Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Somnang

Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint a favourite moment from a trip that encompasses so many moments and emotions. This trip to Cambodia is no different, there were moments that just stand out in my memory and keep coming back to me but none more than this one, captured by my friend, Juanita.

I was sitting on a bench outside of the baby house, while others on my team were inside visiting and photographing the littlest residents at Place of Rescue. It was hot and I was enjoying just sitting for a few moments, listening to the sounds of the preschoolers learning lessons through a nearby window.

An older woman came around the corner, carrying the most beautiful little girl. I had seen her on our first visit to Place of Rescue but I hadn't had time to really meet her other than to hold her hand and say hello. As they came over, I offered to hold the little girl for her house mother. She handed her over to me and I held her in my lap. Her name is Somnang and she has lived at Place of Rescue since 2011, when she was found at night abandoned in a market place. She has some severe disabilities that may have resulted from a birth trauma or perhaps from her parents trying a rope around her neck and dragging her. Whatever physical deficits she may have, she has an incredible joy and smile that completely radiates from her. Holding her, she smiled and looked into my eyes and though language was an obstacle, I started to play with her as she put her fingers on my face and near my mouth. Pretending to chomp on her fingers brought gales of laughter. This sweet little one is so beautiful and her life is completely different than it would have been had she not been brought to Place of Rescue. She has a mother now who takes such good care of her, and treats her with love. She has siblings that know her and play with her and speak with her. She has a safe place to live and learn and grow, and she has those that are working hard to get her to Bangkok, so that she can be assessed and treated for any of her disabilities that can be improved.

You'd never look at Somnang and think of her as "lucky" if you didn't know the story of her life, but lucky...blessed...loved....these are all words that describe this small girl. And they are the words I would describe feeling just holding her in my arms and playing with her for a short while.
A favourite moment with a very special girl...

Friday, December 6, 2013

How Lucky We've Been to Have Share the Earth with Him


May we all strive to live according to the struggles and forgiveness and fortitude he exemplified.
Rest well, Madiba.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Place of Rescue - Cambodia

Down a long and bumpy road, outside of Bek Chen, Cambodia, is a long driveway and a small sign that marks "Place of Rescue".  At the end of the drive, is a lovely house on stilts, with a large verandah and beautiful flowers surrounding it and it's there that we find Marie Ens. Marie is one of those women who should make Barbara Walters' list of most fascinating people but probably never will while there are the Miley Cirus and Kardashians of the world to watch. It's only one of the many injustices in our lives that we become immune to. 

Marie is 79 and she first served in Cambodia with her husband and small children in the 1960's. She is feisty and determined, a fierce advocate for the children of Cambodia. Over the years, she has been evacuated from Cambodia several times in the face of the Pol Pot regime and the Vietnam War. She returned to Cambodia late in life and plans to live out her days right where she's at. In a little home on the edge of a piece of property that has become sanctuary and home to children who most likely, without this place, would be orphaned and on the streets, hungry and exploited. 

When we arrived on the property, we were greeted as old friends, each of us. Marie has an uncanny ability to remember names and faces though she travels and meets countless people over time. We sit down with her and hear the story of how she came to be in this place, living out her life, pouring into the committee that she has in place to run the NGO. She believes in Cambodia and with the exception of the English teachers, has only Cambodian leadership in place. She used to be counted as the only non-Cambodian on staff but she recently was given her full Cambodian citizenship - an honour that absolutely delights her. She can't hide how proud she is to be a Cambodian. 

Sitting with Marie and hearing her passion for the people of Cambodia, it's hard to imagine how we live our lives without such drive and passion for something meaningful. It's the very thing that energizes her and allows her to live so fully. It's enviable. 

We head onto the property for a tour and the first thing we see is a couple of rows of houses where families who have HIV/AIDS are able to live together and receive treatment and support. It's an incredible ministry because it allows families to stay together and for children to have access to school and support, instead of having to go out and figure out ways to provide income for their families.  If families lose both parents, the children are integrated into the homes at the orphanage and  continue to live in stability with familiarity around them. They are already known and loved and so the grieving process is not complicated by the uncertainty of new surroundings, unstable living conditions or loss of basic necessities. 



A row of homes where families with HIV/AIDS live 

Place of Rescue has lovely homes, in groups of 10 around an inner grassy courtyard, lined with trees and flowers.  Each home has a housemother who is responsible for the family of children entrusted to her. Children from pre-school to high school age live together as a family. Having dinner in the homes, we see first hand how it really is a family environment...a beautiful departure from the institutional approach to orphan care. Finding the right women to be housemothers remains a huge challenge for Marie and her team...it's not easy to find women who are willing to live with a household of children that are not their own, but to love them as if they were. The housemothers have strong faith, compassion and love to give. When you meet these mothers, you realize that they really do love the life they are living, it's not just a job to them. And thankfully so, because they are in it for the long haul, raising children to become successful adults is no easy task. 



We're greeted by these two little guys...always happy to see Marie or Makyeay (grandma)
as they call her.
As we walk around, we also meet some of the children, returning from school. When children are 11 at Place of Rescue, they are each given their own bicycle. It doesn't matter that they are used bicycles and well worn, each 11 year old is excited to participate in this rite of passage. No longer do they have to walk to the nearby school, but they are able to bicycle. For the children that go to school off the property, it is a rule that they must double another smaller child on their bicycle. No bicycle goes through the gate with just a single rider. It's lovely to see the older children caring for the younger ones in this simple way...it's just part of the fabric of life here at Place of Rescue.

Three sweet girls that now live together with 7 others and a house mother at
Place of Rescue were proud to show us their home.

We meet several girls and as we leave their home, we hear the stories of their rescue. Children who were orphaned and left alone. Children whose own mothers tried to drown them out of some form of desperation or mental illness. Children who were being exploited by family members and unable to attend school or even eat daily...brought to Place of Rescue and placed into family style homes.
We had dinner with this beautiful household of girls from age 3 to 13.

As we shared dinner with the girls, we learned bits and pieces about their lives before
they came to Place of Rescue. 

This family of girls and their housemother (far left) were so sweet.

One of the beautiful components of Place of Rescue is their commitment to Cambodia as a country and a culture. Children are raised by Cambodian house mothers, taught by Cambodian teachers (with the only exception being English teachers) and taught Cambodian traditions and dances so that they can integrate back into Cambodian society as adults. This is definitely not an easy mandate to uphold but the community ownership component of it is the kind of benchmark that many NGO's fail to recognize and it becomes their undoing. Instead of "importing" housemothers and teachers, volunteers from other more developed countries...which could be financially advantageous to an NGO, Place of Rescue sets a high standard and doesn't compromise the care or teaching given to the children. This is one of the reasons that I love the model of care that they are providing for these kids. It's evident in the community that Place of Rescue is a community of loving homes. Children here are very fortunate, even in light of their harrowing stories of early life. They are loved, they are cared for and they are being given the chance to grow into educated, compassionate, confident adults that really and truly can change the Kingdom of Cambodia for the better.
After dinner, we gathered everyone together and the kids sang and danced for us.
Children are taught traditional Cambodian dances in an effort to preserve their culture
so that one day, they will integrate as seamlessly as possible into Cambodian life.

