I came out of 2016 thinking that it was a tough one

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I came out of 2016 thinking that it was a tough one. I came out of it searching for truth. I came out of it searching for worth. I came out of it searching for purpose. I came out of it searching for a place to step off the rollercoaster of peaks and valleys. This was a year of so many peaks, which were always met by valleys.

One of the things I felt like I lost in 2016 was my voice. I was silent a lot. I was numb a lot. I was lost a lot. And part of all of that was a fear of whispering to even those I loved the most that I wasn’t “perfect.” I thought that speaking that word would somehow strip away my fight, my determination, my hope. I thought that somehow speaking that reality would strip me of all the things I loved about me. But one of the strangest things in life is that it seems to speak the words you can’t for you and I realized as my family and friends reached out to say “me either,” that I am still everything I want to be. That very mixture of words of “imperfect” and “none of us are” has allowed me to realize once again that it is okay to change. It is okay to let down your armor and let others protect you, it is okay to hold onto your dreams and let others fall away, it is okay to chase after wings and plant roots.

It is crazy how we hold ourselves to standards that we allow no others to hold themselves to. Somehow we are supposed to always be okay, while we tell those leaning on us that it is okay to not be okay. Somehow we are supposed to be the ones who never cry, while telling those we catch that tears are a sign of letting go and strength. Somehow we are supposed to know how it all will work out, while telling others to trust in the process. Somehow our brokenness is ugly, while we truly see beauty in those scars left on those we love. Somehow we are hiding, while we are screaming for truth. Somehow we have grace for everyone else and leave none for ourselves.

So as 2017 gets scratched off of the calendar, day by day by day, it is time I found my voice. It is time I advocated, I shared, I inspired. Most new years, I put a lot of stock in what the year will bring. I set out these goals of finding this, and changing that. This year, the only thing I really want to say when that last date is scratched off is that I was brave and I fought to be light in your darkness, in my darkness, and in both of our lights. The world doesn’t need more diets, more budgets, more exercise, the world needs more of us giving ourselves and those around us grace. More of us choosing love. The rest will follow.

28…..boogity boogity boogity…lets go racing.

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Dear mama,

Today I turn 28, unlikely you could forget. To be honest however, I dreaded this birthday, until I saw the 28 written in an email. 28. Your special number. Davy Allison, Nascar, and 28. Three things that meant the world to you. Three things that made you, you. Every password you ever possessed had a 28 somewhere in it. The car you raced around the track had it on the side. The jacket that still hangs in my closet still has that number on it. It is even on your stone for eternity. How can I dread 28, when it means a daily reminder for an entire year of the person who shaped me the most? the person I miss the most?

You know, I said when I turned 27 I was going to be brave, but to be honest mama, I ran a scared race last year. I was hard on myself in everyway. I was stalled out by my choices. Always looking left and right as I went around the track, never looking straight out at what was in front me. I was so worried about all the cars passing me on the track that I forgot what I had under my own hood. I forgot the unique components that I brought to the race. I forgot how powerful I am, I forgot how steadfast I am, I forgot a lot of things. I don’t want that on the track this year. I want to go around that track this year with freedom in my tank.

I want to be brave enough to stay in the uncomfortable point of wanting to give up. I want to wear my unique paint job and know that each of those chips in the paint are a gift that allows me to relate to other people with similar chips. I want to accept that this track isn’t ending at a specific destination. There is no predestined lap pattern, with standardized pit stops, that I have to follow. This is race that never ends and as long as you keep going forward, you always win. If other people pit first, I want to be confident that staying out on the track isn’t the wrong thing to do, it’s just different; I will pit when it is good for me.

I want to know that just because I can’t see my pit crew, doesn’t mean they are going anywhere. I want to hold steadfast to their whispers in my ear, that no matter what I do out there, they will be there. If I crash, they will be there to pick me up and put me back together. They aren’t going anywhere. Even in the process of rebuilding, they won’t ever leave.

I want to be thankful for my teammates out there on the track. I want to hold fast to the knowledge that I am not alone in this race. They may pass me, they may push me, they may let me go; but that’s the trueness of team: You don’t let each other play small. You don’t let them quit. You push them to be better, they push you to be better. They will block for you and cheer for you, and love you. Gosh mama, I love my team.

Mama, most of all, I don’t want to waste this 28th year. There are honestly some days when I feel so overwhelmed I want to pull off to the side and just watch. But there are so many more days, when I wake up and just feel so blessed to even be a part of this race. I have a great set-up, and I can’t understand why sometimes I can’t see that. I was built from good parts, with a lot of love and endless hope. I come from a place few will ever be lucky enough to call home. I want to live a life of gratitude this year.

So mama here’s to you and me and 28. Thank you for bringing me to this racetrack called Life, I got this. As Darrell Waltrip always says: boogity boogity boogity…lets go racing. This ones for you mama.

