November 23, 2008

Music for the soul

Classes in Delft yesterday ended with Xhosa dancing and singing. It was a moment of soul-stirring joy and praise of God!

The acapella singing, drumming, and dancing lifted our souls upward along that ladder of nearness to God. These moments are eternal and blissful. The children are soooooooo beautiful and the energy is full of spirit!
"Bahá'u'lláh once compared the coloured people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil you see the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the Spirit shines forth."
~Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 67
I feel like my heart has waited its whole life to live in Africa.
video

November 20, 2008

Planning the end of year celebration for children's classes

I am realizing that planning for an event is something that needs to be described to others because people wonder afterwards, "How did you put this together?!", and it seems simple to me but difficult to them. I realize, also, that these moments are historic and may be looked upon as setting the stage for entry by troops. So many developments occur from week to week that if I don't write down some of it from time to time, we will forget many precious details that come only with the embryonic growth of something before it is born.

This idea came to me over a month ago when reading the Kenyan Baha'i book for children's class -- it suggests having an end of year celebration. It felt necessary to demonstrate to the parents and neighborhood at least a taste of what the children and junior youth have been taught and what they are learning in the classes, even though for months we were barely able to call ourselves a class. I went to the mothers who are involved in Delft and asked them what they thought -- they thought it was a great idea! From there I started writing down ideas for a simple program. At this time, the CGC informed me that Delft will be a focus of the upcoming IPG; it was at this point that i wrote up a detailed report of what is currently happening there and a few things I would need for the celebration -- like a representative of the Assembly to welcome everyone in Xhosa and Afrikaans in addition to English.

The program consists of opening prayers and songs, acting out a story, reciting the holy words, singing and dancing, receiving a certificate and gift, closing songs and serving refreshments. Games will naturally occur afterwards (soccer, dodge ball, relay races and net ball). This process requires review of the lessons, having our last month of classes be to review and practice the songs and holy words, and practicing acting out the story. I also need to create an order to the songs so that they are grouped in a way that flows when sung. It was important to choose a song that just the 3-5 year olds will sing, and something special that the jr. youth will present, in addition to the 6-10 year olds because they make up the bulk of the students and program.

In terms of the paperwork involved, last week I started creating a certificate that will be copied onto parchment paper and handed to the student with their name written on it. The certificate has two quotes from the Baha'i Writings about children being the future of a community and full of spiritual potential within them. I decided to make the invitations by hand -- this felt more personal and unique for each family who will receive one. They mention the children growing into PEACE blossoms, PEACE being the acronym for Practicing Excellence of character And Conduct that is Exemplary.

Constant consultation with the one mama, Nangamso, who helps on a weekly basis has been essential to the development of this process. I had made a list of ideas for food, but after consulting with her, it became clear that some of them were impractical. It was Nangamso who came up with the idea for the Xhosa children to perform their traditional dances and songs in addition to what they are learning in class. After she showed me their songs and dancing, I felt full of excitement because it is a sign that the community of interest is taking ownership of the celebration rather than me just imposing an idea on them! I showed up yesterday as a surprise to go through the roll of names and associate them with faces so the certificates are well-prepared to offer, and Nangamso had a big group of children in the container practicing their songs and dances!

The idea of a gift was suggested in the Kenyan Baha'i book for children's classes. It is supposed to be a simple gift, even a piece of fruit. After accumulating enough photos of the children over the past 2 months, it entered my heart that they would each LOVE to have a photo of themselves. If it is determined to fit within the Assembly's budget, I will put all the photos on a flashdrive and take it to a shop where they can be printed out. The photo will then be given to each child along with the certificate.

November 18, 2008

Sweet souls at Baha'i gatherings


Last weekend update: i had planned to take 7 children from Delft in my car to feast, and they were going to sleep over but there was an illness in the family so we decided to take them home after feast and pick them up the next day to take them to the Birth of Baha'u'llah celebration. i had to ask a friend (who we knew from san francisco, who now lives 1 block away coincidentally!) if she could watch our children from 9am until 2pm (at which time she would have brought them to our sector feast). my car would have to be empty to fit all 7 children from class. i leave in the morning to go to children's classes, thinking of how we are going to be ready for this end of year celebration in 3 weeks. we have a very interesting experience that morning with trying to organize the kids to practice for it -- very chaotic and crazy but lovely and sweet at the same time. imagine 45-50 kids/jr. youth around with tons of outside distractions, wranglings, and a language barrier. :-) the latest development is that they want to add some of their traditional dancing and singing into the program which is so exciting because they are taking ownership of this celebration, feeling proud to show all the parents and neighbors what they can do. the saddest moment, though, was when i packed the car and the rest of the children wanted to come as well. they didn't understand my explanations for bringing the 7 children, whose moms i know well, and who have attended classes without missing any, etc. one 10 year old started crying. i felt so torn. it was so tough to leave them behind. [it was even worse the next day for the holy day pick-up because another car came as well and we tightly fit 17 children but soooooo many were disappointed and seriously tested by this act. i will have to repeat myself until there is true understanding, and plan well enough for Naw Ruz so that many more cars of Baha'is can be prepared to come and bring them all - but next year it will be based on attendance AND good conduct]

when they came to feast they were in such a state of curiousity and delight. we were a bit early so we sat down with my drum and started singing the songs we knew. when i thought we were finished they would suggest another, and another...it was so sweet because the friends walked into the Feast with the sounds of singing and drumming which we never have beforehand -- it set the tone in a beautiful way, as if everyone's hearts were opened and prepared for the spiritual feast. they had a great class with one of the Baha'is and left with a most positive impression of our meeting. the next day i drove out there again to pick up 7, but ended up with 9 in my little car -- the other car had only a backseat available and smushed 9! people in it, including one adult. we arrived at a rented school gymnasium and the children behaved sooooo well during a long program of quiet sitting.

when it was their turn to sing (this was a last minute decision so they were not prepared to be in front of a huge group of people) they walked up on stage and managed to remember enough of the words of 5 songs we've practiced -- and everyone loved it! their favorite part of the celebration were the sweets offered at refreshments and the candy in the pinata. what a bounty to have been able to bring them on this special occasion.

