February 28, 2012

not in my backyard

we hosted an Ayyam-i-Ha party for children and jr. youth 2 days ago.  aside from the joyful singing and drumming, activities and delicious cookies, more than 60 kids came and it was difficult for dashiel and i to manage.  one of our neighbors called -- we share a compound with 4 other houses -- to ask what was going on and i explained that we were having a party.  she was expressing concern about the number of children and i agreed, explaining that 2 jr. youth groups came to perform and it was more than we had expected.  she said that she wanted to talk more with me about this at another time..  

last night she called to say she feels her privacy is being infringed upon by us having children from the neighborhood visit.  she explained that the entrance area and pavers to my home is a shared area.  she is very concerned -- fearful actually -- that something may happen to one of them because she believes wholeheartedly that the neighborhood will turn against us and we will experience a 'mob' of people coming to hurt not only us, but her as well..

her final argument was that, despite her respect and support for what i am doing to educate the children, i should not be inviting the kids to my home for this 'community project' but rather, i should go to their homes and visit them.  she thinks it is unfair to her to continually have to share the compound with the neighborhood kids for my 'work' (even though they do not wander into anyone else's home environment).  she said that i shouldn't consider our house/yard areas as private spaces because we all share the compound..

as i was listening to her and trying to respond with patience, kindness and tactfulness, i started shaking.  my nerves were full of adrenaline -- it is very difficult for me to face such conflict and opposition.  i tried to address each of her issues with reason but it only led to her revealing an additional issue.  i said that the party is a once a year event and that next year we would limit the number of people.  this led to her saying that if we are all still living here next year she would not want me to have a party at all.  when i tried to explain that all of the kids we associate with are now our friends, not merely kids that we educate -- that we have had their parents to our home and that we visit their homes as well -- she reduced our right to associate with whomsoever we like to a 'community project'.  when i asked if anything happened to her property as a result of the party or any other time in the past 9 months, she replied that this is not the point and proceeded to express her concern about the use of the pool (which recently happened on 2 occasions, each for 30 minutes each, with less than 4 people each time).  i agreed that the pool can be dangerous (even with me watching) and said that i would stop letting these friends use the pool altogether.  she then insisted on me not having the kids in the compound at all because it is unfair to her sense of privacy..

with that i simply replied, 'oh, well, i am sorry i don't agree with you about this'.  i let her know that dashiel was ready to talk with her.  i handed him the phone and ran upstairs to pray.  i could hear him talk as a civil rights attorney with a passion for protecting the rights of the disadvantaged and oppressed peoples of this world.  he was very concise and clear about where we stand with this situation:
  • we will not have any more big parties
  • we will not invite the neighborhood kids to use the pool
  • we WILL exercise our right to invite whoever is our friend to our home without any discrimination unless that person has done something to infringe on any of our neighbors' properties
when dashiel hung up the phone, the 5 of us sat together on the boys' beds to discuss what had happened.  we helped the children understand how prejudice makes a person's argument unreasonable.  they base a lot of what they say on fear.  there was no logical way to talk with our neighbor about this situation.  we explained to our children that we must be willing to suffer when we stand up for justice.  we may have to move as a result of this woman's vehement opposition to our friends' coming to visit us everyday.  we talked about truly loving our enemies as Abdu'l-Baha did, showing to them that uncompromising, loving-kindness despite their anger or dislike of how we live..

today i am filled with many thoughts of how insidious prejudice is and how all throughout history it has resulted in 2 opposing sides: those who get it and those who don't.  those who are in the courts putting forth strong arguments in defense of the white man who is accused of atrocities against black people, and those who are imprisoned for trying to uphold the principles of justice in a world that favors the privileged, the wealthy, and the powerful.

i realize that my neighbor wants poverty and all of its inherent difficulties to end -- and has disclosed to me how her heart has been saddened by what she has seen in ghana -- but she does not want it done in her backyard.  i grew up with that saying..people say a lot about the need for change in the world but the moment it starts happening near them they start to complain and worry about the difficulty they may face in the process..

