In Between

Howdy, friends. It’s been an exciting week, no? Well, I’m pleased to inform you that things have yet to calm down around here. Tomorrow my blog will switch over to WordPress.org, and I’ll reveal a new theme/look which I’m super excited about!!! I’ll be sending out an email telling you how to resubscribe so we don’t lose touch–stay tuned for that.

For now, let’s pretend that I have midterms next week, am in Vancouver for a wedding this week and for some reason chose October 27th as the day by which WordPress would switch my blog over. Yerrrp. Low expectations, ok?

(Awesome poem and illustration courtesy of Dallas Clayton)

Confessions of A Recovering Caffeine Addict

Hello, Internet.

My name is Amelia and I’ve been caffeine-free for 2 months and 18 days. Except for 7 unintentional cups of caffeinated tea. And 1 cup of Varun’s chai I couldn’t resist.

Caffeine and I go waaay back. In middle school, I began attending a school that was 45 minutes from home. My brother John and I would drive to school as the sun rose, listening to CD’s and watching the sun rise. Our mornings were often brightened by stops at WaWa for sugary French vanilla cappuccinos. I learned quickly that caffeine, that dark elixir, came in many delicious forms and could add hours of energy to my day.

In high school, I began drinking coffee to study for AP exams, survive long drives home from school and juggle social activities.

In Grade 12, I fell in love with Vanilla Lattes from Starbucks. Amidst the pressure of taking university classes, finishing high school, deciding about my future and saying goodbye to friends, Vanilla Lattes gave a welcome oomph.

In university, my lovely roommate and I perfected making coffee in a pan when our pot broke. We made mochas and sat at our tiny table entertaining friends, practicing guitar and bracing ourselves to walk to class in the frozen Montreal winter.

By the time Varun and I got married, I had learned two crucial facts about caffeine: 1) whenever I needed more hours in a day, I could buy it in a 12 oz cup. 2) whenever I drank coffee, the acid turned my stomach into a pit of torment.

Hello Tea.

I discovered London Fog and a thousand variations of Iced Tea. I learned that making chai Indian style creates a sweet and spicy concoction choc-full of caffeine. If I ever forgot to drink a cup of tea in the morning, by 10 am I would be railing at Varun that we needed to get hot water and a tea bag NOW. The headaches were monstrous. But you know what was glorious? Knowing at 11:30 pm that I could stay up later to get more done, and still wake up on time and be functional the next morning.

And then, I met this sassy sleep Doctor who told me I needed to sleep more and cut caffeine. I know. I had the exact same reaction: what????

Wanting to remain in my caffeinated state of denial, I tried all of his other suggestions.

Vitamin D pills, check. Iron pills, check. No change in my creepy habit of sitting up in my sleep. Finally, I resolved that if there were no change in my sleeping habits by August 1, I would try no caffeine for a month.

Let me describe for you August 1-3:

Okay, I can’t. But I’d guess it was a blur of headaches and naps and ‘why am I doing this??’ texts.

But after a few days, the headaches stopped. 10 AM no longer marked the moment by which my bloodstream required caffeine. And sitting up in my sleep? It decreased to about once a week. I’m still working on figuring out what other factors influence this (I have some theories), but we’re down from 4-5 times a week!

Something unexpected also happened: I found my wall. It turns out, energy is a limited resource. I have fallen asleep accidentally in the past two months more than I care to count (reading, church, riding in the car, prayer meeting). Since I can’t drink caffeine to push through, there’s no recourse. I just get tired and crash.

It might sound absurd, but I think giving up caffeine is actually forcing me to reassess my life a bit. I still have yet to make real changes (as illustrated by my spontaneous nap in class this morning), but I’m at least beginning to think about my priorities and my tendency to operate above capacity.

I’m honestly not sure where to go from here. Caffeine is definitely gone from my life for the foreseeable future. But how do I deal with the truth that I’m overdrawn? More than a decade of caffeine addiction has left me busy, over-committed and needing a nap. Now that I’m caffeine free, I may have to actually slow down…

Many Villages: Racial Privilege

This semester I’m taking a course on Cross-cultural counselling. Part of the coursework is a weekly journal reflecting on anything I’ve learned, thought about, or found challenging from the course material. I decided to post parts of these reflections in a weekly series called “Many Villages”.

