Thursday, May 05, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sport & Peace -- And Amanda's "Most Memorable Moment In Sport"

Hello Friends!

You may have heard that I recently received a grant to conduct research on:

-Peace Education
-Sport Programming
-Intercultural Integration

this summer in Western Europe. I hope to see some familiar faces while I am on my travels.

To follow my adventure, which I will be embarking upon (virtually -- they will be elsewhere) with 3 other fantastic female teammates, check out our blog, here:

And for friends of our blog who were redirected to this site, and everyone who likes to hear embarrassing-moment-stories, please read on, I've pasted the content of my first "Sport & Peacebuilding" homework assignment below:

My Most Memorable Moment in Sport
Asking me to write about sport is sort of like cruel and unusual punishment. I don’t mean this to be offensive, but more by way of introduction. In fact I’m happy to report that I’ve increased my sportiness in recent years. In the summer of 2009 I ran my first-ever race, a 10k, which I proudly finished in under an hour (59 minutes and 45 seconds, to be exact). But I wasn’t always the mean, lean, speed machine you see standing before you today. I came from something else.

Growing up, sports weren’t really something my family did together for fun, unless sports trivia or croquet in the backyard count. Though my Mom was her school’s head cheerleader in high school and college, an aerobics instructor and medaled swimmer, a massive and unexpected stroke disabled her at 24, two years before I was born. She recovered her capacity for most normal human/mom functions like walking, talking, reasoning, changing diapers and making lunches, but never regained her coordination enough to jump or swim again the same way she did before. My Dad, though he started college as a sports journalism major, and covered our basement walls with autographs from Joe DiMaggio, Pete Rose, and Jackie Robinson, comes from a family where they consider it an accomplishment if someone can chew gum and walk at the same time. So athleticism is not what you’d call “in the genes”.

Despite these familial odds against me, I persisted toward sportiness as a youngster. I completed the proverbial YMCA swimming lessons and one fall season of YMCA soccer necessary to fit my role as an American grade-schooler. I even pursued gymnastics classes for 5 years, most memorably creating my own floor routines with my neighborhood friends in 1996, the year the “magnificent seven” American gymnasts won gold in Atlanta. We were just like them, I tell you – Keri Strug’s vault looked like nothing in comparison to my one-handed cartwheel.

The incompatibility of my genetics with sport hit its tipping point at the height of my pre-teen awkwardness: 6th grade. In my painstaking pursuit of popularity, I did something completely unadvisable. I joined the Blandford School Girl’s Basketball Team. I sported a stylish, giant white cotton t-shirt that was longer than my shorts (I was still using the soccer shorts from the 2nd grade YMCA team -- hadn’t hit puberty yet full-on, you know) along with a bright yellow mouth guard my mom had helped me boil and shape to my new braces. I religiously watched March Madness games with my dad and started answering to my new, cool b-ball nickname “Downtown”.
The moment in question happened about half-way through the 6th grade season. I went to a magnet school for smart kids, which meant that our team was made up of the brainiest but also arguably least-adept 6th grade girls in the city of Grand Rapids. Our record wasn’t a shining one. I generally kept to defense, which I felt was my particular strength, being unable to dribble much farther than three feet. I would man-to-man you like nobody’s business. One particular game though, just after half time, I had a 15 second affair with fame. Somehow, through divine intervention perhaps, I actually caught the basketball in my hands. My two, preteen hands. Realizing my chance and seeing a clear court in front of me, I awkwardly (but passionately!) drove the center of the court, miraculously, simultaneously looking ahead, running, and bouncing the ball with one hand. The opposing team sprung out of out of my way, awestruck by my intimidating skill. People were shouting my name. I could feel it – this was my sport, this was MY game, and I was going to make the one basket of my 6th grade career. There was no one to pass to, and I could see the basket clearly, so I went for it -- the adrenaline rushed through me as I gave all my energy into the shot of a lifetime, the ball gracefully arcing through the air…

… and gracefully missing the basket by what probably were feet but appeared to me to be yards. I was embarrassed. I came back to earth. I tuned in to the voices shouting my name, who turned out to be saying “Amanda! Thank God you didn’t make the shot! That was the other team’s basket!”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SNOWSTORM!!! And why DC, even though it doesn't work, keeps working...

