" Tu peux entrer mais n' apporte pas la piqure, s'il te plait," I pleaded with Clarise from behind the locked door of our bedroom. I was sick with a virus that had given me a fever, was making my nose bleed every time I stood up, and was wreaking havoc on my digestive system. In an effort to help me, the midwife with whom I shared a workplace, house, and double mattress on the floor was preparing to give me an injection of penicillin. While the possibility of relief that the antibiotic offered me was beyond appealing, I was afraid of HIV transmission through a questionably sanitary needle. I was telling Clarise that I would let her in if she would please not bring the syringe with her. She consented but wondered aloud why I would refuse her assistance and thereby remain too weak to work with her at the local clinic where she served as the only midwife or physician for a seventy-five kilometer radius.
A villager that I met later on my daily trip into the rain forest to collect manioc root pleaded equally adamantly with me, this time to use traditional medicine. She held out a piece of charcoal and asked me to put it up my nostril as preventative. Despite her persistence, I did not comply and instead held the charcoal piece at the edge of my nose. I had gone to Noe out of a desire to learn from and, if possible, assist an African woman who was very committed to working for social justice in her community. However, I found myself worrying about offending this friendly village woman and the midwife I worked for. I wondered how I could explain my rejection of their efforts to help me, especially since they were my elders and also my hosts. I was relieved when, a day after my recovery, I was welcomed back to the clinic and asked to help with a labor and delivery.
My experience living in Noe, a small village on the border of Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana with no running water or electricity, was certainly memorable. It was, however, only one of many international experiences that I have had. Consequently, I sometimes find that I feel as " at home" living overseas as I do in the United States. Wherever I am, I find meaning and a sense of purpose in discussing, observing, and most of all, in doing work in the area of social justice.
My interest in international justice issues was first sparked when I was seven, when my parents' involvement in international education took us to Guadeloupe, a small group of islands in the French West Indies. While living there, I attended first through third grade at a small French school. I remember feeling puzzled and upset about the difference in treatment given to children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds by our teachers. I continued to develop my interest in race, gender, class, and other issues later, as I attended three international schools in Germany, Cote d'Ivoire, and mainland China. College courses, visits to family or friends and my position at Mennonite Central Committee also took me to numerous other countries in Europe, the Middle East, West Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.
One tangible result of my experiences is that I am proficient in French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin. ( I have lost most of the Creole and Agni that I once knew.) I also feel very at home in a variety of environments. In a sense, it seems as normal to me to be asked by women in Cote d'Ivoire to "marry them" (meaning marry their husband and become their co-wife), to be the only white child in a theatrical production on slavery given on cable TV in the Caribbean, or to watch masked villagers dance on stilts during traditional festivals in the Chinese countryside, as it does to live amidst the cornfields, quilting circles, and Hoosier basketball games on my "hometown" in northern Indiana.
One final, major influence on my life and interests is the Mennonite community in Goshen, Indiana-the community that I continually returned to in the United States. The environment of this ethnic sub-culture imbued me with a passion for social justice, a desire to live simply, and a sense of the deep value of personal relationships.
The law school-graduate school environment is foreign to me, with new cultural norms and an unfamiliar language-the language of the law. I want to do a joint degree in law and international relations because I see this degree as a vehicle that can be used to address inequities. In the Mennonite community, at the clinic in a West African village where I once volunteered, and in many other places around the world, people are seeking a more equitable world order. My background has given me the drive to learn the rules of the Western world- i.e., the law -in hopes of working within the Western system of order to help create a more just world.