March 24, 2013

'we need a change of heart'

~ artwork by Carey Corea ~
"We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions."
 ~ the Baha'i Writings

i find my heart reflecting a lot about the environments in which people live -- are they are surrounded by dirt roads and or concrete jungles, flowers or graffiti, a joyful family or an abusive family?  i wonder how many noble and high-minded people come from environments which are harsh, bleak, depressing or violent.  i wonder how a beautiful, loving, supportive and nurturing environment cannot prevent someone from committing a crime.  i wonder how a child who is surrounded by guns, gangs and hopelessness still makes a positive effect on his environment.  i wonder how men of all classes and cultures continue to rape women knowing that humanity's collective environment now finally disapproves of this barbaric and atrocious sin.

my reflections continue to saturate my heart in ways that i wonder how i am molding my environment.  my heart is easily affected by the pain of this life, most of which is the result of injustice in one form or another.  my heart is also easily touched by the beauty and splendor of this world, all of which is a sign of God in one form or another..

"..I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.."

i am struggling to not let the darkness of this world linger in my heart or make it heavy with sadness.  i cannot stop thinking of women and girls being raped, children becoming soldiers, soldiers destroying the peace of a village, weapons of war being sold on the black market, traffickers committing unthinkable beastly acts, and hard-working humble souls being forced to work in conditions that we label 'modern day slavery'.

i am tired of not being able to find clean, decent music videos, or a tv program that isn't full of promiscuity, profanity, vulgarity and licentious violence.  i am tired of not being able to find a modern novel for youth without sexualitiy and perversions of the human spirit.   i am tired of trying to filter out all that robs my children of their innocence, nobility and purity. 

i am feeling bombarded and overwhelmed by superficiality, extravagance, decadence, lawlessness, corruption, disbelief, the chill of irreligion, unbridled materialism -- some of the rampant evils described by Shoghi Effendi that are biting into the fabric of society in ways that dampen my enthusiasm and sometimes extinguish my radiance.

i continually turn to the Baha'i writings for wisdom, encouragement and inspiration as i strive to mold my heart with all that is godly and protect it of all that is worldly:
"a world, in sum, 'enervated by a rampant and brutal materialism; disintegrating through the corrosive influence of moral and spiritual decadence'...  In 1941 Shoghi Effendi castigated the prevalent trends of society in no uncertain terms: "the spread of lawlessness, of drunkenness, of gambling, and of crime; the inordinate love of pleasure, of riches, and other earthly vanities; the laxity in morals, revealing itself in the irresponsible attitude towards marriage, in the weakening of parental control, in the rising tide of divorce, in the deterioration in the standard of literature and of the press, and in the advocacy of theories that are the very negation of purity, of morality and chastity -- these evidences of moral decadence, invading both the East and the West, permeating every stratum of society, and instilling their poison in its members of both sexes, young and old alike, blacken still further the scroll upon which are inscribed the manifold transgressions of an unrepentant humanity."   (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, p. 178)
"Parallel with this, and pervading all departments of life -- an evil which the nation, and indeed all those within the capitalist system, though to a lesser degree, share with that state and its satellites regarded as the sworn enemies of that system -- is the crass materialism, which lays excessive and ever-increasing emphasis on material well-being, forgetful of those things of the spirit on which alone a sure and stable foundation can be laid for human society."    (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, p. 179)
if my 'inner life' -- my heart -- is not directed upwards toward the teachings of God and purposefully reflecting its qualities and principles, it can easily become too entangled with the world, forgetful of its Maker.    as my innermost thoughts are having an influence on the world around me, i find myself in a crucible of 'mutual reactions' that are combating the negative influences of the environment from which i cannot escape.

i see my little world like an organic fortress which breathes life in and out through its walls.  there is a flow of energy in and out -- sometimes it's negative energy that detracts from the optimal environment i'm striving to create.  when i am not patient with someone's fault or failure, or if i am being critical instead of understanding, i am sending out negative vibes to the environment around me.  each day i am striving to be little closer to the divine standard while managing all of the forces around me and within me.  my state of spiritual consciousness must be vigilant or else it's too easy to slip into negativity, lethargy or complacency.

as my heart navigates itself through this life from day to day, i continue striving to protect it from the outside world, thereby molding my environment the best i can to one that is as far removed from the dangers of materialism, immorality and ungodliness as possible.  at the same time, i am constantly holding my heart and thoughts accountable to what i allow in, to what i allow them to be occupied with in this world.  since we are organic with the world, i'm trying everyday to make choices which enable both myself and the environment around me to be healthy, or to make progress, or to achieve excellence in all things and be supported by all the positive forces and energy that allows an organism to thrive..

