Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I sigh deeply and struggle to mask my agitation. The angst does not translate over to the women. I can tell by her face, which continues to exude a bright smile, that she failed to notice my aggravation.
The charade starts over. I continue to attempt disinterest but she returns to my side just three minutes later, large rice bowl in hand. I hand her my plate in surrender and she fills it once more with unwavering enthusiasm.
While an overabundance of hospitality is a daily occurrence in India, tonight is special. It is prayer time in Mumbai. With an hour warning, my group is invited to attend a prayer service with members of the Trinity Tamil Lutheran Church. Having promised myself I would not miss such a cultural experience, I manage to join the company of seven others in the small yellow and red van reserved for just such excursions. Still reveling in the excitement of living out my Anthropology minor first-hand, my mind wanders to subsistence strategies, kinship diagrams and social theory.
The van rumbles to a stop near dimly lit shops and small houses. “We must walk a short walk,” the driver explains. The dirt path is lit by surplus fireworks left over from the previous week’s Diwali celebration. Rogue sparks flare towards us unsuspecting victims, subject to war in this foreign land. We trudge past barbed wire fences hidden by the darkness while our Rainbow sandals squelch in the newly formed mud. After several more minutes I spot dim lights in the distance past tall grass and mosquito infested fog.
Shoes remain outside as we step barefooted into a one-room house with a small kitchen. I see the space is already full and ponder how my group of eight will fit. Couches, a bed and all the floor space is occupied by this newly formed church. A short man with dark hair, gray slacks, a collared shirt and bare feet stands to greet us. “Hewwo,” he garbles and I am reminded of the Princess Bride. “Welkwome Concowdia Seminawy Students.”
Suddenly a shiny silver tambourine materializes into his right hand, magically already shaking out a beat. He hums a vaguely familiar hymn at a rapid tempo. I pause, mouth slightly open, wide-eyed and look around at my fellow Americans to see if they have a clue as to what is happening.
By the time my eyes go back to the man, his tambourine is moving even faster and a big grin stretches across his face. I try to hum along and hide my disbelieving smile. Three songs later, my stomach rumbling and head aching slightly, the man introduces himself as Sonn De. “Like Sunday. Or Sundae,” he says with a wink.
Sonn introduces the other house church members one by one. He pats the final woman on the head and smiles, “Wife. My Woman, Wife.” I ponder how his high-pitched voice can exit in a constant stream from his continuously smiling lips. After the poignant introduction of his wife, Sonn declared, “Now, one of our guests from Concordia Seminary will give a short message, yes?”
Our looks of intense confusion bordering on both frustration and humor seem to be a constant theme of the evening. Sonn’s bold expectation causes a flash of panic covered quickly with a relatively calm, confident response from our group leader, Sam: “Umm, yes, of course, we have come with a message. A short message.”
Sam’s compelling message about Colossians 1:1-14 spurred a loud applause from the energetic crowd of Indians. I cannot join them. I should have declined the three cups of fluorescent orange Fanta and two pieces of chocolate cake that were lovingly pushed upon me while Sam spoke of prayer and thanksgiving. Stomach aching already, I am not looking forward to a repetition of such generosity during dinner.
Despite my fervent prayers and pleadings, after three more high-pitched, fast-paced, tambourine-infused hymns, dinner is served. Copious amounts of bony mystery meat in a spicy curry sauce makes its way around the room, along with various textures of bread. Chapatti, papel, potatoes and parathas circulate to each person multiple times. My head spins and my stomach continues to turn with the moving serving platters.
The evening moves along and slowly my stomach forgives the abundance of food that has been assaulting it since I arrived in India one week ago. After several more upbeat hymns in Hindi and English my hesitancy about Indian hospitality starts to lessen. I smile to myself as the last song concludes with a short prayer.
We say our goodbyes and take a step out into the dark, misty night air. Instead of leading us on the daunting trek back to the yellow and red vans, our drivers guide us into a neighboring house. “It is Helen’s birthday. We must celebrate,” he says, as though that is a legitimate reason for continuing the evening in a stranger’s home.
