Athens: Close-up Black & White

IMG_2011bwwebIMG_2007bwweb

This is my first post from my new albeit temporary home in Athens, Greece. It’s been a while since I could write after leaving South Sudan, and honestly I haven’t even begun to process the unexpected flow of emotions that came after leaving it. Conflict zones are tough, yet they stick with you; the natural rhythms of the world when it is at peace become a hard mountain to suddenly climb without the rush and sad thrill of adrenaline created to respond to constant emergencies. Athens is a slower work speed, slower life pace, a time to heal and a time to rest.

I’ve been here now over two months, and have just started to emerge from my self-inflicted cocoon of silence, sleeping and re-defining new boundary lines outside of compound life. Still, NGO work continues and I am happy to play my part as a writer and planner, but living here is an entirely different world. I’m starting to visit tourist hot spots, even non-tourist locales, and to regain my ability to marvel at beauty. My room in Athens, the cocoon, is bright white, eternally clean in both line and lack of dust, and is decorated with my past travels to inspire and to work at creativity. But my heart still pounds when I think of trying to capture my wild, untamed creative thoughts: I’m still not yet ready to put pen to paper, to let the paints come out and color an imaginary world. It’s hard to transition into that space when the real world and its great many injustices blot out that happier place in my mind. But I’m starting.

IMG_1398bwweb

IMG_2072bwwebIMG_1399bwweb

IMG_2051bwwebIMG_2024bwwebIMG_2021bwwebIMG_2061bwweb

IMG_2037bwweb

IMG_2041bwweb

IMG_2030bwweb

IMG_2093bwweb

This past weekend, I pulled out at long last my camera and decided to be a photographer of my new home. For some reason, the thought of capturing every image of this place’s well-recorded ancient history just for memory’s sake felt oppressive. I needed something more basic, more spontaneous, more indicative of what I was and am feeling. Raw. Raw pictures that point out small pleasurable details, but don’t always reveal the full image. And no color either. Life can sometimes be raw, and it can hurt. It hurts to watch others hurt. Yet, somehow, beauty that points to a greater goodness can shine forth in that suffering. And most often we only live the details, very rarely catching the full glimpse of the image when we’re right in the middle of it.

IMG_2035bwweb

IMG_2017bwwebIMG_1334bwweb

IMG_2096bwweb

IMG_2089bwweb

 

IMG_2042bwweb

IMG_2012bwwebIMG_2084bwweb

South Sudan will come up again in another post, or two or even three, as a memory of another time. For now, it is Athens in its raw and black and white details. My weekend ramble took me through the better neighborhoods of Athens, Kolonaki through the National Gardens, and up into Plaka being watched over by the Acropolis on my leisurely tour. It’s a mix of man made creations and vegetable life, not a typical portrait of the city but my view of it for now nevertheless.

IMG_1479bwwebIMG_1425bwweb

IMG_1404bwweb

IMG_1385bwweb

IMG_2066bwweb

IMG_2028bwweb

IMG_2103bwweb

Advertisements

Weekend Favorites: Flow Magazine

IMG_1777Sometimes the weekends just drag into your Mondays. And why shouldn’t they? Last Saturday, my day was made when my local English bookshop in Athens, Greece (I moved!) had for sale the latest edition of Flow Magazine International. How lovely is this cover by Anne Bentley? I love seeing ladies of diversity as cover models, even if they are illustrated. Check out some snippets from the rest of this edition that had me oohing and aahing:

IMG_1783

IMG_1765IMG_1757

IMG_1764

IMG_1760

IMG_1780IMG_1767

IMG_1789

Kind of quirky, right? It has self dubbed itself the paper lover’s magazine and it is easy to see why. The mix of photography, illustration, and confidence boosting articles make it a great pick in my book. Each edition, which comes out every 2-3 months, has a paper lovers feature such as a mini sketch pad for daily inspiration like the one in this edition.

IMG_1786

IMG_1788

IMG_1763IMG_1787

IMG_1771

IMG_1790

IMG_1779

IMG_1773

Has this one reached the U.S. yet? It’s published out of Amsterdam, with editions in Dutch, French, and German, besides the English of the international version. This was one airport find that I won’t regret. It’s quite a bit more whimsical, slightly more reader friendly with a heavier focus on illustration work than other magazines from the coffee table independent magazine movement, such as Kinfolk and Cereal. Check it out!