I think this post is kind of boring, but I am going to post it anyway since this is where it belongs.

I’m being afforded the chance to write this by global warming, or in other words, snow. DC was hit by a fairly massive snowstorm last night, which tore down tree branches, buried cars, and caked sidewalks in roads first in ice and then in a hefty layer of packable powder. There are a considerable amount of “Southerners” in the district who are convinced that living in DC means going “north”, but I would have to say, as a Michigander, that this one day of crisis is a fairly good testament to the fact that DC definitely, in snow capability and mentality, if nothing else, is solidly part of the south.

Class was canceled on campus yesterday afternoon at 3pm and the university didn’t reopen its doors until 11 this morning. Giant swaths of DC are without power (my roommate and I lucked out and had a cozy evening at home with the lights on!) and busses and cars are abandoned on the side of the road.

The e-mail I got in my inbox this morning said that it was up to employees to decide when they wanted to come into work, that they could use leave time if need be. I figured I didn’t need leave time, so I got myself up and going, pulled on those Michigan snow boots and walked out the door into the new winter wonderland. I took pictures to send my mother. Cutting through the park on my way to work I watched the sun slide through the snow-covered tree branches. I reveled in the sound of snow crunching beneath my feet – it brings back memories of walking to elementary school and sledding with my family and hiking to my “magic spot” at nature school in 6th grade. Walking in snow is rewarding – it takes effort, but it’s so worth it.

I passed a lot of people who shoveling -- looking either entirely non-plussed, very befuddled or (I expect ex-Midwesterners) utterly thrilled to take on the ice/snowcovering.I arrived at work on time only to find the building closed and dark. Go figure. Not everyone has it as easy I do – driving is a lot more difficult since they’re aren’t enough plows to get the roads safe enough, quick enough – not to mention the power issue! So I headed to Starbucks, which was a mistake, because everyone without power was there. After hitting a second Starbucks equally filled, I hiked down to a French café which has no power outlets and no wifi and found a place to sit down and use my computer until the battery died. They had an illy espresso maker and I had a REAL cappuccino. It was amazing.

Once my computer lost battery I headed up to the “social Safeway” grocery store (has a Starbucks and café – with power outlets!), where the last third of DC was camped out. Saw my good friend May, who is out of power and came to charge her laptop and phone. She wasn’t alone. 47 other young professionals were crowded into the café, each one of them charging their devices. A couple people had brought their own power strips with them, so more energy-hungry displaced workers could plug-in. Looking around me at the chaotic, unshowered Safeway crowd, I felt this was a testament to the dominant persona of NW DC – folks that are so dedicated to their work that they stand up and head out to plug-in when their power is out, but at the same time folks that can’t work without power.

I was very glad I don’t own a car. I’m happy that I’m dependent on my own two feet to get to work. And I’m glad I got to enjoy walking in the snow. But I know at the same time I count among the masses dependent upon a computer and its power to get work done – without any of my books nearby, I didn’t have many options once my computer died, and was reduced to writing on paper napkins until I had a chance to plug it in!

So I remain a confused Amanda in a confused city – trying to be environmentally and socially conscious, but required by the expectations of a life in a city driven by progress and success to meet certain standards – like having a smart phone and dressing well. Moving toward self-sufficiency means navigating these waters and figuring out how you live a life that is happy and fulfilling. I hope as long as I keep making sure to walk in the snow, I am headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

D.C, fuer Anfaenger

Bilder die dazu gehoeren!

