Tag Archives: Guinea

The root of all evil

For those of you that need a purpose for a post, you may want to skip this one.

I don’t have any answers. Just musings and thoughts.

About money.

Money is not a topic of polite conversation. One I shouldn’t broach. But it has been bubbling beneath the surface frequently over the last few months. And I’ve been listening, paying attention (which is not always the case with me). Having spent time in West Africa, then Paris, then Peru, I feel like I have some sort of ‘Cost-Of-Living Whiplash’.

Walking down the Champs-Elysées while we were in Paris, I was struck by the volumes of wealth, and the stark contrast to the trash-littered, dirt streets of Conakry. Both cities are home to two million people, give or take a few. The differences, resulting from money, are staggering, and affect every facet of their lives.

Unlike Mother Teresa, I’m no saint. (As if there was EVER any question.)

Unlike her, I’ve not taken a vow of poverty. I’ve got absolutely nothing against having and spending money. Lots of money. As I said in, “The important things in life“, I love pretty things. The more sparkly, the better.  Who I am inside, who I was made to be, feels refreshed and deeply pleased, and a little giddy, when I am surrounded by beauty. My soul is fed. I’m also deeply motivated by helping others be successful – to make money. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.

But, likewise, I have nothing against having no money. Living without. Barely making ends meet. Knowing hunger. Suffering.

None of those scenarios have to do with a person’s value.

However, there were many times in my life I got that confused, and wasn’t comfortable letting people know how ‘poor’ I really was. The same goes for being known as ‘wealthy’. And I’m going to resist the urge to explain how rich or poor I was, although I’m dying to. Because, as I just said, it doesn’t matter.

And money being unrelated to our value is a really important lesson to internalize.

And it’s easy to judge people living in filth to have less value. Or at least, less intelligence. But, as the (brilliant) husband of my dear friend Susan pointed out, “Cleanliness is a luxury for those not focused on survival”.

It’s nothing to do with intelligence. Or value.

I have no greater value than the Mama I watched, as she put her little kiddo’s ‘to bed’ on a piece of cardboard on the side of the city street. (It’s been 7 months, but it still hurts to remember her.)

I know that we all, myself included, long for money to pay the bills and live in a manner we choose. And while money protects us from certain pains, it doesn’t protect us from others. It can’t buy time. It can’t mend a broken heart. Can’t remove hate, fear, or doubt. But, it can add vast complexities, fears, responsibilities, guilt, and a deep distrust of others. Especially after one more person asks for a donation. Or there’s an Op Ed about you, again, that’s not true. Or another family member asks for a favor and somehow ends up the twenty-ninth person on your taxes. (No exaggeration. I’ve a friend with that many family members on her taxes.) Or, a ‘friend’ drops your name at every opportunity, and has not ever even offered to pick up the tab when you go out together.

From what I’ve seen in the places we’ve stayed this year, money is no indicator of personal success.

And, money is no predictor of happiness.

And, success is NOT dependent on money.

The people of Conakry, with all their poverty (not the guy with a suitcase of cash and his own money handler/counter), have volumes to teach about true success.

And having spent this week in the jungles of the Amazon, I saw stark, raw, poverty, at every turn of the river.

And, joy.

These kids lived in a one room shack on stilts, but sill aroused envy from my 10 and 7 year olds. They have dream pets (a baby caiman and a sloth)! And not a single toy.

As my friend Dan said last week, after a run through Conakry, “Imagine you live in a country where it starts raining in May and doesn’t really stop until September. Your job is outside. You cook outside. You live outside. But, because of flooding, raw sewage and garbage flow through the streets. In most cities, a disaster would be declared and huge amounts of resources would be used to bring relief. But for West Africa, this is just life. As I was running, I saw people huddled under any shelter they could find. Chatting, and SMILING, even LAUGHING!

…Take a moment to realize that circumstances always change. They are like the wind. But our attitude can stay the same no matter what. I will always know that I really needed Africa and its lessons of contentment, more than they ever needed me and my medical training.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Isn’t that that true?

Hasn’t Dan grasped the meaning of true wealth?

I’m guessing he has true success – that he wakes up in the morning with his soul at peace. Just like the people he saw laughing in the midst of the sewage and the rain. Just like the countless people I saw along, what I perceived as the ‘filthy waters’ of the Amazon River, swimming and washing and bathing and laughing.

I think money is a fantastic tool, that when used wisely, can have a huge impact. For good. Even GREAT things. I also think that having lots of money comes with an equivalent amount of responsibility, to use it wisely.

I do believe that whoever loves money never has enough. And will never find the success Dan has.

I also believe that having huge amounts of skill and talent, come with the same responsibility to be used wisely. And this is where most of us aren’t as successful. We forget, or get lazy, or don’t put the same careful planning, into spending our talents. We ignore our obligation to use them wisely.

Even though most of us long to be part of something bigger, to use our skill to make an impact in the world, it’s usually easier to let life keep flowing forward, like the current of the Amazon River, with us floating on the surface. I know it would be easier for me. I have to work willfully, which is a nice way to say work really HARD, at directing my giftings in a way that both honors me and helps make our world a much more beautiful place.

