April 27, 2012

breaking an entering. breaking trust

the first thing that caught my eye was the white board laying diagonally across the couch. then my eye raced to the window and saw it wide open..then the sliding door which was only ajar because of the wooden bar in the track..

it was 5:30am yesterday morning.  my mind immediately thought of the computers and they were gone.  i found my pocketbook thrown on the floor and saw that my wallet (with money and a credit card) were also taken.  i didn't realize it at first but the Ipad was taken also..

it was real.  it was shocking, sickening, frightening.  i ran upstairs to get dashiel.  the kids were still asleep.  we ran outside to notify the night guards.  only 1 was there.  he didn't even know that it had happened!  he is supposed to at least patrol the yards of the compound every 2 hours.  he looked angry and scared -- knowing now his job is most likely going to be over.  a moment later the day guard arrived.  we all went to the yard to discover that the barbed wire along the back wall was cut.  the tool was left sitting on the top of the wall.  the thief had climbed up the tree on the neighbor's side and jumped over into our yard.  the simple lock was forced open without noticeable damage.  dyami's books and belongings in his backpack were laid neatly on the couch and the backpack was gone -- an easy way to take the goods..

the security company's boss came and suggested we file a police report.  we decided against it.  the police are very corrupt.  they expect bribes when they come to 'help' you and if you don't then you must be ready to expect future harm from them.  we were told, too, that they will put the guards in jail as well as all of the kids who have been coming to our home..

this is the reality:  someone who has been in our home is connected with a criminal.  no other home in the compound was targeted.  this someone knew we had laptops and knew how to explain to the criminal where they would be.  on the neighbor's side of the wall we found a set of footprints -- one big and one small -- leading away from the wall to my neighbor's side wall which was easy to climb over..

the entire day was full of discussion, emotion, investigation, consultation, and disruption.  everything was shaken up and no longer settled.  the guard called some of my jr. youth to witness what had happened, admonishing them that no one will be let in from the neighborhood until they find out who is involved with this crime.  those 5 boys were shocked.  i trust them.  it was the worst moment to have to consider that they had anything to do with it..they stayed for a while, listening to the gardener who manages the compound, as well as our driver who counseled them in some wise way -- as they have known him all this time as well and he brings them wisdom as well as joy through being playful..

our children were initially surprised and not visibly upset by what they saw in terms of the break-in.  we were calm and aiming to demonstrate detachment from material things, focusing on being grateful for everything that we still have, especially each other.  when they returned from school, they disclosed what they were feeling throughout the day, and we were able to talk about the incident more at dinner time as a family.  they feel vulnerable yet not afraid.  we tried to help them understand the significance of trusting in God while taking necessary precautions to protect us from harm.  since the barbed wire can be cut, and the window lock easily pulled open, we consulted on how to feel safe while we're sleeping -- that is the issue..

for now, until the compound has an electrical current running through the barbed wire, we have decided to sleep with our living room curtains drawn closed, with a light on in the living room and the perimeter of the house, as well as with our bedroom doors locked.  the discussion ended with the kids realizing they have control by having a key which can let them out, versus the vulnerability that any backlash or additional crime could affect them directly while in a deep sleep..

throughout yesterday, my mind searched for answers and my heart felt divided by who i still trust and who i clearly don't trust..kids that have been here and whose families i don't know well, or at all.  i prayed and cried, mourning the kinship i felt in the neighborhood, the trust that was growing, the bonds of friendship that made life here joyful.  i felt like i now lived in a prison where no visitors may come to see me.  i felt very uncomfortable being outside of the compound not knowing who was our true friend.  overall i felt weak and tired.  my mind was tired.  and my heart felt torn -- how does it show forth love and kindness to all when there is the silence of mistrust that lingers now in my heart?

later in the morning i received a call from the chairperson of the Local Spiritual Assembly, inviting dash and i to come to his home for an important consultation.  he wouldn't disclose what it was about.  this gave me anxiety.  i couldn't imagine why it was so serious and that both dash and i needed to be present.  when we arrived later in the afternoon, we discovered from him and his wife that Aunt Mary (who owns this compound) had called them a few days ago, asking if they can talk with us about the continual complaints by the neighbors about us having the neighborhood kids visiting..

our experience in this house has now come full circle:  almost a year ago, soon after we moved in, we received a call from Aunt Mary yelling at me to move out because i was giving her a lot of stress from the complaints about the kids' visiting.  the one neighbor who complained to us after the Ayyam-i-Ha party complained to Aunt Mary and thus prompted her call to Mr. and Mrs. Asare.  then the break-in 3 days after her call prompted her to call Mrs. Asare yesterday morning basically saying, 'See, this is why we can't have the kids from the neighborhood visiting.  Let Pamela take her classes to where the kids live..'