The boys and girls practice their dances and love to perform
for their peers and any visitors.



Monday, December 2, 2013

Waking in Pnomh Penh





The view from the Tuk Tuk 


The Presidential Palace in Pnomh Penh

The Presidential Palace in Pnomh Penh

A small boat along the Tonlesap River where it meets the Mekong River 

A street vendor sells lotus flowers as offerings for Buddha


A child holds to a large balloon overhead on the lawn of the palace

A small boy pulls and releases the tether of a large balloon, making it dance overhead
Construction workers on the street pass materials from window to window


So happy this morning. Maybe that's the wrong word. Content. Sometimes the biggest luxury of travel is feeling like you're right where you're meant to be in the world, even if it's somewhere you never imagined.

The voices of Cambodia outside my window. Builders working nearby. Housemaids in the hallway. Tuktuk drivers calling out to those on the street. 
Cambodia is beautiful. The city is filled with details. Bouganvillea and candles floating in pots of water are fragrant homages to artistry and beauty. Intricate carvings, statues, and wood totems embellish even the most humble of dwellings and businesses. Even the very language, printed out, is a beautiful script, involving artistry to undertake.

Walking along the waterfront at the Mekong, colonialism and asian artistry coincide. We walk along the sea wall and there are people in droves coming out into the cooling evening. Incense fragrances the very air, interrupted at intervals by the wafting smells of street food and garbage, sewage and sea air, mixing to assault the senses. 

Golds and reds, greens and yellows, mahogany and metal make up the city. Elaborate artistry in the form of metal gates and pagodas. Rooflines run every which way and jolt the eyes seeking to find a skyline. Clouds are billowing and darkening in the humidity but the wind is cooling and the large, oversized balloons tied to the lawn in front of the King’s Palace have children pulling their tethers, causing them to bob and weave in a dance on the expansive lawns. Families and friends gather and it would all be idyllic if not for the sight of middle aged,  men strolling with heavily made up women in tow, teetering on their high heels and short skirts, trying to look confident in their vocation but somehow still emanating the aura of childlikeness and victim.
I seeth at these men, in their middle aged baldness and high waisted jeans. Those who somehow believe that they are entitled to the rape of these women simply because they have the means to pay for it. I find it hard to mask my disgust as I watch a man, who by western standards would be considered averagely unattractive, wield his power over a heavily made up young woman. Even the way he holds her hand is assertive, not affectionate. Leading her away without speaking to her, purposefully, her purse in his other hand as if she would have to give up the rights to it to even change her mind. Her heels are high. Her hair is lacquered into a tall, french roll. Her dress and tights are made for a dance floor not an evening on the river walk. 

They walk past a shrine to Buddha and the street vendors selling flowers, incense, and caged birds. Offerings to earn merit with Buddha. Golden snakes line the sidewalk and as I watch this couple walk decidedly past, I wonder what this young woman has to tell herself to reconcile selling herself in sight of the Buddha. How many 
caged birds would she need to free to build merit back up for what she has to do to survive. Who will free her?

I know many are working in the country to do just that. NGO's (non government organizations) made up of ex-pats and Cambodians alike, working so hard to give families options that will prevent them from selling their daughters, their very flesh and blood, and their futures out from under them. I watch this young woman teeter away and she is very still within herself, only her feet move, not her eyes, not her face, not her hands. She walks beside the one who has paid for the rights to her as if she's hidden somewhere inside herself, or not even there at all. 

Returning to our hotel,I get ready for bed, cool and content in an air-conditioned room. Laying in the dark, I feel blessed. Cambodia is already conflicting for me. It’s jarring. It’s comforting. It’s welcoming and yet alien. I don’t love the western attitudes I represent when I walk through the streets, approached by beggars, one man so burnt and disfigured, I wonder how he can see me to ask for change. Grandmothers with betel nut stained teeth carry tin cups and smile, trying to beguile but only revealing the distress of a life lived out in difficulty and humiliating poverty. On the way home from a beautiful dinner, our group is approached by a mother carrying a small, sleeping child over her shoulder. Dirty and disheveled, using English words between her chant-like entreaties for money, words like “family” and “sisters”, “children” and “hunger”. I look her in the eyes and apologize, having no cash on me. I want to be respectful and treat her well. I want her to see compassion but I wonder if empty hands and bellies preclude it. I never know what to do with poverty that boldly encroaches on my space when I'm unprepared. I'm only walking by. I haven't any money but I feel I'm cheating her. I feel challenged again and again and I’ve never come to a comfortable agreement with my conscience on any of it.

I feel Cambodia stretching into my heart, the glimpses of history opening my mind in ways I didn't expect. I'm learning as I go and for every observation, there are hundreds of questions attached as well. Peeking into a country and a culture is an absolute privilege but I am the first to admit that for all that I've seen and learned and shared in these notes, it's only a simple snapshot. I can't speak on Cambodia. I don't know Cambodia. I haven't slept in her communities or shared meals with her people. Until then, these are just observations from an outsider, much the same way someone who was invited into your home would have just a glimpse of your life as opposed to someone in the family who stays regularly and sees the ins and outs of your daily life, eats your food and hears your family argue around the dinner table. I'm hoping to be invited into life here. Share meals with her people and hear the family arguments. Just like a welcomed guest in a hospitable home, I'm hoping to return and be welcomed into deeper relationship with those that live here. 


A lotus flower, peeled and folded, an artful offering on our table.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Reflections ~ The Killing Fields

A small seating area along the marsh

Beauty survives

Living with history - a small rice farm alongside the killing fields

Making a living - alongside the killing fields,
men fish to provide a living for their families.

Rising above - a small traditional house on stilts above the river provides
a home for those making a living on the water.

Once filled with death and horror, there are glimpses of beauty retaking the landscape.

The Killing Fields

During our first days in Cambodia, we jumped into the deep end of this kingdom's history. The Killing Field that we visited just on the outskirts of Pnomh Penh. A short ride from Teol Slung Prison by bus, for us, was the end of a long and fearful ride for those whose lives ended here.