When I find that balance, and use my skill and my money to be true to who I am, while making an impact in the lives of others, I have a sense of overwhelming satisfaction. And balance. It’s the same feeling as running, in the early morning, when the adrenaline finally kicks in, and the sun pokes through the Seattle clouds and shines right on me, warming my whole being.

So I have to disagree.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. It doesn’t have any value of its own.

It isn’t the path to success or happiness.

It doesn’t bring joy.

Yes, it can shield us from the hardships of poverty—it can ensure pristine cleanliness. And yes, it can be used as a tool to accomplish mighty things.

But, necessary to any great impact that money can have…

—Is the use of a compassionate heart, a good mind, and wise use of our skills.

———————————————————–

I’ve seen the bottom

And I’ve been on top

But mostly I’ve lived in between

And where do you go

When you get to the end of your dream?

~Jeff Munroe

 

And, don’t ever forget, someone else being rich, doesn’t make you poor!

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Filed under June 2013

Missing things

As the countdown has begun to leave our international destinations and head back to the US, for the driving-across-the-country/US-history portion of this amazing year, I catch myself making mental lists of things I miss about home. And lists of things I will miss when I leave here.  These are some of them, in no particular order.

What I miss about home:

  • Friends. (That includes you, family). When it comes to reducing stress, talking with friends produces better results than Valium, therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga, or a stiff drink. And I had it in spades. I was surrounded by amazing people (some from a physical distance, but at least they had good internet and phone service which I’ve had only sporadically this year). And I miss them more than anything. Dreamboat has been a trooper, but I’m sure he’s ready for me to start sharing my thoughts and dreams and fears and and hopes and menu and frustrations and laundry dread, and the list goes on, with several someones other than him. And, if I ask him, even one more time, what he’s thinking, this trip may be over. Today.
  • Plumbing that is made to handle toilet paper. I miss this one a lot. Every day.
  • Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and the easy availability of healthy foods. And that food packaging is printed in English. And that I had a car to drive to the stores and didn’t have to walk up to eight miles to get there. (I know this one sounds snarky, and it is. But, it’s also true.)
  • The lack of ear-piercing car alarms, constant honking, trucks rumbling, music blaring, combined into noise pollution that never stops. This week, I heard a car’s reverse beep (not enough for only the large-sized trucks to have them here in Lima), to the tune of J Lo’s “On the Floor.” Swear.  I love the energy of a big city, but now, I crave me some stillness and peace.
  • Matching glasses (stemware). A full set of silverware. Cloth napkins. Pretty, shiny, things.
  • Not living out of a suitcase. And with only the clothes, and the shoes (especially the limited shoes), that I can fit into one suitcase.
  • Time alone that doesn’t equate to all five of us at a Starbucks, with everyone having received orders to READ and BE QUIET, to give me some uninterrupted thinking. Or a nap. Either would be fine.
  • My kids’ teachers. God BLESS them.  There are times, ok – they’re fleeting (or maybe not), when I long for having to go in to the office, for some kid-free time.
  • People Magazine (which I know is full of trash, and now has great, new trash on people I’ve not heard about after being away for so long), and Marie Claire (which has amazing fashion which I can no longer afford since I’ve not worked in so long), and House Beautiful (which is just silly as I’ve not been in a house in almost nine months, and my house is rented through the end of the year, and, once again, I can’t hire one of those amazing designers to come add their creativity and beauty to my home). But, I miss each and every one of these publications nonetheless. And, at every airport and kiosk and bookstore and checkout counter, I look for them. Finally, in Spain, six MONTHS into this trip, I gave away the Marie Claire I had brought from home. It still pains me to think about not having it.
  • Going to the movies. If I’m being totally honest, which of course I am, we didn’t often go to movies before we left home. There were the rare girls-night-out, or movie dates with Dreamboat. But, it had been months since I’d been to a movie before we left, and it has been the ENTIRE nine months of our trip so far, since I’ve seen a new release. I don’t even know what I’ve missed. But here’s the secret, when I was trying not to get buried under the stress of life, sometimes, without telling anyone, I would go to a matinee and just escape to be entertained and laugh or cry or dig my nails into the arm rests.  I loved the escapism and perspective it brought. The reality of my life was always better than the movie I saw. (By the way, you’d be surprised who is watching movies at 2:00pm on a Monday.)

