Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Nature of Details

It's no secret that one of my favourite day off activities is to get outside and just enjoy either being with Charlie at the dog park or paddle on the river or even just roll the windows down and go for a long day dreamy drive.

Today, it promised to be the perfect weather for just such an excursion so once the frost thawed off the windshield, I said the two magic words that light up Charlie's face and we headed for the dog park. Now, those of you who live in major cities may wonder what the fascination with a chain linked enclosure with too many dogs in proximity has in the way of nature or enjoyment, but here in Saskatchewan - we are incredibly spoiled with wide open spaces and never ending skies. Sure, we are equally spoiled with -40 weather and the occasional mosquito in summer, but we take it all in stride.

We parked at the entrance and Charlie commenced the announcement of her arrival to all her friends (none of the dogs even noticed...) and I got myself out of the way as she launched herself out of the truck to hit the trails. I wasn't far behind her but on days like this with no time constraints and no agenda, I let her lead. She headed for a familiar trail along the bluffs that overlook the river. Walking in the fall in the open prairie is an experience for all the senses. The wind is crisp and cool and brings with it the scent of the river water, the dirt and the occasional waft of burning leaves or grasses. The sounds of the an open prairie though are the best. There is the scratching and whistling of branches and dried grasses, beckoning you to slow and listen. The trees still drop occasional leaves or lovingly edge up against each other, swooning and whispering to one another. The sound of Charlie's snuffling nose finding scent after scent to explore and her thundering paw drops as she pounds back around corners to ensure I'm still with her are reassuringly common. Overhead and down below along the sand bars, the snow geese are constantly honking their signature calls, loud and unceasing, like the last shouts of college frat boys leaving a party and arranging their next stop over the heads of their giggling girlfriends.

The sounds of the prairie and the river combine to be a restful replacement for the noise of life at home and at work. Conversations cease here. My mind stops racing and slows to take in the beauty around me. I still have to work at keeping the thoughts of work and life and worry at bay but somehow here it's easier to just be.

The space is incredibly large and today Charlie and I stumble upon a small gift. We find a green chair perched on a bluff that I've seen numerous times from the water as I've paddled by. Today, I am privvy to sit on this chair and enjoy the view from the top side. It's hidden from our regular path by about eight feet of scrub and leaves but today we took a little side trail and discovered this small treasure of a resting spot. Sitting here, I hear another couple walking their dog above us and their dog comes down to greet Charlie and I, running past us and into the water at the bottom of the bluff. Charlie has already had a quick swim and so she waits to greet the new dog upon her return. They say a quick hello and circle one another and then the visitor leaves as quickly as she arrived, beckoned by the sound of clapping hands not too far from where I am perched unnoticed, despite my mustard coat.

We wait until we hear their calls and conversation fade and then Charlie and I wander out of the trail into the open prairie, off the graded trail and into the topography of gopher holes and shallow berms made by wind and rain. We wander haphazardly, not following any direction too closely, just generally heading back the direction we'd started out from. I am distracted by small things just as Charlie is distracted by scents so as she sniffs every few metres, I too stop and look at the details in the dried Scottish thistle, its purple long replaced by a cotton like fluff and it's stalwart petals now transformed into thick brown crust holding this small cotton pie together. I take a few photos on the phone and know that it's not coming close to capturing what the eye can see in symphony with the wind and the whistling of dried grasses leaning around me.

Venturing further afield, I find a small track and a miniature valley of white fluff covered sticks that look as though they've grown fuzzy as part of their own evolution. They are actually small burrs that have collected the fuzz from the wind as it blows through their particular little ecosystem between two small berms. They look like a natural Q-tip of sorts and as I pick one up for closer observation, I wonder about the validity of a theory expressed in Dr. Suess' 'Horton Hears a Who' in which small civilizations live on the cusp of such worlds, smaller than we can imagine.

We meander through low grasses, illuminated by the strong sun in a cloudless sky, and there is nothing quite so beautiful as your brown dog's coat turning to gold and blending into the landscape as though she were made for this. It feels like a glimpse of heaven to me and I am immediately hopeful that heaven would be this fresh and clear and emotionally restful.  Charlie just hopes there are gophers and sticks. She's a simple girl.

At this point, I realize I've lost my sunglasses along the way and so we retrace our steps back to the patch of thistle but it's pretty clear they are not going to resurface easily. I'm sad for a moment and then think it will be a sweet find for someone out in the field at some point to come across some pale pink flowered sunglasses as a gift for their wandering. As I think on this, I look down and I find an artist's paintbrush, in the grasses and I feel like I've been given something in place of what I've lost. I pick up the paintbrush with remnants of sky blue on it and I wonder as we head back to the truck, if I will ever see the painting that this tool brought to life. If the colour on the head is to be trusted, the artist has the exact right colour for this prairie landscape. We head around the last bend and I am breathing slowly and deeply now... the relaxed breath of one who has slowed to the pace of the land around her. I'm thankful for this space where I can breath that sort of relaxed breath. Too often I find myself trying to catch my breath, looking for room to just be for a few moments before entering into the next task or role for the moment or the hour or the day.

Today was the type of day that felt made for a day off and a walk along the river. I'm glad I didn't squander it on more "productive" things, more mundane things, more "important" things. The dishes will wait. The flat tire will still be there on Thursday. The need to catch up on paperwork will still be pressing me as I head back to work in the morning. But for this day, I've slowed and been still and taken deep breaths and that's what allows me to keep moving forward at the pace life keeps pushing me to.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Looking Forward To...