Hallo Ihr Lieben,
Ich dachte es sei Zeit, dass ich mich melde. Aber wo soll ich anfangen?
Mir geht es sehr gut in den Staaten. Nach einem langen Flug (10+ Stunden) bin ich fröhlich (aber auch mit Schmerzen) am 19. August zu Hause in Grand Rapids, Michigan angekommen. Zwar nur für ein paar Tage, da ich am 23. schon nach D.C. losfahren musste. Aber zuhause war ich trotzdem, habe meine Familie und Freunden gesehen und Michigan im Sommer für 2 Tage genossen.
Mein Papa und ich haben einen PKW für 3 Tage gemietet und sind damit am Montag, 23. August losgefahren nach Washington, D.C. Er hat mich und meine Sachen sicher nach Washington D.C. gebracht, mich auch noch netterweise zu IKEA und dem Supermarkt gefahren damit ich ein paar notwendige Sachen (ein Bett, Milch und Muesli, z.B.) besorgen könnte und hier meine Fusse auf den „Boden“ stellen knnte. (Michigan nach Washington sind ~ 12 Studen mit dem Auto, für diejenigen, die es wissen möchten).
Ich wohne hier in einer kleinen Wohnung mit einer Mitbewohnerin die auch in Georgetown ihr Masterstudium dieses Jahr beginnt. Sie heisst Laura, kommt aus Richmond, Virgina und ist soweit sehr lieb. Wir verstehen uns schon sehr gut miteinander.
Und jetzt der lustigste Teil der „Umzugs“-Geschichte: Drei Tage nach meinem ankommen habe ich Abends ein bisschen Luft gebraucht und bin spazieren gegangen in der Nachbarschaft. Ich kam zu einer grossen Straße und habe dort ein Restaurant gesehen das Gelb, Rot und Schwarz gestrichen war.  Ich habe dann angehalten, da das Restaurant „Old Europe“ heißt und ich ihre Karte natürlich anschauen wollte. Ich war erstaunt – sie hatten echte deutsche Sachen – das Menü war sogar auf Deutsch geschrieben:  Sauerbraten, Bauernwurst, Schnitzel – alles war da. Da kam eine Frau raus, das Plakat mit ihrer Tageskarte reinzubringen.  Neugierig fragte ich sie, ob sie Deutsche sei. „Ja“ sagt sie und ich stelle mich vor und sagte, dass ich gerade zurück aus Deutschland gekommen bin und jetzt hier anfänge zu studieren. „Suchen sie Arbeit?“ fragt sie mich. „ahhh..Ja!“ sagte ich, ein bisschen überrascht. Am nächsten Tag bin ich hingegangen und sie haben mich sofort genommen. Die Chefin (Eine Deutsche Frau die mit dem amerikanischen Besitzer des Restaurants verheiratet ist)  hat mir eine Dirndl gefunden. Nun bin ich die neue Kellnerin bei Old Europe Restaurant in Washington D.C. Verrückt, wie der Herr für uns sorgt, oder? Dort sind echte Deutsche in der Küche und ich spreche regelmäβig auf Deutsch mit den Gästen und meinen Kolleginnen. Ich darf auch dort Spätzle, Rotkohl und (das beste) echte deutsche Brot(!!) essen. (Hier in Amerika ist das Brot nach meinem jetzigen Geschmack viel zu weich). Und noch besser: Unsere Senf und Gurken im Restaurant kommen alle von Hengstenberg. Wo sonst?! Lustigerweise habe ich jetzt HIER unteranderem gelernt, wie man einen Hefeweizen richtig einschenkt! J (Heute habe ich Gäste aus Reutlingen übrigens bedient. Die Welt ist klein).
Mein Deutsch verlernen, werde ich aufjedenfall nicht. Bei der Arbeit darf ich ja Deutsch sprechen, aber auβerdem habe ich die Gelegenheit hier auf der Uni einen Deutschkurs zu machen. Er heiβt „Literature of Migraton“ und wir werden Literatur, Politik und Filme über Migration und Gastarbeiter in Deutschland studieren. Meine Professorin unterrichtet Deutsche Literatur aber hat ihre Ausbildung in Theater und unterrichtet auch Politik. Sie ist übrigens Deutsche und gefällt mir soweit sehr! Ich werde durch diesen Kurs mein geschriebenes Deutsch hoffentlich verbessern können und ein bisschen mehr politische Information über die Menschen mit welchen ich in Esslingen so lang gearbeitet habe bekommen. Darüberhinaus habe ich eine andere Studentin meines Masterprogramms kennengelernt, die aus der Schweiz kommt. Wir reden oft zusammen auf Deutsch und beschweren uns über (unter anderem) den amerikanischen Kaffee zusammenJ
Mein „Traumstudium“ hat mich bis jetzt nicht enttäuchst. Ihr wiβt hoffentlich, dass es mir gar nicht leicht gefallen ist, Esslingen und die Jugendarbeit dort zu verlassen in der Hoffnung dass dieser „nächste Schritt“ der richtige sein wird. Ich kann aber nun sagen, dass ich 100% davon uberzeugt bin das es der richtige war. Mein Masterprogramm hier in Konfliktversöhnung  ist sehr interessant. Ich habe Kursen mit weltberühmten Professoren; Menschen, welche wenn sie dich nicht unterrichten Regierungen und Präsidenten beraten! Ich habe eine Klasse voll mit andere Studenten die genau wie ich „die Welt retten“ möchten, die (wie ich) überall gewohnt haben (manche sogar mehr als ich!) und jeder einzelne hat eine faszinierende Lebensgeschichte und Lebensplan.
Auβerdem ist die Uni voller toller Angeboten, Dienstleistungen ( Die Bibliothek ist z.B. riesig!!) und einfach coole Menschen, die alle da sind die „Lebensträumen“ von uns Studenten möglich zu machen.
Gerade könnte ich nicht glücklicher sein. Ich habe zwar sehr, sehr viel Arbeit vor mir. Ich suche noch eine Gemeinde wo ich mich „zuHause“ fühle (das Problem in Amerika ist nicht dass es zu wenig sondern zuviele gibt!). Freunde werd ich auch über Zeit finden. Angefangen habe ich ja schon J  Soweit geht es mir gut.
Ich muss noch mal danke sagen, dass so viele von Euch an mich wegen meinem Geburtstag und dem Umzug gedacht haben. Ich denke oft an Euch und habe viele Erinnerungen von Deutschland in meiner neuen Wohnung, damit ich täglich an mein „Deutsche Sein“ und Euch meine Deutschen „Familie“ denken kann.
Es freut mich wenn ihr Euch meldet- macht das mal! Oder komm mich doch mal besuchen!
Viele liebe Grüβe schick ich von der anderen Seite des Ozeans.
Eure Amanda.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Wave Your Flag - 4th of July & The World Cup