Already two and a half hours behind schedule, I sit down in Helen’s house and try to hold on to my newfound happiness. Chocolate cake and Fanta are passed around and I take each, surprised at my compliant reaction. It is another excuse to consume additional calories and too much sugar. I accept the cake and cannot think of a more appropriate reason to eat than to participate in unfamiliar culture. “Happy birthday, Helen,” I say with joy. This time I look her in the eyes rather than at the floor. This is India, I slowly realize. And I welcome it, stomach ache and all.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I step forward through a rusty gate, my mind racing for the events that are sure to transpire. Full of both hopes and fears, my heart beats rapidly. I have arrived in Kenya: both my greatest excitement and greatest cause of worry. The wet, red earth made muddy from last night’s warm rain squelches under my feet. As I make my way through the crowd of children, small dark hands reach out for my much lighter arms.
Nervously I sit down on an old pew inside the church. The spaces fill up and a teenage boy sits down next to me, taking up the last of the wooden space. My nostrils fill with the assaulting smell of industrial strength glue. Upon closer inspection, I realize just who is sitting to my left-A boy of sixteen dons the same tattered clothes day after day; his only possessions he carries with him. His feet, red from the same Kenyan dirt I walked through, stick out from the multiple holes in his only pair of shoes. Somewhat reluctantly on my part my eyes meet his. My heart drops somewhere deep within me. Timidly I smile a greeting but those dark eyes do not respond. They are preoccupied with fumes from the glue and something I sense as fear, which stems from the hardening realities of destitution.
I sit next to this boy who is the same age as my youngest brother. I am afraid to ask his name. Hours later my heart is still weighted by the smell of glue used to forget. The very substance that binds is tearing him apart.
The obsessive part of me takes over, having been structured by an American education system based on problem-solving. I start to make list after list of how to fix this problem of orphaned street kids turning to drugs for support. I brainstorm the needs of Kenya with other local volunteers at the church: water, food, education, healthcare, clothing, shelter. This simple list is just that-the basic needs of children and people around the world. I continue to write with my three dollar pen, pages of dreams to fix these issues.
Soon my attitude becomes one of disbelief at the enormous problems laid out in my black notebook, tangibly displayed in these children who lack a daily meal and clean drinking water. My list cannot heal this problem, even my mind cannot fully comprehend how great the need is here. I leave the church feeling disheartened, helpless and unsure of how to respond.
The next morning comes too quickly, and I enter those same rusty gates with shaky hands and nearly overflowing eyes. These two weeks in Kenya will be my chance to contribute in the fight for the needs here. I serve the kids ugali, corn flour mixed with water, along with vegetables. This meal is the only one of the day for most of the children here. We sing songs with them, give hugs, play games, and try to show as much love as possible to those who are just beginning to learn the value they hold in their small selves. In these children I see a haunting spectrum. They are young and impressionable; my prayer is for positive influences rather than self-destruction or a fear of trusting others with their dreams.
Afternoon hours come and another young boy sits next to me on the hard earth. We shake hands in greeting, and I notice something different in him. Most boys his age bring with them the weight of glue and hardened eyes. I met Paul Kariuki that afternoon, a 14-year-old boy who proved me wrong. Paul has been at the church for five years; the first three years were a haze of glue fumes and a life hedged by the influence of his friends. He explained to me he did not see his family during that time. He had no food, no shelter, no education and no love.
Smelling rags soaked in gasoline was his only defense against the cold of living on the streets; it helped him not to feel so alone. People categorize street kids as thieves, and Paul was looked down upon by pedestrians, shopkeepers, tourists and other hesitant adults.
I asked him what caused him to stop doing drugs; his response caused me to reflect on my own goals. He said he had really thought about life, and what he wanted from it. His old life was one of fear and neglect, but his future is bright. Paul was accepted into the Fikisha program where, for the first time in his life, someone told him he was allowed to dream. I was told that often as a child, but he had never been asked what his hopes are for his future. Now he was able to answer-an engineer.
He talks about his past with mentors at the church, in order to process his old life and the beautiful transformation into the present. He tells me the rest of the boys who still do drugs have been influenced by Paul’s new vision. They say he made a wise choice. I smile and nod my head in agreement, a small outward sign of my heart for him. He has made a wise choice, because of the opportunity to find better influences, people to encourage him, a place to live, money for school and a place to sleep.
