PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

“Despacito” is taking over my life

Despacito.” I hear it on the radio, in the office halls, and through the walls at night before I sleep. “Despacito.”

Firstly, I would like to say that my old housemate Abby and I listened to the Fonsi hit while it was on the way to the top but before it became uber popular. Yes, we have good taste in music, thank you. We would cruise around town listening to the local Spanish variety station on our way to Aldi, and she would practice her Spanish by translating for me.

But folks, a few months have passed, and the song is on fire now.

In the five weeks since I moved to Denver, “Despacito” has played everywhere. The Bieber version played on the car radio on the way to prayer. Two days later I was visiting a family from church and the six year old started to sing it. Then my roommate and I had a dance party to the hit and a number of other Spanish-language songs.

Actually, my whole house knows “Despacito” well. One of my housemates loves the song, and half the house hates him for it. But he is fluent in Spanish, so he can actually sing the words, and I liked the tune already, so I don’t mind.

I’ve even heard it sung by the Division Director at the refugee resettlement agency where I volunteer. I started to laugh in surprise as I passed him in the hall and asked him, “You’re singing Despacito?”

He replied, “Everyone seems to be these days.”

True that.

“Despacito” has officially infiltrated all the main facets of my life: church, home, and work. Today a woman at my internship played it for a mini dance break when we were feeling tired. And you know what? After hearing it everywhere I go, I still don’t mind.

About a month ago, one of my friends shared a link on Facebook that noted how “Despacito” was the first (mostly) Spanish song to top the American Billboard since “Macarena” in 1996, over 20 years ago. That’s huge. I wish it happened more often; there are certainly enough sweet Spanish-language hits, and the United States boasts so many Spanish speakers that it’s ridiculous not to have more Spanish songs in the mainstream.

The same friend then shared a post about Bieber’s utter disrespect for the Spanish language. I had already preferred the original because why water down a Spanish song with English? Again, we have enough English-language songs out there already. But especially after listening to the way Bieber glibly subbed in “burrito” and “Dorito” on multiple occasions when he did not remember the words, I only choose the original if I have an option.

Don’t disrespect the Spanish language. Don’t disrespect the people who speak it. Honestly, be more mature and honoring.

Even though I don’t think highly of Bieber, I’m glad the song itself is so popular. Props to the Latinx artists such as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee for producing such catchy, high quality music.

Here’s to hoping more Spanish-language hits will top the American charts soon!

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UJN lunch squad, 2016. PC: KSB

Lunchtime in DR Congo

Six of us sat on the maize-colored rooftop, attempting to circle together in the sliver of shade as we ate our lunches. The men bantered in Kiswahili, and my eyes wandered to the green banana tree across the way. I rolled the bugali in my fingers, scooped some greens and dipped it in pilipili while trying to understand their conversation.

Usually you would eat wali na maharage (rice and beans) or bugali with some type of greens, but Mama Julienne gave me both on this day because she knew my love for bugali. I have a small amount of pilipili (habanero pepper paste) in the center of my plate as well. PC: KSB

Usually you would eat wali na maharage (rice and beans) or bugali with some type of greens, but Mama Julienne gave me both on this day because she knew my love for bugali. I have a small amount of pilipili (habanero pepper paste) in the center of my plate as well. PC: KSB

Mama Julienne had given me a larger plateful than the day before and included fritis because she knew I liked them. Eventually one of the men asked if I understood the topic, and upon my regretful no, called the rest to switch to English so we could all converse. We discussed relationships, talked about food and helped correct each other’s Swahili or English pronunciation and vocabulary. Smiles adorned our faces as we chatted and laughed together over a particular friend’s antics. A long, peaceful hour passed before we returned to work.

Around 2 p.m. we trickled out, following each other down the stairs, across the dusty ground and to the rocky sidewalk that led back to the kitchen. The mamas stood over the fire, and other staff sat around in white plastic chairs to eat their lunch. We stacked plates and utensils in a tub to the left and poured water over each other’s hands to remove the remaining, sticky bugali.