“Wave your Flag” sing K’naan and Nancy Ajram, and let me tell you, this summer, Germany is waving its flag. Out my window, a parade of vehicles – BMWs, Motorcycles, Mercedeses, Volkswagons and even tractors, all of them decorated gold, red, and black, are honking their horns and driving for joy. Fans hang out the window or stick out sunroofs waving their flags. Germany just beat Argenta 4-0 and every win here is followed by a victory lap (or 10) through the city. Those of “us” who don’t have cars stand on the streets and wave, singing “So sehen Sieger, sha-la-la-la-la, So sehen Sieger, shaa la-la-la-la-la!” (This is what victors look like!)

Tomorrow, the United States will celebrate the birth of its independence with backyard BBQs, fireworks, and parades. In this county, where one seldom sees a German flag and the word “patriotism” is held at arm’s length like a dirty diaper (let’s not forget Germany’s history, folks), the World Cup has given a thirsty nation, and even its immigrated residents, a chance to rejoice in who they are. The victory chants are sung with gusto by a people who know they are only allowed such a celebration with due cause.

Below are a couple pictures from the last win, against England. I watched the game with nearly 100 others at a public viewing hosted by the Y. There are public viewings everywhere. At the Y, at church, in outdoor cafés, in bars, in the ice hockey arena. Summer here is being outside, watching soccer, celebrating and mourning together with a beer and a bratwurst.

Which makes you wonder, why isn’t this going on in the US? It can’t be the lack of our outdoor cafés – when I was in Africa, last time the World Cup was being played (in Germany, of all places – smart move, right?) there were significantly less outdoor cafés, but in their place, crowds of boys sitting outside local grocery stores – 50 huddled around a 13-inch TV on one lonely extension cord – eyes glued and dreams big. Everyone was watching.

I mean really, what could be more American than a beer, a dog, and sports? And this for a month long! If the rest of the world, from Germany to South Africa, is glued to their TVs watching sports, what’s going on America? Why aren’t you in on the game? Is this just like the metric system? The rest of the world realized it makes more sense, but we’re too stubborn to give in?

Now with all due respect, the US gave a good fight this year, and I’ve heard statistics that over 50% of Americans are following the World Cup. This is progress people, I’m proud. All the same, John Cleese has something to say about why Americans are out of the loop when it comes to soccer which is not only good but also hilarious. In all seriousness though, I wonder if soccer is not exactly fit to the American psyche? It’s a long-suffering sport. It requires patience to watch, and one is seldom immediately rewarded. You’re let down a lot in soccer. Hundreds more goals are shot than scored, and a fan’s job is attentiveness to each shot, so that she’ll see the success when it comes. And when it comes, is through teamwork, strategy, and concentration over time – things we understand, but perhaps could work on a little bit. What do you think? What would American sports be like with fewer beer commercials and more concentration?