"No movement in the world directs its attention upon both these aspects of human life and has full measures for their improvement, save the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.  And this is its distinctive feature.  If we desire therefore the good of the world we should strive to spread those teachings and also practice them in our own life. Through them will the human heart be changed, and also our social environment provides the atmosphere in which we can grow spiritually and reflect in full the light of God shining through the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh.

"..We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped if human salvation is to be secured."

"One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh."

    ~ Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration

March 23, 2013

my Ghanaian neighbors ~ photo display

"Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor and look upon him with a bright and friendly face."
~ Baha'u'llah

when i am hanging out with my neighbors i feel great joy in my heart.  they are hard-working humble souls who consciously rely upon God for everything.. they have very little material possessions to distract their hearts from their Creator.  i love being around them because i feel the Beauty of God in their hearts, their eyes and their smiles.

here are a few photos depicting the life and environment in which my friends live..

almost finished eating banku with okro/fish stew

a married couple celebrating the naming of their baby

the joy of children

washed dishes laid upside down; mattress left outside during the daytime

making a house out of a box
Joshua inside his house  :)

pile of wood to use for making a fire

fish stew with gari

a keyhole garden created by the kids

making dinner

cooking over a charcoal fire

grinding pepper

roasted grains to be grounded for the baby's porridge

my friend, Ama

March 22, 2013

'women remain the beasts of burden'

went to a big market this morning where i saw many young women carrying heavy loads on their heads, oftentimes with worn out flip flops or uncomfortable sandals.. with my eyes, local greetings and smile, i offered my heart's love and respect for their hard work, bringing smiles to their once hardened faces.. with awe i sat down, watching them pass by, and thought of how incalculably hard their lives must be:

"In developing countries, but, of course, not in these countries alone, women remain the beasts of burden. It is they who must bear the children, grow the food, care for the home, travel to the market, obtain the fuel, carry the water, and then serve their men. This hugely unjust expectation of the female population also denies them the right of participating at the decision-making level and so in promoting actively the cause of human rights in their locality, for they have neither the time nor the energy. What we must attempt is a conversion of this source of inequality into a spring of positive energy. One way of approaching this is to recognize the rootedness of women in the basic survival processes of society and to channel such experience into the development of rural, and urban, societies. This implies female participation at all levels of development, whether it be in the home, at work, in administration, or in leisure. Moreover, if the benefits of such knowledge are to be most effectively diffused throughout society, then the appropriate authorities would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, not just as a priority over the education of men, but as a priority among the general concerns of their domestic policy."

(Baha'i International Community, 1990 Feb 09, Right to Development)

March 19, 2013

parenting..a journey of learning

"We must strive with energies of heart, soul and mind to develop and manifest the perfections and virtues latent within the realities of the phenomenal world, for the human reality may be compared to a seed. If we sow the seed, a mighty tree appears from it. The virtues of the seed are revealed in the tree; it puts forth branches, leaves, blossoms, and produces fruits. All these virtues were hidden and potential in the seed. Through the blessing and bounty of cultivation these virtues became apparent. Similarly the merciful God our creator has deposited within human realities certain virtues latent and potential. Through education and culture, these virtues deposited by the loving God will become apparent in the human reality even as the unfoldment of the tree from within the germinating seed."

parenting.  it's a loaded word.  it becomes part of our consciousness the moment we discover a new life is growing within our womb, and then enters an organic journey of continual stages of evolution until we leave this world.

when i reflect on the first sentence of the quote above, i feel as if there is not a moment in a parent's life to relax in the ways of helping their children grow.  striving 'with energies of heart, soul and mind to develop and manifest the perfections and virtues latent with the realities of the phenomenal world' requires endless, tireless, conscious, wholehearted exertions.  it implies drawing upon one's inner powers of sacrifice, wisdom and embodying the necessary virtues and perfections oneself to set an example for the child. parenting, then, from a Baha'i perspective, requires an all-encompassing, never-ending, ever-evolving investment of effort and focused attention toward being a most loving, wise and supportive pillar for a child's life.
"For mothers are the first educators, the first mentors; and truly it is the mothers who determine the happiness, the future greatness, the courteous ways and learning and judgement, the understanding and the faith of their little ones."