November 05, 2008

Barak Obama

I live about 8,000 miles away from America right now but if I could describe the vibe and express the spirit here in words, it would be something like a whirlwind of stirring people's innermost being up to a state of great joy, hope and pride. Even the children at school today were excitedly telling me how happy they were that Obama won! People of color have for too long suffered under the weights of injustice and oppression throughout the ages...Obama's win, in a country where 'liberty and justice for all' is sung with pride, certainly and undoubtedly symbolizes a pendulum swing toward healing and harmony in the world.

Baha'u'llah speaks of the importance of knowing the exigencies of the Day in which we live, focusing on what the needs are to best achieve or work towards the ever-advancing civilization we are striving to build. We know unity is the foundation of all that will be prosperous and fruitful for the world of humanity, and Obama is like a refreshing balm to all the hurt and pain that has come in the past from disunity in the world. Perhaps being the first black president in America is just what the world needs to propel itself toward greater levels of hope as we face ever-increasing challenges to world peace.

October 14, 2008

Delft ~ a continual journey of joy, serving & learning

an exciting experience happened yesterday in Delft. i had let the friends there know that i would come at 10am to sell clothes which would raise money for the classes, even if only a tiny bit was offered for each item. this was a suggestion by a Bahá'í and then welcomed by the few people who i had informed. i came while the children were in school. when i arrived, a group of children (some of whom should be in school) started jumping up and down and telling people i was there. they were sitting outside this empty, but new, metal container (the kind used to ship goods around the world, but here it is something valuable to be used in various ways) where i was to set out the items. the mamas started coming and naturally and appreciatively took interest in most of the things available (really nice stuff!). i let it be up to them how much to offer, and one of them who supports the classes was responsible for collecting the money. i was soooo happy to see it happening -- i was outside enjoying the children while the mamas spoke Xhosa and seemed to be negotiating amongst themselves, with moments of laughter, who would get what.

after it settled down, 4 of them sat down on the edge of the container and we all shared some snacks together that i had in my pocketbook. this sounds like a normal happening, but it’s so different because i seem to bring foods they have either never had or they haven’t had in a long time. today it was oatmeal shortbread (cindy ravines’ recipe) and some dried apricots and almonds. i can’t understand what comments they are making, but i can see they are having an experience of discovery and enjoyment. the children receive their portion and eagerly wait for more until one of the mamas says something to make them all immediately step away.

during our conversation, they told me 2 women took a lot but only paid a little -- they felt it was unfair and that next time i should put prices on the items. this felt presumptuous to me so we consulted and agreed that they themselves would put the prices on. they assured me that they know who can and can’t afford a particular price, and would make sure everyone paid what they could afford. this was amazing to me. they know the money is for the children’s classes. they know it’s a good deal to receive all these clothes and linens, and they want to establish a sense of justice about it!

a little later Siboleke came by -- whenever i see him (the community leader) i feel like something is progressing or developing between us in terms of understanding and mutual support. today he informed me that he’s been talking with the people of the community and they all feel this is a good thing for their children (!). i was so happy to receive this confirmation. he feels more parents should be involved so they can further encourage their children with what they are learning, so now i know how he responds to them when they discuss what’s happening on Saturday mornings.

at one point i was sitting in the middle of the road with 3 children on my lap while the one in front of me just started singing song after song that we’ve learned in class!! it was so sweet. so we sang, did hand movements, and even learned a couple new ones just with her (i tested them out on her to gauge whether or not the class would learn them easily or not).  hanging out with the children leaves me wishing i had endless time, means and energy to help develop their inner and outer faculties. it’s simply love.

before i left, i asked Nthombekhaya (it took me weeks and weeks to learn how to say that name before i finally wrote it down and could phonetically see it in my mind) if she wanted to learn how to drive. she is an adult in her 30’s but has never been behind the wheel. at first i drove and explained what to do (it’s a stick shift!), and then she practiced on her own (while nearly crashing into property off the street a couple of times!). i was like, ‘brake, brake!’ at one point, but we had so much fun i can’t wait to do it again sometime. there’s another mama who wants to learn as well, so i said, ‘little by little we’ll make sure you learn how to drive’.

i thought a lot about this the rest of the day -- they cannot drive; they may not have the means to purchase a car; i learned as a youth; i have had the privilege of exploring and being free to take myself places for 23 years…but i keep wondering what i haven’t experienced, what i do not have the means to discover or be able to do as they have. i know they have a rich, rich sense of culture and history, of connectedness and support, of music and knowledge of survival… in many ways our lives are full of contrasts, without similarities. yet, of course, our spiritual oneness connects us like no other force in this world, so i continue to enjoy the camaraderie in what we do share and enjoy together, especially when we can joke together!

when i left Delft today i wanted to come right back. i want to begin a Bahá'í school, a place of growing food and learning nutrition and practicing permaculture, of learning English and the sciences, holding it all together within the Bahá'í framework of the oneness of humanity and world peace.

October 10, 2008

Voting 2008 Election

This YouTube video on the site to register to vote is great (except for the occasional swear word).

http://www.declareyourself.com/index.php

October 07, 2008

Delft..early beginnings

Delft is one of the townships or settlements of the Cape Town region. I met one of the families who live there at a Baha'i holy day event back in March. The parents were interested in starting children and youth classes for moral and spiritual education; i was interested in teaching a children's class and getting to know them.

I was lost the first time visiting Delft. I had to wait for Phamela to come pick me up on the main road which runs through it. While sitting on the side of the road, my soul spoke to me in a way that was a sign of my heart's attraction to living in Africa. It was welcoming me to this area, as if I felt like i belonged here. If the children weren't in the car, and if I didn't need to meet Phamela (we coincidentally have the same name), I would have walked all along the street, up and down, excited to explore and say hello to people. But instead I had to sit there containing what desire my heart felt to meet my new brothers and sisters of this area.

What I love about this township is its integration of cultures and simplicity. I love that every person I smile at smiles back. I love the atmosphere of down-to-earth, humble people who are joyful and kind despite the hardships, who are rich in culture despite the history of oppression against them, and the camaraderie which seems to exist because of isolation and desolation.

After months of coming weekly, developing relationships and trying to nurture children's classes, the xenophobic attacks and rain came, and almost all the efforts seemed to be fruitless. I felt so conscious of not giving up. At one point it was suggested i could begin focusing my efforts on another township where there is interest in beginning children's classes, but i knew i must press onward and look at each effort as part of one big embryonic process. Then one day when it was raining and my children didn't especially want to go, i found myself faced with that decision of being lethargic or arising to serve. I chose to arise and serve. When we arrived, no one was outside.

After suggesting to ayana, dyami and domani that we pray, one of the jr. youth came outside to our car. We were talking inside the car while it continued to rain outside. Then the door of one of the homes opened up -- it's a home with 5 children, 4 of which come to classes. I came out of the car to say 'Molo, Sisi' to the mama and we started talking about the classes. I explained that when it rains we have no way of having a class outside. She had suggested her home for an inside space the previous week, but with the rain and the very small size of her living area, I had no expectation of being able to use her home for a class. As we were talking, the man in her home who is the community activist was listening to our conversation. [I had met him before when sitting on the curb one time playing with the children -- we had spoken about a gardening project and how much i would love to work with the people growing food.] He then spoke to me, saying i could use his home that day for the children's class! It was so exciting!! We ran down the block, in the rain, to his home, while the children from that woman's home ran around inviting children to come to the class. It went so well that day because it was the first time we had a good indoor space to hold a class -- and because the divine confirmations were flowing as a result of our decision to arise with determination and serve the children of Delft!

That evening my cell phone rang while i was at the grocery store -- it was Siboleke, the man who let us use his home that morning. What a surprise it was to hear from him! He was proud to announce that he and his wife had consulted and decided to open their home every Saturday morning for the children's class! I felt like i was floating on a cloud; it was such a feeling of elation and gratitude. After all the times of driving out there, of developing bonds of friendship and trust, and of facing many obstacles and challenges which tested my ability to pure-heartedly carry forward with radiant determination, here came that moment of God's gracious favors in the form of a space to hold children's classes.

Since then, the weekly classes have attracted at least 25 children from ages 2-13. It reached a point where i could no longer manage any sense of order unless additional teachers were assisting with the various age groups. I asked Dominique Sylvester, a Baha'i youth who speaks Afrikaans, if he was interested in working with the jr. youth -- he lives in the area and is currently being trained as a jr. youth animator facilitator. It is wonderful that he was happy and able to commit! The jr. youth enjoy him and it is very fun after classes when he plays soccer with us -- everyone wants to either be on his team or try their best to beat him because he's so good.

A friend of mine, Annick, who is from the DRC and is learning English, also was happy to come and commit to helping -- she takes the 2-5 year olds. Despite the language barriers, she has them sitting for prayers and singing various songs that they are learning and enjoying. She used to work a lot with this age group back in the DRC so it's invaluable to have her serve in this capacity. She also brings a strong presence of youth workshop with all the stepdancing moves which we sometimes practice with the children after class.

Last Saturday we arrived a bit early. Siboleke, the man who has opened his home for the classes, was waiting outside his home for a ride to one of his meetings. After lots of hugs from the children :-) we began to talk. He asked me what was my vision for this neighborhood. I immediately beckoned for divine assistance with a breath of Allah-u-Abha. The words which flowed from my mouth resonated with his vision so well that i felt his complete support for a Baha'i School to develop one day. Although he doesn't know the station or even Name of Baha'u'llah, he knows we, as Baha'is, are striving for harmony and unity amongst the diverse populations of the world; that we are focused on the spiritual education of children as noble souls with hidden potential to behave and conduct themselves in ways that conduce to their well-being and the community's happiness and prosperity. When i described the spiritual analogy of us growing as seeds, each of us being as unique and essential to the garden of humanity, and then learning how to care for each other as they learn how to grow plants themselves, a lightbulb went off for him! He hadn't thought of his agricultural project involving the children -- now he can see the importance of them being involved, not just the mamas. AND, before he used to talk about this plot of land across the street as being used as a nutrition center -- yesterday he spoke of it as a children's center! I don't know what will evolve from here, but the Hand of Baha'u'llah will work through us as we merge our efforts to advance the spiritual and socio/economic development of this neighborhood.

We both see it now in the stage of an embryo; it's going to take a while before the children begin to take on any new characteristics or understand what is happening in their lives. The best sign revealed to me was when Siboleke said he desires for the children of the so-called 'coloreds' and the Xhosa to come together with respect and cooperation to serve as an example of what South Africa is all about -- no longer segregated! Now that i know his heart, i feel even more comfortable bringing these 2 populations together because i don't have to wonder if the Xhosa want to stay to themselves in this endeavor. The 'coloreds' feel so unaccepted as a group of people -- they didn't belong before because they weren't light enough; now they have no benefits because they aren't black or African enough. [This is the population that suffers from extreme alcoholism. It is a massive problem in this country. 6 billion litres of alcohol a year are consumed in this country.]

This past Saturday's class wasn't exactly orderly or full Ruhi style by any means, but the joy, music and love shared continues to shine and spread. Afterwards we played soccer -- they all stand in a line and divide all of us into 2 teams as they alternate between each person. Usually the team with Dominique wins, but yesterday we were able to keep up and it was a draw at 10-10. :-)

children's classes in delft

For many months the children's classes were very, very simple. We met outside and sang a couple of songs, share a short and simple lesson, and have an activity. The older ones speak English, but it's limited to conversational English, so half the class couldn't understand anything i was saying, while the other half listened wholeheartedly and tried to capture the essence of whatever i was saying.

In addition to the language barrier, what was challenging about these early classes is that they were outside and my children did not want to attend them. The ground was sandy and rocky; we had no materials, no seats, no cover from the hot sun. The children who came were pure of heart and had no expectations. I would try to teach a class while my boys fussed and interrupted me with complaints. It was the opposite of my heart's desire for us to be serving as any kind of example.

These practical challenges, however, were nothing compared to the ongoing process of me maintaining an inner sense of determination and patience to withstand the lack of support by the community and my children. I knew it wouldn't be easy, and i knew it would take time, but it reached a point where it seemed like i was up against all odds. The rain and cold weather came. The classes had dwindled down to a handful. It was cancelled often due to a period of xenophobia, miscommunications with the host family, and bad weather. It was clear i was being tested, but it was the flame of love for those children which kept burning and kept me going.

After Siboleke offered his home to us that one day, it's been like a wildfire of support and activity. Now we have many parents aware of this being a Baha'i class; they are happy to see their children attend something that is positive and educating their hearts. We also have a place to meet, and such receptivity amongst the children and jr. youth that the momentum feels sustainable. There is a core group who attend, and then many who come and go.

When we drive up, there is much excitement amongst the children. I set up and they gather some of their friends. We are learning to greet with Allah'u'Abha (God is the Most Glorious) and they sing along to a handful of songs. We average learning a new song about every other week. They love when we sing loudly and drum, clap or do hand movements to the songs. They enjoy working in their booklets, copying down whatever it is we're working on. They also enjoy the activities, but it sure is quite a process to coordinate any activity!

What's not happening right now is the telling of stories. I realized a few months ago that when i would finish telling a story, even with a picture to illustrate the theme or action involved, no one understood what i had just read. No one could answer any of my questions. Everything we cover in the class has to be repeated over several classes, and even then, when i ask a review question, the reaction is almost as if we have never talked about it before. I am trying very carefully to give meanings for each new word, demonstrating the best i can with something practical, but i know the road is long and the goal is glorious. So i pray that through continual review and lots of creative examples, they will soon grasp the spiritual truths and plant them in their hearts.

What IS happening is MUSIC. Most of the songs are already planted firmly in their hearts. Sometimes when i arrive they are already singing some of them. Other times, we may be working on an art project and i will hear some of them singing a song. It's a beautiful reality.

If you check out the picasa web albums, you will see photos Dash was able to take 2 weeks ago. They capture an array of activity and involvement from 10am until 1pm that day. Thankfully, Dash could walk around while i am involved with the class. I feel strongly that these classes are the beginning of something significant, but i certainly leave it up to God as i continue to arise and serve Him.

August 21, 2008

foreign merchants in south africa..their stories

This morning i stopped and talked with 2 merchants who sell goods up the street from our flat. One is from the DRC; the other is from Senegal. We have had many conversations about life in South Africa because their experience here reflects most foreigners' experience from other African countries.

The one from the DRC arrived here a year ago as a refugee without a dime in his pocket. He spoke no English. He did have a friend here, but if he was to stay with him, he would need to pay rent. The next day he went with his friend to see how his friend was earning a living. He immediately began earning some money each day by pushing heavy cargo in the markets for merchants. He did this for months until he earned some capital. His back hurt each evening but he knew this was necessary before he could pursue new work for himself. After being in the markets, he learned how trade occurs at the wholesale level, and he began to purchase some goods that he could sell himself. Now, one year later, this man speaks English very, very well and has his own stand where he sells artwork. He knows this is just a means for an end, and has goals of earning enough capital to move on beyond this stage in his life. He looks forward to 2010 when the World Cup is here and many tourists will be here looking for goods to bring back to their countries. He gained his higher education in Europe for 6 years, and plans to utilize his knowledge someday when he is financially stable.

The man from Senegal came to South Africa 9 years ago. He, too, did not speak English but he had enough money in his pocket to survive for 6 months, as well as a return ticket to Senegal should he not be able to make it here. He knew no one. Upon arriving, he stayed in a hotel in downtown Cape Town for a month. He went out each day searching for how goods are sold. He found where the wholesale market is and purchased a few items. He took these items with him on the train and, without knowing where he was going, traveled to the end of a line and landed in a town called Parow, where he walked door to door trying to sell these items. He only knew how to say "Good morning", and "This is nice" and a few other greetings to make contact with people. Some people bought his goods, so he decided to purchase more and stay downtown with his items on the side of the walkway where pedestrians might purchase them. He did this for 3-4 years, but he knew he wanted to earn enough capital to move to an area where he could get a permit and have a stand of his own. This is what he's doing now in Sea Point where we live. He, too, does not plan on doing this his entire life, just long enough to earn enough capital to perhaps then rent a storefront out and sell more goods there. He was the first merchant in Sea Point to acquire a permit in our area a few years ago, so he paved the way for others who have come.

I admire the determination, fortitude and hard work of these two merchants. They are surviving here in a land that doesn't always welcome or appreciate them as their brothers. It seems there is an invisible line which separates the black South African from the black foreigners. To me it's the line of apartheid. This country's most challenging issue is to overcome the remnants of an oppressive system which kept millions prosperous and privileged, many more millions uneducated and underprivileged, and all psychologically affected by the discrimination of race, color and class. I know very little about these things, but it sure is evident that discrimination on a systematic level like that for generations has left a psychological scar unlike that of any other colonized people in Africa.

I want to open-heartedly understand these issues in order to uphold the dignity of and defend the position of the people here who are sometimes viewed as lazy when in fact it's much more complicated and deeper than that.

July 30, 2008

help2read

a non-profit organization called help2read has been in South Africa for 3 years. this is the first year it's no longer a pilot project and is really gaining ground at the grassroots level. a friend and i have just gone through the training and were asked to begin at a school that has just joined the list of schools being served. we will each help 2 children 2 times a week for a whole school year. the aim is to help, not teach, children with their reading. the program is set up exactly like a program in England that has been running successfully for over 35 years.

after the training, i felt renewed with insightful tools to guide and facilitate the learning process with the children. the child must choose something of his/her own interest from a wide variety of materials in the help2read box -- the box contains a full range of new books and all kinds of learning and fun materials and games. the educator must be flexible and only encouraging with praise. it must be fun and full of listening and sharing. this box of materials provides an enriching and beautiful supply of books, activities and games which most of the children do not even find at their school, their home, or their neighborhood. there are 100,000's of children here, from backgrounds where English is the second language, who have no libraries in their neighborhoods, and who have no means by which to purchase books (the price for a book in South Africa is very expensive!). most of them have no adult to read them a book, and so a program like this is already making a difference in the lives of the children it has served.

as more and more volunteers arise to serve the children of South Africa, a whole new generation of children will begin to read well and be ready to advance along the path of higher education. the masses of children in South Africa still don't have the opportunity of a good education, but programs like this one provide hope and a vision of eradicating illiteracy as it spreads. i'm hoping to be a part of the process of seeing a child's eyes light up with confidence and self-esteem as reading becomes a natural talent in his life.

July 23, 2008

reflections from rain

it is the time of year when the rain can fall heavily at times, when life in general seems to slow down a little.


this is my favorite time of year in any land, when the rain or snow comes and the smell and taste of coffee seems even more delicious; when i feel energized by the cool air; when i can walk briskly without perspiring or be outside without the oppressive sunshine making me hide behind sunglasses all the time; and when i can snuggle under a warm and cozy blanket with the children and feel completely relaxed, without that sense that we should be anywhere else or doing anything else.


yet i cannot feel this way for more than a moment anymore -- now i am thinking about the 100,000's of our brothers and sisters in the region not enjoying this time of year at all. their lives are mostly in the townships. so many homes in these areas are inadequate for keeping a family warm and dry; the electricity is very expensive to keep a space heater on often enough, while the concrete, wood, and tin which are so abundantly used to put homes together are just not sustainable for one's well-being. none of us who can choose a home of our own choice would choose the kinds of homes that have been made available for people in this country -- but what's worse is how so many more people are now living in homemade shacks while struggling to survive (being paid little for the hard labor and work most of them do) because there is no work in the countryside. there are 100,000's of people living in shacks, side by side, wet and cold by the rain, many in flood zones now scrambling for survival make-shifting another shack nearby. there is no dignity to use a toilet in one's own home in these living conditions -- people walk to an area where portable toilets stand next to each other, often against the highway, with broken doors and surely an awful stench. in these same areas, tuberculosis and other illnesses run rampant. there's certainly no extra money to go purchase some medicine, let alone go to a doctor. the community hospital nearby has a waiting list that is all day long and at the end of the day you still are not likely to be seen.

in addition to the shantytowns there are 1000's of displaced refugees who are now living in even worse conditions (!), without their own home, without any sense of security or social welfare. they are displaced both within this foreign land and from their own homeland where they feared for their lives. when the xenophobic attacks began, they left their homes in the townships where the violence was exploding. many of them rented very small spaces from the local people, but they at least had a sense of stability. now almost all of them will not return to the townships because they fear for their lives, and the city does not have enough places of refuge for them to live...so they are basically homeless, living in appalling conditions while receiving some aid from individuals who bring food and blankets to them.


this is reality. it's not my own reality but it's in my heart and my mind all the time, and i cannot disconnect myself from it. i cannot sit under a warm and cozy blanket with my children and forget that my brothers and sisters a couple of miles away are in misery, are in danger, are hungry, are sick, and are without any sense of peace. i must arise each day and strive toward a sense of charity, generosity, consideration, respect, kindliness, and sacrifice in order to feel content that i am helping the world move toward its ultimate destiny of world peace. there cannot be peace until the forces of justice and unity are firmly established in all these lands where the extremes of wealth and poverty exist... and it is abundantly clear that it won't occur until the majority of people truly see each human being as a member of their family, with the eye of our oneness, through the eye of our Creator, Who loves us all as one people, no one better or worse, just beautifully one.

July 18, 2008

Madiba

Today the world is celebrating Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday. To be living in South Africa at this time is surreal, a moment my heart has anticipated eagerly for many years, and yet here i am, amongst his people, the Xhosa. Yesterday Dash visited Madiba's village where he was born, where his relatives still live. Dash expressed over the phone that it was an experience that one cannot fully relay. When he and Khonaye arrived, the people of the village greeted them and introduced them to the wife of the Chief. Then they gathered in one of the buildings to have a town meeting, discussing the purpose and trying to understand why Dash and Khonaye had come to visit. It must have been incredible, so far out in the countryside where traditional ways are still in tact, where milk comes directly from the cow and homes are built by tools held with one's hand rather than a machine....

Today South Africa faces many, many challenges, but certainly it will triumph in the future to be an example of unity in diversity. It is a land of many racial groups and cultures, with a national anthem in 4 languages speaking the universal language of freedom and peace. My heart feels happy to be a part of this struggle. Each moment here feels like it's alive with a spiritual force, the dynamic force of example, to live free of prejudice, to live upholding justice within the realm of one's decisions and actions, and to live in harmony with the beautiful array of its peoples. Madiba's 27 years of imprisonment for this country's freedom is such an awesome inspiration to all who live here -- and for all the people around the world who long for justice, equity and peace in their lands.

June 17, 2008

oneness..taking care of the human race

there is plenty of food in the world. there are plenty of resources. but there are few who have a lot and many who have not enough. the extremes of wealth and poverty are beyond the simple results of injustice and greed - at the root, they are the result of a lack of true, universal brotherhood and love, where people and governments are not deeply connected to the reality that humanity is essentially and ultimately one family.

we would never allow one's cherished family members to live in a state of abject poverty, or without access to a good education, or without good land on which to grow one's food, etc....

the real crisis is that not enough people throughout the world and from wealthy governments truly love their neighbor. the crisis is that those individuals and governments with so much do not exert their will to redistribute and ensure that enough is provided to ensure a healthy way of life for every human being in this world. there isn't enough collective and political will yet to change the laws and establish systems whereby every individual is considered significant and important to the beauty of the human race.

any and all of these necessary and vital changes must spring forth from the heart, to make daily efforts toward establishing justice in our lands, in our communities, in our neighborhoods - it is the heart that must be inspired daily by the reality of our Oneness, so that we no longer are content with only our own well-being, that we are no longer able to feel at peace until all our brothers and sisters are being assisted in their contribution to the transformation of the world toward its final victory: the oneness of the human race in one organic world system of justice and peace.

June 03, 2008

vigil against xenophobia

friday, may 23rd, the kids and i attended a peace vigil against xenophobia. we parked near the art museum downtown and walked with 2 friends to the Parliament building. a crowd had formed upon our arrival, but there were many more to come. an eternal flame was held up high, along with the South African flag, and soon the chanting and singing of various songs and calls for universal brotherhood, peace, and love for our neighbors were raised up high. i kept looking around at the wide variety of people who came to show their support for immigrants and foreigners in this land: Christian pastors and Muslim leaders, Cape Malay, Xhosa, Congolese, Europeans, elders, children, students....at one point the whole crowd held hands and raised their arms up in the air for one of the freedom songs. at another time the crowd loudly sang the national anthem together:

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela,
thina lusapho lyawo.

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

what i felt and witnessed that evening is that a lot of people care deeply about our humanity, our oneness, and were brought together as a result of tragedies that are heartbreaking. before leaving, the drummer created a space inside the circle of Xhosa women who were singing some spirituals, and then we were all swept into a rhythmic dance around them, singing some Xhosa song about Thixo (God). the photographers were trying to capture the moment, but what occurred next left its imprint in our hearts: the drummer raised his hands in praise and began to call out the names of African peoples living here in Cape Town; his acknowledgement of each of these populations felt powerful to me, as if no one was forgotten and all were recognized as important; then he asked all of us to pray for peace in our own language -- by this time the sun was setting and the candlelight illumined the gathering as the crowd prayed in unison in many different languages. the power of that moment has no measurement, but surely all of us left there feeling how powerful the light of unity is....

May 15, 2008

glimpse into life: cape town, south africa

Litobile, Luthando & Lonwabo
a normal morning: wake at 6am, morning wash and prayer, prepare lunches and breakfast, leave by 7:35. the kids run out of our 4th floor flat (apt.) which leads to the outside courtyard and race down the stairs to the garage. we drive to school in our used golf polo and park on the high level street entrance (an exciting occurrence now that mama has overcome her fear of the steep road while driving a stick-shift!). we walk domani to his class area first; dyami and ayana feel proud of him and make sure he puts his diary (calendar book) where it belongs and his backpack away. children run up to us with loving greetings and ayana is ready to go meet her friends. domani runs away to play in the sandy jungle gym so i take dyami to his class area for line-up. dyami has a way of being naturally sweet - after the first bell rings, he asks me if i can leave when the second bell rings, as if to say, 'mama, it's not cool for you to stay with me when my teacher arrives.' so i leave and wave goodbye like a good mama should. :-)

...for 9 years i have either been pregnant, nursing or raising a toddler. i now live in a new land and have 4 solid hours without the children during school days. i try to balance that time between service to the home/family, community, and to myself. by 12:15 i'm back at the school (unless volunteering there in domani's class already) to pick up domani. we usually hang out with his friends, eating some lunch that i've brought with me. i almost always take one of his friends home. sometimes we stay so long at school that dyami is finished (2nd and 4th graders end school at different times, and then each student has their own schedule depending on whether or not they have an extra-curricular activity afterward). between 1-3:30 i'm picking the children up from school, running errands, or visiting the family of the boy i take home. monday through thursday we aim to focus on homework and studying until dinnertime, but school closes at 1pm on fridays, so we always look forward to doing something fun that afternoon. below are some slices of life experiences here in cape town....

...one morning i had planned to visit 2 different homes, in 2 different townships, the first time i'm venturing out on my own for the whole morning. the first home was near the airport so i thought i'd be able to remember where they lived, but as i was completely distracted by the dilapidated shacks, and horses pulling people on carts in the middle of a busy automobile intersection, i ended up calling my friend 2 times before i arrived at her house. this is the beginning of the day and i was already inundated with emotion and thoughts racing through my mind -- yet i arrived and was welcomed with such an appreciation and joy that tears came to our eyes as the mother of the home expressed her gratitude for the visit. i felt pain for the 1000's of homes, with 100's of 1000's of people in them who wished someone would come visit them (and not just because of the cookies i had with me)
...


...i meet many people who are outside working. most of them are Xhosa people who are trying to make a living. one of the workers for the hotel next door is named Lothando. i had met him back in January when we first moved here. he is a hard-working young man who sweeps the street and sidewalk. yesterday i was walking back to the flat with Ayana and we came over to say hello to him. his name tag now read, 'David'. i asked him why it was changed. he said something about management and i could feel my heart begin to race with anger about this kind of injustice perpetuated by white owners and managers who continue to keep psychologically demoralizing the people upon which this entire nation's material development has been built! Lothando is his name, not David! all i could think about was how hard the black and colored populations have worked; how much they have suffered and how so many continue to bear the burden of apartheid's oppressive system of injustice. i expressed to him my feelings in a calm manner and offered what i could to express a sense of respect and honor for his name which means 'love'. he expressed his gratitude and we went home. later in the morning i was walking home from errands and couldn't stop thinking about this issue, so i went into the hotel and asked if i could submit a complaint. the person behind the counter said the manager wasn't in, so i shared the complaint with him -- he is Xhosa himself and though a worker of the hotel, his soft smile about the complaint made me think he's ready for a social revolution. this changing of names happens too much in the business world! he said he'd pass on the complaint and i said i'll follow up on it. today i went and explained to management that Lothando does not know i am making this complaint, nor did he express any complaint himself [it would be the worst result if he lost his job because of me trying to stand up for justice]. south africa is a country that is in a healing process of racism, and i feel compelled to arise however possible to address each and every situation that presents itself throughout the day. the manager was sympathetic and said it was important for me to report this, then explained to me that the hotel hires a company which employs workers like Lothando...i can only hope that he'll look into the matter as he said he would, but i feel peaceful knowing that at least Lothando felt a sense of respect from a stranger who cared...