our family is striving to live a life of service to the world of humanity.  we are free of prejudice against poor people.  we treat all people as equal in the sight of God.  we love each soul as a loved one of God.  we open our home to our neighbors with a bright and friendly face, building trust through mingling in the closest of associations.  we are focused on spiritual and academic education of children and jr. youth as a means of enabling souls to have the opportunity to reach their fullest capacity morally and intellectually..

our neighbor is a wealthy, educated, young, professional, black woman from angola.  she has expressed fear of the neighborhood families from the moment we met her.  she truly believes that if anything happens with one of these kids that everyone in their extended family, as well as the neighborhood in general, will come and attack us.  i do not feel or believe it is a rational belief.  if there will ever be an uprising of the poor people here, perhaps it would happen to the foreigners who are not associating at all with the community, as they would be viewed with contempt and mistrust..

what is most disturbing to me is how this woman's fear of 'something happening' to the kids would not be there if we were friends with wealthy families.  she would not be opposed to me having kids over, for whatever purpose, if they did not make her face her prejudice against people who are poor.  i am not naive.  i realize crime exists, as well as carelessness, ignorance and negligence -- but kids from all classes present the possibility of mischief, mistakes, accidents, poor behavior, etc..

the issue then becomes one of perception.  kids who are well dressed and attend schools that are providing a better education are perceived as less of a threat to one's well-being.  yet we all know that very wealthy, educated people are responsible for an immeasurable amount of corruption and crime in this world.  an article in the news today coincidentally reports that a study was done out of Berkeley demonstrating that "..higher-status people tended to behave in ways that served their own self-interest."  it questions the perception that those with less material well-being are more likely to commit some kind of crime -- it feels as though my neighbor is acting in a negative way to serve her own self-interest..

Abdu'l-Baha counsels us:
Is it possible for one member of a family to be subjected to the utmost misery and to abject poverty and for the rest of the family to be comfortable? It is impossible unless those members of the family be senseless, atrophied, inhospitable, unkind. Then they would say, "Though these members do belong to our family -- let them alone. Let us look after ourselves. Let them die. So long as I am comfortable, I am honored, I am happy -- this my brother -- let him die. If he be in misery let him remain in misery, so long as I am comfortable. If he is hungry let him remain so; I am satisfied. If he is without clothes, so long as I am clothed, let him remain as he is. If he is shelterless, homeless, so long as I have a home, let him remain in the wilderness."

Such utter indifference in the human family is due to lack of control, to lack of a working law, to lack of kindness in its midst. If kindness had been shown to the members of this family surely all the members thereof would have enjoyed comfort and happiness.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 38)
 i'm relying on prayer and patience in the midst of difficulty.  for now we have no close association with our neighbor who feels we have infringed on her right of privacy, and we continue to welcome with genuine affection the children and jr. youth who come to our home each day to learn and enjoy a peaceful way of family life with us.  i pray that in time 'our backyard' will touch our neighbor's heart and serve as an example for how poverty can be alleviated, one soul at a time. :)

February 22, 2012

starting a keyhole garden in accra

just beyond this home, to the right, will be the keyhole garden

i am at the very beginning stages of making my first keyhole garden with some children, junior youth and their families -- my friends and neighbors.  we are at the early stage of planning and gathering the necessary materials needed to undertake this sustainable agricultural technique.

a keyhole garden in Lesotho

after consulting with the jr. youth and visiting one of the mothers with a video of how the women in Uganda build keyhole gardens, we have chosen a plot of land in our neighbor's lot on the other side of the wall from our compound.   2 of the jr. youth we know live there; their younger brother, who is 10, is one of three children who have started carrying soil in buckets, on their heads, from a big pile a block away.  this pile of soil belongs to my gardener.  since it is extra and he has no use for it, he said we could have it for a small amount of money.  i bought it for gh5 which is about $3.  it will be just enough to fill the garden bed.  the kids will gather large stones and rocks, as well as dried grasses and long sticks.  once they are prepared i will purchase chicken fertilizer and cow manure.  they are going to begin saving the charcoal ash in one location (instead of spreading it out in various locations) and i have some twine to tie around the sticks once we make the inner circle.

the one resource we need, which has always limited people's ability to grow food easily, is water.  these families do not have running water in their homes.  they must collect it from a location down the street.  sometimes water is in short supply and must be saved for washing and cooking.  since i live in a compound with a water storage tank, and since this method requires less water than traditional farming, i will be able to supply the keyhole garden with any additional water that they need.  it can be held in the large plastic containers with a spout that people use for transporting water.

the idea came from Celia Beaumont, a Baha'i who lives in South Africa.  she had seen a post by me on Facebook when i mentioned i was going to start a gardening project with our neighbors.  i started researching about keyhold gardens online and immediately found myself absorbed in the abundant and rewarding benefits of this method for growing food on a small scale (this video link features a keyhole garden in Lesotho).  now i am passionate about making it happen in our neighborhood.  it will be a big learning experience for all of us and one that embodies the full spirit of arising to serve one's community -- demonstrating to the kids and youth how divine confirmation works through consistent and continual effort to achieve one's goals.

February 11, 2012

ubuntu ~ 'be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor'

this is Monica Ampong.  she is my neighbor.  this photo shows where she lives.  she is the mother of 2 of the jr. youth in our group, 'Gems of Justice'.  the wooden stand next to her is where she sells sachets of water, eggs that her hens lay, and a few other basic items that Ghanaians use for cooking on a daily basis, like hot peppers, tomatoes, gari and spices.  recently, however, she has only been selling water.  her eldest daughter explained that it's because they needed to use the money for school and food to eat so there was no extra money to buy more goods to sell.

directly behind Monica, off to the left, is the area where the family spends most of their time.  this is my favorite area to sit.  it's where the grains are ground, where the food is prepared, where they eat, where the washing and bathing is done, and where all of the joy, reading and relaxation is done.  there is a tree that provides shade -- they move around small benches and stools to accommodate themselves the best they can.

the low wall in that area is used to store water.  it is always very low or empty except when the heavy rains fall.  beyond this area is where the cassava grows and where they have private areas for 'going to the bathroom'.  the open area that is cleared is used for playing soccer and making pottery.

Monica is the first friend here in Ghana with whom i share the spirit of ubuntu.  when i met her, i felt magnetically attracted to her.  i was instantly drawn to her. she is one of the sweetest, humblest souls i have ever met.  she smiles instantly and constantly.  she has worked very hard her entire life and shows no desire for anything beyond what God has bountifully provided.  she demonstrates contentment and radiant acquiescence.  she has 6 children, all of whom are lovely souls with good manners and good natures.  her youngest daughter, magdalene, is the girl i wrote a post about recently; she is a sincere, searching soul with an open heart that is full of receptivity..

i am one to hug and show a lot of affection but she is not.  now when she sees me walking along the dirt road which leads to her compound, she jumps up and comes to greet me with a hug. :)  she speaks little english so i rely on her eldest daughter to translate a lot of what we say to each other.  our most recent time together was spent sharing a YouTube video about keyhole gardening.  she and her family already grow cassava but they have difficulty growing any vegetables because the chickens eat the seeds they plant.  they haven't devised a way to raise a garden bed or secure it with chicken wire.  Monica's children and the rest of the jr. youth are excited to begin a sustainable garden on her land.  i, too, am excited to be part of something that will contribute to economic and ecological development in this neighborhood..
Monica with her husband, Francis

trust has been the most significant thing that we've developed.  it is an invisible force that leads to incalculable results.  a few examples are: i don't have to wonder if she's giving me less vegetables than for what i am paying.  she lets her children come to my home many days a week, even late into the night, with unquestioned support and acceptance.  i make suggestions (like the keyhole gardening) or demonstrate acts of generosity and she knows my intentions are pure..  trust is the vital link and gateway for well-being and security in this world -- and it cannot result except through unity -- which, to me, translates into the way of 'ubuntu': a very practical, interdependent, interconnected way of living with each other in a community.  i am grateful for knowing Monica and being able to live in an African neighborhood, sharing the spirit of 'ubuntu' with my African sister:
Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:[4]
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows:[5]
A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?