One of the things that struck me about Teol Slung Prison was the sheer amount of time that prisoners were kept there and tortured. Months and months of unimaginable terror and pain, starvation and fear, that only prolonged the inevitable. Many prisoners died at Teol Slung but many, incredibly, survived only to be woken in the dark of night, stripped naked, tied together with fellow prisoners and escorted into the back of a truck. They had to be silent, for the Khmer Rouge didn't want anyone to catch on to what they were doing behind the walls of the school yard turned torture chambers. 

Standing, naked, packed into the back of the truck, the prisoners were unloaded into a small building that was basically a holding pen. There, they waited until summoned and then were made to stand at the edge of a mass grave, dug into a field, where perhaps bodies were already layered where they fell. They were attacked with farm implements, rudimentary hoes and bamboo pipes, axes and awls...not even worthy of the quick death of a bullet to the head. All the while, revolutionary music played from speakers in a nearby tree, driven by a generator, to drown out the sounds of death. Neighbours living around the fields believed that the place had become a military training ground and thus explained away the revolutionary songs and rumble of trucks in the night. 

Years later, the horror of what happened here in this killing field, still made my stomach turn. Walking alone through the fields and along the marsh, listening to stories of prisoners and Khmer Rouge soldiers on a taped recording, I couldn't help but feel that I was walking the route of a horror novel. Particularly haunting was the tree where mothers stood and watched their babies tortured and flung against the trunk to their deaths. I can't imagine what breaks inside of someone to see such a thing happen ... never mind to your own child. Helpless to protect them, mothers then faced their own deaths. It may only have been minutes but I can't even stand to muster the thought of it without my stomach dropping and tears coming. 

Needless to say, the first days in Cambodia were heavy but I believe that carrying the weight of that knowledge was integral to understanding who Cambodians  are and what they have endured. Standing next to you in the market place may be the very Khmer Rouge soldier who loaded trucks in the night...or the mother of young sons who watched as they were marched to their deaths in the jails, never knowing for certain where their bodies lay. Everyone in Cambodia has a story to tell and woven into the very fabric of the country is the stained fabric of the years of the Pol Pot regime. Displacement, fear, starvation and grief have left none untouched in Cambodia. The very kingdom is made up of people who have survived, one way or the other, this incredible history. Living together again, there is peace but underneath the surface, the traumatic stresses of having to put history to rest without justice undermines many lives here. 



Recovered skulls, unidentifiable, rest among other recovered body parts as
evidence of the horrors that took place here.

Skulls are broken and teeth are missing, as those who died were beaten mercilessly
for months preceding their deaths. Deaths carried out not by shooting but by blunt farm
implements as bullets were too expensive to be spared.

Just one of many mass graves uncovered in this killing field, this one with 450 victims.

At first glance, a beautiful monument, but upon closer attention, it houses the fragments of life.
Skulls, thigh bones, teeth and arms of those who died here.

Even now, when the heavy rains come, more bone fragments and teeth rise to the surface of
the killing fields.
A small lantern and incense where you can offer prayers for those who died here.

Pardon My Ignorance

When I was preparing for my time in Cambodia, I wasn't sure whether I should read as much as I could about the country in advance, or just learn as I go. I had heard a little bit about a civil war and regime that had caused much damage to the country in the 70's but in my mind, at the time, it was a vague and short history that didn't really hit home until I found myself standing in Cambodia, in what was once a high school yard turned torture camp. On the plane ride over to Cambodia, I had a used copy of The Killing Fields, an edition nearly as old as I am, and I read it in one sitting on the plane. What I read only touched the surface but it was an incredible story of survival and pain, friendship and loyalties. Standing within the gates of Tuol Slang Genocide Museum, I was still surprised by the use of the word "genocide" as I wasn't really understanding the full scale of the atrocities that happened. 

When I was a young girl, in the early 70's, my parents took our family on a whirlwind 30 country in 30 days type tour of Europe. By bus. I was only about 6 when we went, and I admit that most of my memories revolve around good food, pretty dolls I picked up along the way, and strange occurrences like losing my Dad at the Sisteen Chapel (which I swear was called the 16th Chapel for years afterwards.) One day I do remember clearly, was the day we passed into Berlin, wall still intact, and the soldiers came aboard our bus with huge machine guns and sullen faces, scrutinizing our passports and hassling the tourists on our bus that were of Indian or Jewish descent. I didn't understand at all. I also remember the heavy silences that somehow my brother and I observed without misbehaving, in the yard of a concentration camp where Jews were exterminated. 

Standing in the yard at Teol Slung, I felt that same heaviness. This time in the heat and humidity, I could understand the torture and the injustice that took place  here, and it came to me that it had occurred while I was a girl, 6 years old, standing in the yard of a concentration camp, hearing that the world would never allow such a thing to happen again. 

The Khmer Rouge marched into Pnomh Penh as saviours of the Cambodian people. Unfortunately, the regime was about to unleash years of horror so incredible, that the imaginations of the Cambodians could not even perceive it. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, police and former military were told to report to an office to receive new training and positions to uphold. They rushed to report, eager to rebuild Cambodia, and were summarily exterminated. The Khmer Rouge also told everyone in Pnomh Penh to take 3 days worth of food and clothing and leave the city for the countryside so that they would be safe from incoming American bombs. A densely populated city, migrated, mostly on foot, into the countryside.  The sick from hospitals and elderly were pushed in their very hospital beds. Unfortunately, they too were duped and those that were strong were relocated into rural settings to begin life again at what the leader, Pol Pot, called "Year 0" - trying to restart Cambodia as a communist country at year 0 of development. The sick, the weak, the young were exterminated. Those that disobeyed or even gave a hint of reluctance or emotion, were either killed immediately, or were sent to Teol Slung to be tortured, for months on end, until they were sent in the middle of the night, in the back of a truck, to be killed and buried. 

The torture rooms and cells of those incarcerated speak volumes in their silent witness to the horrors they saw. When at last, the Khmer Rouge were finally overcome and forced to retreat, they burned as much evidence as possible but this place stands as evidence. Thousands of photos of victims were burnt but the negatives were recovered and perhaps the most haunting thing about the museum, is the sheer number of faces, young, old, beaten and scarred...staring out from the photographs. Mothers with young babies nursing or alongside them, forced to watch as their babies were tortured. Young men hung and beaten, nearly drowned and then revived to endure more beatings, old men incapable of uprising and young boys too young to know what they were accused of. 


The rules of "Duch" - the lead torturer and interrogator at Teol Slung Prison

Women young and old were brought to be tortured and raped for any imagined infraction.
After suffering months of torture, both physical and mental, they were taken to the Killing Fields by
night and killed at the edge of a mass grave.

Men and boys alike, accused of being CIA or KGB sympathizers, were tortured into confessions, Often shackled to a
metal bed alone with electric shock and tortures devised by what can only be called criminally insane, until they too were taken by truck, blindfolded and naked, to the Killing Fields and executed, often by blunt instrument because bullets were too costly to waste, on the edge of a mass grave. Those who weren't killed immediately were covered with DDT and then buried alive. 