Paul has shown me that many children have unrecognized potential. Fikisha placed a hope in him, and in turn he inspires hope. I have seen the tragedies are real. Orphans and children who don’t have money for school or food pour into the church grounds daily in hopes of a meal. But the successes are real as well. Paul showed me this the first day we met, and he will continue to exeunt that hope in Kawangware to those who need someone to reach out, pull them up and show them a new life is possible.
Each item on this list represents something that changed in my life, my heart, at my very core. My identity has increased to encompass a level I have never known before. This list is a symbol, an icon of a paradigm shift.
Through hearing stories about other people, through being uncomfortable for the majority of 4 months, I have become more aware of what I am capable of. This is not of my own strength, or by sheer will power. Several times I would have given up, if not for my community around me who encouraged me with the Word and their presence.
I am still unsure how to process all that has happened. I sense a time is coming, because I cannot take it in all at once. Nor can I describe it here, with the mere written word. To do so would be a disservice to myself and to you.
So I will wait in attempted patience, with the knowledge and comfort that the changes have not come to a conclusion.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I wasn’t sure why God switched me from one host family to another after only a few days in China. I don’t think I did anything offensive…I am a student of anthropology and a firm believer in cultural sensitivity and participant observation. But I met Lucky once at school and she seemed sweet. I did not ask questions as I moved into her family’s home Saturday afternoon.
It has only been a few short days, and I know why I moved.
Saturday, December 4th, Day 1: This evening I had dinner at Lucky’s house. Afterwards we went to the study room and did homework. She is an excellent student. She has the sweetest demeanor I have encountered in a long time.
I cannot remember ever meeting someone like her, especially not another 13 year-old. She is kind, caring and sensitive. We got along immediately, which is aided by her strong English skills and willingness to learn and ask questions. I believe she is naturally inquisitive. Saturday she asked me if I was a Christian, after we saw a cross necklace for sale at a gift shop. I said, “Yes, I believe in Jesus. Do you know God?” She responded, “Perhaps I must ask my parents, they have not told me.”
Sunday, December 5th, Day 2: Sunday night, my friends Shirley, Joanna and I were sitting on the rooftop of the apartment complex, enjoying a Chinese-American dinner of spaghetti and mandarins. I asked Lucky and her cousin Sarah if they had heard the Christmas Story. “Perhaps I have learned some things in school. Christmas is an American holiday. There are presents and Christmas trees. There is Santa and parents put small gifts in socks.” I asked if they had heard the real origins, about the birth of Jesus. They responded with hesitant nods, but they had not heard much about it. “We would like to hear it.”
I told them the Christmas Story, of Jesus birth by Mary, who was a virgin. He was the Son of God, and he was fully man and fully God. I continued by telling them that Jesus’ birth is only a small part of the story. Jesus grew up, and he taught about loving our neighbors and the forgiveness of sins through his blood. I spoke of Jesus dying on the cross and then raising from the dead three days later. Lucky responded, “I like that story very much. It is a very good thing.”
That night Lucky asked if, “Perhaps we could read the Bible together sometime soon. I would like that very much.”
Monday, December 6th, Day 3: The next day, Monday, I was having Chinese red tea with Lucky’s family. She asked if she could speak with me for a second, in the other room. She said, “Amanda, I have decided I would like to read the Bible with you for ten minutes each day. Would that be alright?”
Oh, my heart. It melts at her curious pursuit of the Word. I said, “Of course, shall we start now?”
Our ten minutes started in Genesis 1 and expanded past the Creation story, to the Christmas Story in Matthew. An hour later she was still reading aloud to me and asking questions. We moved through Matthew, to the Sermon on the Mount. After reading that Jesus said to love your enemies, Lucky responded, “That is very nice. I would like to try and do that.”
I said, “It is very difficult for us to love our enemies on our own. But if we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, Jesus removes the separation between God and us. Then God can come and work in our hearts. God is very powerful. With his help, we are able to love our enemies.”
Tuesday, December 7th, Day 4: The next night we read Jeremiah 29:11. It is not a cliché to her, because she had never heard it before. She moved in to verses 12 and 13. She asked if she could write it down in her notebook. After re-reading the verses a few times, she covered her notebook. Then she recited all three verses from memory.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Lucky had memorized her first verses of Scripture.
Her next question was, “Does God force us to love him.”