February 09, 2012

Bahiyyih Khanum..greatest example of servitude to God

a dear friend, Nava Sarracino, forwarded this excerpt to me today.  it depicts the highest embodiment of Baha'i character and servitude toward God.  Bahiyyih Khanum represented every Baha'i value and principle during her lifetime, but especially when the Guardian passed away in 1957 -- she was the one to whom everyone turned to represent the Baha'i Faith until the Universal House of Justice was elected in 1963.


Quote from Marjory Morten, a Western Pilgrim, who describes some of the attributes of Bahá’íyyih Khánum:

“You were sure that if one tried to hurt her she would wish to console him for his own cruelty.  For her love was unconditioned, could penetrate disguise and see hunger behind the mask of fury, and she knew that the most brutal self is secretly hoping to find gentleness in another.  She had that rarest heart-courage, - to uncover the very quick of tenderness to any need.  And so deep was her understanding that she plumbed all the miseries of the human heart and read their significance, 
blessing both the victim and the valid pain itself.  

So alive was she to the source of all bounty that she had no consciousness of her own bounty.  When she made a gift she seemed to be thanking you for it.  The prompting included gratitude.  When she gave joy she blessed you for it.  It was almost as if she did not distinguish giving from receiving … 

She took nothing for granted in the way of devoted service and even in her last hours she whispered or smiled her thanks for every littlest ministration … She delighted in making presents, - sweetmeats and goodies and coins for the children, and for others flowers, keepsakes, - a vial of attar of roses, a rosary, or some delicate thing that she had used and cared for.  Anything that was given her she one day gave to someone else, someone in whom she felt a special need of a special favour. 

She was channel rather than cup; open treasury, 
not locked casket.
And as she would not lock away her small treasures, neither would she store up her wisdom and her riches of experience.  In her, experience left no bitter ash.  Her flame transmuted all of life, even its crude and base particles, into gold.  And this gold she spent.  Her wisdom was of the heart.  
She never reduced it to formula or precept: we have no wise sayings of hers that we can hang motto-like on our walls, just by being what she was she gave us all that she knew.

… Something greater than forgiveness she had shown in meeting the cruelties and strictures in her own life.  To be hurt and to forgive is saintly but far beyond this is the power to comprehend and not to be hurt.  This power she had … She was never known to complain or lament.  It was not that she made the best of things, but that she found in everything, even in calamity itself, the germs of enduring wisdom.  She did not resist the shocks and upheavals of life and she did not run counter to obstacles.  

She was never impatient.  She was as incapable of impatience as she was of revolt.  But this was not so much long-suffering as it was quiet awareness of the forces that operate in the hours of waiting and inactivity.  Always she moved with the larger rhythm, the wider sweep, toward the ultimate goal.  Surely, confidently, she followed the circle of her orbitaround the Sun of her existence, in that complete acquiescence, that perfect accord, which underlies faith itself.”

Quoted in Baharieh Rouhani Má’ání, Leaves of the Twin Divine Trees, pp. 222-223

February 03, 2012

boys' room.. imagination and ingenuity

this is dyami and domani's 'fort'.  it started quite small but after 4 nights it has become quite high and as fortified as they can get it.  they have used pillows, large soft animal friends, blankets, totes, and that chair (which they say has a secret window area that allows them to peek through).

there is something transcendent about this process that children, and perhaps boys in their own special way, experience as they build and create imaginary worlds for themselves.  it's as if their souls are longing to express those spiritual powers which emanate from the essence of who they are..as souls.

the process of making the fort -- and when they were younger it involved big objects that they could lift and move about to hide themselves -- releases such joy, excitement, spontaneity, and a creative energy that it makes me realize this is what childhood is all about at the simplest level of being a soul.  it is what lifts them up into their own realm of reality which is far removed from all of the rules, routines, responsibilities and other imposed regulations for their lives.  creating a world for themselves seems vital to becoming who they are and perhaps incomparable to any other experience a child has.

i am enjoying the fort almost as much as they are.  it's simply beautiful in its purest form.  it's inviting, magical, cozy, safe, and full of love (especially from their soft animal friends who share it with them). :)