Cartoons and Conflict: Humanitarian Crises through the Graphic Novel

https _blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_card_image_442223_65a6832a-3653-403b-9628-05805c6fe64a

I often lament over the lack of art and popping colors in my home of South Sudan. The rational left half of my brain says, “of course there can’t be art, these people are doing all they can to just survive day-by-day”. But the imaginative right side says, “of course they’re surviving, but why can’t they survive and thrive at the same time”.

Whichever side of my brain wins that argument, I love it when these two worlds collide: social justice and creativity, aid work and art. And sometimes, very rarely, but just sometimes, that does happen.

https _blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_card_image_442583_ce95eb4e-f7e5-4bfc-9bd4-995c1b538ee2

Today that happened. One of my former colleagues who now works with the United Nations World Food Programme, known by its more whimsical acronym WFP, posted this on social media. And I love it.

WFP has just published their second graphic novel, LL3 South Sudan, along with comic book writer Joshua Dysart, WFP’s Head of Television Jonathan Dumont, and WFP’s head of Graphics & Publishing Cristina Ascone. And it is total free online, check it out here.

sk1

With illustrations and inks by Alberto Ponticelli, colors by Pat Masioni, and letters by Thomas Mauer, volume two of the Living Level-3 (LL3) publications is this time all about South Sudan. It’s real. It’s about famine. It’s about loss, and physical, mental and emotional hardship. It’s about home and what it means to be far from it.

wfp.png__592x934_q85_crop_subject_location-296,467_subsampling-2_upscale

The goal of this tome is to create awareness around the crisis, and to advocate on behalf of the people in South Sudan and other countries the UN classifies as level 3 emergencies. Only six other countries share the title of level three status, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen. WFP is the UN’s foremost agency that provides desperately needed food aid to large populations in conflict and natural disaster settings, people who are unable to get food by their own means.

l3sudan-1

LL3 South Sudan is about one family’s journey from their home, northward to Darfur, Sudan. Their crops failed to grow during the planting season, given the harsh climate and continuing civil war. When famine beckons at their door, they are forced to leave like so many families here do. While this is ultimately a fictional piece, it is based largely on the story of one such family who took the two week trek on foot to the north. Video footage streamed by WFP called ‘If Our Feet Leave the Earth’ is a good three minute watch about the family who inspired the novel.

ll-3-4

The LL3 series first started with a story line based in Iraq in 2014, focusing on the ethnic cleansing wreaking chaos and destruction in communities attacked by ISIS forces. The same force of inkers, colorists and writers who produced LL3 South Sudan also created LL3 Iraq.

Liviing-Level-3-Iraq-Chapter-2-Page-1

What is your take on graphic novels tackling real-world humanitarian interest stories? What other artists/cartoonists are using their skill sets to speak volumes for social justice movements?

*All illustrations are the property of the World Food Programme.

Where to Shop in East Africa: South Sudan

IMG_2899aweb

One of the perks of being a humanitarian, and a big perk at that, is that when there is immediate conflict at your door step, you will most likely get evacuated. I add that this is a big perk because the reality is that you get evacuated when you are not a national staff, and especially if you are white. Nevertheless, the organization with whom I work places staff security on the top of their priority lists, just right under being in the midst of conflict to provide for those residents and bystanders stuck in the middle of it.

While living out my six-month displacement period, I had to somehow make life work despite the many unknowns, which was helped by the surplus of coffee and tea bars, and green, cool weather. They say that shopping is somewhat therapeutic. For me I can’t say that that necessarily holds true, WalMart at Christmas season is well, somewhat scary. But I did enjoy getting to go shopping across East Africa, touring artisanal crafts, jewelry and housewares, all handmade and housed in artsy shops. While shopping doesn’t necessarily calm my soul, art is pure therapy.

One of my favorite past times when travelling is to purchase unique pieces for my future home, if and when I ever settle into it. By buying art and homewares, I get a glimpse of what makes that place tick: what the economy is made up of, how the people view themselves in an artistic sense. It is worth noting that the items I would buy are not what the ordinary citizen would buy in East Africa. They are made for tourists, or wealthier residents who can indulge artisans with a livelihood, which I personally love to support. Many shops I choose to support are fair trade cooperatives, places of work that are directly impacting more often than not women’s lives. I note that supporting women is huge; these are the people who are responsible raising up the next generation of men and women, and a stable income is a big step in raising stronger future leading citizens. The added bonus of shopping at these places is that you don’t have to haggle down prices or be followed around by shopkeepers trying to convince you that their woven scarf is better than the next shopkeeper’s often identical scarf.