Bugali, aka fufu, is made of boiled maize in east Africa. You roll it in your hand and use it to scoop the greens or other food. It is my favorite. PC: KSB

Bugali, aka fufu, is made of boiled maize in east Africa. You roll it in your hand and use it to scoop the greens or other food. It is my favorite. PC: KSB

This summer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I learned how to eat well. I ate three meals a day, a diet of starch, protein, fresh fruit and vegetables from the market. I ate increasingly larger amounts of food because many friends said I did not eat enough, and the mamas wanted to make me bigger. I ate healthily and was satisfied. Furthermore, I took my time to eat it, and I ate with others in community. Life was peaceful and abundant.

I am back in the United States now, and already I am eating less food at mealtimes. People here are generally more rushed and leave meals more quickly, although they do eat together often at my college. The task-oriented culture reaches even the third culture kids and international students who live here now. However, I have learned how to rest and feed my body, and I can still apply these lessons in my current cultural context. I am blessed.

 

http://www.collegescholarships.org/images/italian-student-scholarships.jpg

If I’m not Italian, what am I?

During my freshman year, my college’s group for racial (re)conciliation held an event in combination with the theater group in which we used our bodies to explore the concept of home. Through a Never-Have-I-Ever type of exercise, I discovered I was the only person out of approximately 40 in the room who had grown up surrounded by Italian Americans. At this point, I began to realize how important that is to my cultural identity.

There was only one problem: I am not Italian.

I grew up knowing this. Multiple teachers, from my kindergarten teacher through a high school Bible teacher, were Italian American. My classmate Sarah was Italian, Jordan was half Italian, Niko was fully Italian – most of my class had Italian in them, but I had none. Later on, my church was majority Italian, and I gleaned pieces of what it meant to be Italian from church family picnics, big meals together and fresh basil in the garden.

The list goes on: My neighbor Nick was Italian, the neighbors behind us were and the neighbor girls I babysat when we moved across town were also Italian. We lived in North Haven, after all. The owners of the local music store where I took lessons were Italian. My “second family” the Vecchios and half their church — many of the people I loved there, at least — were Italian as well. Again, we lived in the Havens, a very Italian area of  Connecticut. I was not bothered by being non-Italian, but I was aware of it.

I discovered I was the only person in the room who had grown up surrounded by Italian Americans.

Recently I have realized that I always study that which I am not. I think about race daily, read and speak about issues black Americans face. Most of my friends are either racial or ethnic minorities in the United States or people of any color from other countries. Yet, despite my interests and passions, I am white and American. There is value in being able to connect across racial boundaries and bring a voice to those who are not heard, but I am still conflicted about my own racial identity.

Likewise, I am conflicted about my ethnic identity. In studying Italian Americans in Connecticut for a class this past semester, I intended to study my home, my history. Yet as I study Italian Americans more and more, I realize how un-Italian I am. This culture that surrounded me and reminds me of home is not my ethnic heritage. Just as I am not black, so too I am not Italian.

What am I?

My parents did not celebrate family history, heritage and culture. I am a sixth generation American from England, Scotland, France, Ireland and (by way of probably one ancestor) Germany. I know I am white by race. I know I am American by nationality. I was born into these identities. Yet, despite knowing all this nominally, I still struggle with racial and ethnic identity.

Perhaps I am conflicted and confused because my immediate family does not find culture and heritage very significant. As an assimilated white American, I also do not feel attached to my heritage. Furthermore, my family is Christian, which means I have been socialized under the true yet often blanketing language of finding my “identity in Christ.”

While I am realizing that I might feel more stable if I secured my identity in Christ alone, I do not want to ignore the other aspects of my identity in the process. Evangelical Christian rhetoric tends to obscure or neglect the social markers that impact our lives, but I know as an evangelical Christian that my race, gender, class, sexuality and so on are too important to gloss over. I am a human being with a body and a history that impact my life — and those around me. Thus, I want to understand myself and how I fit into this country and this world.

I am a human being with a body and a history that impact my life — and those around me.

As I prepare to leave the United States for the summer, my queries take a new form: What does it mean to be a white American female in the Democratic Republic of Congo? I have yet to discover the privileges and hardships of this, and I am still working on understanding my identity appropriately in the States.

I am beginning to understand my identity more, yet as I do so, I am faced with how complex it is. I seek to understand it rightly, not only to understand myself but also to use the privileges society grants me in the best ways possible to pursue justice and mercy. Jesus Christ’s place in my life inspires this. Constantly surrounded by newfound knowledge and questions, I still ask, What or who am I, and what are the implications of that?

