Y’all know we’re travelers. And y’all know I have a heart for social justice. So of COURSE when I heard about the Idea Camp (a conference dedicated to tackling tough social issues, and geared for those involved in charity organizations and church ministries) I wanted to go.
My three favorite bloggers, Jen Hatmaker, Kristen Howerton, and Tara Livesay were all talking it up on their blogs and Tara and Kristen were slated to speak about the issues of international adoption, orphan care, and the shift in worldview that should occur when living and serving in another country/culture.
These three women have shared their personal stories of international adoption and their involvement with their children’s birth countries and cultures and what they’ve learned over the years about the nature of orphan care and the often-times skewed perception we in the First World have about impoverished people and foreign cultures. They have been honest and raw about their own misconceptions, their learning process, and their desire to create the kind of change that provides relief, power, and dignity for the poorest people in the world.
I registered for Idea Camp almost as soon as I heard about it. YES. I’m GOING. Oh, and I registered my husband, too, much to his surprise.
Me: I really want to go to this thing in Austin, Texas in September.
Him: Okay, we can probably work that out.
Me: Good, because I just registered the both of us.
Him: Wait, what? Were we going to talk about this?
Me: We ARE talking about it. Will you figure out the hotel and flight stuff?
Him: Hmm. What do we do with the kids?
Me: Uhhh…we’ll figure something out, we have six weeks.
You know that expression “flying by the seat of your pants” ? It’s how we roll.
Fast forward to the week of our trip. I was SO excited! I had the kids lined up to spend the night with some friends until my mom got into town to take over the tribe. We had our itinerary and had even arranged to meet up with some college buddies, and hit a couple of highly recommended restaurants while we were in Austin. Julio was going to get a mini-vacation, and I was going to get my do-gooder fix, and see some of my favorite writers in person, and then—there’s always that honeymoon element that comes with traveling without the kids! Woohoo!
The day before we left, the friend lined up to watch my kids told me her kids were all sick and puking. She said we were still welcome to bring our kids over, but would totally understand if we wanted to make other arrangements. She is awesome to be willing to still take our kids, but at that point, it became a bad plan for everyone. I couldn’t burden her with extra kids in the midst of illness! But now, I had less than 24 hours to make new arrangements. I called a couple of other friends who were amazingly willing to disrupt their schedules to help me out. (Love you both, you know who you are!) I also called my mom to beg her to come early, since dumping five kids at the last second on people who already have a houseful is kind of an awful thing to do. Of course, so is begging your mother to rearrange her work schedule when she is already down too many hours. I should have cancelled our trip.
But I’m a jerk. A jerk in a bind.
However, Mom and friends came through, because apparently, they like jerks.
Despite our last minute scramble, we headed out in high spirits:
Other than grumpy looks from a couple of flight attendants, our flight was uneventful. But that was the last thing that was.
We touched down in Austin at about 8 PM, and we were starving. I really wanted to try an Ethiopian restaurant that Jen Hatmaker has raved about for years. We called them and found out they closed at 9. We spent the next fifty minutes tearing around Austin with a GPS set for Singapore, trying to find it. (I hate you, Siri.)
We walked in to Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant with four minutes ‘til closing. The manager was not terribly excited to see us, but seated us anyway. We were bluntly told that not everything on the menu was available as they were shutting down the kitchen for the night. We were just so grateful they seated us, and our server was SO sweet (and clearly embarrassed by the manager’s displeasure) that we agreed to order whatever was available. Julio had done his homework via Trip Advisor to determine what the most popular dishes were, and (lucky us!) they were still serving the two most popular dishes. Cha-ching!
The food looked and smelled wonderful! Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten with the hands, using pieces of a flat bread called injerra to scoop up the bits of meat and sauce. We dug right in.
At the time this photo was taken, I was SO excited about this food. Now, I can barely look at the picture without wanting to hurl. In fact, talking or typing about it is almost too much for me. About four hours after wolfing this stuff down, I got sick. And a few hours after that, Julio got sick. It was epic. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will tell you that it knocked me down nearly two whole days and required a trip to the local coin-op laundry when we were able to sit upright for more than an hour. And apparently, I was so out of it the first night, that when Julio tapped my arm to check on me, I threw a punch at him on the way to the bathroom. (Krav Maga for bathroom rights. I win.)