..Mr. and Mrs. Asare offered spiritual counsel to achieve unity and harmony with our neighbors however we can.  we must consider unity as the most important goal in any of our endeavors.  it was a wonderful moment actually.  it was a clear sign to stop and make a change.  it was not a time for compromises.  there was going to be no dialogue with Aunt Mary to come to what we would consider a fair decision.

as we walked home from the Asare's, we agreed that we will continue honoring the gardener and guards' request that no one enter the compound this week.  it will be an indefinite period of time before we feel that we could resume activities in our home.  we wish that we could continue inviting those we trust to come for Devotions, dinner, tutoring, movie night, etc.. but we must be patient and forbearing with the circumstances.

i talked with the parents and kids who are the core group of friends that visit regularly.  at one of the family's homes, where 2 of the jr. youth and 4 of the regular kids were gathered, i could see in their faces how sad they were.  the father explained that they were now 'dull', meaning that they were without joyful energy today.  they understand that this incident of crime against us has resulted in the owner and neighbors being justified in their complaints and that for the time being, no one will be able to visit.. before i left, one of the jr. youth asked, 'Auntie Pamela, could we have the jr. youth group meet here?'  i was so touched by his sincere request and felt confirmed in my heart about the trust i feel for his family..

in contrast to Delft, there are a relatively small bunch of kids who have been associated with us for a long while now.  i can think of 2 handfuls of kids who used to come or who are new to coming over.  i still wonder which one may be the one who spoke to an adult about what we have in our home.. i still want to know if that child even knows they are connected with the crime.  i wonder whose small footprint is next to the adult's.. i heard that the boys who were there in the morning told the driver that a jr. youth who came over recently is known for doing 'bad things'.  this boy is not part of our core group of friends.  he was trusted by us because he's been attending Baha'i children's classes for many years and is now in a jr. youth group.  he is definitely a suspect in my mind because i remember him playing soccer last year with the men that Gramma Asare explained were the ones to blame for breaking into her home, assaulting the Baha'is and stealing from them..

it's hard to imagine that anyone we know would commit a crime against us, even if it was out of desperation for money.  but today i am still processing the fact that this crime is definitely connected with someone we have had in our home.. the more this sinks in, the more we find ourselves having to change the way we live, even if it's temporary while we feel so vulnerable.  essentially, for me, it means an internal struggle to trust wholeheartedly again while being wise.  my heart still feels and receives unconditional love for certain souls but i need time to repair the inner recesses of my heart which used to trust unconditionally.  this is the worst thing that was taken..

April 25, 2012

family vacation: france and italy

i am always the one in the family who initially resists taking a vacation.  as much as i really, really like the idea of traveling the world to discover and enjoy new experiences, i get stuck internally about spending a significant amount of money on ourselves knowing others are in need..  but after the trip is planned, i fully look forward to it as a great bounty which i intend to absorb with absolute presence and gratitude.  this trip was quite an extraordinary journey..
Nice by the promenade
we stayed in 2 areas --  Nice, France, and Vernazza, Italy -- and took day trips by train to enjoy other sites in the area.  it was the first time our family went somewhere solely for the purpose of sharing a holiday together (rather than a trip to the U.S. to visit family).
dyami and domani resting while taking a walk
spices: like humanity's beautiful diversity
despite chilly, and sometimes rainy, weather conditions, we joyfully layered our spring clothes the best we could and set out each day with eagerness to take in the sites, smells, tastes and delights of Italy and France.

we appreciated the first time walking through the farmer's market in Nice, purchasing bread, cheese, freshly made pesto and olives for sandwiches that we ate in one of the parks.  it was a perfect market, full of flowers, food, spices and homemade delicacies.  the markets of the world are like botanical gardens..you never want to leave and can always discover something new and beautiful there which has been nurtured by hand with a lot of care and love..
strawberries at the outdoor market in Nice