What I will miss when I’m home:

  • Time. Time with the kids. Time with Dreamboat. Time to workout. Time to volunteer. Time to explore and learn. Time for naps. Time to write. Time that is all mine to spend as I wish, unencumbered by school and sports schedules, commitments, or work. The beauty and joy, from life without the morning rush to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door on time.
  • Knowing I’m following my dreams. Knowing I’m making a difference, every day, in my life, and the lives of my kids, and the lives of those less fortunate.
  • Low cost of living!  Cheap housing. Cheap food. Cheap wine. Affordability ROCKS.
  • Sunshine all year long! As we intentionally followed the sun, except for a freak snowstorm, we got to skip winter. After living in Seattle for 6 years, this girl has been soaking up the happiness of daily vitamin D.
  • Always being just a little off-kilter from being in a foreign place. Being ‘new’ which has kept me aware, learning, on the edge. And, more sensitive to others who are new, and able to reach out and make them feel welcome.
  • The lack of Hallmark Holidays and the freedom from the production of having to decorate and celebrate for every. Single. One. As much as I love my kids’ schools and their teachers (and believe me, I love them a LOT), there will be many times (every single holiday), when I’ll wish to be back in Africa and free of the guilt-inducing celebrations that require planning, effort, midnight runs to the store for materials, and time-off-work to attend. If I were to have more children, they’d have to draw straws to see who gets to have mama attend their event.
  • The intentionality of teaching and modeling the character I want to nourish in my kids. The daily challenges and lessons we have faced ‘on the road’ which serve as reminders that success is waking up every morning with your soul at peace. Of teaching them that compassion takes energy and attention, but is not hard. So if they’re not being kind, they’re just being lazy. And selfish.
  • Seeing poverty every day. And the joy of those living in it. And being reminded everywhere I look, that happiness is a choice, not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Surfing. And the sound of the waves. And the view of the ocean (not the one in Conakry with all the floating trash and the rotting fish, but the pristine one in Spain).

What I will not miss, ever, is a Hammam. I like to think of myself as stubborn, and anything but a quitter. I’m game to try most anything once. But, I quit the local Hammam mid-experience. After I had talked a friend into joining me and we were both stripped down our underwear, and had made it through the two outer chambers and into the, what was supposed to be, ‘hot’ room, to find myself chilled, grossed out by the slime and smell and wishing I could hide from the big, naked lady approaching with a dark brown fatty substance that looked like axel grease, I turned and walked back to the locker rooms (wet room with hooks lining two walls and a bench I wouldn’t set Peanut’s poopy bottom on), unconcerned with any semblance of dignity, and got dressed while all the women, in various stages of undress, sat and ate and watched us. Nope. Anything resembling a Turkish Bath, and I’m heading the other way, while spraying Lysol over my shoulder. No matter what country I’m in.

This year has enriched my life in more ways than I can name. And, is cutting out chunks of my heart, to leave behind in each of the incredible places I’ve come to know and love.

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Filed under May 2013

My boyfriend is no girlfriend

This is a long one. I plannned to divide it in two, but couldn’t find a way to make it work. So, grab some coffee and settle in, or read it in parts. As you wish.

———-

Before I was ready to hit ‘publish’ on the previous post, I asked Dreamboat (my legally permanent boyfriend) to give me his input. His response: “I got bored half-way through.”

I laughed out loud. Love that man.

But, he’s no girlfriend.

And, he got me thinking.

One of the secrets to getting through the circus that is my life, as graciously as possible, is having and keeping friends. Good, wonderful friends.

Being so far away from home, and unable to speak the local language, makes me miss my friends, themselves scattered all over the globe, even more. I’ve spent a lot of time this last month thinking about how wonderful they are and how much they mean to me.

It wasn’t always that way.

My first seventeen years were mostly lonely. Difficult. Painful.

Thank God for family – the people who become your first friends, and are stuck with you, while you figure out how to be a friend too.

I was watching “The Bachelor” today, when in one of the girls said in her cameo, “all of the girls are going to be so jealous of me.” She meant it. When asked what she has to offer the Bachelor, instead of talking about her unique qualities, she was thinking about the other girls. And how to make them jealous.

Why is that?

Why is it that girls are known for being intentionally mean to other girls? Why do we so often compete with each other instead of support and encourage each other?

It made me sad. (But, to Dreamboat’s huge embarrassment, the show, I find hilarious.  I think we should make a drinking game for every time someone cries. Or for every time there’s a kiss.)

But, back to my point. I think girls being mean stems from insecurity.

We think that deep down, we’re not good enough. (Not pretty enough. Not kind enough. Not lovable. You fill in your insecurity…)

For me, it’s more personal than watching a reality show on TV (well, VPN’d into a US IP address, and watched on my laptop with ear buds so as not to irritate Dreamboat unnecessarily. I save that for other times). I know what it looks and feels like first-hand.

Growing up on a ship limited my pool of friends. There were many wonderful people who lived on board for a short time, whom I loved. But then they left. And I felt like I was in constant mourning—saying goodbye to friend after friend, after friend.

Of the other families that lived on board long-term, like we did, there were two other girls my age (WHY is it that when you’re young, age makes SO much difference?). They were six months older than I was, and in the grade above. Not always, but most of the time, I was the odd-man out. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it got so ugly, that for a while we met weekly with our moms and were refereed by the school principal, to sort out our regular ‘misunderstandings’.

It was hurtful. And I blamed them.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was any less catty, or petty, or mean. I do know that I was insecure and trying to find my place.