Forever & Always

N.A.

Our rocks…

IMG_5396As I walked up that beaten road today, I noticed how the tar had been stripped back and nothing but the bare rocks remained. I noticed the beauty of the foundation that the world tried to cover with a sleek black armor. With each step I felt a desire to feel those rocks beneath my feet. To feel the type of freedom that comes when the sleek black armor of who the world says you are is worn down and you truly are the uneven and jagged, yet perfect reality of who you were meant to be.

We spend a lot of our lives trying to wear that sleek black armor, to distract people from the messy foundation beneath, but the beauty of life is what lies beneath. We want to be smooth and efficient and easy. We want to show the world that we are strong and beautiful, but in this we lose the beauty of having to rely on one another. We lose the strength that comes from solidarity in our human desire for vulnerability. We lose the truth that love always wins.

For many years, the world bought my sleek black armor; my armor from the mess I left behind. The world was jealous of my armor, while I struggled with the weight of how many layers I needed to hide the jaggedness of the rocks below. And then four years ago today, that armor got washed away. In one phone call, I was nothing but rocks. And in that instance I never felt more whole, yet the world told me to run and pick up my armor again. Yet in those days of complete chaos, I felt honest and beautiful, I felt true and understood. But the world taught me the danger of being nothing but exposed rocks so I layered that armor back on. Only this time, I couldn’t cover it all. And the jagged rocks began to peak through without choice. And as they did, I heard her whisper, “You can’t lose me. I don’t love you for the armor, I love you for the rocks.”

Although its scary to let go of the armor, I am fighting for my rocks. I am fighting for the tears that show the world how much I long for her; how much I miss her. I am fighting to be authentic with my vulnerability, how damaged and hopeful I feel. The funny thing about our rocks is that they are no less powerful than our armor; they are actually the place where power lies.

So I’m not ashamed to throw down my armor tonight and admit that I might cry myself to sleep as I remember what this day felt like 4 years ago. I’m not ashamed because I wish someone would have told her that her rocks were beautiful and powerful too. That imperfection, doesn’t mean unlovable. That being not okay, is perfectly okay.

But I guess tonight, I’ll settle for seeing her in the stars.

Humanity is worth the gamble

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This has been a hard month. So much change, so many valleys, so many peaks. The emotions have run me dry and filled me up, day in and day out. Besides beginning my PhD program, the heaviest thing on my heart has been the children, my friends, and family, and I have been sending to school in Nyeri, Kenya.

 Last week I found out one of the boys, the most recent member to our little family, Boni, decided to walk away. The circumstances around it are complicated because he is a bright kid, an orphan, an easy candidate for charity. And the truth is I don’t know what happened in Boni’s heart; all I know is he has challenged me to look deeper into why all of this matters. He has forced me to humble myself and re-evaluate the point of any of this. He broke my heart and fortified it all at once

Boni was extra special to me because when I decided to take Boni into our program, it was because I saw myself in his eyes. We were both someone who lost the person we loved the most; the person for as long as we could remember was the center of our existences. And when they left, we didn’t know where to turn, who to let in, where to go. Boni, like I, lost his advocate, his protector, his safe place when his mom died.

I was blessed when I lost my mom that I was surrounded by family -both blood and those that chose me. I was surrounded by people who offered me a safe place to land; a safe place to grieve and grow. I wanted to give this to Boni. He had been in a children’s home, which was unstable because of financial issues and the remoteness of the home. So I thought if I could offer him the structure of boarding school with his cousins and spending his breaks with his aunts who knew who he was, who his mom was, that he would be in a better position to grow into his greatest potential. Him and Halima (his surrogate aunt) talked about this at length, and his heart seemed so happy as he accepted the offer. You could see a lightness in his eyes.

So when he decided to walk away, I felt hurt and discouraged. I was hurt because I wanted so much to protect Boni. I wanted so much to give him steady hope. No I couldn’t promise him a life in Canada, or a mansion in Nairobi, but I could promise him someone who would always be in his corner, someone who believed that anything is possible if he worked for it, someone he could always call on to be there. I wanted to show him that he mattered; that someone in the world cared about what happened to him.

I was discouraged because being so far away from these kids most of the time, forces you to rely on faith that the investment that I am asking myself and those closest to me, to make in the lives of these kids, is worth it. It forces you to believe that people are good; that people are gracious. So when you put yourself out there, like I did, asking for the trust and support of my friends and family in loving this kid, it feels like you are letting them all down when it fails. It feels like asked them to gamble and lost all their money. And my biggest fear, in all of the world, in the deepest parts of my soul, is being a disappointment.

