Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Returning to Addis

The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.
Charles Kuralt

Sweet faces at Kality Centre in Addis Ababa.

Hauling water to communities without access. 

A new friend in Sheshemane region - her wisdom and laughter stay with me. 

These sweet faces at home in Turgo


Gentle. Man. 

Brothers. Siblings caring for siblings.


Shy. Joy. 

Pride and joy.

I'm heading back to Addis Ababa next week. I'm looking forward to showing it to a new team of guys who are going to be working on construction projects for Canadian Humanitarian in and around the Addis Ababa and Gindo Areas. I love going new places and although I've been to Addis, I've never been to Gindo.  I'm looking most forward to being in communities and homes of the children that Canadian Humanitarian serves through their programs. They have a holistic approach to caring for kids and it hinges on knowing these kids, staying invested in them for the long haul and returning 5-6 times a year to remind them that someone overseas is sharing their stories and speaking up for them.
Though this is only my second time to Ethiopia, I am looking so forward to the things I will learn and feel and see and touch. I love that though photos do a poor job of capturing the vibrancy and beauty of the people I've met, they remind me of what awaits. Joy. Laughter. Tears. Stories of heartache and stories of hope.  Regardless of the stories in the media that inundate us with stories of hatred and terror, there is still much more good in the world. I'm going to surround myself with it. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Happy Birthday Eva!

I'm a mess. Sitting in a soggy sweater with snot on my sleeve. Gross. Read on though.  Seriously, you need to know this stuff.

I'm sitting in a sunbeam on the landing of our stairs, with a dusty dog and just enjoying a book on my day off when my phone rings. I don't recognize the number though it's long distance and I risk my solitude on the chance that it's not a telemarketer...and the familiar crackle and pause before I hear my friend, Dorothea, in Mulenga, saying hello!  Suddenly, I'm back in the heart of it...my day pulled rapidly into focus by the voice of my friend, her accent, her news. She tells me that tomorrow is her daughter Eva's birthday. She will be 9 and she wanted me to know. And then, she's there, on the phone, the voice I'd know anywhere...saying hello and how are you and I am fine, as she does when we're face to face. I wish her a happy birthday and tell her how much I love her and she says "I know!" and I love it. I love the precious 1:48 seconds of connection between her little house in the corner of Mulenga, on the edge of the river. I love that I know that in the darkness, she has light and food and a door that locks and a family who loves her. I love that when her little brother, Joshua, starts to chatter into the phone, that I can picture him on the couch or standing just behind, crowding in on her phone call and shouting greetings into the phone to hear me say, "Hi Joshua!" and "How are you buddy?" and then laugh. I can hear Eva's parents...a mom and a dad prompting them when their English fails or perhaps they can't hear well...and I love that they are together. That for 1:48 seconds, we are together.

This family has been in my life for nearly 6 years now and I'm so thankful that I have been in theirs. Despite the distance and the incredibly long months between our visits, I know that there is a home in the bottom corner of Mulenga, that there are photos of my boys and their kids, photos of Eva and I, photos of our dog and their relatives, all in a book that sits on their shelf, next to their dishes and their pots. And I know that at any time, I can go to that home and be part of that family in person. Or that they can call into my home and be part of mine.

So, soggy sweaters and snotty sleeves, those are just symbols of what happens when you love someone in a space far from your own. The cost of risking a financial investment and long flights to see how other people is high. And six years later, I'm reaping the rewards of letting myself love a little girl who peeked wordlessly around the corner of a school house and walked right into my heart.

Happy 9th Birthday Eva. I hope we share many, many more.
Eva holding her littlest brother, Jesse. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fall Back Positions

I was reading through my Twitter feed tonight in lieu of actually watching the Grammy's. I'm lazy like that - judge as you wish. I read a few responses that went out when Pharell's "Happy" song won a Grammy and in that moment,  I really felt, well, happy for him. It's not that the song itself is so incredible but it provided a soundtrack to what was one of my favourite moments of 2014 for me.

At some point in November, I found myself on a soccer field, flowers in hand and in my hair, surrounded by children, clambering to play and have their photos taken. The sun was waning and the dusk was quickly approaching. A soccer game was in full swing and some of my travelling companions were fully engaged, with the passion worthy of world cup contenders, despite the rough field, rugged goal posts and lopsided teams.

I was chatting,which involved much gesturing and guesswork between Bengali and English, with a group of girls who had danced traditional Indian dances for us before we had walked down to the playing field. They were continuing their displays proudly, showing off hand positions and intricate arm movements that seemed to require double jointed and reversible limbs.  Still in their best dresses and costume jewelry, make up and best hair, the talented performers became girls again as we talked and laughed and played silly hand games along the sidelines, ducking every now and then to avoid wayward soccer balls launched in our direction.

As the light faded and the day came to a close, our group of adults and children, meandered back towards the community centre where we had first met up with them. In the approaching darkness, we met parents coming to pick up their children, greeting them and hearing the pride in their voices as they picked out their child or children from the group. Standing alongside the road, lined with ancient homes and small businesses, people returning from work in the nearby centres, and more than a few small animals...the leader of our group pulled out his phone and turned up the volume on Pharell's song. "Happy" blared among the most incongruous gathering of souls and yet, in those few moments, we all danced. Laughing, singing, waving....eye contact and lip-synching the only language between us...mothers, grandmothers, aging men and small boys barely strong enough to stand....we danced. Teachers, fishermen, labourers and housemaids....we danced. Foreigners, their first time in India intermingling with the descendants of those that had inhabited the land for literally generations beyond their memory....we danced.  My one hand holding the small hand of a little girl who had danced so seriously in her performance, now shimmying and laughing so hard she could hardly catch her breath. My other hand, holding the hand of a small boy in his grandmother's arms...his eyes wildly trying to take in what was happening around him, such a flurry of colour and sound and activity....we danced.

Sometimes, in our lives, we need to go back and revisit the moments in which we feel absolutely and incredibly free. There, in what was only a few minutes, with Pharell's song weaving cultures and people and ages together, we danced. I danced. Me. And in that, I was completely untethered and free. It's hard to remember that type of freedom when the tentacles of daily life continued to wind around our ankles and hands and hearts, keeping us tied up in the day to day business that keeps us from being free.  In a life where words like "busy" and "tired" and "multi-tasking" and "overwhelmed" can become part of our everyday self description, we need to redefine ourselves. We need to create the moments that become our fall back positions. So that when we think of ourselves we can include new defining descriptions. Words that come to us when we give in to the invitation to dance with strangers half a world away.

Untethered. Free. Uninhibited. Happy.