, and the man offered to give us a tour of the city for a “very low price” (yea right!) and it sounded pretty low to us, (because we’re americans and we’re rich so we have no concept of money in such places!) and we later found out from Hassan that we got ripped off! haha! BUT, it was a really good tour, and the man spoke english pretty well which was helpful. It was weird to see pizza hut and a couple of other chains from America in the touristy part of the city. Hassan helped us get a taxi back to the airport and got us a good deal. It was kind of sad to say goodbye to him, he was a new friend. Maybe I’ll go visit him at his school in florida some day. 🙂

Our flight to Benin from Morocco was another long one. This is the first time I slept on our travels, it was Wednesday night by this time. I got 3 hours of sleep Monday night, but not a full night’s sleep since Sunday night. We landed in Togo 1st to drop some people off, but couldn’t get off the plane. Landed in Benin at about 2:30am. Martin (our translator) met us at the airport with a driver. it took a while to get some money exchanged and pack the CAR with six big suitcases, 5 carry-ons, and 6 passengers. i still don’t know how we pulled that off. We got home around 4:30. I crashed for maybe an hour and a half before we had to get up and go to our first screening. (we were SOOOOO TIRED!!!)

Our first screening (6.25.09 – Thursday morning) was set up by peace corps volunteers. They were putting on a camp of sorts for girls, called “Camp Glow.” The purpose was to promote independence, education, self-esteem, and that sort of thing. The screening went really well…the girls were very inquisitive afterwards and shared about friends they knew whose parents were wanting to sell them. We talked to them about ways to help their friends stand up for themselves or get help, and reasons/ways the girls should and could avoid ever being trafficked. It was really neat.

After the screening, I had my first Beninese meal! It was rice (with beans), sauce de tomat (tomato/onion/HOT sauce) and a fish head. YUM YUM!!! I didn’t eat the fish…but I made sure someone did. 🙂 It rained a TON that day…and we had car trouble. So we had to call a mechanic…she showed up on a moto…yes, SHE! I thought that was pretty awesome. It’s crazy how they use duct tape, or wedge a screwdriver in car engines to fix them. they are very creative and can fox anything! During this time (several hours) when our car was being fixed…I fell sleep on the concrete floor on the front patio of the school. mind you, it was POURING RAIN, there were people walking all around me, mosquitos biting me, it was broad daylight, it was a cold, concrete floor, and i am a SUPER light sleeper. I was TIRED. they fixed our car and we were on our way! End, day one in Benin. 🙂

Friday – 6.26.09 – 12pm

night time is kind of weird around here. All of out windows are open to let the breeze in and thankfully they all have screens. Haven’t seen a mosquito yet or been bit! YAY! so you can hear people talking outside. Our house is above someone else’s…sometimes it sounds like they’re right outside the door…or in the hallway or the next room…but they’re not. It’s cool and rainy. I’m thankful for the cool. I could handle a little less rain…but it’s good for the earth…and I’m sure it’s bringing water to those who need it. so that too is good.

I slept for 12 hours last night. It was amazing. 7 to 7 USA time…12 to 12 Benin time. I feel like a functional human being again. First full nights sleep (or anywhere close) since Sunday night. Monday through Thursday = hardly any sleep. I’d be ok if that never happened again in my whole life. 🙂

Concept of time here is very different from the states. Martin called us at 11:45 am and said he was leaving to come get us. He has just arrived…and it is 1:52pm. It should take about 20 minutes for him to get to us from where he lives. I thought East TN was laid back. This is a whole new level. haha.

(keep checking back as I continue to post these daily journal entries…there’s plenty more to come!)

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a letter of thanks.

September 23, 2009

Hello Friends!

I am going to try to be as transparent with you as possible in this letter, so I will start by admitting that I have been putting off writing it. Not because I am ungrateful for your involvement in my journey, or because I don’t want to share with you about what the Lord has done this summer in my life and in Benin. On the contrary, I think that the reason is that when I think about successfully conveying all that I want to about my time in Benin, the idea is severely overwhelming. When you learn a lot of new, hard, interesting, crazy, and challenging things in a short period of time, it gives you a lot to talk about. But I will do my best! So here goes…

“Our day to day in Benin” looked like this: Some days we had a screening of the film, some days we didn’t, some days we had two or three. Our screenings were an absolute success. To me, the most important thing achieved by our time and work there was to love our Beninese friends by trying to meet their needs and working to combat an injustice that breaks the heart of Christ. Second to that, the film provided a platform for the local authorities (village chief’s, village advisors, etc.) to speak up against child trafficking, young and forced marriage, and polygamy, in a public forum. This allowed for helpful and educational discussions afterwards, sharing of personal stories, and so much more. It was a catalyst for change, and I look forward to seeing further healing and redemption in that place. There is much more work to be done, in Benin, and everywhere. In Matthew 25, Jesus is talking about being hungry, and then fed, or being sick, and then visited, or being naked, and then given clothing. Then He says that whatever was done to “the least of these my brothers and sisters” was in fact done to Him. I believe that as our Creator, Christ hurts when we hurt, and He joy’s when we joy. Therefore, I must believe that in bringing healing to our brothers and sisters in Benin, we are also bringing healing to the heart of Christ.

