Friday, June 22, 2012

Waking Up to Normal

 Angeline and Dillon in Zimbabwe - I love the way that Angeline has reorganized her life around Dillon's needs. I know that many parents have children with special needs but in places where food and income are scarce, it can be such an incredible challenge. Angeline is one of the most beautiful examples of motherly love I've ever encountered. She gave up a teaching position and is a volunteer care worker in her community so that she can spend the time with Dillon that he needs to get physical and mental stimulation. She's pouring out her very life so that he will grow up knowing he is loved and wanted. I loved the time I was able to spend with these two, particularly with my boys around as well. It meant a lot to me and Angeline's friendship is one I'll be sure to make a priority for the rest of my life.
 Sukai is my African best friend. I just love being around her, working alongside her, listening to her sing and pray and speak. She's a mother not just to the 7 children in her own household, but to many, many children in the surrounding areas. She is literally one of the people I admire most in the world. I'm so proud to call her my friend.
 Oh, Sis Fortunate...how do I love thee? She is absolutely fabulous! She travels throughout the communities under her care in South Africa in style. She has become my style guru. This girl rocks leather boots, tights and a fur trimmed collar on the warmest of African days without breaking a sweat. Here she's decked out in traditional S. African beadwork for celebrations in Zambia. The times I laughed the hardest and longest in S. Africa were times spent driving with Fortunate and her hilarious stories and contagious laugh. I miss her every single day. I can't not smile thinking about her.
 In Amulo, we spent time with some beautiful care workers. One of the men I genuinely enjoy working alongside is Godfried. His smile is so beautiful and warm. He walks through his community and greets his neighbours and strangers with the same concern and caring. He made up a song to welcome newcomers to his community and he sang it for our family when we arrived. He's at his best with a child in his arms and that is often the case. Here, we're sat with Phostina and Christina at the school that they've started in their community, a school that when I went to Amulo in 2010 was still just a dream and an empty building that they'd had their eyes on.

These are a few images of people and places that are on my mind and in my heart when I wake up each day. When I wake up in the morning and the first few moments of the day bring the realization that I'm back in my comfortable bed with a large, brown dog laying on my feet, I'm never sure which way my mind will go. Many days I feel incredibly happy and safe and comfortable to wake up to such a thing, other days, I mourn the idea that this comfort means I'm so far from where I long to be.

We've been back in Canada for three weeks and it hasn't all gone smoothly. I'll be honest, it's been ugly for me at times. I can't seem to find that fit again, which I thought was something I was prepared for, but it's just as uncomfortable and disconcerting as it has ever been. I've wandered the bookstores and hit up the old favourite coffee shops in an attempt to find that place that brings me comfort but none of them feel the way I want them to.  I only feel that way walking into Mulenga or sitting in the presence of care workers tending to one of their patients or visiting with children. It's a rare thing to feel like you're in the exact right place at the exact right time. I am happy to experience that when I am in different communities. It doesn't have to be in Africa, but lately, that's where it has been for me.

Today, my third week back at work, I realized I have been on a slippery slope mentally. I can't believe I just typed that out...that's totally going to be used against me some day! It's true though, I've been playing games with myself trying to balance the life I have here, particularly my work life which revolves around consumerism and needless acquisitions of glittery, glamorous and good smelling things. I'm not going to lie, I love where I work. It's pretty. It smells good. And that's just the girls I work with! Today though, after searching for some time for a long sold out candle holder for a high maintenance customer, I reached the tipping point of the balancing game. Upon discovering that she would not be able to acquire a second $40 candleholder, she told me that it was "heartbreaking". I waited until she walked a few steps away and then I looked at my boss and said, "Heartbreaking? Children dying of starvation in Africa is heartbreaking, not being unable to buy another candle holder." Thankfully, my boss is a good person. She knows the root of my sarcasm and laughed and walked away, warning my coworkers that I might be about to snap. Thankfully, my customer was happy enough with her purchases she could make to get her out of the store without further heartbreak.

I realize though that I am seeing things through a different filter once again. Every time I go to Africa or hear stories coming out of Africa, the filter diffuses life here a little more and more. I am just beginning to wonder when life here will look so ridiculous that it will be unbearable or if it will become more and more palatable as time goes on. I don't know which is worse. Well, I do know...which is worse for me. I don't want to find it acceptable to mindlessly consume and spend without bettering anyone's life in the process. I don't want to be okay with acquiring and stuffing the empty spaces of our lives with stuff in an effort to drown out the voice within us all that says, "Something's wrong! Look around!"  It would be easier if I could come to terms with that but I'm not thinking that's going to happen anytime soon.

So, bear with me. I'm honestly trying not to be judgmental about how I look at the culture around us. I'm just trying to be discerning. If I tip the balance again, feel free to call me on it. Until then, I am going to hold on in this awkward position between worlds for a while.

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