we found ourselves effortlessly meandering throughout 'Old Nice', strolling up and down narrow lanes full of shops and eateries.  this is where we ate the best gelato of the trip (our first scoop purchased before 10am one day!) at a shop called Fenocchio..this is the most amazing gelateria we have ever seen through our travels, with flavors as exotic as 'lavande' and as far out as 'popcorn'.  we experimented with more reliable flavors like 'chocolate with candied ginger' and 'nutella'.. :)
one morning in Nice we walked from the bed and breakfast to the promenade by the sea, all through 'Old Nice' and up the mountainside to the park area and waterfall at the top.  this is where we captured the fullest beauty of the Mediterranean Sea.  the different depths and shades of blue against the backdrop of coral-colored tiled roofs of the city made us continually gaze out over the railing throughout our ascent and descent of the mountainside.  one morning we set out, on foot, to walk to the next village, Ville Franche.  i love walking!  after living in ghana where the air is usually thick with humidity and heat, i cherished the fresh, cool air along the coast at this time of year.  most of the time we were able to see the sea and enjoy the time talking with each other.  after 2 hours, our feet were sore and our tummies were hungry!  when we saw the 'patisserie' (pastry shop) we were thankful we had arrived. :)
after 4 days of being in France, we took a 6 hour train ride to Cinque Terre and stayed in the small fishing village called Vernazza.  the train took us to the main town just before Vernazza.  when we inquired when the next train to Vernazza was coming, the woman behind the counter asked, 'Are you sure you are staying in Vernazza?  no one lives there anymore.  there was a mudslide and it was evacuated..'  we had a moment of shock, wondering if we were going to be without a place to stay!  the clerk let us use her phone to call the host of the bed and breakfast.  the host explained that her business was open and that Vernazza was undergoing redevelopment.  we arrived to witness the destruction that had devastated the town.  many construction efforts were being made on a daily basis during our stay.  when we walked down the stairs of the train station and enters the one road on which the town is based, we stopped and gazed silently at a huge billboard of photos that was created to display the catastrophic damage caused by the mudslide.

our stay in Vernazza, 6 months after its mudslide, filled our hearts with tenderness for the people there.  our first evening's dinner was up on the mountain by the castle.  we asked the owner about what happened when the flood came.  speaking mostly italiano, he kept explaining the calamity: no electricity, no water, very cold, everything lost.. as he emotionally recounted being woken in the middle of the night and how everybody was wet, cold, hungry, and with nothing left in their homes (his home was lower down the mountain), we felt their pain and difficulties.

Vernazza: view from balcony of bed and breakfast
 it was a moment in our children's lives they will remember forever.  after dinner, while playing the card game 'Hearts' on our bed, we discussed the wisdom of these tragedies of life.  the children began to realize that these great difficulties can bring people together and strengthen their character.. we pondered the inscrutable wisdom of God and discussed how blessings result from suffering..
we were told that 3 Americans living in Vernazza at that time created a foundation called Save Vernazza as a way of creating a fund to help rebuild the village.. at first our children felt they were missing out on the beauty that used to be in Vernazza.  they left feeling full of compassion and wanting to return one day to see how it will be rebuilt..

our stay in Italia was the best part of the trip!  we love the culture, the language, the land, the food..  our favorite activity was renting bicycles and riding together around the town of Lucca which is surrounded by a wall.  we visited Lucca 2 times, riding bikes both times.  the kids felt so free and content.  they have never been able to just ride a bicycle along a seemingly, never-ending road.  what a treat this was for all of us..

when we were in Santa Margarita we stopped at a park and played 'hide and seek' -- all 5 of us!  it was so much fun hiding and sometimes chasing our kids to tag them before they got to the beginning spot.  in another part of that park, which was by the beautiful coastline, the boys played soccer while Ayana and i rested and chatted.  from there we road a bus down a peninsula to Portofino and absorbed more of the stunning beauty of the Mediterranean Sea and mountainside scenery.

hangin out while boys play soccer

where we played hide-n-seek
view from bus to Portofino
an unexpected delight on our excursions in Italy was Pisa.. it was part of our itinerary so that we could see the Leaning Tower.  we didn't know it would be a gem of a small city, reminding Dash and i of Florence!  we stopped and enjoyed gelato at a cafe bar and chocolate shop (all 3 delicacies in one place!).  the Tower was amazing to see.  we had read the history of it taking such a long and difficult time to be built and thought it was incredible how old it was (almost 1000 years old)..