 

THANKS FOR VISITING KATELYNSKYEBENNETT.COM! COMMENT BELOW ABOUT YOUR RACIAL AND ETHNIC IDENTITY. HOW DID YOU COME TO UNDERSTAND IT? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?

Three things TCKs taught me not to take for granted

If you know international students or have friends who are third culture kids (TCKs), you know you can’t take anything for granted—not the terms or phrases you use, not your understanding of geographical knowledge and especially not your time spent together.

Language.

Catchphrases are cultural, so you may have to ask questions about what an offhand comment means. Recently a friend I’ve known for a couple years asked, “Do you want more to eat?” I replied something along the lines of, “It’s okay.” She nodded silently and then asked a moment later, “Does that mean you don’t want more?” Oops! That is what I meant, but I can see how my language could be confusing (a) perhaps in general and (b) especially to someone whose second language is English.

Even after years of knowing someone, language differences can interfere with communication. However, this causes you to engage constantly in order to deepen your relationships. You also grow accustomed to hearing or using terms from different languages, expanding your vocabulary and thus your world.

Geographical knowledge.

Next, your international or TCK friends might not know where Montana is, but that’s only because they grew up overseas and probably know where a lot more countries are than you do! And let’s reverse the scenario for a moment: you probably don’t know the names or locations for the provinces in China, Mexican states or other geographical subdivisions in all your international/TCK friends’ countries! I’ll admit I do not. Living in the United States, I’ve never had to know.

Of course, a few TCKS may know more American geography than born-and-raised Americans because of the educational curriculum they’ve used overseas or the places they’ve visited when they’ve come to the States. It’s excusable for international students and TCKs not to know where the state of Connecticut is since they might not have spent much if any time in the States, but when they do-bravo! I’ve met countless American college students who do not know. (In case you’re one of those people, Connecticut is in New England. It’s east of New York and above Long Island Sound, south of Massachusetts and next to Rhode Island. It’s in the northeast United States.)

Time together.

This overarches the daily interactions and conversations with international students and TCKS. Although they may hate goodbyes, third culture kids are used to having people come in and out of their lives, and they’ve been those transient people for others. They know how to value time with their friends.

As college students we have about four years we can expect to be together. After that, who knows where we’ll move on this small, round planet? Nevertheless, as TCKs and Disney fans know, we live in a small world. With international connections and often a penchant for travel, you never know when you may meet again! Years down the road when you bump into your friends in Colorado or Kenya, treasure those moments—as well as the ones you’re living now. We honestly can’t take time for granted.

 

My international and TCK friends have blessed me in countless ways, not the least of which is vicariously showing me more of God’s world. They’ve opened my eyes to see things from different cultural perspectives and have taught me how to count time as a blessing.

What have your international or TCK friends taught you?

PC: KSB

Finding joy in cabbage

I was deprived before college, though I did not realize it. Of what was I deprived, you ask? Kimchi.

Yes, a life without kimchi is a deprived life.

You can pair it with rice; you can cook it into a soup; you can have it as a side to any meal. Kimchi is flavorful and is a type of spicy I cannot explain. My taste buds would cry tears of longing without it (read: it’s mouthwatering).

Am I being dramatic? Perhaps, perhaps. Is there a point to this blog? Not much, except to proclaim the wonders of a food my family and old friends may not know. But please, allow me to explain:

Kimchi is a special food to me, for I did not grow up eating it. In fact, I was not introduced to this Korean staple until a friend introduced it to me two years ago. Since then, I have been dabbling in basic Korean dinners, inactively desiring to learn more.

I keep kim (seaweed) in my cabinet, and in my fridge I store kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Although I eat Korean food on weekly or biweekly basis—not often compared to Koreans or first or second generation Korean Americans, I imagine, but 100% more than my friends from back home—it still delights me.

Once I attended a local Korean church to celebrate a friend’s baptism. After the worship service, baptisms and testimonies, we ate lunch, and I carried home the plastic cup of kimchi I didn’t have time to finish. My peers looked at me strangely, I assume because kimchi is so normal to them, but to me it remains special.