Seriously? She was asking about Free will!
I responded that, “With any relationship, we do not force people to love us. It would not love if God forced us to love him. And since God is love, he does not force us. We always have a choice.”
I wrote down a prayer one would say to accept Christ into their heart. I gave it to her and said, “This is what one would say. Just read it to yourself and you can think about what you have learned so far.”
She responded with a smile, “I would like that very much.”
Wednesday, December 8th, Day 5: Another Bible Study tonight. We started out in John, Chapter 3. She read from verse 3-21 and then we discussed how God is the light, and he desires everyone to know the truth of Jesus. She asked about Easter: “A holiday with chocolate eggs, in America.”
I responded that there is another Easter story, a great story. The Resurrection Story. We read about how Mary went to the tomb and it was empty. “He is risen! He was dead but he conquered death and is seated with God. All those who believe in Jesus and God’s love have his power and forgiveness of sins.”
We went back to John 3. She asked, “Amanda, what must I do to talk to Jesus?”
I answered, “Jesus knows your thoughts. He knew you before you were even born. He knows everything about you. He hears what you speak to him. But in order to receive forgiveness from him, we must confess and believe in our heart that He died and rose for us.”
And so she repeated after me, “Dear Jesus, I am sorry for my sins. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Please forgive me. Help me to grow and learn more about you. Amen.”
And she asked, “Now, may I speak to Jesus, there is nothing else I must do?”
“Nope, it’s all by God’s grace, there is nothing we can do to earn his love.”
She wrote down John 3:17 on the paper she had written the verses in Jeremiah, and the Prayer of Salvation. She clutched the paper in her hands and said, “These are much more valuable than money or life or knowledge.”
Oh, my heart again. Indeed, it is much more important than that. Welcome to the family.
Thursday, December 9th, Day 6: The next afternoon, I pondered the pros and cons of giving Lucky my own Bible. I know she would be interested in learning more English through reading an English version. But would she understand more if she read it in Chinese, which is her native language? Could a 13-year-old girl understand the depth of the Word of God in her second language?
Friday, December 10th, Day 7: During lunch, an answer appeared in the form of Marissa. She is one of the only teachers at the school who is a Christian. I had heard of her but I didn’t know whom she was or where to find her. She was elusive, and I wasn’t sure she even truly existed. I needed to ask someone where I could get a Chinese Bible, someone trustworthy. While Christianity isn’t technically illegal in Communist China, it is highly discouraged, especially in the school system. It is technically a Closed country, and it could bring someone trouble from the school or the government.
Marissa sat down next to me during lunch. She was real. I asked her if she knew where I could get a bible, for a girl at the school. She asked quietly, “Your whole group, are you all Christians? I responded “Yes, and there is a girl at school who would really like a Chinese bible; she is a new Christian.”
“A Bible? Oh, I have three. Some in Chinese, and one in both English and Chinese.”
Saturday, December 11th, Day 7: I have been living with Lucky’s family for one week. We have read the Bible 7 of the 8 nights I’ve been here. I have never met anyone who had never heard of Jesus. But Lucky has heard very little of what Jesus is really like. We have been going through the Gospels, to read about Jesus’ ministry on earth. She is intrigued by the power he gifts for us to love our enemies. She sees the themes of “Do not worry, Fear not, God is with you.”
It has been such a gift to see Lucky begin this part of her life. What a blessing to see her fire for God’s heart. He has given her something very special.
Monday, December 13th, Day 9: Tonight I gave Lucky my Bible. She said, “This is the greatest birthday gift I have ever gotten. (Her birthday is Sunday). If I took this, I would feel guilty.” I assured her I had another Bible at home. She said, “It would not have markings in it,” referring to all my highlights and notes. I told her, “I will fill it up again soon, because I try to read my Bible everyday.”
We went through names of chapters, order and who wrote which books. I also showed her some reading plans in the Study section, about Jesus’ ministry, Prayer and Paul’s life. I hope she reads it often and is able to understand it through the English and Mandarin translations. Great is your faithfulness.
