Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nameless Leading Ladies - June 30,2010

This past year, it's felt like I've been bouncing between two continents. Having lived outside of Canada on a couple of occasions, I am not immune to tears during the national anthem, a well played hockey game or a steaming double double on a morning with a -40 windchill. I'm proud to be Canadian and although I've conceded an American flag to hang in Easton's room, I admittedly may have heaped extra chores on the boy when he cheered for Team USA in the Olympic finals. Canada, though, has had to give up some room in my heart for a small landlocked country on the African continent. A three week stay in Zambia has expanded into a year of work, advocacy and homesickness that has brought me to a very interesting place in my life. I long to be back in Zambia.Last night, I spent the evening with people whose hearts and lives have been turned inside out by Africa...and those who haven't even been yet who are wondering what this tug is on their lives to find out. We shared stories of the different countries, experiences and people and the common thread was the fact that although we are here, we are still deeply connected there. We've gone from being volunteers to advocates and many of us are wondering what that looks like here in Canada.One of the highlights of the evening for me was the happy coincidence of Lynn and Jayme Chotowetz dropping in to stay for the night en route to their family home in Wadena, SK. Lynn and Jayme are long term volunteers with Hands at Work (and so much more) but Jayme is also the sister of one of the girls hosting the evening at her home. Lynn and Jayme walked into their sister's home expecting a good visit with Richard and Crystal, and instead got a houseful of people, expectant to hear news from Africa. Lynn told us some of the things they were seeing in Africa, in the 8 different countries that Hands is working in. He chose to use our dear friends, James and Sukai, as an example of how lives are being so transformed in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. James and Sukai, years ago, were so overwhelmed by the poverty and distress in their surrounding community that they sat down one day and said, "No more...we'll start with what we have." Those words, spoken in faith, were one of the reasons that I went to Zambia in the first place. I connected with Sukai before I'd ever met her with those words, of a wife and mother, without a secure future, but with faith that told her that if she started where she was at, with what she had...the rest would come. The northern region of Zambia is alive with the ripples of their decision. Children are being cared for, orphan led families have hope of a future with school programs and feeding programs and someone to check in on them. Those who are sick and dying have hope that their children will be cared for when they pass on. Grandmothers and aunties have support in the overwhelming work they have to shoulder to care for orphaned and vulnerable children.One of the stories Lynn told last night was of Nora. Nora is a beautiful 12 or 13 year old girl. We met her in Mulenga and she came to the camp at the farm that we hosted. She had been living in Mulenga with her grandmother who was a prostitute. Nora's life was difficult and she was very vulnerable in her living situation. When it became apparent that she was suffering abuses by the cigarette burns on her arms, care workers made the difficult decision to remove her from her grandmother's house and find her a safe place to live. She is now living with James and Sukai and I can't think of a more nurturing, safe place for a young girl to recover and grow. As Lynn told this story, I can imagine how a young girl, nameless in the midst of literally thousands of orphans in her village alone, must have felt when someone took notice that she was hurting and pulled her from the situation and brought her into a safe and loving home. I think back on how the morning of the last day at camp, my sister in law and I were painting the faces of the children. Nora came forward in the line up with her two friends and when we asked her what she would like painted on her face, she asked for her name on her forehead.My sister in law, Kim paints a rainbow on Nora's cheek...
"No longer shall the poor be nameless..." Psalm 9:18This was one of my favorite photos from Zambia. Holding Bette and Sukai's hands, praying for the lives of these children. I looked at it again this morning and the little girl looking at the camera is Nora. ♥
On the last afternoon of the camp, the care workers, teachers and our team gathered in a circle to pray for the children as they went back to Mulenga. The girl directly in front of me...in the red tshirt with her eyes open...Nora.
If ever there was a purpose to a being part of bigger story, maybe mine was to be there when the beautiful young character in the story began to find her name. Nora. Meaning "honored one, bright and shining one"... how fitting. There are many, many thousands of stories with nameless characters that should be read and learned and learned from. In this story, Nora becomes the main character in a story that may only be read in small circles but her story, along with the story of James and Sukai starting with what they had, should be passed along as a reminder of the hope that small actions, slight corrections of lifestyle and huge faith work together to create a far larger story than our small minds can ever imagine.I'm heading back to Zambia in late July. My decision has been much like that of a reluctant swimmer standing on the edge of a warm dock about to jump into a glacier fed lake. I've felt the icy rush of water envelope me and I long for that whole body experience yet again. You can't ease into Africa any easier than a cold lake. You can dip your toes, your knees, your waist until they become immune to the temperature but at some point, somewhere around the heart, you have to take the full plunge. I know that Canada waits, a warm beach and a towel to re acclimatize me...but for now, I'm running down the dock.

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