 ~ Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 126
Domani (8 yrs), Dyami (11 yrs) and Ayana (13 yrs)
for me, parenting has been one never-ending learning experience full of ups and downs, trials and victories, joy and pain.  ultimately it is the crucible for my own spiritual development as i immerse myself in the rigors of raising 3 souls in the attributes of selflessness, the love of God and humble servitude.  our children are in the long process of learning about these qualities so that as adults they can actually embody them..

my husband and i became parents in 1998 (before digital cameras and Facebook).  i was 30 years old and we lived in America.  although we felt like we didn't fit into the typical American mold of what people do and how they live, we found ourselves embracing the typical middle-class ideas of how to prepare for becoming parents:  we bought a nice wooden crib and set up a little room for 'the baby'.  it was an idea that we didn't give much thought about except that it would be the place where the baby would sleep and be nursed.

looking back it seems very odd to us, almost cruel and strange, that a helpless baby just brought into this world would be kept alone in a room by herself for the entire night.  nonetheless, this is what we agreed upon at that time:  nurse her to sleep, put her down in the crib, go back to the room to nurse when she woke up crying, put her down again.. this didn't last too long before she and i started nursing lying down on the floor on some blankets and me leaving her to go back to bed with my husband.  sometimes i'd fall asleep on the floor with her for the rest of the night. eventually we brought her into our bed and nursed her to sleep until the age of 2.  this is one of many examples along our journey whereby we came into parenting ignorant and soon discovered for ourselves what resonated with our souls, rather than society's general expectations and marketing schemes for becoming a parent.

a spiritual way of life was instantly woven and knit into our children's discovery of this world.  those early years were days and nights of singing and chanting prayers to babies, teaching them the language of prayer, creating a Montessori learning environment, training them in good manners and courteous ways, and having as much joy in our home as possible.  for as sweet and beautiful as it was, it was full of difficulties and learning through painful moments. 

life took on the familiar rhythm of facing a crisis; needing (and learning how) to consult about how to resolve it with a unified decision; implementing the decision through consistent and continual effort in training the child's (or our own) behavior; and then easing through the days with a new pattern of learned behavior until facing another crisis.  i had to look at myself most of the time before trying to correct my child's behavior.  was i patient?  could i have been paying closer attention?  am i not providing what s/he needs emotionally?  these types of questions are the basis from which we have grown into parents who are consciously striving to grow spiritually, demanding better conduct and a purified character to better guide, protect, care for and love these children who are dependent on us, just as we are dependent on God for His loving-kindness and protection from ourselves.

as the years have progressed, new rhythms and patterns of our daily life as a family have evolved.  we learned from the Montessori philosophy how there are cycles of development in a child's life, from one stage to the next.  with this understanding we were able to understand some of the changes that were occurring in their psyche from one stage to the next.  we have continued to pray, sing, drum and recite together in the evenings as part of our daily routine, while a few years ago my husband introduced a special time together that we call 'family friday night'.  these activities are woven into a Baha'i way of life.  now that 2 of our children are in the junior youth stage of development, we are drawing upon Baha'i resources and materials to understand how to best nurture their capacity for becoming youth who are distinguished as leaders in both moral and academic excellence.

with 3 children at different stages of development, our family is a bundle of learning through mistakes and being reminded that we are souls on a spiritual journey called life.  the greatest lessons have come from backbiting, lying, selfishness, disrespect and an unkindly tongue.  as they stumble and sometimes fall, we are there to provide divine counsel and moral encouragement.  we are there to
listen and forgive.  we are there, as parents, to walk the path of spiritual growth with them..