But as I sat with this, and drove across two countries, I was reminded that when I started this, I made a commitment to believing that humanity is worth the gamble. And I believe the people who have joined me in this adventure to offer these kids the opportunity to change their lives, believe the same thing. I know they believe in me, and in this cause. They understand the gamble and are willing to lose because even the smallest victories, like Derrick learning how to read for the first time at the age of 13, is worth any loss along the path. One life changed is worth all the valleys that it took to get to that peak; it is worth the possibility of being a disappointment.

And in the end, I would rather be able to say, I tried, than to say I was too scared to try; I would rather say, I walked by faith, than I let my fear of failure win. I do believe Boni was worth the gamble, just like every other kid we send to school. When I hear from their teachers or talk to the kids, I can see the change that has been made possible through this little program. Our impact with this program may be small, a tiny tiny dot on the issues of a fallen world, but it matters. It matters to these kids, it matters to the community they come from, and it matters to humanity. By supporting these kids we are saying to the world that we believe all lives are equal and we all have a role to play in using our blessings to bless others. We are standing firm in the face of a world of heartache to announce that we believe love always wins.

If you would like to help us with the fees for next year, please email me at nicolekeaudette@gmail.com. Also I am hoping to start a charity to capture all of this fundraising, so if you would like to be a part of that, please let me know.

This is not a condemnation but a plea from the bottom of my broken heart

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Today, I found myself almost in tears on my rooftop. Tears over all the parts of the world that continue to break my heart. The parts that I can’t fathom. The parts where it is okay for children to starve, humans to suffer, and women to walk behind.

Over the past couple of weeks it has become increasingly apparent to me how the treatment of women as less than equal isn’t something we can merely blame on culture or religion, but rather on our acceptance as humans that this is tolerable. Because the truth is, it doesn’t just happen on the other side of the world. It doesn’t just happen in foreign belief systems, it happens everywhere. And it isn’t just supported by men, but also women themselves.

For the past week I have been listening to stories of women who have had their freedom to make choices about their life, stripped from their grasp. It has never been because of something they did, but rather the fact that the were created to carry babies. Something that should have caused them to be revered as a blessing, has instead brought silence to their lips, mutilation to their bodies, and bruises to their skin. As I saw the pain in these women’s eyes I couldn’t help but feel enraged by the disgusting parts of my world that continually tell women that they are not equal; that they don’t deserve the freedom to choose a life for themselves.

I would love to blame this on someone else’s culture, on the beliefs in a foreign land but the truth is the story is the same in Canada, it just looks a little different. I have seen a life be taken by a narcissistic boyfriend. I have seen a man steal a woman’s self-worth with lies about her dog’s level intelligence and her ugly heart. I have seen a woman cut into her arms the word that he used to degrade her, just so maybe the pain inside could be visible out. I have seen a man decide how a woman dressed, what she listened to, what she watched, who she talked to, where she worked, where she went, and virtually every aspect that constitutes a life. I have seen a man isolate a woman from her family, from her friends, from her own soul. And I have seen a man treat a woman as merely another possession, to be handled, to be used, to be discarded.

I have seen so many women allow a man to decide who they should be. Sometimes this is because they don’t know any different. Sometimes it is because they were raised that way. Sometimes it is because they are broken inside from trauma as a child. Sometimes it is because they are broken from the hands or words of another man. And sometimes it is because other women and our society tell them this is okay.

So this is not a condemnation but a plea from the bottom of my broken heart. We as females are never going to be the same as men, but it doesn’t mean we are not equal. I don’t condemn men. We have created systems where men dominate. Systems of religion, culture, business, and governance where men are told they have power over women and women are to be submissive. So it isn’t on the shoulders of men but on the shoulders of humans to ask ourselves what our positions of power and dominance are rooted in. It is on us as humans to seek value in every human being not based on anything physical but how we interact with one another and contribute to society. And finally it is on us as humans to demand and respect the rights of every soul to choose for themselves who they want to be.

And lastly this is a plea to the women, girls, reading this blog. You deserve to be loved as much as you love. You do not need anyone else to tell you how much you are worth. You are beautiful, you are able, and you are always going to be okay. True love, for God, for another person, for your family, will never make your life worse than before. It will never make you feel less adequate or wrong. It will never tell you that this is the best you can do, but will propel you to achieve more. True love breathes life into your existence. It inspires you, it enables you, it strengthens you. It is not isolating, it is freeing. It isn’t perfect but it is trying. Wait for true love, because I promise you, you don’t know how lucky you are to have the ability to do so.

Five things that remind me I’m in Somaliland…..

 
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  1. Hot water costs not only money but the use of your pretty pink razor

After cold showers for a week, bucket showers for three days, the last sacrifice I was forced to make for the hot water heater in my bathroom was my lady schick razor. Apparently, using someone’s razor while completing plumbing duties is perfectly acceptable behavior, because they didn’t even try to hide it. Black hairs everywhere, on the sink, in my razor, I couldn’t help but laugh with a disgusted look on my face.