What happened when I was twelve didn’t help. There was a boy whom I admired more than anyone else in school (as did most of the kids onboard) for his kindness, ability to have fun in any situation (and we were in some doozies in various countries), and athletic skill. We didn’t have much opportunity to play sports, but he seemed born an expert at them all. One Saturday morning, while he was talking in the hall outside my cabin, he was asked whom he thought was the prettiest girl onboard. After being badgered a bit, he answered, “Heidi. But, I’d NEVER date her.”

I could feel my insides shrivel up.

HIM saying it, made it so much worse. I was completely blindsided. For weeks it hurt, even to breathe.  You may think I should have been grateful for the compliment on my looks, but appearances you can’t help (at least not much at twelve). You’re born that way. But, I took what he said to mean that who I was—ME—wasn’t good enough.

Now, I can’t blame overhearing that conversation, and its impact on me, for all my insecurities. Or for my part in the cattiness with the other girls. But, it took me a long time to know that I’m beautiful inside.

When I was seventeen, the older two graduated, a new influx of long-term people moved onboard, and my world changed. Brightened. Friendships with other women blossomed. Especially with Susan. She helped turn the tide. It sounds like a weird womance (since ‘bromance’ is out there, we should have a word too, right?), but I remember when I first saw her. She became a loyal, fierce friend. In fact, a few miserable months into my first marriage, when I finally was able to whisper the painful mess I was in, I called Susan. We haven’t had much time together in these last many years (more years than I want to say), but the last three months in Guinea, while we were volunteering on the Africa Mercy, she was there too. We laughed, cried, laughed some more.

Here we are with another friend, who also meant the world to me. I wish she’d lived onboard more than those few months our senior year!

Here we are at Miss O’s birthday party a couple months ago. Susan showed up to do the set up and the entire cleanup.

Susan, and the many, many wonderful friends that have followed, yes, including friends I’ve grown to love and appreciate from those lonely years onboard, have been a source of strength, wisdom, comfort, support, and lots and lots of fun.

I don’t want to consider where I’d be without those feelings of being whole and known, sometimes, too close for comfort.

They’re from many different languages and cultures, with strongly opposing views and faiths. My Facebook newsfeed is an education in juxtapositions, which I find highly entertaining and also thought-provoking (that’s a good thing).These friends who help provide me with a sense of ‘home’, no matter where I am, are old and young. Many are ‘unique’ and ‘quirky’. I like them. I need them. I learn from them.

Yes, because I move around so much, home is not always a place. For me, home is an experience of belonging. To create that with new people, takes physical and emotional presence. It’s intentional. While I’ve watched some of my friends chose to emotionally distance themselves from the hurt of potential goodbyes, I’ve chosen the other path. To continually open myself to new people. To see them as adding to my life’s riches, and taking them with me as I go.

Staying close to those who are far away—yes, it’s painful. It means leaving pieces of my heart with people and places—requires nourishing and treasuring them when I no longer have the physical proximity. I keep them in my heart, wherever I may go.

Here’s my group of girls who joined a little ‘bon voyage’ party as we left Seattle.

If I could go back, and talk to my twelve-year-old-self, in an effort to avoid ‘the lonely years’, I’d start off with reprimanding her for being myopic. For being overly focused on myself. Selfish. (I know it’s the usual tween affliction and necessary to grow into an independent adult, but really, it’s soooo not attractive. Or helpful.) If she would just take the time to really look at others, she would see them absorbed in the same struggle to become their best selves. I would tell her that eventually, she would learn to turn her sensitivity outward. To be empathetic to others. To be a source of strength when they feel insecure and in need of encouragement. Then, I would tell her that the world is a big place. Without limitation. And that she should celebrate all her successes, AND her friends’ successes. That life is not a zero-sum-game (pulled from my ever-reducing vocabulary from global econ class). Our life is not reduced by the successes of others. There is no limitation and need to compete. If anything, my life now (and could have been true for my life at twelve) is enriched by others’ successes.  I would tell her that there is limitless satisfaction in being part of others blossoming. Sharing in their joy as they grow into their talents.

I would also tell her to start speaking her mind a LOT sooner. She has some great insights to give her friends, and the wisdom is wasted when she’s silent. Those truly worthy of her friendship want the wisdom. (Such a simple thing to say now, but if she could do it, she might sidestep that abusive first marriage).

Another life-lesson that has saved me in countless ways, and that Dreamboat and I taught in our management training workshop, is MRI—Most Respectful Interpretation—which basically means to think the best of people. Assume if someone’s acting strange, that unless they say otherwise, then the problem is with them (an issue at home, late night, work disappointment, etc.). Dale Carnegie, who coined the term, explains it much more eloquently, for a management setting. But, the basic principal is it’s not all about me. Don’t assume it is.

One of my dreams is to make a difference. For my life to count by being part of something bigger than myself. I got to do that in a really big way, by volunteering on a hospital ship. But, I also try to do that in small ways. Everyday. No matter where I am. Everyone needs relationship and intimacy. It’s beautiful to be known and loved.  And, as I give of my heart and my time to others, I receive in return the strength I need, to help keep my vision, passion and courage alive.