the view of being a mother is of such a high station that i felt like i was entering a most significant stage in my life.  we agreed that what worked for us was me not working outside of the home while our children were young.  through countless consultations, our intentions remained focused on conducting ourselves in as many of the perfections of God as we could, including how we spoke, what we spoke about, what we chose to do with our time, what the child was exposed to, what was on the television, etc.  we knew we were responsible to God to strive to be the best parents we can be to prepare this new soul's life for its destiny as a servant of God.  for me this meant the beginning of disciplining myself while choosing how i spent my time, who i spent it with, the manner in which i spoke, etc.  as soon as our first child was born i entered the realm of selflessness to a degree that forced me to grow up spiritually in many ways.

as a couple, my husband and i are always a team; we are one.  there is no division between us in their eyes.  if we have to consult about an issue, we remove ourselves and talk about it until we have an agreement.  the decision may be wrong, but we are in agreement so there is unity.  without unity there is no light, no energy, no power for the family unit to thrive on.  the Baha'i way is that unity is right, not our opinion.  it is better to be wrong about something and agreed, than to argue about what we think is right and create estrangement and disunity.  this method of consultation in Baha'i family life requires humility.  it requires sacrifice and detachment, qualities that demand subduing one's ego.

less then 2 years after our first child was born, the Universal House of Justice -- the international governing body of the Baha'is of the world -- issued a Message addressing the vital concerns regarding children throughout the world.  this Message spoke to my heart like a magnetic field, attracting every part of my heart toward the loftiest standards by which our children need to be raised:
“…there is a pressing challenge to be faced: Our children need to be nurtured spiritually and to be integrated into the life of the Cause. They should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate. Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially. Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty. This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere. The social dislocation of children in our time is a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition- it cuts across them all. It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realization should spur us all to urgent and sustained effort in the interests of children and the future.

"..Spiritual education of children and junior youth are of paramount importance to the further progress of the community. It is therefore imperative that this deficiency be remedied. Institutes must be certain to include in their programmes the training of teachers of children’s classes, who can make their services available to local communities. But although providing spiritual and academic education for children is essential, this represents only a part of what must go into developing their characters and shaping their personalities. The necessity exists, too, for individuals and the institutions at all levels, which is to say the community as a whole, to show a proper attitude towards children and to take a general interest in their welfare. Such an attitude should be far removed from that of a rapidly declining order.

"Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behaviour toward them; these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Baha’i standards, to study and teach the Cause in ways that are suited to their circumstances.”

            ~ The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 157, 2000, p. 8
Baha'is use the analogy of a seed sprouting and being nurtured until it grows into a strong tree to describe the spiritual reality of a soul as it grows in this life.  the child is like the young plant in dire need of care and gentle affection, tenderness and love, until it begins it's period of youth when it is receives a different degree of care.  my husband and i responded to this Message by seeing ourselves as the signs of God for our child -- so if we were just and kind, they would learn that God is just and kind.  this is true for all of the virtues of God, and this is how we spoke to the children about everything, using the language of virtues to identify any circumstance.  instead of saying to them, 'Say thank you' we asked them, 'How do you show your appreciation?'  instead of saying something negative like, 'That's wrong' we would offer something like, 'What virtue are you forgetting to practice?'

i am far from the high standard of being a spiritual parent who is always patient, calm, wise and compassionate.  i continue to make many mistakes, every day.  when i became a mother i was full of spiritual immaturity and felt overwhelmed and oftentimes inadequate.  yet through prayer and consultation, my husband and i have worked together to live by one of the many counsels of Baha'u'llah:
"The most vital duty in this day is to purify your characters, to correct your manners, and improve your conduct."
as we strive to overcome our faults and shortcomings as parents, we continue painting a canvas of virtues for them to see in themselves.  we encourage them to tap into their God-given potential and use it to develop as spiritual human beings who love God and desire to serve the world of humanity rather them merely themselves.  the journey of learning is far from over.. as parenting continues each and every day..

