Writing stories about everything

I have recently joined twitter.  I also joined linkedin (apologies to everyone who got the mass email invite) but I don’t really understand the point of it yet.  My boss at Tearfund asked me if I was tweeting about work, or The Ruby Dolls, or what.  Which is a question I asked myself before I started.  And it turns out the answer is YES.

I spent the first six years at Tearfund feeling like a fish out of water.  Flailing around wildly (on the inside).  And just in the last year or so I’ve reached a place where I’ve seen more connections between the disparate parts of my life.  The theatre-making.  The travelling.  The community-building.  The Jesus-following.  The fighting-poverty-and-injustice.  And while it might be easier to find my place in the twitter sphere (and, in fact, in the world) if I were only to blog about (or work for a living in) development, or churchey stuff, or theatre, I think I’d be less of myself.

So here’s to a life that doesn’t fit into categories.  And some current highlights:

Our mate Ash Barker is about to arrive for a visit!  He and his wife and kids live in the biggest slum in Bangkok and have done for about a decade.  Ash has written a book recently called Slum Life Rising: How to Enflesh Hope within a New Urban World, telling some of their story.  He recently finished a PhD on Christian ministry in slums.  For the first time in history most of us live in city, with 1/6 living in slums.  It raises huge questions for those of us who want to help bring transformation to the unjust structures of the world and see people released from poverty.

One of my favourite stories of those is about a woman called Poo.  She is part of their slum community in Klong Toey, and Ash’s team helped her to set up a cookery business, now recommended by trip advisor and many other sites.  She even has a book, with the same name as the business: Cooking with Poo!  Some of the story is on the website.  I am SO EXCITED because we’re off to visit them in Bangkok soon (will come back with a film, I promise) and I’m going to learn to cook with Poo. Brilliant.

In other news, our theatre company are back in the saddle again and we spent an exhausting weekend revisiting the stories of our ancestors in anticipation of our previews at Riverside Studios next month and then our run at the Edinburgh Festival.  One of the other Ruby Dolls has blogged an update on our last few hectic months.  It feels like we’ve been developing these stories forever, but the exciting thing is that we’re finally getting them out to the audience they deserve.  Because they’re great.  Come and see!

And one more thing.  I’ve just posted another little video I made in Argentina a few months ago.  Enjoy.

Juan Jose and church in Buenos Aires from Integral Mission on Vimeo.

When language fails…

Now I’m not great at failing things, in fact I take some effort to avoid it (notable tactics: avoid taking part if you might fail; conceal effort until success is achieved), but my foreign language skills just don’t cut it when you put them up against my ambitions…  I’ve been learning Spanish for the last few years which I LOVE and think I’m great at, until my annual submersion trip to Latin America where no-one speaks English (or everyone pretends not to). Last week I was in Argentina, trying desperately to keep my head above the raging waters of the Spanish language.  I came close to drowning a couple of times.

Much as I love Latin America(definitely my favourite part of the world), I have never got used to the feeling of not fully understanding what’s going on, or being able to say exactly what I want to say.   I mean, I get most of it, but never quite all, and so it feels like there is this strange, impenetrable fog between me and everyone else. Most of the time.

For most of my trip I was participating in an “encounter” (conference) mainly for young adults from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, all about the arts and integral mission.  I gave a 30 minute talk – in Spanish (a first!) – about some of my experiences, and my reflections on the importance of story…and then I performed one.  I performed a 3 minute monologue, retelling a story they were familiar with from the Bible, but from an unusual angle.  And I did it in English, not Spanish (although I gave them a translation).  And do you know, weirdly, it was the monologue they connected with?  Writing a 30 minute talk in Spanish was an enormous feat for me, a brave attempt to step through the language fog in the hope of connecting. But somehow, dramatic storytelling in my own language dispersed the fog in a way the talk couldn’t.  Was it that the story I chose was a common starting point, a shared reference? Or was it that inhabiting a story (performing it) connects more deeply that simply describing one?

It’s funny how stories can sometimes transcend language.  One of my friends from Peru, Ruth, was telling me about her friendship with Jane inAustralia.  Ruth doesn’t really speak English, but somehow, when they were together, they had this incredible, rich, emotional connection where they were able to share their stories with one another, and understand each other. There was an intense desire to understand and be understood, and so somehow it worked.

Lots of people say that seeing Shakespeare in Japanese, or Chekhov in Russian, has been an incredible experience. I’ve usually been a little too scared to try. But I guess it should give me hope.  On the last night of the “encounter” about 8 people got up to tell a story (trained by the amazing storyteller Alicia Perrig) – and I only understood about half of what they said.  But with some of them, it actually didn’t matter – I felt absolutely caught up in it, captivated.

There’s one other moment on the trip where I felt like the fog cleared and I was face to face with an great story: Somehow I ended up on the outskirts of Buenos Aireson my last night with some amazing new friends, visiting a church community made up mainly of recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.  The sheer joy of how their lives were changing and what they saw God doing in their community was plain as day and totally infectious.

Here they are, complete with tambourine playing children: