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).


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.