Some of the collected clothing of victims of the torture

A woman is photographed with her toddler clinging to her

A young woman, maybe a mother or sister, has a small boy behind her
on the metal bed, as she is photographed.



And then we stood in that place, quietly, waiting to leave and someone said it. "How could the world let this happen ever again?" and while most agreed, I heard the whispers of Syria and Rwanda, of Bosnia and of Sudan and the DRC, and even of our own First Nations people in the formation of a country as beautiful as Canada and I can't imagine that I live in a world where this happens and we are so desensitized that we would change the channel when the news of it comes on. 




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Awaits.

Often when I am preparing to travel, it comes up in conversation and people  have various reactions. Obviously, it's always interesting when you hear of someone travelling to a foreign place and whether or not you're a traveller by nature, there is something inherent in us that makes us curious. The world has grown significantly smaller over the years and almost everyone knows someone that has done something "like that" "over there" and returned with stories that shape peoples' image of the world we live in.

As I've been getting ready for this trip to Cambodia, I hear again all the reasons why I should or shouldn't go, like a litany of lawyers making their case in my head. I'm excited and nervous, as I think is normal for any traveller heading to a new place for the first time. 

There are a few rituals I go through in getting ready for a trip overseas, some practical, others not so. 
I realize that I have to verbally process the fact that I'm leaving to my family exactly 1.3 million times before it sinks in that I am leaving. I have said, "I'm going to Cambodia" in as many situations as there are languages in the world. With toothbrush mid-stroke, while scraping a frosty windshield, while walking the dog, while making dinner. While folding laundry, while watching TV, while surfing the internet, while working. Standing in an elevator, or a restaurant lobby, while drinking coffee and while tucking my son into his bed.  It becomes part of the language of our home for weeks preceding a trip and this time is no exception.

But this morning, sitting in my office, a picture comes across the ocean ~ two tiny babies in their newborn toques and blankets. Twins. Born to a single mom, who passed away during childbirth. And then suddenly, I'm not just going to Cambodia. I'm going to them. To see their new home first hand and meet those that will become their family. And meanwhile, there are tears for a single mom, who carried these sweet little ones in her body for months, only to pass away giving them life. I wonder about the mother who thought of names for her babies, only to have them called orphans. I wonder too, if she knew, that as she passed life on to them and left her own, that there would be a home already prepared to receive them and care for them as they grow. 

I'm looking forward to meeting these little ones and those that welcome them home.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Expectancy

This week, I've been tossing and turning and list making at night because I am headed out into yet another travelling adventure. As much as I love to travel...I work it all over and over in my head and heart and stomach long before I ever hit the airport check in counter.

In just a few weeks, I am heading to Cambodia. I had to look at a map to ensure that I knew where it was that I would be landing and to be honest, having never been to Asia, it looks mighty far away and removed from anything I've ever experienced.

I am going to be going with a small group of Canadians, none whom I know, and we will be travelling with Marie Ens, who is an amazing woman of 78 that has been serving and caring for the Cambodian people since the 60's. Not her 60's...the 60's... which means she has been part of the Cambodian story through some of its most horrific history and that she is part of it now, in an era that again wreaks havoc on the people she serves. Marie has returned to Cambodia after various absences again and again, with an urgency to serve the most vulnerable in that country - orphans, impoverished and the elderly.
She is part of a beautiful group of Cambodians who have established and serve at Place of Rescue, caring for orphans and destitute grannies, single mothers and those who are living with AIDS.

Truthfully, I feel the same emotion thinking about going to Cambodia that I felt when I found out I was pregnant with my second child. There is such excitement, love, and anticipation but there is also that undermining sense of dread for the pain of labour, the feeling of having your heart broken and filled simultaneously, and the long, sleepless nights with a thankless infant for company.

In many ways, I feel like Zambia is my first born. My first trip changed me as dramatically, much like changing from a woman/wife into someone's mother. From living basically for my own self to living to care for and raise another up.  There is a responsibility that comes with it that is life long and evolving. There is love and heartache and teaching and learning. There are moments of competence and many more of ineptitude in the face of child rearing. The more I learn and love the people of Zambia, the more the things that challenge and hurt them do the same for me.

I remember looking at Aidan, nearly three when I was due with Easton, and wondering how I could open my heart to another child the way I did with him. Aidan held this place in my life that I felt no one could share or measure up to. Yet, in that miraculous way that babies do, Easton burst onto the scene and established himself firmly in all corners of my heart and stretched into new ones as well.  I didn't trust that it would be possible but it was and is.

As I think of flying for days to reach a destination, part of me wishes that it was going to be Zambian soil that greets me and the familiar red dirt of Ndola that rises up to cover my feet. Yet, I know too that I am ready to be stretched in new and different directions and that, as with my first born, it won't diminish the love I have for Zambia or those I love most in that little epicentre of my world, called Mulenga. Easton taught me things that Aidan never did, and for two boys that came from the same parents, they also come at things from completely opposite sides of the spectrum.

If I think of that, it's so exciting.  The lessons I have learned in Zambia and those I'm about to learn in Cambodia are about to teach me about living life here in the middle, right here in Canada.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanks and Giving

It's Thanksgiving Day here in Canada.  I'd like to say that every day is about thanks and giving in Canada. I wish it were so. In many ways, Thanksgiving has become my day of reflection and reminding. I have, over the past few years, used Thanksgiving Day as my day for resolutions, much like many use New Year's Day.

So, today. I'm so thankful for my family - near and far, through birth and marriage, friendship and acquaintance. Those who have stretched me so far as to bring me to a place in my life where I have the ability to let go of lost days and old hurts - to a place where I can look forward, speak for those with no voice, and be all the more thankful for it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

International Day of the Girl

 It is autumn in the prairies and it is gorgeous. The mornings though, get darker and the house gets chillier, so I was thankful to be wrist deep in hot, soapy water and standing in front on the furnace vent that was blowing hot air across my feet and the cold wood floor around me.  I was watching the sunlight as it broadened from a small sliver to a wide beam, making it's way through the space in the houses surrounding ours. Suddenly, my mind was back in the shade of a mud brick shelter, beside a small girl of 5, with our hands in dirty water, "washing" dishes together. She stands on the 20 gallon jug that the water was carried in by her older sisters, and she wipes the dishes with the remnants of what might have been a t-shirt or towel, it's hard to tell now. She uses her hands to scrape the sticky pap from the worn metal plates and then runs her cloth over them and gives them a shake. She hands them to me to "rinse" in cold water, and then set aside on a wooden plank that serves as the food prep area, dish cupboard and drying board. She is called "Xyanda" and she is feisty and fun. At five, she is the second youngest in the family of 7 children that we spent a weekend with in their home. My boys watch from the shade of an overhang, in the 40+ degree heat, as the girls in the home fetch wood, start fires, boil water, cook and then feed the family. The eldest brother is shy and somewhat detached, he studies hard and makes good grades in an effort to find work and income. The only other boy in the family is about 10 and he spends his time with my boys, playing with the ball we brought, and managing the 30 - 40 kids that show up in the yard to see who it is that is at the centre of village talk. We are surrounded by kids. In fact, in our time in this community, although others have joined families elsewhere in the area, we are on the outskirts of the village and near the river, along a route that has boys following cattle and donkeys down to the water to graze and drink. These same shepherds must have passed along what they've seen, a family of white people, living with that family of children that live along the road. We've become an attraction to children and the elderly alike.

I watch as Xyanda finishes her chores, throws out the dirty water onto the struggling corn plants along the side of the yard, and then proceeds to join in the games being played in the yard. Her older sisters, having cooked the meal and cleaned up the fire pit, sit in the shade where I join them. I ask them if they will join in the games. Cleverness will but she is just resting, she says. Dom would rather take the time to talk with me and tell me more and more of her life story. I sit and listen to a petite girl of seventeen tell me how she and her older brother now have to provide for their younger siblings. She worries about sickness and how to get medicine if one of them gets sick. She sleeps in front of the door to the room she shares with 5 of the others so that there is some measure of protection should someone try to get in. She talks of how she gets up at 5 in an effort to cook for the day's meal or meals, if there is to be such a thing, and then get herself and her siblings washed and ready for the day at school.
On our last morning with the family, it is a school day. We wait for our ride and watch the morning preparations as the kids get ready for school.  Each child leaves at a different time and it is Xyanda who appears first in her navy school skirt and white dress shirt. From across the yard, she looks crisp and clean, face shining and hair combed and wetted down. As she hugs us goodbye, I note the red string that has been sewn across her shoulders, mimicking the x in her name, holding the shirt together long enough for one more girl to wear it through the year. Clifford appears next, shoes shined but missing laces and he says goodbye to us and the boys particularly. They chat for a minute and give handshakes and then he is off as well.  The eldest boy, speaks quietly with us and then leaves for school with an armful of books.  He catches up with Clifford and they walk together for a few minutes until their paths diverge. He takes his schooling very seriously and he walks with purpose. It was hard to get to know him other than this aspect, he obviously feels a great responsibility. Dom appears, wearing the sunglasses I gave her, and she models for us as if on the catwalk of Milan. We have laughed a lot this weekend, mostly her at me with my attempts to keep up fetching water, sweeping the yard, and feeding the fire in an effort to warm water for the laundry, which we did by hand. 7 kids worth. She sits with us for just a minute, yells for Cleverness to hurry, and complains that she is always having to chase Cleverness who is far too slow for Dom's high energy personality. She yells for Bo, and hands him some fruit and waves him off. He doesn't understand that we are leaving today so we let him go without more than a wave.  We watch him, the youngest, just a toddler really, walk himself over to his nearest relatives' yard for the day. No one meets him there. He just toddles in, guava in hand, and sits under the tree in the yard to wait.  Cleverness appears and she and Dom say goodbye and invite us to come and stay again. They ask when we will see them again and we promise to make our way back to Share before we leave Africa. We watch them  make their way up the road and I stand until I can see them no longer. They look back and wave several times and I blow them kisses and make funny faces. I want them to know the feeling of a mother that watches for them and loves them. I am not their mother but I am a mother. Once they are out of sight, I don't fight the tears any longer and just give in for a few minutes. We wait in their empty yard, the boys play x's and o's in the dirt, Jason gets our bags ready for when our transportation arrives. I walk around the yard, taking in the fire pit, cleaned and swept, the evening meal already cooked and sitting on a wood bench in their home, waiting for them. I fiddle with the dishes stacked outside and shake off the last of the water. I flick some stray pap onto the ground where a chicken immediately comes rushing for it. I wring out the dish cloth and lay it over the dishes and push the water jug that is Xyanda's step stool under the boards, out of the sun. I hear our transportation rattling down the road towards us and I take a stick and draw a big heart in the dirt, just where Xyanda stands, and turn to go.

This morning, I think of that heart in the sand. I hope that when Xyanda sees it, she will feel surrounded by my love, even as I stand in the comfort of my own home, hands in hot, sudsy water, and warm air flowing over my feet.
This girl. Xyanda. So loved. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chasing Autumn

As much as I want to deny it, fall is here in the prairies. The harvest is nearly in and there are just a few fields left with combines going day and night. Last night, I threw an extra quilt on everyone's bed and closed the windows for probably the first time since July. As nice as it is to crawl into a warm bed on a cool night, I'm already feeling that mix of melancholy and appreciation that autumn brings.
I love the colours and the crispness in the air, the urgency of the wind beckoning us to stay outside for as long as we can for the time is coming when the only fresh air we breath is running from building to building in an effort to escape frozen skin. 

My son played in his first football game last night. I felt I had overdressed with a light coat and a sweater, with a blanket for my lap. I was thankful that I had because by half time, I was shivering and many around me were huddled together against the wind for warmth. The grass is changing from the lush green of summer to its crunchier cousin and even the bees buzzing around are getting sluggish.

For a long time now, I've had this reoccurring thought. "You can't chase autumn." It's a strange little saying that runs through my mind, particularly in September, as I drive across the bridge to work with the river letting off mist below me. There are specific beauties to be found in autumn that can't be replicated. The crunch of dry leaves. The colours of the trees reflected on the water. The slow buzz of bees winding down their last days of collecting before winter. The scratch of dried stems on plants beginning their slow descent into their own roots. The silences on playgrounds in the evenings and in the streets after the early onset of dark.

You can chase summer and heat any time of the year. You can replicate it by heading to the other hemisphere or even just south, where the light lasts longer and the days are still warm. There are climates that feel like summer even when we're in the depths of the deep freeze. The same is true of winter. When I was 18, I began a few years of working on the snow. Ski resorts were my winter home and many of my coworkers and friends followed the snow from the northern hemisphere to the southern, for year round work and recreation.  You can pick up in the heat of August here in Canada and jet away to Argentina or Australia for a week on the snow. Somehow the extremes of life can be replicated but the subtle nuances of a season like autumn can not. Even spring like conditions occur in areas like southern California, where seemingly everyday in a town like San Diego, you can choose to wear shorts and a sweatshirt or jeans and a t-shirt in relative comfort. But autumn, in all its beauty, is fleeting.

Interesting that autumn, with its warm days and cool crisp nights, is a transitional season. It's packing up the boat and pulling in the dock and trading out flip flops for wool socks and sweaters. Most people love autumn but hate change. I can be included in that, for the most part. It's hard to see the beauty of the change or transition when you're in it. And perhaps, the beauty, even when apparent, is so fleeting that it is hard to appreciate it without the accompanying pain. I think of the days when we left the US for Canada. We were so involved in the pain and separation of leaving that we couldn't see the beauty around us in it. And there was much beauty. People showing up on our doorstep with meals and gift cards in those final few weeks were absolutely the beauty of the transition. The dearest friendships, about to be stretched by time and distance, were also incredibly beautiful but those final weeks, the autumn of our time there, it was hard to see that through the tears.

Years ago, I watched a friend go through the final stages of a long and intense battle with cancer. When I look at photos of her in those last months, she was absolutely radiant and beautiful. I look at her smile and the fact that every photo has one of her children or her husband by the hand or in her embrace, and I see the beauty of the autumn of her life here. Yet, in those last weeks and months, I know, too, that there was so much sadness and acute heartache, that it seems that laughter should have been impossible, but there it is, evidenced in nearly every photo, even those when she was lying in bed, with little strength left.

Today, I walked out of the office to deliver some invitations and as I came back, I walked around the park on the way back into the building. The trees on the path in front of me are starting to change colour and the wind loosened a few leaves to float down around me. I know that I don't live "in the moment" enough, but I was reminded this morning, with the leaves fluttering down around me, that I can't be in the moment unless I stop looking forward and backward. I was dreading the rainy, cold months ahead and mourning the heat and relaxation of the months disappearing behind me and missing the beauty of the golden shower around me. I sat on a bench, for all of two minutes, and just took some deep breaths before heading back in to work. I listened as the wind rustled the leaves and they hit the path with a simple tap. The river was quiet. The park was not yet filled with the regular crowd of office workers on lunch break or joggers or yoga classes. I had two moments in which I experienced autumn. If it all goes past me from here on out, it may not be enough to last me until February or March when the hope of warmth is again on the horizon. So, I guess for the next few days, and as long as the transition continues, I'm going to be doing the impossible, embracing the transition and capturing as much autumn as I possible can.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Praying for the Hope

This morning, my friend, George, tweeted out a photo that will change the way I pray for the Democratic Republic of Congo. He sent a photo of himself with those that are caring for the most vulnerable in communities around the DRC. I recognize my friend, Eric, whom I have worked alongside a few years ago when in northern Zambia.  Eric has always been very easy to pray for because I consider him a friend, I admire him greatly, and I know the struggles he faces and the things he has sacrificed to do the work that he does.

It's easier to pray for someone when you can picture his or her face, and know their stories. So, I'm sharing this photo with you. Even if you're not the praying sort, please just take a few minutes. Look at the faces of these care workers. These are the women and men that are living with very little themselves, but sacrificing much and giving more than imaginable to those that have less. The DRC continues in a war that finds orphans and grandmothers running from rebels and violence, often daily for stretches of time that we can hardly imagine. The country continues to be unable, or even willing,  to tend to the basic needs of its most vulnerable. Old and young alike struggle, even in times of relative stability, to feed themselves, find shelter, achieve safety...never mind dealing with the appalling traumas that they have experienced and witnessed.

So, here are the faces of those who care. Those who stand in the midst of the hurting and say, "We are together". Those who mother the motherless and advocate for the fatherless. Those who feed children and grandmothers who can't sustain themselves when they have no land, no currency, no stability. They do more than what any human could expect and they do it because they are filled with love.

These are the faces of the hope of the Democratic Republic of Congo. To me, they are beautiful and look like what I believe Jesus looks like, love in human form, in the darkest and most desperate of places.
My friend, Eric, is second from the left at the top of the photo, with his hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him. <3

Monday, September 2, 2013

Exactly



You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.

- Miriam Adeney

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Invitation to Dance in the Dirt

Back in December, I was dreaming off and on of how to get the most out of life in regards to friendships and happiness and giving and all those good things that on bad days can feel few and far between. It began as inspiration from a book club turned dance party in the kitchen of our hostess. Watching my fellow book lovers, many in later years than mine, dancing to the Black Eyed Peas with abandon, reminded me that there is still much to be lived. It's interesting to me that there are people like me that just don't dance enough. Most of the people that have danced around me in the past few years have been children and grandmothers. This night was no exception.

This week, I took part in a First Nation's Drum circle. I've never experienced one before and it was again, a chance to dance, with abandon. It was reminiscent of being in Africa with grandmothers and children dancing joyfully, singing, eyes closed, hands raised, voices loud and confident. Again, I moved at a minimum, half hidden by a tree, very cognizant of those around me and what I looked like as a white woman awkwardly half dancing.

I am realizing that it's time to dance. I have been dreaming about the potential of this type of invitation to many of you for a very long time. This is an invitation to do the things we've spoken of as you've let me share my stories from Africa. The times you said:

"I wish I could do that...but I'm too afraid. (broke, depressed, busy, tied down...)"
"I've always wanted to do that but..."
"I don't know how you do that. It must be so hard."
"I just wouldn't be good at that, I'd cry all the time."
"I don't have anything to offer them."
"I could do that except for the food. (the toilets, the dirt, the sickness, the heartache, the distance)"
"One day I'll do that. When I'm older (richer, less tied down, the kids are in college, house is paid off.)"


This is your invitation. You. Don't make me name names. Because I will. And you know that I know that you know that it's you. Don't you?

So, think about this. 2014 is your year to walk in the dirt, to dance with grandmothers and to sing with children. I'm going to Zambia and I'm taking you with me. It's time. It's time for others to see first hand those that are serving the poorest and most vulnerable in their communities. It's time to set foot in the pathways and alleys that I've told you about. To hear first hand the stories of love and sacrifice, desperation and reconciliation that come out of the sketchiest shanties and least likely places.

You're in. You may not know it yet. I have a list in my heart of those of you who are. I think you know it too. So...please, come with me. It's time. I am not sure what it is that has made you wait but I think we can just put it on the calendar and figure it all out.

Details to come.

Say yes. We'll dance in the dirt. It's worth the price of admission right there.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zimbabwe Election Day 2013

The past few weeks, leading up to today, I can't get Zimbabwe off my mind. This beautiful country, once the bread basket of Africa, is headed to the polls today and it's an incredibly complex time for the country. President Mugabe has been in power for 33 years. Today, he faces (for the third time) his rival, Tsvangirai.

To me, the most incredible images coming out of Zimbabwe right now are the long queues of voters, waiting for their turn to vote. In a country where we would line up overnight for concert tickets or the latest version of the iPhone, but sit apathetically and bemoan how we are "too busy" to vote or that "it won't make a difference anyway"... I am so humbled.