While Dreamboat is my lifetime friend (thank God for his honesty. I need it.) and I’ve lots of male friends whom I love, including my brothers…

One of my brothers may love me just a little bit less after posting this pic of him, but I just couldn’t resist.

 …sometimes a girl craves time with her girlfriends!

 

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Filed under February 2013

God is great. God is good. Let us pray.

While I perused my book this afternoon, and soaked in the tub, ignoring the eighteen, yes EIGHTEEN, attempts to open or unlock the door, I was also mulling over whether to write this post, about some comparisons between Muslims and Christians, and how they challenged me.

You see I’m more comfortable with my public self being seen as funny and kind. And a bit shallow. I’m very new to blogging, and I’ve seen vitriolic comments on friends’ posts, where they voiced an opinion on something deeper than soapsuds. But, I can’t stop thinking about this, and this year is about doing what’s right and what my heart is telling me.

And, I took a vow of honestly when I started writing. So, here goes.

As you may know, we spent the first three months of our year ‘off’, volunteering in Guinea with Mercy Ships Then we went to Morocco, for the two weeks over Christmas. Both these impacted our family in countless ways, which I won’t go into now. Travel isn’t new to me—I’ve spent time in over sixty countries. But, I was continually surprised by Morocco. The people that I met, the countryside I observed, the customs that I learned–in fact, the entire experience was amazing. Inspirational.  (And, I’m still in awe of their abundant, delicious produce).

Morocco is a majority Muslim country. Their two main tenets or “wings” are: 1) love God, and 2) do good deeds to benefit yourself, your family, the community, and mankind.

They have a beautiful saying that ‘No bird can fly conveniently with only one wing or with one wing weaker than the other.’ And, a Muslim can’t be welcomed in Heaven unless he is keeping a good balance of the two Islam wings.

Because of my American passport (the whole ‘One Nation Under God’ thing), most Muslims associate me with ‘Christians’.  What may be news to you, is that includes all things “Hollywood”. Including your worst-nightmare-styled-cheap porn (as opposed to the quality, expensive variety. But, I digress). And, right-wing Teaparty politics. And, blowing up an occasional doctor who works at an abortion clinic.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that pornography and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Christianity, to much of the Muslim world.

(I know this is completely off-topic, and not at all important, but I’m dealing with my aging skin as well right now. I also find it fascinating, and sad, that the not-so-fine lines, are becoming a permanent part of my reflection in the mirror.)

I had all that knowledge in the back of my head upon arriving in Morocco, where Moulay, our ‘Guest Liaison’, asked me to not let the ‘call to prayer’ disturb us in the early mornings, but to be “overwhelmed by feelings of blessings and prayers for our good health”.

(Isn’t it crazy that we had a ‘Guest Liaison’? I know!  It sounds so fancy and sassy at the same time.) If you want someone to buy amazing, Moroccan treasures, and then ship them to you, let me know. Moulay’s your man.

And, as Moulay forewarned, each morning, and an additional four times throughout the day, the call to prayer is sung by each mosque’s Imam (leader), and amplified through their loudspeakers. Did you know there are mosques on most corners? At least one per block of every village, town, and city in Morocco? They’re hard to miss during the call to prayer, FIVE times a day. Especially when you’re warm and snuggled with your love under a duvet in the early morning. And when you’re trying to have a conversation, or keep a train of thought, during the other times throughout the day.  But, I guess that’s the point…

The sound wasn’t pleasant to me at first. It was foreign and a bit frightening. And, very off key. But, that may have been because I could hear six different Imam’s singing. And their timing was more than a little off. Not even One Direction would sound good with that many harmonies going on at one time. Or at close to the same time.

I found out the Imam’s are all saying, “God is great. God is good. Let us pray.” And pray, they do. Even in the really fancy, western mall, there’s a prayer room. So Muslims can take a break during their shopping, to stop and worship God.

Even more glaring than the call to prayer, were the cats and the beggars.

There are stray cats all over Morocco, (OK. So the 3 cities and a couple little villages I got to know). Not really many dogs to be found, as in other parts of the globe. But cats. Lots of cats. Miss O, who is 10, was all set to be dramatic and upset that the cats go hungry and are unloved. (Currently, her tears are saved for the imagined misfortunes of animals, and of course, if she feels slighted by me or Dreamboat.) But, NONE of the cats we saw in Morocco were skittish, worried of mistreatment. The cats there aren’t afraid of people.  None of them are scary skinny. All seemed fed and sleek. On NUMEROUS occasions, I saw people dropping off scraps for the neighborhood felines. As a result, and another one of my many side-notes, Morocco doesn’t seem to have a rodent problem. Anywhere.

You may not be interested in cat care, but our curiosity grew until the kids volunteered me to ask someone. I learned the second Muslim tenet applies to animals too. So, they’re treated WELL. And the same tenet spells out that it applies to all ‘mankind’. That’s why, when we were stopped at red lights, and there were beggars, the taxi drivers would roll down their windows, kiss the cheeks of whomever was asking for food or money, and hand some over. The first time it happened, I thought the beggar was a dear friend or relative of our taxi-man.