Shopping locally in a bid to support local artisans is something fun for me, something that you can do from your home too. So let me give you a tour, country by country in East Africa, of the places I love and love to support.

IMG_9581aweb

First and foremost in this tour, my country of longest residence and where my work and heart are most tied. South Sudan is conflict based; most of the places I shop are unfortunately not for sale online because ground production can be halted at any time due to acute conflict. But these fair trade cooperatives, all found in Juba, are worth mentioning anyway. Most have been started by Western women hoping to improve communities and especially women’s lives in the Juba vicinity, the Equatorias, although one was started by a very entrepreneurial South Sudanese lady.

The Roots Project

Anyieth D’Awol is the founder of The Roots Project whose mission is to “help the women of South Sudan craft a new nation”. Bead a new nation would be the better verb, as the women come together from many different tribes, Dinka, Nuer, Murle and others, to bead both modern and traditional pieces of jewelry. The sale of the jewelry helps the women not only work together across ethnic lines, but it provides them with a fixed income, two meals per day at the Roots center, and the chance to further their education via literacy and math classes. Jewelry, painting and basket purchases can be made directly at the Roots Center in Juba, see their Facebook page for directions, and for curious customers outside of Juba, via their email, rootsofsouthsudan@gmail.com. A popular way to raise funds for this organization is to host a jewelry party, which my mom has done in the past with some success. Also, interested parties can donate directly to the cause via their website which is up-to-date and easy to get around. I personally have four necklaces hanging up on my walls as art work, and wear a pair of earrings and bracelets from time to time.

IMG_0174aweb

IMG_9589aweb

IMG_9584aweb

Lady Lomin

An Austrian textile artist with a keen interest in Africa, named Eva Hönle, had heard about the struggle that South Sudanese women faced on a daily basis as a result of continual civil war, and saw a way that she could use her skill sets to help fill the need. After an initial visit to South Sudan, she learned about women who weaved in Lomin, a town not too far from the Ugandan border. She visited Lomin, and began talking with the women, and in the late 2010s opened up a cooperative selling cotton blankets, handbags, scarves, outfits, and even phone and tablet protectors woven on giant traditional handlooms. Eva still lives and works in Austria, but has been able to periodically visit the women of Lomin to not only ensure that the business is running properly, but to continue to support the women in business and weaving education. The goal of the project is to not only ensure that women are sustained through a stable income, but that cultures and traditions that the outstanding war has threatened to erase are being revived. “Lady Lomin, we weave the future” is the tagline and purchases can be made in Juba at Comboni Mission House. I have seen Lady Lomin products available for sale at Banana Boat stores, in Kampala, however I’ve had a harder time of locating them further abroad. As of July 2016, conflict directly affected the once generally peaceful area of Lomin and production has since been very slow. It is most likely that the women were forced to move into the refugee camps in neighboring Uganda. Some sites say that Eva can be reached at hoenle@aon.at, or via the Lady Lomin site, ladylomin@gmail.com or office@ladylomin.org. Similar to Roots, donations can be made to support the Lady Lomin development project, with details on the website.

IMG_9558aweb

IMG_9556aweb

IMG_9571awebIMG_9549aweb

IMG_9601aweb

Lulu Life

Lulu Life came to life in 2000 when South Sudan was still a part of Sudan. A French NGO started up a project known as the Lulu Livelihoods program to combat frequent hunger spells in Southern Sudan. The project’s goal was to teach women how to use their traditional skill sets of extracting shea oil from the Sudanese shea tree, vitellaria nilotica, or lulu in Sudanese Arabic, into a viable natural skincare business. Shea butter is known as a restorative skin toner that equally locks in moisture and is heavy in vitamins A and E. What is unique about Sudanese shea butter is that it is cold pressed, meaning that not only does it contain higher levels of healing agents, but it is much softer to apply to the skin compared with other shea butters. Skin care products include body butters, body scrubs, lip balms, mosquito repellents, and soaps. Butters are perfumed with lavender, citrus, oatmeal, mint, vanilla, honey and other essential oils. Lulu works has since grown into its own NGO, comprising of 40 women-owned-and operated shea butter processing centres with two administrative offices in Kenya who arrange for export to the USA and Switzerland. Lulu Life is available at a small roadside shop in Juba, but it is easier to be purchased in pharmacies and cosmetic shops in Nairobi and Kampala, or online here for USA residents or here for European residents.

il_570xN.155327515

il_570xN.155317406

il_570xN.155258761

il_570xN.155312119

*Note, all Lulu Life photos were taken directly from Lulu Life sales websites and are the property of Lulu Works.