Yes, I got sick…but it wasn’t too bad, and it didn’t last long! It was beautiful to see the faithfulness of Christ in taking care of my every need moment by moment, as I prayed my way through being ill. It was humbling to fully experience the frailty of this earthly and temporary tent that I currently dwell in, and magnificent to revel in its intricacies thought up by an incredible Creator. There is much to be learned in every part of life, even African parasites! 🙂

Unseen Stories now: My friend Kaitlyn (one of the three who started Unseen Stories, and the leader of the Northern Team in Benin this past summer) has recently quit her part time job to work full-time on the documentary. She will be living by the kindness of friends and family, and her savings account, as she transitions into a few months of full-time volunteerism to complete this film by early 2010. Unseen Stories hopes to use the film to raise awareness in the states of the need and injustice in Benin, and in turn, create tangible ways for Americans to play a part in loving and providing for the children of Benin. Since our departure from Benin, our translator, Martin, has continued to take the film from village to village, shedding light on these dark truths and bringing hope to those in need of it. So the work of Unseen Stories continues! Additionally, Kaitlyn has been invited to talk about Unseen Stories and our recent summer project at the 3rd Annual Congressional Roundtable on Human Trafficking in West Africa, on Wednesday, the 23rd, in Washington D.C. She will also be meeting with members of two State Department Bureaus: Trafficking In Persons and Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to learn about the foreign policies in place to end trafficking in West Africa. This is an exciting time in the life and work of Unseen Stories!

One thing I have learned from the Beninese people is the importance of relationships. In their culture, everything is relationship first, then business, success, school and everything else. I think the way they live is more aligned with how we were created than the culture that I have grown up in. It feels more natural than the impersonal and me-centered busy-ness of life that I have grown accustomed to in America. I believe we all have something to learn from each other, and something to teach one another. It was beautiful to see their interdependence, constant community, and joy in being together. I miss Benin for this, and so many other reasons. I would like to think that I’m not too busy for phone calls or walks in the park with friends. This lesson has caused me to evaluate the things that I value and view as important in my life.

After my time in Benin…I believe strongly that the less [stuff] I have, the more I will be able to see, feel, and give to Christ…and to those around me, and those far away. In my life, I don’t want to be so distracted, preoccupied, or consumed with stuff, that I miss relationship with Christ and His creations. I don’t want to be known by my stuff…but I want Christ in me to be known through my brief time on this earth. I believe that this is the purpose for which I have been created. Whether that manifests itself in my showing a video to mothers, fathers, children, and ex-traffickers in developing countries, or by having coffee with a friend. There is opportunity, meaning and divine appointment in it all. My hope is that for the remainder of this life, I will take each and every opportunity given to me, to love extravagantly, as Christ daily loves me.

Sometimes when I think about June 23 – July 23, 2009…it’s almost as if it didn’t happen. It is so surreal..that it brings tears to my eyes as I type this. Although some days were slow, and I felt as though I would be there forever, (which I didn’t mind) it was a whirlwind of experiences, thoughts, and emotions. I have been to Africa. I was there for a month. I have held the hands of God’s beautiful and dearly loved people in Benin. That blows my mind. Some days I want to go back just so that I can say to myself, “yes, this is familiar, I have in fact been here before.” The Lord has been gracious to give me the experiences and opportunities that He has. I did not not write a single support letter, yet somehow, with a few buttons, a benefit dinner, and the blessings of many kind and giving hearts, He provided the means…and He took me on a journey. You played a role in that. From the deepest, most unknown parts of my heart where words rarely suffice to communicate my feelings, I thank you. I will take this experience with me in my mind and heart everywhere I go from here. I hope I will continue to learn and grow from it. And I pray that it has not only been an experience for me, but that the experiences granted to me will run over into the lives of others, to encourage, challenge, bless, and bring hope.

I would love to share more with you…if you would like to listen. Please do not hesitate to contact me or pull me aside if you have questions or curiosities. To those who ask, I explain this part of my life as a heavy blessing. It is a blessing because I have seen such beautiful things in and  through it. It is heavy because I have a burden to share it, to grow from it, and to allow it to stretch and change me in whatever uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and even scary ways the Lord wills. It’s exciting! He has done a work in me, but there is much work left to be done, and He will be faithful to complete it!

I know that I left a lot out of this letter. Like I said, there is SO much to tell! But I encourage you to read my blog for much more in-depth journaling about our time in Benin, people I met there, specific stories and experiences, what I learned, challenges faced, victories, and so much more. Also, feel free to check out my photo albums as well. There are tons of pictures! If you would like this letter in email form so that you can copy and paste the links, send me an email and I’ll get it to you!

Thank you again. May the grace, peace, and love of our Savior be with you today and always.


❤ Allison

Keep up with Unseen Stories here: http://www.unseenstories.com

Photo Albums: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2688694&id=5211465&l=f830e9521c

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2688773&id=5211465&l=00b8d25d82