2. Carbs on carbs is a staple in this new household

When I first got here, I was thrilled to hear that our house lady cooked us lunch everyday. That was until I knew our menu went as follows: rice, spaghetti with potato stew, rice, spaghetti with potato stew, rice, spaghetti with potato stew, rice, spaghetti with potato stew, rice, spaghetti with potato stew. Carbs on carbs on carbs. Everyday, when I evaluate my ability to take one more bite of rice, I wonder if tomorrow will somehow miraculously be different.

3. The reflection in a window is the only option for assessing that carb on carb diet

I honestly haven’t been able to see if my clothes match, fit, or are dirty for the past three weeks. However, matching is fairly easy when you have only six options for maxi-skirts and ten for tops. There also hasn’t been too much rain so mud leg isn’t a huge fear for the dirtiness factor. And from what I can tell Mr.Horton and I are doing an okay job of battling the carbs on carbs on carbs: ‘Do your best and forget the rest’

4. Its sometimes a cost-benefit analysis between how bad you have to go and how many cockroaches there are

I’ve officially seen ten cockroaches since being here, and every single one has been standing between me and the queen’s throne. Currently, we are at a draw about who wins.

5. Entertainment requires creativity

  1. I have been pleasantly surprised at the innovation that the expat community here has shown in their creativity in a very conservative Muslim culture. So far, on Fridays (our only day off), I have been able to play disc golf, bocce ball and basketball, attend an expat band practice with guitars, drums, and microphones, listen to live local music, eat mexican food and dance. Life truly is what you make it.

—–I can honestly say that this is one of the most difficult places I have ever lived, but also one of the most intriguing. Throughout my work, and my interactions with the community around me, all of the things I believed about this place when I dreamt about coming here, have been reinforced. These people are truly resilient and strong willed. They really will not compromise what they believe in for anyone. They are complex and frustrating. They are hardworking and smart. They are a beautiful mixture of determination and stubbornness.

 

So when everyone asks me how it is, my answer has always been: an adventure. Everyday I find myself facing paradoxes that make be evaluate the things I believe and the strength of humanity. Everyday I find myself assessing my own strength and limitations; my aspirations and my fears. Everyday I am reminded that not everything needs a label, it is okay sometimes to just be right where your feet are.

 

Top 10 things 5 days in Somaliland has taught me……

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Top 10 things 5 days in Somaliland has taught me……

Firstly,  there is nothing that prepares you for thekilling of your first giant cockroach upon arrival in a new place.

Secondly, when you have to get your measurements for a bridesmaids dress done asap and there is no dress maker in sight, you can take them using toilet paper. Who knew each piece was approximately 5 inches long?

Thirdly, when in Somaliland, eat like a Somalilander, camel meat, camel milk, camel burgers.

Fourthly, rise with the call to prayer at 4:50. There is nothing like an early start.

Fifthly, wearing a hijab with a round giant head is a blow to the self-confidence.

Sixth, workout in the morning because the only shower you get is cold.

Seventh, maxi skirts, birkenstocks, and oversized shirts are high fashion.

Eighth, inshallah is an essential part of your vocabulary.

Ninth, opening a tin can with a dull knife is an hour long process.

And lastly, but not least…..flush toilets are nothing to take for granted.

Those moments….

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Those moments. The ones where you feel as though you have to pinch yourself to really believe they are real. Those moments where you realize the very place you have been talking about is standing right below your feet. Those moments are the ones that remind you that there must be something bigger than us out there; how else could your dreams be spoken into reality.

Our rooftop, on the outskirts of Hargeisa, has an amazing view of the city. While there are no huge skyscrapers or constructs of man to obstruct the skyline, there is so much more to this city. It is the hills that outline the distance, randomly poking their heads through the houses built one on top of another. It is the vibrant colors of women’s hijabs flowing in the wind behind them as they walk towards the Mosque calling them to prayer. And it is the air being whipped around you like a heavenly reminder that this is really you in this place.

The fear that settled around myself, my family, and my friends as I settled into this journey feels like a million miles away. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived but the minute my plane touched down on the runway surrounded by remnants of old plane crashes, I knew this place would get my heart. This place is one symbolized by this wreckage and beauty. To the world on the outside they see only the wreckage of the past, they are too focused on what once was, to see the beauty and people in it right now. I came here to see exactly this….the beauty in what the world has deemed ‘ashes.’ I want to hear the voices unheard and tell the stories untold.

Every morning as the sun rises fiery red outside my window I can’t help but think about how blessed I am, how beautiful this world is, and how infinitely small our lives are. In this place I am certain love always wins.