March 14, 2013

fasting ~ a story of Abdu'l-Baha

artwork by Mina Hatami
anyone who has ever fasted reaches a point at which the body and/or mind may reach a point of exhaustion.  we push ourselves to undertake our usual tasks and work of the day while facing heat or other strenuous circumstances.  yet out of our love for God we carry on with the hope that we are truly observing the spiritual fast, i.e., the cleansing of the spirit -- moments throughout the days that are spent communing with God and reflecting on what needs weeding out from the depths of our hearts.  we pray that our fast is acceptable in the sight of God and that we can fully observe it in spirit as well.

 the following story of Abdu'l-Baha demonstrates how taxing it was for Him at one point while He was fasting.  this story serves as the highest expressions of fortitude, steadfastness, detachment, love, servitude, devotion and wisdom while fasting:

The resident believers used to say that the phrase “effulgences of the Prison” was a term which had been revealed by the Tongue of Glory [Bahá’u’lláh] to characterize the hardships and tribulations associated with life in Akka; it had endured among the friends through word of mouth.
At the beginning these hardships were numerous, but many of them disappeared little by little, mainly because of the changes to the environment. Others still persisted. The various deadly epidemics, which during the time of Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment in the barracks had annihilated a large number of the inhabitants, had disappeared leaving no trace, as had the foul-smelling fumes which had caused and spread infectious diseases.
Still, one of those “effulgences of the Prison” which the passing of time and change in the climate had failed to overcome was the assault of the fleas, mosquitoes, flies and ants, which confirmed the expression, ‘Blessed the one who is bitten by the insects of Akka‘. Another was the thirty-day fast, which according to the command of Bahá’u’lláh was to be observed until the end of the period of incarceration to commemorate the Islamic holy month. Every sincere and devoted believer was expected to observe it gladly and of his own free will.
This thirty-day fast, which according to the Islamic calendar is observed in the month of Ramadan, continued to be kept until the end of the period of imprisonment in 1909 A.D. For the pilgrims and resident believers, who led relatively comfortable and peaceful lives, observing the thirty-day fast was not a difficult undertaking. But for the blessed person of the Centre of the Covenant, whose life was filled with numerous occupations and hardships, it can be imagined how arduous and exhausting such an observance was. This was especially true when in the month of Ramadan the Muslims of Akká, including all the government officials, switched their nights and days and conveniently slept during the daytime, while at night, after breaking the fast and observing the obligatory prayers, they crowded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s biruni [living room] to while away the night and disturb the Master until dawn.
But that spiritual and heavenly Being had to begin His many tasks before the rising of the sun, as has been described in previous chapters. And so in the month of Ramadan no comfort was possible for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; at times even the opportunity to partake of the meals did not present itself, and therefore His fast began without any breakfast and ended without any dinner. Thus the “effulgences of the Most Great Prison” sapped His strength and weakened His body. Many times during these days of fasting I saw the Master in such a state of exhaustion that I was deeply shaken.
On one such day He summoned me to His presence in the biruni area. As He spoke, signs of melancholy and weariness were apparent in His voice. He slowly paced the floor and then began to climb the stairs with difficulty. The symptoms of fatigue gave way to expressions of displeasure and weariness: “I don’t feel well. Yesterday I did not eat any breakfast and when the time came to break the fast I had no appetite. Now I need a bit of rest.” As He spoke, His face was so ashen that I became alarmed for His Well-being. So I boldly exclaimed, “It is better for the Master to break the fast."
"No, it is not proper,” was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s reply.
I persisted. “With the way the Master feels, fasting itself is not proper either."
"It is not important, I will rest awhile” responded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
"The believers cannot endure to see the Master in such a state of physical weakness and exhaustion,” I remained unyielding.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave an effective and moving explanation in the hope of convincing me to relent. It did not work. In fact, it increased my ardour, and I continued to try to persuade Him to break the fast. As He would not yield, my words became mixed with tears and lamentations. But He would not let up.
Suddenly I realized that I had found a new quality in myself which did not allow me to give in, despite all the reasons that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had offered. And so, stubbornly holding my ground, I told myself, “Regardless of what may come of this, I will continue to beg, plead and implore until I achieve my purpose, for I can no longer behold the Beloved of the world in such a condition."
While begging and supplicating, strange thoughts crowded my mind. It was as if I wished to discover in what light my servitude and devotion to that Threshold was regarded in the sight of God. As such, I would consider success in this to be a good omen. And so from the very depths of my heart I entreated the Most Holy Shrine for assistance.
Spontaneously these words flowed from my lips, “So may I make a suggestion?"
"What do you want me to do?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied. Tears streaming from my eyes, I begged Him, “Come and for this once break your fast, to bring happiness to the heart of a sinful servant of Bahá’u’lláh."
God be praised, I know not where those words came from, but they brought such joy to the heart of that quintessence of kindness and love that quite loudly He exclaimed, “Of course, of course, of course."
Immediately He called for Nasir and told him, “Put some water in the pot and boil it and make a cup of tea for me.” And then He put His blessed hand on my shoulder and said,” Are you pleased with me now? If you wish, you can go back to your tasks now and I will drink the tea and pray for you." Such feelings of joy and ecstasy flooded my being at that moment that I was rendered incapable of a reasonable response.
Looking at me, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked, “Do you want to be present to see with your own eyes when I break my fast? Very well, come and sit down.” He then withdrew to His small office, took up the pen and began to write, as I watched. Aqa Rida now came into the presence of the Master for some particular purpose. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked, “Today I do not feel well and in response to the request of one of the loved ones of God I want to break my fast."
As Aqa Rida left the room, the teapot with a single glass and a bowl of sugar were brought in. Addressing me, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, Jinab-i-Khan, you have performed a praiseworthy service. May God bless you. If I had not broken the fast now; I would surely have fallen ill and would have been forced to break the fast.” And with every sip of the tea, He bestowed on me other kind and loving words. After that He arose and said, “Now that I feel better, I will go after my work and will continue to pray for you."
And then He started down the stairs. In the biruni reception room there was no one except the late Aqa Siyyid Ahmad-i-Afnan (the same Afnan upon whom the rank of martyr was bestowed posthumously). Addressing him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “Jinab-i-Afnan, today I was not feeling well and intended to rest, but at the request of a beloved friend I have broken my fast. I am happy to have done so, for otherwise I would have fallen ill. But now I feel well and can continue the work of the Cause.” Having said this, He walked out of the room.
Jinab-i-Afnan, his eyes shining with the light of pure joy and delight, said, “God Almighty, who was that ‘beloved friend‘, so that I can sacrifice my life for him?” And I, drunk with manifest victory, exclaimed, “It was I, it was I".   In brief, rather than any attempt at sacrifice of life, and filled with heavenly joy, we embraced each other as our spirits soared. As we did so, I placed in the storehouse of my memory the fact that the thirty-day fast truly was an “effulgence of the Most Great Prison”.
(Dr. Youness Afroukhteh, Memories of Nine Years In Akká)