Humanitarian Evacuations

IMG_2130aweb

I’ve realized that since I’ve started this site, I’ve done very little to actually describe the places where I live as a humanitarian aid worker in Africa. Unconsciously, there could be a number of reasons for that. It could be that life is just sometimes really hard, working and living in these places, and often times the life-work balance is non-existent. Tourism is absent here, which doesn’t always make for a good read. National parks once did attract a small following, but constant insecurity has destroyed that possibility. Since, all of the big game has either been killed or migrated on to neighboring countries. I often times find my life quite bland, a mix of introvert activities to pass the time, and extrovert activities with the same people I live and work with day in and day out.

In South Sudan, I live and work on the same compound. I very rarely leave it except for R&Rs every ten to twelve weeks, and weekly sector meetings at the UN compounds to discuss specific problems that are being faced for that week. There, we discuss food assistance, food security and livelihoods, insecure hot spots, famine levels, using a slew of technical humanitarian terminologies and impossible to remember acronyms. I am now proficient in speaking acronyms which no one outside of the humanitarian world would understand.

IMG_7160aweb

My life in this context looks rather unusual to the onlooker, and because it’s so starkly different I don’t go into detail about it. Not many others besides those who live in this same world get it. My team is on call to respond to man-made crises that pop up anywhere across the country at any minute. A work day can look like a nice eight hour stint or a double shift of sixteen hours, only finishing around 11pm when our team in the U.S. is done for their day, eight hours behind us. The compound curfew has recently been extended to 8pm. I can visit some close by areas, mainly hotels to eat at or swim at, but still at large we need to be inside the compound walls by 7pm each evening. When you finish work by 6pm, it doesn’t allow for much time away if any. The pace of life is schizophrenic, high and low: we work hard for a solid ten weeks, and then take ten days to do traveling or nothing, R&R, going full speed to no speed. Psychologically, our bodies cope limitedly with those two contrasts.

The definition of security in my everyday life in Juba is skewed from what security looks like in North America or Europe. I feel secure in my compound home because there are four to six compound guards each night on the lookout, and I know that I live in a district where gun shots can’t be heard when you try to go to sleep. Our staff from Juba who are just trying to make a living and raise their family in a safe environment, aren’t quite so lucky. Hearing gunshots is what their youngest children consider to be nighttime lullabies. Exercise, or any physical movement, isn’t always possible outside of the concrete walls called home. Walking directly outside of the compound isn’t safe. One of my closest friends was mugged several months back when going for a two minute walk to the neighboring hotel swimming pool. This place is not so hospitable to white foreigners who are a target for the 800% inflation rate that plagues urban communities, destroying the local currency. My organization will not allow women to walk alone after that incident. But by and large, yes, I feel secure in Juba.

IMG_7322awebIMG_9330aweb

IMG_2037aweb

The pace of Juba life is broken up every month or two by a visit to one of our several field sites, areas scattered across the country where we are doing the actual humanitarian work: providing food via mass distributions, teaching better household hygiene practices, drilling wells, teaching literacy, supplying children under five with much needed nutritional inputs to ward off the looming threat of malnutrition that almost 50% of the country will succumb to at some point in their lives. All in all, my life is not bad. It is exciting, albeit adrenaline induced most times, and when I look back on these two years I’ve had some amazing opportunities. But it is hard to see the suffering of innocent people, moms, kids and dads. Avoidable suffering that keeps getting worse.