..the moments that passed throughout those 9 days is hard to capture.  the essence of traveling together as a family is sharing an experience together, no matter what comes to pass.  this trip was abundant with joy, gratitude, and beauty.  we constantly reminded each other of life's bounties and favors from God, aware that we have a tremendous duty to return to our life with energy to serve Him through serving humanity -- i.e., concentrating all the thoughts in our heart on love and peace; refraining from backbiting and gossip; having the utmost integrity, respect and purity in our conduct, our dress, our innermost intentions and interactions with others; choosing always to be truthful and trustworthiness..

time away from home, enjoying the benefits of this life are usually the source of rest and rejuvenation..in our family, this time also serves as the 'pause that refreshes' our spirits, providing us a moment to reflect and invigorate our spiritual capacity 'to dedicate the precious days of our lives to the betterment of the world..' (Baha'u'llah)

the only main street in Vernazza..all the businesses were destroyed this past Oct. in the mudslide

an electric car being refueled in a parking spot

at a tiny restaurant on the top of the mountain in Vernazza
eating gelato at Fenocchio's
waiting for a train at one of the stations

a 'nonna' who we kept seeing at the train station; she lived next to the b&b! she came out to greet us on our last night
holding Domani's arm in Monterosso

walking off one of the narrow lanes in Cinque Terre



desserts we did NOT eat but thought were beautiful
walking through Ville Franche
playing soccer in Santa Margarita

snow-capped Alps in the distance while riding in the train
walking through Nice

one of my favorite photos; i love the italian architecture of homes

just looking :)
luscious fresh food at the market in Nice

overlooking Nice
i'm always taking a moment to stretch

April 20, 2012

africa. gardening. joy.

today i sat under a tree in the shade of my neighbor's home on a little stool while we filled cardboard egg cartons with soil and sorted seeds into them for the keyhole garden.  it was one of those moments that i felt my soul very present.  everyone was full of joy, chatting in twi and giggling with pure-hearted radiance.  each person was doing something to participate, learn and help.  we ripped open the bag of soil that was collected by some of the jr. youth in a nearby neighborhood and sprinkled it into the egg-hole cups.  i enjoyed picking out parts of black, plastic bags from a big bag of soil.  children came and gathered around.  chickens roamed and the air was warm.  one person wrote down what seeds were in what carton and in what order by row; others found nails to secure the paper onto the carton.  i went and bought a tomato, poked into it to collect seeds and they squirted out onto my skirt.  i loved being messy and not caring..

we worked together for about an hour before walking across the dirt road to the other neighbor's yard to mix manure, chicken fertilizer and soil together and spread it throughout the garden.  the boys went to ask my gardener for more tools so they could be more productive.  i tied more twine around the inner circle for compost to secure it better.  i tucked in small rocks into the wall to prevent erosion of the soil when the heavy rains come (and they do come!).

when we were nearly finished, Ayana called on my cell, explaining that she was waiting outside our home with our driver -- time passed by so quickly that i didn't realize i was late for her coming home from school.  i become so absorbed in the work of gardening that time passes by quickly without me realizing it.  gardening in ghana, with my neighbors and the kids, surpasses any gardening experience on my own in America.  we are building a community garden.  we are growing food.  it is their garden.  this is what brings me joy. :)

April 19, 2012

silence about race..will wreak havoc

CNN recently featured an article about a study they did on race in America.  the results show that african-american children grow up talking about the reality of race as a factor in their lives.  as children they have hope for racial harmony but by the time they are youth they are jaded with the reality of prejudice against them.  the results also show that white children do not grow up talking about race.  their parents do not discuss either the goal of race unity or the struggles that face people who are not white.

this phenomenon of white children growing up not talking about race, racism, or prejudice in the world is very interesting to me.  i wonder how white parents cannot openly put the subject on the table and consciously acknowledge that it is essential to discuss SOMETHING about race..anything!  at least let the dialogue begin and say that there still is inequality based on race, or that America's achievements were made because of slavery...anything!

yet there is silence..it becomes a 'white elephant' in the room.  the silence breeds prejudice because ignorance and misunderstanding cannot be banished except through a process of developing unity through consultation (a Baha'i method of putting the virtues into practice when trying to make a decision, come to an agreement, or create understanding).  too much silence between opposing groups over a long period of time usually results in revolutions and revolts..all which can be prevented through constructive tools like consultation, listening, open hearts, and willingness to change one's perceptions.  this is when phrases like 'white privilege' fade away and 'social justice' spreads throughout our societies' institutions..

right now, at this moment in America's history, the majority of white families are still far-removed from the fact that it is their responsibility to talk about the history, the current issues of prejudice and injustice that exist for people of color.  most really don't get this.  and most are not able to because when the subject is brought up by people like me -- who want them to own 'white privilege' without guilt or whatever deeply hidden fears they have concealed -- they shut down, they become defensive, they uphold that they like everyone regardless of their skin color, they don't want to hear statistics of how disproportionate and disadvantaged opportunities still are for black people's lives, or facts and stories of the prejudice that black people face on a daily basis.  and they will be the first ones to ask 'why is this happening?' when riots and rebellion replace the silence..