March 11, 2013

Accra ~ not the jewel of West Africa

i think most people who have never lived in Ghana have the wrong view of what it is like.  yes, it is basically a peaceful land without obvious tensions amongst different peoples.  yes, the Chinese are here building new highways and roads; there is a variety of restaurants and shops scattered all throughout the city, and a second 'mall' has opened.  and yes, it has successfully held democratic elections since its independence.  but it is definitely not a place i would call a jewel, nor a world-class destination..

we live in Accra.  we have recently seen it described online as 'the Jewel of West Africa 'and becoming a 'world class destination' -- a great place to spend one's money for a holiday vacation.  to anyone i know, whether living in poverty, of the working class, or an ex-pat from another country who lives in a big house, Ghana is 'collapsing', 'falling apart' and compared to 'what it was like living here in the 1940's..'  perhaps the difference is actually living here, rather than being a visitor for a short time who is surrounded by the luxuries of the hotel and tour bus..

i cannot speak for what it's like in any area outside of Accra, nor can i speak for the traveler who stays at a posh hotel with the pool and spa, or the wealthy people and high government officials who navigate through life here at a level far beyond reality to the rest of us.  what the rest of us are experiencing living here is a common experience:  the country is not functioning well at all.

despite all the hype about discovering oil and selling it to foreign nations, the nation has progressively gotten worse over the past several years.  fuel (for generators), electricity and water are all very scarce.  traffic is terrible -- there is no public transportation system provided for those without cars.  jobs are very difficult to find.  unemployment is high.  almost everyone in the middle-class struggles to send their children to a simple private school because of the exorbitant rates, while public schools are renowned for being ill-equipped to effectively provide an education to the masses who have no alternative.  the masses of youth who cannot afford to attend secondary schools (which are not free) end up without any chance of receiving a GED and are left behind this ever-evolving world of exclusivity for the privileged.

many people who have pipes going into their homes have water flowing only once a week.  all classes of people pay to have a water company to come and fill up a huge tank or two to supply water to the home and/or neighborhood.  most of the time the company brings bore water instead of the filtered water that is processed throughout the city pipes.  they will charge you the same amount of money but you will see a discoloration and have a slight odor and salty taste to the water. 