This is the greatest story ever told-the story of the Gospel, God’s grace and gift of forgiveness. It is the story of Lucky and of Jesus pursuing her heart with relentless passion. This story is that God cares for individuals, and He uses me not because there is anything good in me, but because He wants to share the story of a love that could not be held down. Thank you for sharing in this story. Be encouraged. Amen.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Traveling to the tenth and final country has been one of the most trying experiences. It has also been a journey that has allowed me to see the most about myself. It is easy to love something when it loves you back. It’s easy to love traveling when there are beaches and fresh fruit juice, comfy beds and exciting new friends. But what about when travel does not love you back? It can be a cruel friend, so I have seen. Multiple times I have seen the shadowed side of travel. These are the parts that no one mentions in a post card home. On that small rectangular piece of thick paper, it is all smiles, sunshine and serenity. But once that paper has been stamped and sent by airmail to friends and family back home, the true experiences creep in.
If you think someone is perfect, spend more time with them. The truth comes out, slowly. After nearly four months, traveling has shown itself to me. I see that traveling often means being very uncomfortable, for days or weeks at a time. It means trying new foods, treading softly as to not offend the locals. It means following the group tour, or perhaps getting lost on your own. It means looking inside yourself at the places that only come out in times of desperation, anger or frustration.
I have seen that side: in Russia, with confusion and impatience, in Egypt, sailing down the Nile for 4 days. I saw it in India with no air conditioning, privacy or fresh air. I saw it in Kenya, where the people take too much of your heart. But China has been offering an even deeper view of self. Loss has increased, and my reaction to such events has been frustration and sadness. I see it only lasts for a moment. It last for a few moments, this last time.
There is nothing that is constant, except God, his love and his word. I have seen that. Times and circumstances change so quickly in this adventure of world travel. I lose material possessions, time, and money. Effort seems wasted, people seem unchanged, and my heart reacts in a deceitful way. It is scary. But a short time after, God always comes in and picks up these pieces of me. These pieces are much more malleable than before. They can be molded, shaped and changed in a way that was impossible before that instance.
I am still afraid to welcome such change. Perhaps one day I will see the true value in dying to self, multiple times on a single trip. I hope to see these new shapes. The old ones are gone; they are being replaced, renewed.
The lesson now is to learn to wait through the feelings of confusion, loss, anger, and fear. They still occur, but they are building a larger structure of character and strength that I could not have fathomed before. So in the tenth country I realize there are many more countries to come. There are many more uncomfortable situations. And as I learn to say, Bring the rain, for now I say, the rain is here and I know the fruit will come soon. Just be willing to wait, that’s all.
Friday, December 17, 2010
I'm sitting in the airport in Hong Kong, waiting to fly to LAX in an hour! I will update on China and the last few weeks of the trip when I get home. For now, here's my latest Travel Writing story about seasons from the trip. :) Looking forward to coming home and continuing to process all that has happened in these past 4 months.
Growing as Children: Games and Revelations
It started out as a guessing game, similar to the endless rounds of I-Spy on a family road trip. I would take a guess, write it down, and hope for the best. It seems like just as long ago that I started to ponder the vast lessons of world travel. I expected to be changed, to have new experiences, to expand my perspective and to fly far away from my comfort zone.
After months of planning, I realized how completely unprepared I was to face the whole world with one backpack and nineteen textbooks. That morning came quickly, like a road sign that flashes by before you can read the words. That first airplane ride took me away from everything I knew. I remember it, a distant day. I was on a mission: to experience everything with new eyes.
Argentina: I am now an English-speaker and a Spanish-listener. I am a consumer. I want to take the perfect picture. I want to capture the experience in a single frame. It will be the experience I am supposed to have. Yet these first two weeks teach me I know very little about myself, and even less about those around me. I have 29 new acquaintances and am hesitant to share my life with these strangers. We share a common bond and our desires to learn and grow are the foundation for new friendships.
Russia: I have to take a second to check the road map. The GPS shouts contradictory directions at me in a British accent. I am confused and scared of what the future holds. I grasp for anything I can hold onto. A plan, I need a plan.
We pile into an old building, some speak too loudly. This place cannot hold us. I hide inside, wishing for more tact and a greater awareness. And so it is. I am changing. We cannot stay the same. Flowers, cold, wind bites, rain falls. These jackets and shoes are from another place. It was the wrong list. I resent it. But isn’t that a part of it all? Going beyond what I choose and control. We cannot stay the same. I fight it, yell inside that I won’t. Yet forcing me, I learn humility.