One of the challenges of this place is the threat of real insecurity outside your doorstep, not just the occasion compound break-in by thieves. It is the type of insecurity when armed conflict arrives to your home, armies converging in one place with heavy artillery and little self-discipline in regards to refraining from use of the trigger. While not new to the South Sudanese, such conflict arrived last July in Juba. Wikipedia now has a page just for this time period, called the 2016 Juba clashes. I wasn’t in Juba at the time; I was flying internationally from the East Coast, US, and a much needed month of home leave. When I arrived in Nairobi I was told to “stay there, cancel your flight to Juba”. Which I did. And then one half of my expatriate colleagues evacuated to Nairobi with me two days later. One week after, the other half of managers and directors followed suit. Anxiety was high and so was frustration: what about our South Sudanese staff left behind in direct fire? Stories soon came out of compound guards being shot, grenades being fired and blasting walls, and of personal fears and stresses.

IMG_7323aweb

This pattern of living in evacuation continued for two more months, our group of about 40 expatriate persons moved between various guesthouses and hotels in Nairobi and eventually to Kampala in neighboring Uganda. Some staff tried to re-enter Juba for a few days before being flown out again in haste, others were flown to other parts of Kenya, still others moved to the field sites more permanently. I moved to Kampala at the end of July, and was there for the most part of the next six months. Work continued at the typical crash and burn pace, only this time with the added stress of trying to manage it away from normal circumstances: we couldn’t interact with our South Sudanese colleagues outside of email or Skype, and we couldn’t see the people being served through our programming. Four months into evacuation mode, I took my R&R to the Seychelles, an unexpected locale that I never thought of visiting. The ticket was cheap, and I needed to leave the crises of Africa. But more on that to come. When I came back ten days later, almost all of my colleagues were able to return to a more stable Juba, except for four. We were girls and we weren’t seen as having vital enough roles to be considered for reentrance into the place we used to call home. I enjoyed Kampala a lot; Uganda is a beautiful, welcoming country that I want to highlight in the weeks ahead. But it still wasn’t home, and then being the only ones to be left behind, we began to feel a bit worthless and that the organization had forgotten us. The time in Kampala, working and leading a more semi-normal life, dragged on. We lived on a week by week basis, being ready to ‘go’ whenever the word came from our supervisor. I visited one of our field sites in South Sudan once in November, but was not allowed to stay in Juba. I did though get sick in Juba while transitioning from a field site to Kampala, so I had to stay two weeks in my old room. It was some flu or food poisoning or both, combined with vertigo like I’ve never experienced. I packed up my room in anticipation of not returning and flew back to Kampala when I was strong enough to stand and walk without getting too dizzy. Once in Kampala, I was happy to be back. There was good healthcare, good food, secure streets to walk on.

As December came upon us, we didn’t know quite where we stood. We still couldn’t lay down our roots in Kampala because we were always on call, nor could we claim Juba as our home as we hadn’t been there in five months and the prognosis for return wasn’t very high. Christmas came with a glittery plastic tree that we purchased and set up to raise the spirits; Ugandan staff from the same organization were there for us in such a loving manner, but the anxiety of living in two different places began to wear down our senses. My second R&R came, and I flew back to the East Coast for one week to be home. While there, the girls in Kampala finally got the call to move to a new house very abruptly, and a day or two later, we finally the call that we could return to Juba on the 10th of January came. Besides the anxiety that comes when someone else moves house for you, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to South Sudan. At that point I felt so ostracized from the Juba context, and honestly I was scared to go back. Typhoid and weekend bouts of food poisoning were not uncommon for me, and with an already pre-existent tendency for high leveled anxiety, I wasn’t convinced that Juba was my home anymore. But neither was Kampala.

IMG_0756aweb

We went back to Juba with ten heavy bags as closer friends; almost like sisters. After all, we had simultaneously experienced the ongoing mental tension of a heavy workload coupled with not having a stable home for six months. In light of everything, the experience gave us a small reality of what it felt like to be a refugee, only that we had proper beds and meals without the stress of knowing if our loved ones were alive or not. Real refugees have no bed, no food and no confidence that it will be okay tomorrow. Having lived in a homeless state once, I could probably do it again, but wouldn’t want to do it again. Humans need roots and community. Being rootless for six months was more emotional and mental than I ever would have imagined.

IMG_7317aweb

 

Moroccan Mint Tea Illustrated

IMG_6771web

One of my favorite portfolio pieces from a little while back, an advert for Moroccan Mint Tea. I was happy with how it turned out.