it's been 35 hours since the electricity in our neighborhood went out.  we are the only house that has a generator.  in the past 2 months, the usual amount of time for 'lights out' averages 10-12 hours.  it has been rotating between nights and days.  this is a common phenomenon but it is getting more frequent and unreliable (despite how we prepay for electricity).  as thankful and grateful as i am that we actually have a generator and enough fuel to keep it going, i cannot separate myself from others and accept this extreme condition for the masses.  even if they don't have electricity in their home, they will be able to see at night from street lights and walk to the corner shop to watch a tv program together; they will be able to charge their phone at someone else's house and drink cold water from the shop..

yesterday when i went to visit my neighbor -- who lives in a wooden shack that sits on cement blocks and who has no electricity or running water -- i was intrigued to hear her start talking about how the government doesn't care about its people.  she knows that greed and corruption of money are 2 reasons why systems break down.  she knows that after 50 years after independence, the country could have progressed more than it has.  she realizes that pipes and wires that were set up a long time ago require maintenance and replacement.  but more than anything, she trusts and believes wholeheartedly that those people who are irresponsible and selfish will reap what they sow.  i listened and shared that commonly held feeling by Ghanaians that it is a shame how so much of the wealth of this nation is being consumed by the selfish desires of a small minority of people.

in addition to these basic systems falling apart, there are a few more things about living in Accra vs. passing through as a tourist which detract from its description as a 'jewel'.  it does not have a beautiful downtown area to walk through, or any of the attractive features of cities like Kampala, Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.  there is not one public park to have a picnic or kick the soccer ball on a grassy field.  the beaches of Accra are polluted, the roads are falling apart and very congested most of the time, and the food and housing are extremely expensive compared to most other African cities.  of all the families we have met from the kids' school, many have chosen to leave, while others are discontent and feel there is nothing to do as a family except stay at home or go visit another family (unless you are willing and able to spend a lot of money to go to a sports center or swim at a hotel, etc.)..

for as long as i live here, i am choosing to appreciate what i do enjoy and appreciate about Accra.  i like buying local food for a small amount of money, being able to get a drum custom made from the craft market, and enjoying some good music.  i appreciate meeting many goodhearted, God-loving souls and an abundance of bright-eyed, smiling children who appreciate you being friendly to them.  it's a short list but it's essential to be content wherever we live, no matter the circumstances or how far it is from being like a precious jewel.  this is how i am striving to live here in Accra..

March 04, 2013

Ghanaian rap

when i listened to these guys and girls rapping, it brought me back to the 1980's in America when rappers really rapped, tellin' a story and barely, if at all, having a chorus.

i love how rap can be music that serves as a ladder for the soul.  the vibe of this rap is so cool that i want to capture that energy, spread it around the world, lift youth up and stir up a spiritual revolution..

days of the fast

"This Fast leadeth to the cleansing of the soul from all selfish desires, 
the acquisition of spiritual attributes, 
 attraction to the breezes of the All-Merciful, 
and enkindlement with the fire of divine love.

~ Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting 

i close my eyes.
i rest my mind.
i silence my tongue.
i bow my head.
i begin to pray.

it is time to..
reflect inwardly.
commune with my spirit.
humble myself before my Lord.
remain still.
draw upon divine assistance and inspiration.
look deeply at my weaknesses and faults.
determine to root them out, one by one, day by day.

..these are the days of the fast.

"Material fasting is a token of our spiritual detachment. The Physical fast is simply restraint from eating physical food: physical detachment. The greater detachment is the spiritual fast: detachment from all desires of the self. This latter is our goal and the harder to attain. Still, we have the material fast to remind us and help us on our way towards real detachment. The Guardian assures us that prayer and fasting will help us in this struggle. He said they ”act as stimulants to the soul, strengthen, revive and purify it, and thus ensure its steady development”. The fasting time, he said, is ”essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation”. He did not say it was a time of hunger, so the incidental hunger is of no consequence. It is not important. The significance and purpose of the fast is ”fundamentally spiritual in character”. 

~ On Behalf of Shoghi Effendi quoted in Fasting, A Baha'i Handbook p. 54