There are many different sides to the story of Zimbabwe and its history as a country. I'm not here to lay that all out. What I am saying, is that if you're watching this unfold...look past the politics and the rhetoric to the absolute beauty that is the hope of the woman with a baby on her back, waiting in the pre-dawn cold for her right to vote.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rainy Saturday Surprises

It's a rainy, rainy Saturday. I woke at about 3 am this morning, the sky was brightening as it does here in the north, and my dog accompanied me down to the couch. The skies were clear and it almost felt like morning had arrived. Charlie went straight to the love seat and settled in with her usual three spins, a groan and a deep sigh. She figures she just needs to be in close proximity even when sleeping. So, I sat on the couch for a while, looking out at the sky and the line of heavy clouds creeping in slowly.

I woke on the couch around 9 to Jason trying to boil water quietly. I'm not sure how he thought that an electric kettle was going to be shushed or maybe it was a passive aggressive measure to get me up and awake. Either way, I am easily placated by coffee and he made that happen so the morning stayed on a smooth course. One by one, the boys made their way down to us, all bed head and pyjama clad. They have the look of small boys in their sleepy faces, despite their ever growing stature. Mornings like this, when no one has a scheduled game or work, we find ourselves happy to lounge around the couch and puttering around the kitchen.

Jason put some croissants in the oven and boiled some eggs and we all made our way to the island for breakfast. I asked Aidan to pass the milk jug, which he did, after pouring himself a glass. I picked up his glass and drank out of it, reminding him to always serve others first. He told me it wasn't true, you don't always have to serve others first. In airplanes, you put your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs. Always the kid to get me on a technicality. Then Easton chimed in, as he always does, with a quote from "Now You See Me"...saying that actually, you help your lawyer first, then your mask, then on to the children. His memory for all things movie related is uncanny as is his lack of ability to remember to brush teeth or turn out lights behind him. The mind of an 11 year old.

We all settled in around the house on various electronics and into reading corners. I was up in my room, dog at my feet, reading some favourite blogs when I heard the house phone ring. It's unusual in itself for anyone but telemarketers to call us on our landline so I listened as Easton made his way up the stairs with the phone and telling whoever was on the other end that he was going to pass them on to his mom. He mouthed to me, "It's someone from Zambia."  I assumed it was our friends that have immigrated here so I took the phone and was surprised to hear a Zambian accent and greetings from my friend, Dorothea, in Mulenga! She explained that she was using her husband's phone and that she wanted to call to say that her family missed me. I was so surprised! We talked for a few minutes about her kids and the new baby, Jesse, that I have yet to meet. Then, she handed the phone to Eva. I couldn't believe it. I was standing at the top of my stairs in Saskatoon, speaking to the little girl I love in her little home in Mulenga. She said "Hello!" and I said, "Hello! How are you?" and she said, in her best English, "I am fine! How are you?" and then giggled. Imagine. A giggle from halfway around the world and then I  started to come undone. Tears started. I asked her how her brothers were and she said they were fine. I told her I loved her. I asked her about Jesse and she said he was a good baby. Then we said goodbye. Dorothea came back on the phone and we talked for just a few minutes, enough for me to know that her family is all well and the kids are well cared for. Then her husband, who I've never met, came on the phone and told me that he was looking forward to meeting me in person. I agreed. I told him I loved his family very much and that I was so happy to hear from them. He told me that he was hopeful we would all be together soon and said goodbye with a blessing.

I sat with the phone in hand for a few minutes. I tried to retrieve their number but even as I dialled the operator, I knew it was a slim chance. I wasn't able to get the number. Even if I had, it would be unlikely that I could call it because for some reason, when phones in Zambia call or text out, the number is scrambled into something else and not the same on the receiving end.

I'm so thankful for a rainy, wet, Saturday that found me home when they called. I'm so thankful for the chance to hear from my little friend and her family and to know that they are well and safe and healthy.

Last night, my friend, Gloria, and I went out for dinner and then sat around the firepit in our backyard. We talked about Eva and her family, as Gloria has sent letters and little gifts to this family since I first told her about them. I showed her the photo of Kristal with baby Jesse from the past few weeks and we talked about the kids, and the family and all that they face. And then today, as if by chance, I find myself on the phone with them.

I never anticipated the possibility that I would hear their voices while I was in Canada. It makes me long to sit with them again, in their home, in a community I love and hear their voices again.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Oh Canada


It's Canada Day. I love where I live. I love that I was fortunate enough to be born in a country with infrastructure like schools and hospitals, roads and rules. I like the structures of my country that allow me freedom of religion, political views and even lack thereof.  When I think of Canada, I think of all the cliches that I absolutely love. A country filled with canoe paddling, sled dog mushing, lumberjacks. Animals like beavers and moose and bear confidently strolling in and out of our yards like domesticated dogs. The scent of maple syrup in the air and an unfailing politeness that marks us as Canadian even overseas. And while some of these may or may not be the case, it is a country that has brought forth the Biebs, Jim Carrey, Pam Anderson, and Mike Myers. But more lovely are those Canadians who have stayed home. Like Rick Mercer. Brett Wilson. Robert Munch. Dan and Jay of TSN.ca. Scratch that. Those guys are dead to me.
I love the CFL. The Riders. Don't tell my husband but I do love the Leafs. And the Canadiens. Love Much Music and being a small enough country that when a friend's dear daughter is in the running for VJay, we all rally to try and make her dream come true. I love the sound of a CN train rumbling by on a prairie night. I admire farmers who spend sun up till sundown on a combine harvesting grains that a whole segment of society has now deemed "evil".  I love Tim Horton's coffee and a maple dip donut. I like that our country is too big to have a "national" food  but is more regionally represented by salmon on the west coast, beef from Alberta, prairie grains, Ontario wines, Quebec poutine, and the vast array of lobster and shellfish from the Maritimes. I love that when you ask a Canadian where their family is from, they tell you the country they originated from, not a state on the east coast like our southern neighbours.
I love the beauty and emergence of First Nations people. Their art and their culture in the midst of their struggles. I long to really be known as "Idle No More" in its grassroots movement to protect our environment, particularly our waters. I love the Mennonite cultures that still live communally and weave their lives in and out of ours here on the prairie almost seamlessly. I love the new Canadian families around my city, challenging us to learn about ourselves and others. I love the emergence of African, Iranian, Halal and kosher stores popping up in our city.  I love the culture of diversity as a mosaic, not a melting pot, in which cultures and languages and traditions are accepted and valued, not seen as threatening or exclusive.
I love our national sport in all its forms from Timbits to the NHL. I love the rink and the atmosphere and the sound of skates on ice. I love our national anthem in English and en francais. I love that it still plays in the halls of our schools each morning. I love our athletes and the Olympic games and seeing the unity among our teams. I always think our uniforms are the most beautiful and classic and I am glad there is always at least three to five great options for worthy flag bearers. I especially love to watch our national women's team win hockey gold.
I love Canadian television. The CBC. The way you can pick out a made in Canada movie by the landmarks and the fact that your second cousin twice removed was on set and gave you the whole story over an October Thanksgiving dinner. I loved Mr. Dress Up and especially the "heritage minutes" that taught us our own history and that the smell of burnt toast may be symptomatic of an epileptic seizure.
I love the idea of Canada. I love that most Canadians do our best to live up to the freedoms we've been given by expressing ourselves - for better, for worse.  We'll take the worse for often it shapes us to be better, if only by deterring us from sinking to that level.
I love my country, most of all, because wherever I travel, no matter how beautiful or inviting, I've yet to find a place that compares to the beautiful place I call home.
Happy Canada Day.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Moving From the Sidelines to Active Participant