Egypt: Loss resonates and my mind plays it over and over. It is the longest van ride ever-from Cairo to Sinai. I resent it even more than the false packing list. Emotions run higher than the temperatures outside. Sand mixes with sweat and tears as we drive through the desert. It is a process of purification. Loss of material possessions has a cathartic effect on my heart. But I fight it the whole drive.
Eight hours later and I will myself to exit the van. We pour into the hostel, exhausted, spent. I cannot stay the same. I press on and climb a mountain. I beg God to reconnect with my heart, to fan the flame that had been choked by earthly desires. The Word is like water or breath or cold air in the hot desert. On the top of Mt. Sinai, I thank God for helping me endure.
Israel: We made it to the Promised Land. This is where Jesus walked. Sit and wait for the moment where your heart will change, as though willing the rain to come, the flower to bloom, the autumn leaf to fall. A frustration overshadows any other emotion. Why am I the same? Did not Jesus die so we would never be the same? I sing worship songs under my breath, in order to have a familiar context for these unfamiliar sites.
The day salvation was gifted to my heart is the day I refused to be the same person. I cannot stay the same.
Lifting my face to glory, I celebrate the loss of my self, my former life. The true self looks at Jesus, face to face. Don’t miss what I want to show you; don’t look around at the things you think you want. He speaks this to me.
Jesus asked, God, my God, Why have you forsaken me? When he could no longer see the Father, never was he more near. There is safety in suffering, affliction, death to self that He might reign in me. At our last breath we cling to the Father who is well-pleased to draw near, and promises such. At this point I realize that I am not the same.
Egypt: Woe to those who go back to Egypt for comfort: because there are no comforts in Egypt. It is not just a disclaimer, it is practical advice. There are no options but to sit on a sailboat for endless hours and pray to God. My heart is restless and I try to fill it but there is nothing around me but the Nile River, pita bread and flies. And so I pray, out of both boredom and out of necessity. It is a necessity, I realize. I cannot stay the same.
Kenya: I fear the whole continent of Africa-the place notorious for capturing missionary hearts for needy, orphaned children. So I come prepared. I plan the saving of Africa, of Kenya, to be exact. I make endless lists to save the children. Bullet points, color-coded, categorized. This structure is the only way I can protect myself from heartbreak. \
I come to realize that Africa is big. There are many needs and my highlighted lists cannot save anything, at least on their own. I leave feeling changed. Saddened that I cannot save the world, but emboldened to know that Christ can. I continue on, ambitious for India.
India: How did I get back to Egypt? I am back on this silly sailboat with nothing to do but endure the heat and pray. I am frustrated. I continually remind myself that I cannot stay the same. Part of me is still the same. I do not like being uncomfortable. But God, if that is where you are going, take me along too. If this suffering is producing something in me, do not remove me from this humid purification.
Indonesia: God, you captured my heart in Bali. Not through the green trees, rice fields or ocean breezes, but through a supernatural power. I can no longer operate on human abilities and man-made strategies for advancing the Kingdom. God’s pervasive presence has fallen on my heart, on my new heart. The earth is saturated with His presence. God pulls me in to experience more of his power and provision. I have been invited to encounter His divine existence in my daily life. I am made new, changed, purified and refined by fire.
China: Part of me would have been content to skip these last few weeks in China. But almost immediately, my heart warmed towards this place. I had two host families in my three weeks here; both were amazing and helped me learn more about Chinese culture. I taught English to 8th graders. The teacher told me, "I want to learn from you. I want to see how you teach students." Since I have never officially taught a class, this was an ironic challenge. The three weeks flew by, and God continued to soften my heart and surprise me by moving through me to impact others. I know the next step is to process and share all that has happened here. I look forward to this new challenge and I expect the intense impact to resonate into the future.
I am still guessing: I-Spy for grown-ups. Or, rather, for those who are growing up. I am a work in progress, refining my guesses, asking better questions to discover the true nature of God and his people. I have new eyes that are continually being refined to see more like God sees. It is the child’s hope for guessing well and knowing the Father’s heart. He is showing me that child-like wonder is more than a road trip game. It is the only constant theme in this quickly-passing scenery.