IMG_4964web

IMG_6834web

Life in South Sudan post July 2016 has made life outside of work a bit of a balance, and sometimes being on the computer editing photos and illustrations is the last thing I feel like doing. My Photoshop is back up and running six months later however, so I no longer have the excuse of not editing!

IMG_6831aweb

Wishing everyone in the colder north a warm and cozy week ahead with your favorite cuppa to get you through!

Tea Time: Inspired by Illustrated Tea Packaging

img_6217aweb

As I sip down a glass of cool tamarind iced tea accessorized with slices of mango, orange and starfruit, I feel instantly relaxed, recharged and mostly at ease. There’s just something about tea, about its history and its beauty before being cultivated that enchants me. Even more so than coffee, tea evokes a need for storytelling. Of ancient days in China when tea was the taste of royalty, to its more common existence in the British Isles where 4pm is always teatime.

Tea when repeated in a foreign tongue, is even sweet: chai, thé, tsai. Even in the unromantic German tongue, tea is called der Tee. Unlike its cousin coffee, the caffeine in tea doesn’t make you want to jump in the air; it’s softer and sweeter. While tea leaves actually do contain more caffeine than roasted coffee beans, tea leaves tend to be drunk with a higher water consistency than coffee.

One of my favorite qualities about tea is its aromatherapeutic traits. Think orange blossom, lemon balm and ginger, and Chinese jasmine green tea, and inhale. Not too long ago in a Ugandan supermarket, I smelled a heavenly lemongrass black tea two aisles away and instantly bought for its pungent odor alone. I left it in my bedroom, untouched for three weeks, enjoying the scent that wafted to all four corners and back. I slept well.

bengal-spice-lg

Besides its history, taste and romantic character, one of my favorite things about tea is buying it: In tins and boxes where artists were paid to let their imaginations run wild. Tea in advertising when left to creatives is one of my favorite joys of food store shopping. Back in the day, it started with collecting Celestial Seasonings. I remember buying Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice mix back in the mid-90s, like the packaging above, so excited to open the box and sip into a world of Rajasthani princes only to find that the taste was just not my style. But who cared, I had the illustration of the Rajasthani tiger albeit an additional 19 teabags left un-drunk. Thank goodness there were more reasonable adults willing to finish it off.

celestialtiger

In 2007, Lori Anzalone was commissioned to re-illustrate the Bengal Spice tiger, largely keeping the same theme as before.51dgcebkeyl Apparently when the company tried 2015 to go away from the original illustrations that were their hallmark since the 1970s, customers were confused with the new 21st century packaging design, seen above. I actually think that the new artists did a great job of moving the company stylistically into the new century, however due to an overwhelming negative response the illustrations won out and Celestial Seasonings has returned to its staple beloved packaging. Which tiger suits your fancy, the old or the new?

48474f83119b4dd2c1c8bf482db7a7ae

This brand is newer to me, but I stumbled upon it in a rather remote Canadian sweets shop this past summer: Clipper. Clipper tea is an English brand that instantly won my heart when I saw Lorna Scobie’s whimsical black and white teacups. Among other things, Lorna has just come out with a new adult coloring book.

clipper1

every1

front-large__13385-1436007575-500-500

clipperspackshotresize

Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who does judge a book by its cover. If it doesn’t entice me graphically, I won’t pick it up. Lorna’s Snore and Peace won me over for her great use of nighttime colors and handcrafted typography.

static1-squarespace-com

static1-squarespace-com2Another box that has made its way into my shopping basket these days is from another English brand, Heath & Heather. I instantly fell in love with Dawn Cooper and her illustrations from seeing these boxes alone. Her portfolio opens up a whole other magical world: hats off to her for these delicious floral masterpieces created under her agency’s name.

1467843315636

In a way, they remind me of the detailed yet muted botany watercolors found in Miss Beatrix Potter’s work in the early 20th century.

h_h_organic_f_h_ech_20s_3d_0a0f2716-499c-43b1-adb5-6167d1a9a079_1024x1024

echinacea_cranberry_20_bags_1024x1024

I’ve purchased their Echinacea flavor, whose rosy pink florals are very welcome in the afternoon after an adrenaline pumped morning in the office. Even the inside of the box is hot rose. Compare Dawn’s new 2016 design to Heath and Heather’s much blander former design. You can see why I’m mesmerized with her artwork.