I am already wondering if I can find any kimchi in Goma, DRC, this coming summer. Will other missionaries have some, or will I have to do without it for a few months? As far as I know, Koreans do not populate eastern Congo.

Of course, I know I will be introduced to a host of other fabulous foods which I’ll struggle to find when I return to the States next school year, and maybe then I will write another blog about the wonders of Congolese food. Nonetheless, tonight I am appreciating the Korean wonder (or staple, but a wonder to me), kimchi.

If you have never tried it, I am not sure how to prepare you. I cannot compare its smell or taste to any other type of food I have tried in the States. Some say kimchi is an acquired taste, a “real” Korean food that not every non-Korean American might consume. Its fermented nature contributes to its distinct flavor. I suggest you try it for yourself.

It may change your life . . . or rather, your tastes.

Begin simply: start with a serving of brown rice, grab a pack of kim in which to wrap the morsels and eat it with the kimchi. Prepare to be amazed.

You’re welcome.

 

Mu Kappa: a taste of Heaven

We sat around the pot of fufu, a handful of sisters. First we wet our fingers in our bowls of homemade peanut soup. Then, protected from sticky base we were about to share, we reached into the communal pot to tear off a piece of the doughy circle of boiled flour. Next we dipped the fufu in our peanut soup and placed it in our watering mouths. Oh satisfying West African food. We savored our first bites, remarkably silent for a brief moment before we continued our chatting and laughing, inquisitive and alive, together.

Meet Mu Kappa, summer edition: a group of brothers and sisters in Christ, making hilarious memories every Sunday evening. We’re joined primarily and ironically by the fact that we have such diverse experiences as third culture kids.

An extension of a group that meets during the school year, our Sunday dinner fellowship this summer was composed of missionary kids with bursting passports, biracial college students with double citizenship and a residence outside the United States and friends whose parents who do business overseas.

I’m an American from Connecticut, but with a belief in the connectedness of people, an interest in the world and all its beautiful and diverse cultures and a leading to live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I love spending time with these welcoming friends.

I am most filled with joy and laughter when I am with friends from Mu Kappa. I’m humbled by their open arms. We also support each other through celebrations and suffering. When we’re not laughing, snacking or going off on adventures, we share in each others’ struggles and lift each other up to our Heavenly Father. Last fall, we held prayer vigils for a friend whose family needed the Holy Spirit’s intervention. More recently, my Mu Kappa friends have distracted me when I was in physical pain. They also helped me with cooking and cleaning each week that I hosted the group. We’re family.

Mu Kappa is an extension of the global church. We come from Pacific islands most people have never heard of, South American jungles, Chinese cities, spiritually parched Europe and the 10-40 window. Korean Americans from Africa and China and the Middle East, Indians from Eastern Europe, European Americans from every region of the world—representing all corners of the earth, we come together to feast and share our stories. We worship and praise our marvelous Creator. We ask each other questions and care for each other deeply. We are the Body of Christ from around the world, a joyful and tight community composed of all nations, coming together at college to glorify God through our shared lives.

I’ve seen a sneak peak of Heaven.

A List of New England Things

“You know you’re a ____ if” lists and “20 things about _____” articles are popular right now. Being bullet point style, they’re easy for Millennials to skim, and they appeal to our sense of identity. Inspired by these attractive albeit shallow articles, I’ve constructed a list of New England identifiers.

Not all of these apply to me personally, having been socialized in Evangelical circles and a private Christian school in Connecticut, but I’ve seen or experienced nearly everything on this list. Keep in mind that these are generalizations and that most of them center on Connecticut.

I could read into many of these and write full blogs for almost every bullet point, but I’ll limit my analysis in this blog and let you get into that in the comments below.

  • New Englanders are known for being “cold” and unfriendly, but at least we’re direct with what we feel.
  • Atheism pervades everything. Even most Catholics are nominal only; my dad would call many people “practicing atheists.” God is never mentioned or welcomed. But people are more receptive than you might expect, if only you initiate. This applies from religious conversations to simple hellos.
  • We’re known for our gorgeous foliage, but we experience all four seasons to their fullest extents, roughly three months each and each one vibrant in its stage of life.
Eating DF ice cream with my mom in Cheshire, CT, the month before I left for college in the Midwest.