The locals didn’t shun the homeless. Or look the other way. In fact, people called out blessings to them, asked about their health, and prayed for them.

I was in awe. And kept looking for signs that it was just a mirage. But, as far as I could tell, Morocco is a country that reminds its people to pray five times a day, remembering that God is good and great. Whose inhabitants believe, and demonstrate, that beggars and strays are to be cared for, and who are kind and welcoming to people of other faiths—even the violent, pornography-loving kind (‘me’). And, it’s clean. Pristine. Without any apparent graffiti problems.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that terrorism and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Muslims, to much of the western world.

I’ve been around the block enough to know nothing is really that black and white. Or, that simple. Dear me. Not even my feelings for my precious kiddo’s, for whom I’d give my life, are that simple—they are children, after all.  And, there are ongoing Muslim riots in France. Last week was the terrible hostage crisis in Algeria, led by Muslims, where the death toll still isn’t final. And the killer in the Aurora mass shootings was a Christian. As was the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I guess what I’m saying is, let’s all be inspired by Morocco to not just ‘talk our faith’ (whatever your faith may be). Let’s show it. Let’s make time to pray. Let’s do good deeds to benefit ourselves. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our friends and families. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our planet. And all mankind.  And I’m also saying that what looks different, can be frightening. But, if we look a little closer, we might see more similarities than differences.

My visit to Morocco is going to be the fodder of life-lessons to my kiddo’s and my inner-Heidi, for years to come. I’m going to remind us that we have choices to make as we live out our faith. And no matter what, we can do what’s right. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said; “The time is always right to do what is right”.  I often forget this. I procrastinate. I justify.

Our time in Guinea was focused on helping those less fortunate. Which I loooooved. But, in many ways, I learned more, and was challenged more, and received more wisdom, from our ‘vacation’ to Morocco.

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Filed under January 2013

Bad attitude

So, I feel a bit badly about this post. It’s not happy and doesn’t sound like me. But, it is honest. It is where I am right now. Next week will be better, maybe even in a couple of days. Promise.

I know the phases of culture shock, and that settling in is just ahead. But, I can definitively state that the ‘honeymoon’ phase of living in the Spanish village of Gaucin is firmly behind me. Right now I’m stuck in ‘cranky’. Which is my nice word for it. Dreamboat and the kids may have other words to describe it.

Most of my friends think of this year of travel as a collection of amazing locales. And fabulous cuisines. And they’re right. I did too. But, you know who’s cooking and cleaning in each of those places? And doing laundry? And wiping dirty bottoms (not just my own)? Yep – me.

Right now, following my dreams looks a lot like being a housewife. Just with a change of location.

At this moment I’m in this little Andalucian village, perched in the mountains above the Mediterranean, and gazing over the spectacular views. It is even more picturesque than it sounds. Stunning. See…

View from my bedroom. Really.

View from my bedroom. Really.

 

Sun setting over Gaucin

Sun setting over Gaucin

 

Calipha, 'our' donkey.

Calipha, ‘our’ donkey.

And I feel stuck. Trapped.  And I feel badly for feeling badly.

And I wonder why we’re here and how long I can last.

I look back on the three months in Guinea with longing. Not really wanting to go back to life on the Africa Mercy, but missing the constant knowledge that we were making an impact in the lives of others. And missing the challenges of life in Africa. Truly. (I am one of those crazy people that thrives with obstacles to overcome.)  And I miss lots of activity. And I miss my friends. (And I miss having a scale. Where’s the reward in eating well and exercising daily when I can’t know how much weight is melting away?)

And, I have to admit, I’m a city girl. In addition to a certain level of activity and availability, I’ve gotten accustomed to a high standard of coffee (my mom’s entirely to blame for that one – and I’m grateful to her), which our drip coffee maker does not live up to. And that last cup, five hours after the pot was initially brewed, is simply gross. No matter how much heavy cream I add.

The nearest movie theatre is an hour away, and without a car, it’s unlikely I’ll see a movie while we’re here. Funny thing is, I don’t really care about whether or not I see a movie, but being unable to see a movie is a different story. That makes it feel like it wasn’t my decision. Back to being trapped.

And Dreamboat is loving it here. Which is irritating. He’s reveling in the quiet. In the beauty. And the older kiddo’s have just started in the local school and are immersed in Spanish, just like we wanted.

First day of school

First day of school

And, apparently, not in need of future therapy for it. They’re happy and making friends.

I’m obviously not like them.

Part of the issue is that I miss having a job. I know. Crazy, right? But I’m more comfortable in my role as worker-person, than house-wife person. I’m trying not to be bored, to figure out my new role. I know it’s good for me. For us. But, really, so far, I don’t like it much.

But, I think I’m going to start looking for our next place in a larger town, with easier access to trains and buses. With, stores big enough to handle the pushchair (stroller) without knocking people out of the aisles like bowling pins. Which sell both toothpaste and veggies under one roof…to keep from having to constantly apologize to my family for my attitude. Which I’m going to change. My attitude, that is. I’m going to focus on my many, many blessings. And the view. And how lucky I am. And I’m going to learn to slow down and enjoy the quiet. And I’m going to speak up more and allow Dreamboat to give me the perspective that I need. To help me get balanced again. And I’m going to continue enjoying all the many, many cuddles and kisses with my Peanut. Whom, by the way, is also thriving.