7cd357ad9af35890f535b08084185e3c

Lastly, another favorite English tea box design of mine is by brand William Whistle who specializes in both artisan teas and coffees. There is just something about great Victorian styled typography, detailed ink illustrations with a splash of modern color overlay that makes me want to taste this brand over any other tea box on the shelf. While I haven’t yet found where to buy these teas and coffees other than in specialty shops in the UK, the brand design as certainly been noticed around the web.

06-william-whistle-packaging-by-horse-on-bpo

03-william-whistle-packaging-by-horse-on-bpo

I love how the brand has created a fictional character who travels the world to bring us, the clients, new exotic flavors in a very 19th century colonial way.

12-william-whistle-packaging-by-horse-on-bpo

And for all of you coffee bean fanatics, aren’t the spots on this giraffe just to die for?

By large, tea brands are one of the more creative industries when it comes to package design. There are several Pinterest portfolios devoted to showcasing those out-of-the-box designers, check out mine here, as well as branding sites that highlight a number of good tea company product designs. My favorite part of these new modern designs is that they harp on older times and styles, yet still can appeal to the modern era. And they bring back whimsical illustration to a technology dominated world, reminding me that for all of the good that our laptops, smart phones and whatever cherished device we carry with us do for us, that human spark of imagination is still very much alive.

Compassion Fatigue at Home and Abroad

IMG_2414web

Today I wanted to approach a less whimsical subject, one that is perhaps a little less full of light and color but one that is very much a part of all of our journeys. I had written up a post for this blog over New Year’s, but never posted it. And then one for springtime too, but still couldn’t find it in myself to post. I write now from an artisanal ice-cream shop, sitting on an old time stool and a repurposed wooden bar with scratches, spills, and ingrained sprinkles. That blueberry lemon kiddie cup (since when did kiddie size mean two scoops) hit the spot. I am on home leave for five weeks, away from South Sudan and in green Pennsylvania and can finally process. Ice cream here is good.

For the past year, living in South Sudan has not been physically difficult. Sure, walking around on the Juba streets is not the same as walking in Europe or the U.S.; biking is neither an option in Juba, but life is a far cry from difficult. But what makes it difficult is time: time spent writing from my desk hidden away in a concrete block building with barbed wire fence outside the window about 4.3 million people expected to reach near famine levels, or whatever number in vogue from the latest nation-wide report, became mundane. 4.3 million people became numbers, not faces. Statistics of pregnant women who die while giving birth became just that. Mundane behind block walls.

IMG_9345aweb

Seeing those faces in person should have been the solution. Kind eyed ladies with their children lagging behind them at the distribution points. But then, visiting the projects in the field, rural areas targeted for assistance, didn’t always make it any better the mundane, lifeless feeling. I saw the faces, and took their photos, usually smiling and happy despite having only reemerging from six-months of living in the swamps, skin covered in scabies in an attempt to hide from the very government that is supposed to be protecting them. Even those faces, I didn’t want to really see. Because it gets you tired, trying to love everyone when the situation seems to be only getting worse.

The second night when I came home in green tinged Pennsylvania, images haunted my sleeping mind. Of me, having to escape with some of my co-workers from armed men. Running through precarious passageways, rebels being killed at an arms’ length away. Nightmares evolved, me, the protagonist of my mind, knowing that I would escape but they, the people left behind, couldn’t. The people could never escape the war. When I work up, that image really frightened me. Compassion fatigue has bothered me much more than I had even thought.

IMG_2104aweb

IMG_2103aweb

Unfortunately, I don’t write this to share a solution if you like me are feeling tired or feeling overwhelmed by a needy world, no matter how small that world may be. I can’t give a list of ways that one can commence to address personal compassion fatigue, or for that matter even trauma at its various degrees. But I have come to realize that my compassion fatigue did not start in South Sudan, it started at home in the U.S. I would define compassion fatigue as a soul tiredness, a tiredness from having to love and trying to love those whom we don’t know or even those we do know. Especially when the situation seems impossible. A tiredness that makes us stare blankly and makes us not really care or want to be affected by having to care.

I found that compassion fatigue in my life has been as a result of continual subliminal messaging of a hurting world: seeing news clips in urban Philadelphia of a homicide in a community bogged down by addictions, hearing of a car crash five-minutes from my house in which a young sixteen-year old girl dies, reading of another airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan, riots in China, shootings in Colorado, Paris, Orlando. And social media, for all its good intentions, is only making the constant feed of bad even worse. The consistency of having to ingest violence and hate in our world, a constant flow from the media, from a friend, from personal experience. It can be too overpowering to our senses that we fail to feel any longer.