Eating dairy free ice cream with my mom in Cheshire, CT, the month before I left for college in the Midwest. Summer 2013.

  • Apple and pumpkin picking are regular autumn activities.
  • Effectiveness and productivity are how we work. We may be running around all the time, over-busy and workaholics, but we get the work done.
  • We have nasty beaches with no waves. Our water is brown.
  • Hiking is readily available, from nature trails within minutes to mountains within a few hours’ drive. And by hiking, I mean forests and hills and rock faces and curvy trails, not flat nature walks.
  • We say “I’m all set” instead of wordy expressions such as “I’m finished, thank you” or “I have what I need.” At least, that’s what I say, and I’ve never met anyone from another region of the States who says “I’m set”!
  • In Connecticut, we eat lots of pasta. Carbs and other simple, unhealthy foods are staples for many.
  • We have a lot of American Italian influence in CT as well.
  • If you’re not Italian (or in addition to being Italian), you’re a “European mutt,” meaning you have some English and probably two to four other European countries in your heritage. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were able to trace your lineage back to a figure from early America!
Spending the end of my time in CT with my dear friend Mia, who is 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Swedish. I'm English, Scottish (my dad's side of the family, so the New England side), Irish, French and a tad bit German (my mom's side of the family from Philly). August 2013.

Spending the end of my time in CT with my dear friend Mia, who is 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Scandinavian. I’m English, Scottish (my dad’s side of the family, so the Connecticut side), Irish, French and a tad bit German (my mom’s side of the family from Philly). August 2013.

  • We are taxed through the ROOF. Literally, look at how many houses are for sale or foreclosed. Everyone’s moving South.
  • We know snow. We can get it feet at a time, depending on the winter. And because of that, we don’t know so much of summer. Our schools probably get out the latest out of all the regions in the States, basically bestowing only two months of summer vacation. But we have record snow days in winter!
  • Many people are wealthy and go skiing in winter. But we’re not all financially rich! For example, I lived in a blue collar community.
  • We keep to ourselves and don’t usually know our neighbors. Town sports through local community centers connect youth and their parents well, however.
  • We were Abolitionists some 150 years ago, and we don’t experience much publicized racism, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  • We’re mostly White people, and as for Connecticut, we’re fairly suburban. In my experience, the racial and class differences between the cities, suburbs, and rural areas are clear.
  • People will go to Cape Cod or Rhode Island for vacations, but they neglect all Connecticut has to offer.
  • Nonetheless, historical landmarks abound in New England–the Nathan Hale homestead, Noah Webster’s house, Plymouth Rock–the list goes on.
My friend and I parting ways after attending a yearly Christian summer camp in Massachusetts. August 2013.

My friend and I parting ways after attending a yearly Christian summer camp in Massachusetts. August 2013.

  • We also have a variety of museums from the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Butterfly Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery, to name a few. Keep heading east in Connecticut near Rhode Island for more options dealing with marine life.
  • Speaking of Yale, all eight Ivy League schools are located in the Northeast. In the six states that officially compose New England (ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, RI), we have four of the eight: Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale.
  • We’re also known for our seafood and clam chowder, especially in Maine.
  • People go boating on the weekends.
  • We do not have a lot of (contemporary) Christian radio stations (if any), and, at least in southern New England, we only have one country station per region. Pop music it is.
Saying goodbye after visiting some of my cousins in CT, who also enjoy Country 92.5 FM. May 2014.

Saying goodbye after visiting some of my cousins in CT, who share my appreciation for Country 92.5 FM. May 2014.

  • We have amusement and water parks for children (ex. Lake Quassy in CT) and for the whole family (ex. Lake Compounce in CT and Six Flags New England, located in Massachusetts literally a couple miles from the CT border. Bizarro, formerly known as the award-winning steel roller coaster Superman, is housed at here, with its 221 foot drop, 77mph speed and lengthy three and a half minute ride. It’s my favorite.)
  • We root for the Patriots each football season, but as for baseball, you’re either a die-hard Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees fan. In Massachusetts you practically have to be a Sox fan, and nearby NY takes the Yankees, but CT is a total mix. Be careful with whom you side!

Have any New England-isms to add? Comment below!