And I’m reminding myself, that even though I’m worn out by details of everyday life, sometimes that’s where victories are won. I’m in the right place. For now.

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Filed under January 2013

No answers here

 

While driving through Guinea in a car with the Mercy Ships logo emblazoned on the sides, we were often stopped by police. Sometimes it was for medical advice. A couple of times it was to say thank you for helping a family member.

Usually, it was asking for money.

Twice, when riding with locals, the police weren’t very friendly. And could not be cajoled out of their demands. They took the car registration and drivers licenses of the people I was with. Until bribes were paid. My friends didn’t mind much. They were pleased to get their papers back without too much fuss or delay. The money was handed over happily, and the papers were returned with complete attitude adjustments that included a smile and respectful nod. (Wish it was that easy with my kids’ attitudes which frequently need adjustment.)

While the seeming injustice of this would have angered me in the past, I no longer see bribery as black and white. You see, I’ve learned some of the police are paid no salary. And all those I saw were on foot, without a squad car in sight. They pay for a uniform, and have some training to uphold the local law, but are expected to use their authority to make their living. My local friends knew this, and didn’t begrudge paying their part in the system to support the police officers, by giving them money to feed their families.

A western doctor friend of mine, carries cash with her each day, to pay the requested bribes she encounters.

There are some definite benefits to the system.  If you pay an officer, you can have the street outside your house closed at night, and heavily protected against possible vandals or intruders.  Or, for someone like me, who’s always in a hurry, I love that you can pay, a relatively small sum, to have the street of your choice changed to one-way, going the direction you prefer.  Of course that’s fun in theory (for me anyway), and while most of the time I found it hilarious in practice, it can be extremely dangerous. And the time I spent two hours completely immobilized in traffic as my one-way street ran head-on into three lanes of traffic coming at us from the opposite direction, it wasn’t so fun. And maybe not so smart either. But somebody was having a good time counting their money while cars, buses, semi-trucks, and motorcycles, inched their way out of that mess. Some did U-turns. Some, like the city bus, used their size, and the road shoulder, to just keep on coming, while we slowly got out of their way.

But, as we know, corruption isn’t always so harmless.

Guinea has a long history of allowing officials to loot its treasury. During the last years of ex-President Lansana Conte’s rule, employees of the treasury said they would regularly see the president’s convoy drive up to their building and leave with bags of cash.

Ok, I know that sounds fun.

But, so very wrong.

Guinea’s current president, Alpha Conde, with his zero tolerance for corruption, appointed Mrs. Boiro as Head of his Treasury. She launched an investigation into the recent loss of 13 million francs ($1.8 million) which went missing from the state coffers. While I was there, she was gunned down in her car, and killed, in what her colleagues describe as a brazen assassination aimed at silencing her.~ AP. Conakry, Guinea November 10, 2012.

Many locals feel that since Mrs. Boiro’s murder, Conakry is becoming more and more lawless. Some even wonder if Guinea might not be better off run by a strongman than a well-educated humanitarian–someone who is able to keep order with an iron fist.

I don’t know the answer to that. But even asking the question saddens me.

Realistically, I wonder what the motivation is for those in power in Guinea, and many countries like it, to usher in change, and progress. What would motivate them to share power and wealth downward? To get rid of the corruption? There is a level of society that lives above the law, that has huge wealth and power, and access to education, medical care, and luxuries that I can only dream of. Where is the benefit to them?

Corruption isn’t bad for those on the top and middle of the chain. It’s impossible for the man on the bottom of the chain. When the local dockworker earns $1/day, and has to bribe the dock security at the beginning AND end of each day, then it’s impossible for him to earn a living. To get ahead. It’s those at the bottom of the chain that feel helpless. Who wait for someone or something to deliver them.

While the situation in Guinea has no easy answers, I’m not without hope. When I first visited neighboring Ghana in 1991, driving across the border into the country was like crossing over into a barren and ruined land. But, now they are the success story of the region, with development and infrastructure, and stability.

So, I’m not giving up.

As Bono says, “If you want to turn the world right side up, it’s going to take your whole life.”

This is a journey, right?

At this season of reflections and resolutions, what are you committing your life to? Where is your journey taking you? Take a look at what your actions are saying.

Join me in committing to make choices that will help turn the world ‘right side up’. To help bring peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.

Please.

*I must give credit to Susan Parker, for blatantly plagiarizing her account of Mrs. Boiro’s murder, and the inspiring verse I used in the close above. They’re taken from her column in this month’s Navigator on the Africa Mercy. See, corruption really is rampant. I’m going to have to start with some serious housekeeping in my own life.

 

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Filed under January 2013

What exactly, are we teaching the kids?

We went to poverty stricken Guinea, in West Africa. To teach the kids to have a heart for those less fortunate. Then we went to Morocco. Here, the little kids, and many adults, have learned to holler in French,

“Give me money!”