And now that I’ve witnessed the World Cup twice from abroad, I’m thinking: America, are we avoiding being a part of the world’s game? It’s interesting, how Esslingen, for that matter, Germany – is suddenly unified by its battle for victory. And even more interesting, the passions expressed through the fight: glory, honor, power, might, pride, unity, surrender, victory. It’s not a coincidence that I use these words. I think sport is a key to peace. Watching the Japan/Paraguay game was like a sociological experiment in conflict. Two sides at peak fitness, the weight of honor on their shoulders. South Americans, who are known to express their emotions loudly and vividly, against the reserved and quiet Japanese. It’s like war – the same virtues are on the table, er, field – there’s just a tad less bloodshed. If only the settling of Europe could have been played out in soccer.

People need to fight. We need to stand together for a cause. I think we need to fight for our glory and be celebrate it. So come on America, get in the game – why don’t you wave your flag?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Home in Winter

The Neckarweg in winter looks like steam-rolled Breyer's vanilla bean ice cream, the Germans having freckled it with tiny black pebbles the same way we Michiganders would with pink and orange salt. The wind is cold but not biting like in Chicago, when mighty Michigan whips it off her back and through the steel and glass-lined corridors we humans with our skyscrapers have constructed.

Men and women with ruddy faces and wearing parkas walk by me and I smile. Snow doesn't come often in feet here, and it's a wonder to behold. Its creamy whiteness mutes everything, making an already-quiet town almost silent, and my feet crunch deafeningly on the pebbles and snow. It's January, and we've tucked into winter for good. I'm back on my path, back to running, and happier to be here than anywhere else.

Living in Esslingen in winter is particular. Esslingen is home to one of Germany's most well-renowned Christmas markets. Besides the fact that the Christmas Market runs almost the entire month of December (a feat in itself), Esslingen features a Middle-Ages Christmas Market; where kids can make wax candles and wooden swords, adults can buy Gluhwine and special liquors, and people dress up! The stands blend perfectly with the medieval architecture in our pedestrian downtown -- you'd think you'd gone back in time if it wasn't for people around you chatting on cell phones and carrying H&M bags, disrupting the magic of it all. In H&M's defense, I did feel like the magic of my pre-holiday mall shopping experience was a little disrupted when I noticed Gimley the Dwarf (you know, the one from Lord of the Rings with the beard?) in line behind me at the check-out -- until I realized it was just another one of those medieval basket-weavers who wanted to get his shopping done just like the rest of us.Which is just a reminder that life in Europe is a lesson in paradoxes and heterogeneity - life as it was blending with life as it has been and life as it is. Yes, living in Esslingen in winter means complaining about the Christmas Market all December long -- how it makes it impossible to walk through town, how there are no parking spots, how expensive it is and how Gluhwine-happy tourists are always loudly trapzing about -- and simultaneously, like any good homebody, fiercely and proudly defending Esslingen's Christmas Market as the best in Germany, if not Europe as a whole.

It occurs to me at this point that I write primarily on this blog about beautiful things, when Europe sounds more like a fairy tale than a reality. I wonder if this is motivated by a desire to prove to my readers that I really am doing something good here; or maybe just to make you jealous; or maybe to live up to so many of your recommendations that I should become a travel journalist.

Or maybe I do it to convince myself of something. When I lived in Africa, this blog was to record my observations of what was going on in a grossly different culture and context than the one I was used to. And it was to show you, and myself, that I was getting along just fine.

But now, having lived in Europe over a year of my life, now that my parents call it home, too, now that I have a job and a rhythm here, my travel-journalist observations are more a reminder to me that I am, indeed, still a visitor.

Sure, there are small things that remind me of that every day -- like when I mess up in German grammar or turn the key the wrong way in the lock because they're the opposite from how they are in the States. But I was surprised at how relieved I was to return here after I went to the States for Christmas break. There is something refreshing about living in a place where most things are accessible by foot and shops close down on Sundays. Where you aren't deafened by the clamor of breaks and horns 24/7 and there is more to coffee than sugar.

