Three Insights into Serious Play from Taekwondo Class

“You’ve got something on your cheek,” someone tells you, touching their left cheek. What do you do? Do you wipe off your left cheek, or do you wipe off the mirror image of their left cheek—your right cheek?

From my very scientific research—informally observing friends—most folks would do the mirror image, they’d wipe their right cheek. Not me. My mind flips the image around and I, too, would touch my left cheek. What that says about me, I don’t know. What I do know is the frustration it brought about when I took up taekwondo in Thailand.

There, I learned that I’d never be able to join a dance contest as I’d always mess up my choreographer’s visual directions. Not that I had ever wanted to. But at taekwondo, I realized my dilemma with not responding with the mirror image of what the teacher is doing.

God knew I needed to be in taekwondo class. He knew that’s where I’d meet one of my first friends in Thailand, the one who would introduce me to what would become the most caring community I had ever been a part of. So to make sure I stay at taekwondo, God gave me kru Jim Beam, a kind soul who could kick with precision and who had more patience than a kindergarten teacher. (His name, in case you wondered, wasn’t really Jim Beam. But at the start of class, he’d call us to order with a phrase that sounded like he was saying, “Jim Beam!” What he really was saying was the Korean phrase choon bi, which means “Ready!” And kru, by the way, is Thai for teacher.)

While teaching us new kicks, blocks, and punches, Kru Jim Beam soon noticed that I would get stuck. He would patiently come stand next to me and do the same action he had just modeled from in front. And just like that, I’d get it. OK. Maybe it took another 200 tries to get it right, but having him next to me rather than in front of me made all the difference. I could see what I was actually supposed to do.

His alongside leadership style gave me the courage to kick higher. Punch harder. Stretch deeper.

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When the Cows Come Home

3 Lessons Learned in a Dinka Cattle Camp

I heard the low drone before I saw the animals: a bass choir of about 10,000 cows, counterpointed by the clanging of bullet shells against cowbells forged from old USAID oilcans. And I saw the dust rise from the horizon.

“The cows are coming home,” Steven, my South-Sudanese director, announced, just in case we had missed the sounds and the dust. The we I’m referring to was a group of mostly medical staff from the NGO I was working with in Kenya at that time. Then there was I, the one whose job it was to take photos and write stories about the children at our school in the desert.

Earlier that evening, we walked from Steven’s village near Kolmarek, South Sudan, to the cattle camp to see where the people we had been treating at the clinic all day were living. They are the nomadic Dinka people. They are cow herders. I watched as children scurried to do their jobs: tying each and every cow to its own stake. Toddlers ran to pick up fresh cow dung to add to the drying piles that would be burned that evening. “The cow ash keeps the flies away,” Steven explained. Dabbing his forefinger in some ash, he added, “It’s also good to brush your teeth. Want to try?” Read More

When the $%*# Hits the Roomba

4 Ways to Deal with a Crisis

Picture this: You’ve worked your socks off to secure a position on your company’s President’s Circle. This means you win a free vacation to a tropical destination, and you get to take someone special along to share the joy. So your wife weans the baby, and you secure care for the kiddos with the help of the grandparents and the nanny. It takes a solid year of hard work to make one of the top sales positions in the company; it takes almost as long to get everything ready for your week awayThe fact that you and your wife have not been away from your three young kids makes this an especially-big treat!

Once in the tropics, you Skype daily to make sure everything’s going great at home. Which it is. Until it isn’t. Until your dear old dog loses control of his bowel movements. In the house. During the day. Shortly before the Roomba’s scheduled cleaning time…
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Happily Single: Keys to Thriving in a World Full of Couples

“You singles out there, go to the lobby and just find someone to marry.”

Gulp! Someone whom I know and respect actually said that at a meeting I attended a few years ago. I kid you not.

It wasn’t a meeting about marriage or singleness; I wouldn’t attend either of those. It wasn’t part of some treasure hunt or a game like The Amazing Race, either, where teams had to successfully complete challenges. Read More

Pros, Cons, and Solutions for Working Remotely

When I walked into my office—a streetside coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings—I thought something was on fire. Smoke billowed from a little toaster oven in the corner. But none of the staff looked concerned, and guests sipped their morning brew in peace.

Turns out, the owner was set on roasting his own beans, so he did what you do in a fullsizerenderdeveloping country: He improvised. He turned a little chicken rotisserie oven into a coffee roaster by adding a perforated drum where the chicken should be, and by bolting a floodlight to the cover to intensify the heat and thus cut the roasting time in half. Step aside, MacGyver! 

If that’s not enough, “Mac” sources his beans from a farmer just on the other side of our lagoon—fair trade at its best. I love it! Plus I love the taste of the coffee, which is why I decided to drive the 8 miles this morning to work from here rather than from my usual spot on the beach, which is but a short bike ride from my home.

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Abandon Ship!

Today was our last day of diving off Bunaken. The weather was questionable when we left, but the skipper assured us it’s changing for the better, that the weather forecast for the day was only light rain. Connie—my friend visiting from the US—decided not to go diving today due to a headache, and Marion—my colleague—thought she’d just snorkel around this area today, once the weather cleared up. Not wanting to miss out on a final dive of Bunaken Marine Park, I joined a dive party of two guys from India and their friend from Jakarta.

The hour-long trip over to the island wasn’t too bad. We dived—possibly my best dive in the 14 years I’ve been scuba diving—and then I stayed on the surface, snorkeling, as not to cut into the 24-hour no-dive period prior to a flight.  The moment the other three divers surfaced, we were told we’re heading back right away since the weather was changing… Read More

A Change in Perspective

I felt, the other day, what it’s like to fly. I ran off the edge of a mountain and soared, feeling the cold mountain wind directly on my face. After about five minutes, I landed in a tea plantation. Crash-landed, actually. But it didn’t hurt. I just laughed and laughed. Read More