As a result of this epicurian adventure, I missed most of Idea Camp. Julio was kind enough to drag himself out of bed and go to the conference and record the speakers for me. He came home at lunch time and promptly passed out from exhaustion and nausea.
Despite being so ill, I was determined to hear Kristen Howerton speak that afternoon. We stumbled to the car and drove through a hurricane (no, really---hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid had married up and dumped themselves on Austin that day) to get to Idea Camp.
Julio dropped me off at the entrance, where I literally crawled up the stairs to get to the meeting. The place was packed and there was no place to sit. I leaned against a back wall and tried hard to make the room stop spinning..
After a few minutes like this, I noticed some people in the back row had gotten up and left. I flopped into their seats and willed myself not to spew. I could see Kristen on the front row. I was impatient for her turn to speak…why wasn’t Kristen speaking? Two dudes were talking on stage and I just wanted them to shut up so I could listen to what Kristen had to say before it was time for me to crawl into a hole and die.
Eventually Julio joined me…after his own adventure in getting into the building with a churning stomach and dizzy head. He flipped through the conference schedule, showed me what time it was and mouthed, “We’ve missed her.” I think I lost the will to live. I was cold, I was sick, I was wet, I was woozy, and I’d missed my speaker! SOB!
But, God is good, folks, because just as I was leaning over to Julio to ask him if he thought we’d be too disruptive if I started keening and barfing in the back row, Kristen was announced and she got up to speak!
Kristen’s talk was everything I was expecting it to be. She was passionate and I will detail what she and other speakers discussed in a future post. For the sake of this post, suffice it to say that hearing Kristen made our thus far crappy experience worth it.
Following Kristen’s talk, the other Idea campers dispersed into smaller discussion groups, led by the day’s speakers. I really, really wanted to do this, but Julio and I were in no condition to discuss anything but going back to bed.
(What this photo belies here is the fact that immediately before and after it was taken, I was leaning against the wall of the parking garage, dry heaving and wishing all manner of ill will on Jen for her big, fat lies about the awesomeness of Ethiopian food.)
Back at the hotel, Julio and I chugged an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol and went to bed. It was all of 4:00 PM.
We slept for hours and woke up weak and surprisingly hungry. We considered ordering in, but nothing sounded good. We were too spent to even drive across the street to the grocery store for soda crackers. So, we staged some photos for Facebook in order to try to find some humor in our misery.
Eventually, we found the fortitude to drive a hundred yards to the HEB (Here Everything’s Better) store. It took us an hour and a half to buy a box of Saltines and a couple bottles of Gatorade. We staggered around the unfamiliar store like a couple of drunk octogenarians. I’m sure people thought we were high. (High on love, baby. Or low blood sugar.)
Crackers never tasted so good.
It was 1 PM the next day before we joined the living, again.
We’d been so sick, we’d gone through every article of clothing we packed. This was not hard to do, as we pack light (carry-on only, peeps.) So, we went and hung out with the locals at the laundromat. Once we had some clean skivvies, and had been able to keep a meal down, we made our way back to Idea Camp, to hear Tara Livesay and her husband, Troy, speak. The Livesays live in Haiti and work with Heartline Ministries, providing prenatal and postnatal care and support for women there. Again—their talk was everything I expected it would be. Powerful, humble, moving.
(Troy—in white, and Tara, with the discussion facilitator. Troy had us all in tears as he talked about his love and longing for his home and friends in Haiti.)
There were a couple of other speakers as well, guys that had never been on my radar, but whose stories buried themselves in my heart and shifted my thinking. I’m still digesting what they had to say. I’ll get to it in a future post, when I’ve processed it all.