Yesterday, when I was explaining to someone for the um-teenth time that I went to college in Chicago, my parents live in the Netherlands, my brother in Michigan, but I now in Germany, he asked me, as people tend to do, "Where's home?" And I had to say, as I do more and more often: "Your guess is as good as mine."

Friday, December 11, 2009

I have to write about running again

I go running to feel like I’m alive.

In youth ministry, (and in many other forms of ministry), the word “schedule” doesn’t exactly exist. You work when others don’t, so you can be there for them when they are free. Sometimes this means a more relaxed schedule, but other times it adds up to a kind of discombobulation that has me feeling very out of sorts.

Going on a run brings my body back into order. Blood runs through my whole being and reminds me that I am not many different parts but a functioning whole. It’s on my runs, without chemicals like caffeine to pull me through, that I realize when I am deeply tired, in spirit and in body.

It’s also the chance to wake up. My muscles stretch and smoulder. The sharp cold ruddies my cheeks and opens my eyes wide to see the world in all its beauty, the trees a-riot with color and the Neckar bubbling in its overwhelming fall fullness.

After about half an hour on a good, long run, after I have gotten my initial beastly energy out, I start to feel old injuries come back.

My left ankle has been weak ever since I twisted it in 9th grade while playing catch with 3 kids I was babysitting. There is an irritated ligament under my right knee cap that burns when I’ve run too long, even if I stretch before and after. It’s annoying, but the fact that it is not perfectly in-sync with the rest of my body reminds me to take care. My hips, well, they’ve been messed up since birth (my parents used to double-diaper me as a baby in hopes they wouldn’t “click” so much when I walked).

This might seem odd to you, but when I run, my injuries remind me in many ways of my life of faith. I wonder,

- Why it is that we (I at least) seem to struggle again and again with the same sins and frustrations? How come the old injury comes back to bother me, instead of going away and letting a new one show up? Sometimes I wrestle in sharp pain with my injuries. Other times the injury stays “under control” – good physical care and regular exercise keep it in check. But if I haven’t run in a while, and then try again, the injury flares up fast, and hinders me from surging forward at the pace I wish I could go.

- My injuries also remind me that I am unique. Other people have issues with their knees and ankles, but they don’t have mine. They don't have the white concrete driveway and black asphalt, the baseball mit and the blue-suede Skechers that led to my demise. Every one of my injuries has a story, a time and a place where it happened. This reminds me of an observation C.S. Lewis made in his book, Miracles; that our sins are equally as owned and unique to us as our fingerprints or personality. This struck me when I first read it, because I hadn't thought of it before: sin is something that is a shared experience by all of humanity: we have recognized it and named it and attempted to share with one another how we deal with it, in the same way we recognize that every person has a miniscus, and know what surgery to undertake when it is torn. We also recognize sins that are corporate and social. But, like any specific tear on a specific miniscus, my sins are deeply personal. God made me so unique, in fact, that not only am I the only Amanda Munroe in the world with my DNA, but the manner in which I sin is woven specificly into who I am.

- Why is this so? Why do we struggle most of our lives with the same "sins", or let's put it this way: cowardices, injuries and doubts? What makes it so hard to conquer them, or what makes it harder to deal with the ones that already belong to us and easier to avoid the ones we have never tried? Why are we more inclined to hurt and be hurt one way and not another?

Which brings me back to running...
When I run, I can feel where things that are out of place – I feel the tightness in my shoulders where my backpack usually hangs, and the weight sitting on my hipbones that really is quite pointless and rather hindersome to carry around with me, especially when running. In the same way that it makes me aware of my body, running gives me space and time to feel where I am carrying burdens of emotional or spiritual stress. On short runs, this means going through my to-do list. On long runs, when it rains, I cry, because I remember the people I miss, the relationships that are broken, and the extra weight and injuries I am carrying around that I wish weren’t there.

I wish I knew a better way to incorporate the process (or ringer) that my body goes through when I run to my personal devotional life, and welcome your ideas about how you reflect on the state of things. One thing I am sure of is that our bodies mirror our souls, and that God gave us both for a reason.

And so I go running, to feel like I am alive.