 I had big plans for this weekend. And by big, I mean HUGE. The weatherman has been warning of endless wind and rain, huge accumulations of water and even flooding in areas. So, I have three books lined up, a full tin of coffee and time to write. I was planning on recharging my energy by cocooning into my little writing corner and reading with caffeinated joy for hours on end.

It's not how this day has gone down. I think it all started with a new-to-us trampoline that arrived in our backyard yesterday afternoon. It's huge and sturdy - one of those old school trampolines we had when men were men and safety nets weren't invented yet. The kind we held sleepovers on and put soapy water on despite the trampolines tilted angle on a steep backyard hillside. A few launches into the typical west coast bark mulch and cedar shrubs did little more than spur us on to go higher with just an angry red rash for our efforts.

So, this morning, in a downpour, Jason and I were daring our boys to go outside and jump in the rain and enjoy the new trampoline. They barely rolled their eyes at us nevermind disengaging from the couch attached to their backsides. I took it upon myself to encourage them by going out there myself and having a few celebratory jumps in the torrential rain. They remain unmoved but I have to say, it was energizing for me. I'm still maintaining that our back neighbour was not coming out to watch me, I believe he was checking the rising water level in his backyard. At least, that's what his worried expression told me.

So, after breakfast, the boys and Jason went to see the new Superman movie. I passed on the obligatory invitation they gave me and decided to spend the afternoon as planned, caffeinated and creatively cocooned. A simple glance at Twitter (curse you technology) reminded me that it was Pride Week here in Saskatoon. It's been niggling at me all week to somehow show support for the gay community, particularly those who are searching for equal rights in marriage. I simply haven't been able to put it out of my mind that we are living in an era in which two people, committed to each other as a family unit, are unable to be given the rights to each others' lives and deaths in an equal manner as heterosexual couples. It just doesn't sit well with me. I don't think it's about the word "marriage" or whether being gay is a choice or any other rhetoric. I think it's about human rights and equality. Anyways, I guess at best, I was thinking that putting something "pride friendly" on my facebook was going to be about as actively supportive as I was going to get today, given the weather.

So, I proceeded to make myself probably the greatest grilled cheese sandwich of all time. (If I do say so myself…and I do.)  Two thick slabs of sourdough, cream cheese, cheddar and feta melted together? Mmm and mmm. And if you think that I was energized on an empty stomach jumping on a wet trampoline, you have no concept of what that grilled cheese did to me. In fact, as I sat enjoying the beauty that was the sandwich of the century, I flipped through my messages and saw a map of the pride parade route. Hmmmph, I thought, with my mouth full of glorious goodness, I could at least put on my wellies and slicker and go stand and cheer on the parade? Never underestimate the motivational power of a killer sandwich.
Isn't that the least I could do? So…checking that I still had time, and I did, I proceeded to put on my rain gear, grabbed an umbrella and headed out to stand supportively on the side of the road, cheering on the parade.

When I arrived near where they were marshalling the parade, I walked along the still stationary parade of people looking for my friend, Cathy, and the AIDS Saskatoon float. I was just walking along when the parade started to move and so I walked a little faster and caught up with the float and asked where Cathy was. They told me that she wasn't walking, she was manning the booth back at the center. So, I went to step out to the sidewalk and suddenly the inner dialogue ensued. This isn't complete but it will give you some idea of the craziness that I'm challenged with internally on a day to day basis when I start stepping out of the cocoon plans.

"I could just walk with these guys, it doesn't mean I'm super activist gay." (whatever that is…I'm just reporting what is happening in my brain, peeps.)
"What if I get on the news or the front page of the newspaper?"
"What will my boss think"
"What will my husband think!"
"What will my ____________ (insert any known associate here from dental assistant to my grade 2 summer camp counsellor) think?"
"Why do I care what people think?"
"Isn't this where Jesus would be?"
"Isn't this much more actively loving than standing on the sidelines?"
"Isn't this the sort of thing I would want to be caught doing on a rainy, windy Saturday?"
"Why are gay men ALWAYS so freaking attractive and well dressed?"
(Again, just reporting the facts….not going to justify where my mind went!"

So, about a block into the walk and chatting with a couple women around me, I started to really just enjoy myself. I mean, how could you not surrounded by rainbow coloured EVERYTHING on a day that was doing it's best to invert every umbrella and render it useless?  And, how is it NOT love when you see couples of every race, gender and description just enjoying each others company, whether sitting in lawn chairs on the back of trailer or skipping hand in hand in multicoloured wigs?

See, this past week, I listened to a sermon that centered around Jesus' miracles and the fact that he was accessible and lived in proximity to those that needed His help. I felt some cosmic finger (that looked eerily like my Grade 5 teacher's)  pointing at my conscience when I heard the comment that in our culture, "success leads to the suburbs". I don't wear my suburban culture too proudly on the best of days. I find it challenging when I hear things about the culture that allows us to drive into our garages and close the doors behind us and not engage with those around us unless we choose to.

Well, today I chose to. Partly because of proximity…I mean, I was there anyway, right? And why sit on the sidewalk and cheer on a parade when you can actively participate? While I'm not saying that my participation changed a single thing for those around me who are struggling for rights and recognition on an equal footing…it changed things for me.  Because on the way home, the things rattling around my brain were things like:

"I can't wait to tell J and the boys what I did today while they were at the movies."
"I totally should have dragged ___________ along. (insert your name here).
"I hope Graham and Craig went home and said they were surprised to meet some suburban wife who walked with them for a while in the parade."
"I need to get out more."

But most of all, I hope that when I look back on today, I will see it as a starting point, when the challenge to "love not with words, but with actions and in truth…" began to be a daily reality in my life.