so the racial divide continues..
"No less serious is the stress and strain imposed on the fabric of American society through the fundamental and persistent neglect, by the governed and governors alike, of the supreme, the inescapable and urgent duty -- so repeatedly and graphically represented and stressed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His arraignment of the basic weaknesses in the social fabric of the nation -- of remedying, while there is yet time, through a revolutionary change in the concept and attitude of the average white American toward his Negro fellow citizen, a situation which, if allowed to drift, will, in the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, cause the streets of American cities to run with blood, aggravating thereby the havoc which the fearful weapons of destruction, raining from the air, and amassed by a ruthless, a vigilant, a powerful and inveterate enemy, will wreak upon those same cities."

    (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 126)

April 18, 2012

inspired by Machine Gun Preacher

while sitting in the back of a KLM airplane on our way back to ghana after a week-long holiday with our children in France and Italy, my husband and i searched the list of movies to watch to pass the time.  we wanted to watch one that we wouldn't mind seeing on a tiny screen while having to press the earphones against our ears to offset the sound of the plane's engines.  we quickly agreed on Machine Gun Preacher.  we soon found ourselves wrapped up in the atrocities of the Ugandan/South Sudan war, our thoughts no longer lingering on the wonderful, joyful moments spent on holiday with our children..

this film is very raw and gripping.  it stirs up anger and disgust as well as incredible inspiration to see how this one man, Sam Childers, lived his life in a most sinful way and then dedicated himself to maintaining an orphanage in that region of conflict.  he is not an example to me or any kind of hero, yet his determination to put the lives of those children first is what i appreciate.  the film depicts his weaknesses and flaws, as well as how challenging it was for his family while he followed his passion to build the orphanage at by any means necessary (now i'm thinking of Malcolm X :)).

this film strengthened our resolve to extend our life of Baha'i service -- which is based on the spiritual upliftment of the human family through the principles revealed by Baha'u'llah -- to encompass building a long-lasting, sustainable 'structure' -- a physical institution of one form or another that represents and contributes to the spiritual foundation of any community..

for years we have longed to build something:  a school, a sports center, a community center, a community garden, and an orphanage.  these are basic 'structures' -- but we feel they will only be dynamic and sustainable if they are infused with and based on the spiritual principles of equity, freedom of all forms of prejudice, and a high moral standard of conduct.  for us, these 'structures' must serve a greater purpose, providing a foundation for a spiritual civilization.

as Baha'is, we are striving to live a life of nobility, justice and universal brotherhood -- principles which transcend all current standards of charity and service.  we want to build something that exemplifies a standard of excellence for others to follow, something which enables everyone in a community to feel touched by the highest ideals of nobility, honor, dignity, purity and holiness.  it would welcome all and serve as a refuge, an opportunity, and a place which offers possibilities for a glorious future of high-minded, service-oriented, spiritually enlightened, and excellence-seeking souls..

i have always struggled to undertake anything big or visionary.  i have allowed all of the possible obstacles -- money, inexperience, lack of education, location, my age -- to prevent me from taking steps toward accomplishing significant goals (like a Master's degree).  but at a deeper level i realize it's because i haven't had the confidence to believe in myself.  this is still a struggle for me in many ways.  but despite all of my excuses, inabilities and lack of confidence, this film actually encouraged me to feel able to accomplish this goal of finally establishing a 'structure'.  i think what makes this feeling possible is that my husband has the same exact goal.  he and i working together gives me a sense of confidence about being able to accomplish something big (though these years of raising children is pretty awesome in and of itself!)..

whether the film is accurate or exaggerated, the character in the film inspired us.. he is far from perfect yet he chose to sacrifice his life for others -- he continued following his heart because it was the right thing to do.  he wasn't defeated by his own faults and weaknesses.  he wasn't discouraged by others' lack of support.  he had no thought of himself in those moments of making decisions to fight for the human rights of these children of war..

April 02, 2012

Professor Ruha Benjamin speaks at rally for JUSTICE: TRAYVON MARTIN

Professor Ruha Benjamin speaks about racism from the heart using statistics and stories that convey the truth in a most powerful, touching way.  it's raw and deep:


it's vital to lay aside all aspects of one's ego and currently held views in order to be a receptacle for the message to touch your heart..

additional links on this subject:
racial profiling discussions
london riots