While we were sick, I kept wondering why things were happening the way they were. I had felt so strongly about attending this conference—not just because I was star-struck over my favorite bloggers, but because I really, really felt I needed to be there. I didn’t understand why I felt so compelled to be there and why I had gotten sick and was MISSING the whole thing.
I realize now that had I been healthy and feeling like normal, I would probably not have been as touched by what I heard and learned. There’s something about being wiped out physically that plugs you in spiritually. I’m still bugged I missed so much of the conference and completely missed the small group discussions, but the things I carried away made all the yuck worth it.
The theme of the conference was essentially about dignity and making sure that when we are helping others, we are doing it in such a way that preserves their dignity, offers respect, and keeps us humbly centered on individuals. People are not projects, and true human care is long term. It hurts, it is messy, but it is worth the pain and ugliness to show people that they matter.
But, I’ll get to that in detail later. Meanwhile, back in the trenches…
Now that we were feeling well enough to focus outward a little, we met up with our college buddies, Erin and Dale Offret. We met them at Salt Lick BBQ in the town of Driftwood. We hadn’t seen these guys in eleven years and we pretty much picked up right where we left off, talking and laughing, and joking, and quoting movies. Oh my gosh, these are OUR PEOPLE. THEY are why we were supposed to come to Austin!
It was awesome spending time with them! I couldn’t quit staring at them and we were all hugging and giggly and giddy (much like we were in college!) And the atmosphere was so, so fun. Great weather, awesome BBQ aromas, a festival vibe, live music (I could not quit watching the string bassist’s forearms!) and a huge pit barbecue!
I’m sure the food was good, but Julio and I were still a little tentative about eating. We didn’t want any repeats of the previous days!
This guy’s shirt says, “I just got licked and I’ve never been so satisfied.” We didn’t know if we should laugh or be horrified. (We laughed.)
Pecan pie a la mode! (I could only handle about three bites. Too bad!)
Buc-ee’s gifts from Erin and Dale. (Can’t go to Texas without going to Buc-ee’s!)
Alas, the good times had to come to an end. Erin and Dale had to be up early for the children’s program at church the next day, and we had to be up early to catch our flights home.
But sleep would not find us. We were too sick the first two nights to notice or care, but our hotel room was overrun with crickets. They were crawling all over the walls, on the floor in the bathroom, scuttling from underneath the furniture. We even found one in the bed. Julio called the hotel manager, who initially blew us off. He only took us seriously when Julio caught one of the critters and carried it to the front desk. The manager came to investigate our room, and it was clear he had the heebie jeebies, but he told us he couldn’t do anything for us, as all the other rooms were booked.
Just three of the unpaid guests in our room. It was like a cricket frat party in there!
We decided to check out early and spend the night in the airport. Though we were both feeling lots better, I was still pretty weak and really to the point where I didn’t care if there were bugs, ME JUST NEED SLEEP. And I wondered why on earth Julio thought sleeping on the floor in the airport with country music blaring overhead was any better than a soft bed and pillow and chirpy, crawly crickets. (Oh, and the airport turned out to have it’s fair share of crickets, too!) Facebook banter was the only thing that kept us going and from killing each other in our exhausted frustration.
We were supposed to fly to San Francisco, where we’d have an eight hour layover. We had planned to go to Alcatraz. However, after getting patted down at the security check point, we learned that our flight was oversold and the airline was looking for people to take a later flight.
The thought of wandering around Alcatraz on zero sleep sounded like crap to me, so I suggested we take up the incentive to fly later. We ended up flying through Chicago and making about 300 bucks a piece. Our connection plane in Chicago turned out to have bad brakes so we had to de-plane and run across the terminal to get on a different plane headed for Boise. We ended up getting home several hours earlier than anticipated.
Don’t tell my mom, but we called some friends to pick us up and begged them to let us crash at their place for a couple hours before going home. We slept like the dead for two hours before we felt guilty enough to go back to being responsible adults and free my mother of babysitting duties.
Thus ended what was supposed to be an awesome weekend trip. It was awful. And it was wonderful. It was certainly memorable! I suppose there’s a metaphor for life to explore in there somewhere, but I think I just heard a cricket.