...sometimes Domani and i return early back to school before picking up Dyami. we walk to the lower gate hoping to find Litobile and Yothando who are usually still around waiting for their transport to come and pick them up. Litobile (pronounced Leetobeelay) is 6 and Yothando is 8. they are always enjoying some kind of creative play (digging for marbles; playing hide and seek; throwing objects to get stuck up in the trees). one afternoon we were all hanging out together and Yothando says, "Will you please play 'On' with us, please?" 'On' is tag here, and when you touch the person you say, 'You're on!' what else could i say but 'OK!' :-) there were a couple other children playing as well, but these 2 boys always tried to get me. i felt like such a kid! we had so much fun running around until my side ached so badly i had to take a time out. i took out the camera for which they love to pose. it was one of those moments here that are eternal, where time stands still and the experience is true joy. i seem to cross paths with these boys so much that it feels like we're family. they lighten up and show affection as so many of the children here do. being at this school is experiencing real community....

...Delft is the name of the township out by the airport where we go each sunday morning for children's spiritual education classes. going into this township is one of my favorite things to do. i love how the children see the car and run up to greet us. i love how they come and sit down with full attention and participation to whatever they are learning and experiencing; i love how they use the drum and start doing some Xhosa dances to the beats... one afternoon the kids and i were there visiting our friends. I helped Phamela (coincidentally we have the same name; the 'h' in Xhosa is silent) do some of the work in the home and then went outside to play soccer (football). the streets are very narrow and the homes close to the road. it's almost inevitable that kicking the ball will lead you into someone's yard. well, thankfully, the ball led us around the block and we met some youth who were just hanging out - the ball rolled their way and they kicked it back at us -- it enabled the boys and i to meet them. at first they didn't want to play, but i was like, 'c'mon, there's nothin' else goin' on...you can teach these small boys how to play some soccer.' so one of them got up and had a blast playin' ball with dyami and domani. the significance for me was how we don't know anyone but we were able to hang out with the neighbors. it was the best! the boys gave the youth a pound, fist to fist, and then they put their fist to their heart, where the love is felt...the afternoon ended by hanging out with the Zimbabwean fellows across the street: the children sat with them, picking up 100's of beads on the ground that the men couldn't use anymore for their artwork, putting the beads in plastic bags to reuse at home for their own artwork...

there are hundreds of experiences like these where my heart leaps with loving gratitude for being able to connect soul to soul with so many of our brothers and sisters here in the cape town region of the world...

April 07, 2008

the baboon experience


we were just entering the Cape Point National Park, driving along talking about what animals we hope to enjoy seeing. then up ahead dash and i notice a whole family of baboons, walking along both sides of the road! we inform the children with great excitement and take out the camera. in a moment, we are able to witness and marvel at several mama baboons with babies grasping on for dear life -- and right after i snap a photo of this wonder, i hear dash yelling, 'Dyami, close your window!' dash noticed a papa baboon approaching our car in a way that one knows is full of danger! but dyami couldn't coordinate himself quickly enough and in a split second that baboon was on our car, with its long claws clinging on the inside of dyami's window and its body pushing its way through the open space! a moment later he was inside the car, sitting on dyami and ayana's lap, searching for food! while i frantically put away the camera, dash helped dyami open his car door. as soon as he opened his car door, i opened mine and climbed out - 2 more baboons, one of which was a baby, climbed in, and the first one climbed through the front to grab the small bag with a muffin in it -- he stopped by my feet, just outside the car, with the bag in his hands and grunted with his vicious-looking teeth at me as if to say, 'Don't even think about it!' the children sat traumatized while dash helped the other 2 baboons find their way back out through the back door.

we sat there in shock. with the windows now rolled up and tears in the children's eyes, dash and i watched in amazement how the baboon craftfully tore apart the bag and ensured that he ate every morsel of that muffin. he sat there on the side of the road with great contentment and satisfaction. dyami was so upset; the second baboon walked away with his bag of colored pencils. if you know dyami, you know he loves his art materials, and this seemed more painful to his heart than the actual scare of the baboons' claws and teeth in his face. the driver behind us walked over to collect the ripped-apart bag of pencils, and as he handed them to dyami, he cautioned us about having any food in the car with open windows (we smiled because it was obvious now how to protect ourselves around the baboons' territory).

this experience was like an initiation into the world of baboons. we drove on like soldiers that survived an attack. dash and i kept laughing -- it was such a crazy experience! we felt grateful that none of us panicked and that God protected us from any attack by the baboons. the children wanted to go home and implored us not to take them to a game reserve in the future!

onward we drove, determined to reach cape point where the atlantic and indian oceans meet. the hike up the mountain was refreshing and full of beauty, with a quick glimpse of a few harmless lizards, but when we came back to rest at the welcome center, a baboon's quest for food was in full effect. he went right for a lady's unopened snack bags - he surprised her as she walked around a bend and quickly grabbed 2 out of 4 bags. he sat eating them for a while; when he finished he walked around until found a woman's pocketbook sitting on a ledge by itself. this is where the show began to attract many people. he sat on the ledge and dumped out all of the contents while he searched for what he sensed was in there: a pear, a box of chocolates and a container of butter. for a moment he walked a short distance away from it -- the owner of the bag quickly ran to grab her pocketbook but instantly the baboon went after her and knocked her down, scratching her back as she stumbled, and took the pocketbook back from her. that's when the crowd began to disperse. it was all fun and games until she interrupted his groove and disturbed what was now his possession until he decided when he was done with it. that lady was shaking!

the lesson to the children was clear: leave the animals alone and they will leave us alone. the baboon didn't want to hurt anyone or bother anybody; he just wanted to eat his food.

domani now tells his brother and sister how he's gonna do some karate moves on the baboon next time, as he skillfully demonstrates his power of punching and kicking -- but ayana and dyami are quick to tease by saying to him, "Domani, you are all strong and courageous now, but when the baboon was on our laps you were like 'aaaah!!'" :-)