Those of you who are closest to me were probably privileged to be on the receiving end of a really emotional series of phone calls, text messages and distress signals in the days leading up to my departure for Zimbabwe and Zambia last month.  As I packed, I cried and worried about leaving my boys alone for the first time and the idea of having an ocean between us was compounding my fears. They are good guys and I wasn't actually worried that they would act up, I was more afraid of something happening that would cause them stress or worry...so you know, I pre-worried and stressed it all in advance because that absolves them of risk. I know. 

I landed in Toronto and I still felt completely ill about leaving. I thought about changing my flight, heading to Austin to my sweet friends, Robin and Bruce, and just throwing some old photos up of past trips to convince people that I had actually gone to Africa, because heaven knows, if worrying isn't the answer, being a fraud certainly is. 

I didn't sleep much overnight and by the time I was in my seat and listening to the Ethiopian version of the safety message, I was exhausted. If nothing else, I thought, I was in the place where I was being propelled towards the destination through no effort of my own for the next 26 hours. And it was there that I felt my body relax and my mind drift towards excitement and anticipation.  By the time I arrived in Harare and saw Farai at the airport waiting for me, I was completely at peace in my mind and my heart that I was where I was meant to be.  The focus of the trip changed once I hit the ground, as Farai told me just as we were leaving the airport parking lot, there was a cholera outbreak and it meant that there was much work to be done to get ahead of it and ensure that our kids remained not only protected from the cholera but also from the potential of the feeding programs being shut down. 

Since I've been back I've been wondering why after nearly ten years and countless trips overseas, I had such a visceral reaction to leaving. I think in so many ways, it was indicative of stepping out of the past year of firsts and into the new chapter of life after the break up of my marriage.  I was still holding on to fears and anxieties that I knew were false and unfounded but it was hard to let go of those...and yet, I took the first step, it eased a little. I've checked for ways to circumvent the pain and avoid the work of healing and yet, I had to get into a space where I'd have to sit and be propelled forward alone. Once I did that, I could get to the place where I was excited and energized again.

It's a bit of a funky metaphor for my life but the truth is, I'm waking up happier and more energized than I have in a long time. There's still lots of unknowns and there are many things that threaten to shut down this sense of well being but there are more that enhance it these days. Our boys are doing well. I mean, really well. They are figuring out future plans and balancing work and school and play and still not able to figure out how to take the recycling out before it threatens to avalanche us...but they are really genuinely good people. This month we celebrated their 20th and 17th birthdays and it was without a doubt, easy to celebrate these two guys. Following closely on the heels of their birthdays was our Thanksgiving and though we were in no way traditional, we certainly had moments where we could express our thankfulness to and for one another. 

I have always wondered about the power of God when I go to Africa. It's not that he doesn't show up here in so many, many ways...but there's something about standing in a place where you know you are exactly where you're meant to be in that moment that makes you feel completely at ease with his plans.  I feel that in Zimbabwe, I feel it in Zambia and I feel it in my work here in Canada and especially in this season of living with pain and yet being surrounded by friends and family and particularly these two amazing boys that call me Mom. 

I'm not sure what this next chapter...the year after...looks like....but I do know that I have been given some incredible privileges in being able to live through and live well this one life I have. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Small Sampling of Sukubva, Zimbabwe

We walked with one of our primary care givers who lives alone with her three small boys in a room
the size of a walk in closet. It's dark and hot, filled with their worldly possessions: some clothing, a few kitchen items and a brazier for cooking, some pots and pans, a water container and a platform that serves as a bed for mother and baby to curl up together while the two older boys, sleep on the cement floor beside and under the bed.

Housing built for mine workers over 40 years ago now serves as homes for families.
Often more than one family will share a home as the cost of living is very high for families who are
out of work or only able to get piece work to earn an income. 

This front step is a big jump.

Two of our volunteer care workers watch the children play games at the care centre
after they have come from school and had their daily meal. 

Andrew leads games with the kids that come to the care centre after school. The children are often looked down
upon and ostracized at school for their poverty. Here, they find friendships and acceptance with other children who
live the hard lives that they do. Play is an important part of their day as they often have to go home and continue to work
until dark helping out around the home and taking care of siblings while their parent or caregiver works.

Andrew and I heard stories of children swimming and playing in the water near the care point.
We went to check it out and found this broken pipe spraying water into the nearby field. Kids were using it to cool off
in the heat, which seemed harmless enough. Unfortunately, nearby though, was a large pit that was full of water from the pipe and kids were jumping in to cool off. There was no way of knowing how deep it was but we stuck about a 10ft piece of bamboo in it and didn't reach bottom. The sides were slick with mud and it was incredibly dangerous because once the kids jumped in, it was difficult to get out. Also, not many of the kids know how to actually swim so they just jumped in to cool off, but were risking drowning, by being unable to swim or touch bottom.
We called the council to come and either fence it off or cover it somehow so that kids couldn't access it.
It's one of those things that we take for granted that kids learn water safety but in this community, there is no real
reason to teach it and so a seemingly innocent pastime of cooling off could potentially end very badly for our kids.

One of the best parts of returning year after year, is seeing some of our kids as they grow and flourish
with the care they are receiving. This guy has held a special place in my heart since I first met him.
He is always smiling and is such a good guy to his friends and those around him. I'm so proud he thinks of me as his

My sweet friend dancing behind the scenes, away from the crowd. We share a name and
she is growing up quickly and becoming such a confident little girl. 

The train goes by the care centre several times a day and the children are still fascinated by it and where it's going.

Still one of the best toys around...an old tire or wheel provides lots of entertainment for the kids who chase them up and down the yard.