Two weeks ago in class, we took a 28 question quiz about privileges. It provided me with fascinating insights about my own experience growing up in a culture where most people seem to be like me. Grab a pencil (or text doc) and write down your answers, True or False.

1. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

2.I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

3. Someone of my same race has been president of my country.

4. If I am/was in a relationship, I can be affectionate with my partner in any given neighborhood and feel safe.

5. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials, at any age, that testify to the existence and history of their race.

8. I can be sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge” I will be facing a person of my race.

9. I can be sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge” I will be facing a person of my gender.

10. I never have to deal with a passer-by being afraid of me.

11. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color that more or less matches my skin.

12. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can be assured that the person behind the cash register will not assume that my checks are stolen, my credit card is maxed out, or that my cash is counterfeit.

So, what was that like? What was your ratio of true to false? How did you feel while taking the quiz?

As we worked through the quiz, I felt varying waves of emotions. To a certain degree, I knew where the quiz was going and what point it was trying to make. I felt slight resentment to be lumped into the North American, Caucasian, English-Speaking, Christian majority that easily answers true to most of the questions.

I resented the quiz-makers for pointing out that my life has been largely free of stereotypes, prejudice or mistreatment. I cringed at the implication that I somehow perpetuate these things, or at least take my ‘status’ for granted. Justified, I thought about the tax return forms and university applications that give the choices for race: Pacific Islander, Native, African American, Latino, Caucasian. There, I thought, I too am categorized with little concern for the significant ethnic differences ‘Caucasian’ could encompass.

At the same time, I felt guilty. My Barbie’s had blue eyes and blonde hair like mine. I have never had to look twice for ‘nude’ coloured stockings to match my skin tone. Most people can spell my name, have heard of my country of origin and can understand me when I speak English. Until at least high school, it didn’t even occur to me that this might not be the case for others. I feel uncomfortable thinking that I have in some way contributed to making others feel out of place, maybe even just by being white. I want to apologize. As strange as it sounds, I almost want to be less privileged.

In class, we began to discuss what it was like to have more than 25 answers of ‘true’. Or less than 15. The results were largely predictable with visible minorities reporting many times they were singled out, worried, confused, or underrepresented. Tentatively, I raised my hand and shared that I sometimes feel guilty. To my surprise, a classmate responded that asking good questions and growing in understanding would be more helpful to her (as a member of a minority culture) than me feeling guilty.

I’ve been considering this: that it would be more helpful if I sought to understand.

This brings me to another emotion that was vying for my attention during the test: a slight feeling of camaraderie. In a small, small way, I am growing in understanding. Marrying a man from India and being part of an intercultural marriage has put me in a small minority worldwide. A small example, which didn’t actually bother me, is that the gift bags and wedding cards we received depicting brides and grooms who were both blushing Caucasians. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but I noticed. I think that even noticing, for someone in the majority culture, is a big part of understanding.

Traveling overseas with Varun and visiting his family in India has given me legitimate opportunities to be the minority. Stares and gawking from curious onlookers, signs I can’t read, a head of hair that sticks out in a crowd of thousands: all are reminders to me that I am not one of ‘them’. As I struggle to learn Hindi and embrace Indian culture, I am reminded of the most basic fact of interracial relations: no matter how Indian I try to be, I will always appear white.

In truth, I will likely never become ‘very Indian’. But this is an important realization as it gives me insight into how my Canadian friends feel who were born and raised in Canada, but have Chinese features and appear ‘foreign’. Or how Varun felt when someone said upon meeting him, ‘Oh you’re from India? You speak English very well!’. Despite holding a degree from a Canadian university, marrying and living with an American, and excelling in a professional career in Ontario, to the casual onlooker, Varun might as well be fresh off the boat.

For better or for worse, being in an intercultural marriage has put me on the path toward understanding. When jokes begin or pop culture references surface, I glance at Varun to see if he’s tracking with the conversation. I have grown to realize that not everyone in a crowded room might be familiar with Western culture, and I seek to act as a liaison with grace and dignity.

This quiz did make me realize, however, that I still have a long way to go. Despite the small moments of understanding that I have had, I have not lived my life as the minority. If I am to continue to grow in compassion, I need to humbly listen to the experiences of others.

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