March 03, 2008

Reality


there are many experiences and emotions of daily life that i think are interesting, teaching me a spectrum of reality that is new and working itself on my inner thoughts and feelings. i struggle with the extremes of wealth and poverty, finding myself in the middle of institutionalized racism, seen easily by shacks on one side and fine homes with every sign of privilege on the other. i wake up and face the world with this consciousness and realize it affects every decision i’m making - my whole life is one sense of consciousness toward justice. i break it down in my mind with every human interaction, in the spirit of upholding each man’s dignity and restoring each man’s pride. it makes me reflect on how america might have been in most areas in the 1950’s when the consciousness about race was prevalent, not hidden or thought of as ‘progress has been made’. no, not here, not now, the effects of apartheid are so raw and real that i hear every kind of person talking about it…. the white school teacher, the Xhosa concierge in the building, the ‘colored’ cleaner…everyone. i bring this into the prologue of any writing because it’s really the root from which all else proceeds. as complex as the issues are that effect millions of people here, there is also that layer of sub-community life that is rich in culture, tradition and contentment which enables joy to be experienced. for example, within the Xhosa townships there are community centers, shops, schools and churches - it’s a world unto itself, taking care of itself with meager resources. i am learning that there are many sub-cultures within this land, based on where the apartheid government settled people (just like the american gov’t did with the indiginous peoples, giving them arbitrary land areas that were inhospitable for agriculture or without any assistance to enable them to become economically sustainable) -- so there are indian, colored, Xhosa and white areas, each with their own culture and support system, schools and community events.

now that it’s been almost 14 years since mandela first became president and changes began to readjust opportunities and settle retributions, a few areas have people renting or buying homes and creating a diverse population. then there are a few locations, like where we live, where the population is very diverse due to more businesses and therefore, work opportunities, as well as apartment complexes inexpensive enough to enable Xhosa, colored, and indian populations to live there. there is wealth amongst these 3 populations (including muslim, hindu and christian faiths); most choose to still stay in their communities rather than settling where whites live because cultural support and community life is more important to them than having a special house, view or amount of land. we seem to be in a unique setting and are grateful for this to be our first experience in south africa -- it’s not a gated community; it’s not a township of one kind where we are the only foreigner; and it’s not dominated by one faith community (each of the 3 main religions are represented, especially noticeable at the school in terms of holidays). we are surrounded by many kinds of people, including families and individuals from many other african nations.

i feel like i had to put all of that into the mix before sharing stories because this is the reality. if i am having a relaxful moment at a beach, i am aware of and thinking about all of this and how it’s a part of the scene. if i am talking on a bench with the Xhosa mother who still has land far away on the eastern cape, i am constantly reminded that millions have come here for ‘opportunity’ only to be trapped into a system of poor housing or none at all; they then realize the expenses of life are drastically different from their way of life - yet hope and patience keep many here on the western cape despite the fact that most wish they could return ‘home’ to the villages (even if they have lived and worked here for 10 or so years).

the stories that break my heart are the ones where people live where they work and the ones about a broken spirit as a result of displacement and crushed sense of self-worth. in only 1 ½ months i have met and listened to dozens of stories of how life is the way it is. for example, there is a colored couple who live where we live; they work and live in the building, but if you saw how they lived and how hard they work you would feel a sense of rage because it’s simply unjust. they have one room to share, to cook, sleep and live in, with a narrow place to walk in between the bed and stuff all around; they have to walk across a public pathway to enter the area where they can shower and go to the bathroom - there is almost no privacy because they have to share it with another worker who has a room next to the bathroom. i try to imagine having to walk past residents who are arriving or leaving while wearing my robe and slippers on my way to the shower. their living space is so small and dark that it gives me a glimpse into what the informal settlement life might be like -- instead of complaining they are grateful; they grumble a bit about waiting 14 years here for housing but they radiate joy while working long and hard hours, without any right to own their own key to enter on their own, or any right to have any family come and stay over night, and little pay for the important work they provide. another reality exists for the 100,000's of Xhosa individuals who live here like a local, but they also don't have their own place: they live with families or managers of businesses to do the cleaning work. they only get to go home, back to the Eastern Cape, which is 14 hours away, once a year; they can only stay for 2-4 weeks before needing to return to make a living. they miss their way of life and families deeply, yet they sacrifice and do what they feel is necessary to provide economic support for their families.

my mind then switches over to 100,000’s if not over a million people in the informal settlements, without any proper floor, sometimes no window, no plumbing, public toilets that are intolerable for anyone to manage without losing a sense of dignity -- despite this reality, and the reality that for 6 months when it rains they are flooded out of their homes, people do uphold a sense of self-dignity for the most part, holding on to who they are as a people, hopeful of change, determined to persevere through these times of transition. many people who are reflecting on the vision of south africa wonder how long the masses will be patient -- the unmet promises of having land, housing and opportunities restored to them remains to be fulfilled. when i see the richness and resourcefulness of the people, i feel humbled by their resilience and inner strength, as well as their cultural contributions to a land which has a great destiny.

February 21, 2008

barefoot

there's something that has been attracting my attention ever since we arrived in cape town, something that reminds me in the sweetest way that we are no longer living in a typical American city, attending a regular public school. it's one of those almost insignificant details of the school scene that i find my eyes completely observing in such a joyful way: little bare feet walking and running free from constraint in a shoe, with toes that get to grip mother earth and feel one no artificial barrier between their many nerve endings and the natural world below.

today was the first time one of our children exited the school gate barefoot. i immediately called from across the street, 'where are your shoes?' with a gleeful sense of wonderment. dyami simply answered, as if nothing unordinary was occurring, 'in my bag'. i felt so happy for his soul to feel a sense of freedom about removing his shoes -- but also because we are living in South Africa, where it's no big deal to walk through the hall or home from school without one's shoes on - everything is laid back, less restricted, and the children are happy! the rules that matter are strictly enforced, like being responsible and polite, well-mannered and respectful. being barefoot is a sign to me that this land hasn't lost it's sense of what makes us feel connected with the land. and this is something i appreciate (though when we arrived home we put dyami right into the tub to scrub the black stain from his feet). :-)