IMG_0423aweb

These past seven months of silence have been that in South Sudan. While I have had amazing experiences and adventures that have taken me to Amsterdam, New York, Jaipur and all the way back, I haven’t been able to write. Because sometimes it’s hard to see joy, to feel joy, amidst this over-stimulation and the resulting deadening of my ability to care and to love.

I am grateful: I have a God, a friend and father all the same, who knows how to love and care far more than I will ever comprehend in this lifetime. And he lifts that burden from me, to care and to love for all of those hurts. And while my job in South Sudan is to know where those hurts are around the world, the wars, deaths, abductions, social injustices that happen in my very back yard, I know that for each word I read, I can commit that situation up to God and move on. Because while I can pray for healing in far off catastrophes, I can’t be emotionally involved in every situation.

IMG_0478aweb

So for now, I want to keep being informed, but I want to disconnect from immigration crises in Australia because I can’t do anything about that while floating in between East Africa and the U.S., but God can. Instead, I can chose to take on the hurt of those in my immediate world, my family, friends, colleagues and even new people that are placed in my life as the journey continues. And by only concentrating on those small hurts, my burden lightens and I can keep choosing joy and sharing joy. We all hurt too much and can’t let those hurts be the end all. Because it will all end one day. For now, we just have to keep moving onward.

For now, I want to walk outside along the canal in a slightly less golden sun than that in Africa, I want to pet my furry little friends, sit in coffee shops, visit farmers markets and marvel at growth and substance in food. I want to breathe in joy so that I can breathe it back out when I return to Juba in just three-short weeks. My laptop’s lid will be closed much more frequently and I will paint, camp, read, watch the stars, catch up on this lonely little blog and be inspired by others around me who have faced trials and tribulations so positively.

IMG_0342aweb

For all who are out there, thanks for reading along, thanks for your patience and friendly hellos. Please know that your hurts mean something to someone far greater than any person in this world. I look forward to catching-up and sharing some of my latest adventures in subsequent posts!

IMG_2424aweb

Paris, je t’aime

IMG_9469awebIn light of the recent events, I find it appropriate to post this now. One of my favorite cities, France was my home for five years and holds a very special place in my heart.

IMG_9478aweb

IMG_9485awebAround the globe and in places of conflict, these atrocities are not new: Syria, Iraq, North Korea, even here in South Sudan. Yet each life, no matter what color of skin, language spoken or even nationality, each life is invaluable.

IMG_9484awebWhile the city of light is temporarily darkened, we are praying for these people, that they find an even more real and everlasting light in the midst of this violence and hate.

IMG_9481awebI painted this months ago, in a moment of nostalgia. Paris, vous êtes tous dans nos cœurs.

IMG_9465aweb

Birds of Africa: Pink Flamingo, f comme flamant rose

IMG_7673webAfrica undeniably has a wanderers allure attached to it. Think the ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Conrad or any other 19th early 20th writer who romanticized the continent’s wild and indigenous qualities: “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions” (Karen Blixen).

Flamant rose. Famille des Phoenicoptéridés. Ordre : Phoenicoptériformes

Flamant rose. Famille des Phoenicoptéridés. Ordre : Phoenicoptériformes

Unfortunately these romantic notions more or less lumped the continent together; people outside of here have a tendency to ask, “So how is Africa?” instead of making it even a regionally specific place.

IMG_7674awebAlas, I can’t help but dream it up a bit myself, when I think of its fabulous colors and great adventures that await. Sometimes I am blue living here, but in the scope of things, this is a pretty fabulous opportunity. I only wish I could take more photos to share with others what I see, but for now it will have to remain in an illustrated form.

LSN-00054-3IMG_7676aweb

Harping back on my European animal collection, here is F, the majestic pink flamingo. While I was actually drawing the pink flamingo who lives in the Camargue region of France, Eastern Africa and the flamingo just seem to go hand and hand. Juba does not allow me to see a great amount of nature, but once in a while I catch a flicker of a yellow breasted beauty flying around, oblivious to the chaos lurking under wing.

IMG_7677aweb