You should see my kids’ faces as I walk on by. Or, answer “Non”.

Or, even worse, dare to ask them, “Pourquois (why)?”

My kids look at me as though they’ve never seen before…Then the questions start…

Now they’re not sure whether we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, or, shun them. While giving disapproving stares. Not quite sure where to go from here. It’s not the conundrum I was expecting to face. I’ve explained that the local children we’ve seen here are healthy and well. And that it would be offensive if we were back home in Seattle, and asked obvious tourists walking through the city, to fork over money to us. I think I just gave them their next fundraising idea.

Not sure the message is clear to them yet.

Or to me.

 

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Filed under December 2012

Gateaux

Tomorrow night I’m talking to all the Mamma’s onboard the Africa Mercy (AFM), about growing up on a ship, and how that has impacted my life. And how being here as a mamma myself, gives me new perspective and lots and lots of admiration and respect for these amazing women.

And, we’re all supposed to bring a dessert.

So I decided to just run into Conakry this afternoon, and pick up something yummy from a French bakery I’ve come to love.  After a couple stops to chat with street vendors I’ve gotten to know, and buy a Christmas present for G-ster, I arrived at the bakery. Hot and very sweaty, but without incident.  The cakes were beautiful. All had writing on them, so I thought I’d pick one the least inappropriate for our gathering (not for a birthday as most referred to…but none said ‘just because you need to have something yummy’).

Then I noticed the prices. And decided I should get the cheapest one. I pointed it out to the lady behind the counter, making sure it could survive a twenty minute walk home in the sweltering heat. She assured me twenty minutes would be fine. And then I went to pay. I counted out 395,000 Guinea Franks in small bills–equivalent to SIXTY dollars– at the cash register. The lady took my money and filled a small suitcase with the cash, and tucked it under the table. (Ok, not really, but that’s what it felt like.) I’d like to highlight that there’s some serious math skills, and arm strength, required to live here and deal with such large denominations of currency, in very small bills.  As I tell Miss O, it’s a real-life example of why math is necessary.

The cashier moved on to the next person, beginning to count out their suitcase of money.  As this is after all Africa, and I need to slow down a bit, and I was happily chatting with a man who’d had lunch with the President the previous week and heard about Mercy Ships from him, I waited. But the ice cream I’d also bought was beginning to ooze out the sides of the container as it melted. So I asked the cashier for my cake. She hollered for the sales lady. Then others behind the counter began hollering for several sales ladies. Then there was lots of pointing and loud discussion.

The cake was lost.

Gone.

My concern was, the cashier would refund my money, I’d have to pick another cake, and then repeat the whole counting process again.

But, a sales lady ran outside and had their security guards bring a customer back into the store to look through his purchases. A man searched high and low throughout the store.  Another group of sales ladies began unwrapping…actually ripping…the paper off the FIVE boxed cakes (he brought someone to handle the cash. Seriously) the customer I was chatting with had purchased.

And after twenty minutes, the cake was found. It had been mistakenly wrapped and added to the desserts of my conversation buddy.

So I said my goodbyes, and headed out the door. I was preoccupied with not tripping while carrying the $60 cake on the way home, so kept my gaze focused on the ground, knowing the rush-hour traffic would let me know of their presence with lots of honking, in time to step out of the way. ut, I only barelyvery narrowly avoided several speeding motorcycles, and 3 curious goats.

Without further incident (marriage proposals don’t count), the cake and I made it to the port and back onboard.

I wonder if fierce committment to desserts is something I should mention tomorrow night?

4 Comments

Filed under November 2012

Dreamboat

I used to think that with time, I got smart, and picked a great husband. I’ve since come to realize I had nothing to do with it…God was indulgent and generous and gifted me this wonderful man.

Sunday was our twelve-year-wedding-anniversary.

I think our anniversary is the highlight of my year. More than birthdays. More than Halloween. (Maybe not more than Christmas, but that’s not really comparing apples to apples, as that holiday has a huge spiritual component for me.)

But, the anniversaries we share, although wonderful, are not more wonderful than any other day together. Really. In fact he’s one of those anti-Hallmark-induced-celebrations-kind of people.  He mostly avoids to-do’s on Valentine’s Day. His proposal was over crepes one nondescript Saturday. But he brings home flowers, and chocolate, out of the blue. All the time. (Well, he did. And I’m sure he will again. After we leave Guinea).  And more importantly than flowers, and yes, even chocolate, is, he is kind to me. Every day. Always.

I’m not sure how or where he learned it, but he never loses sight of his goal: To have a great relationship. With me.

So, he doesn’t say things he’ll regret.

He doesn’t do things that will hurt me (at least not intentionally).

I always know, no matter how frustrated, angry, or sad he may feel, that he loves me. That he’s in this forever. As Elvis sang to me, walking me down the aisle in the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chappel, to marry Dreamboat;

All that I want is to be near to you,

To spend my life making it clear to you,

You are my heart, my soul, my dream come true.

Dreamboat LIVES that. Every day.

People often say marriage is hard work. Work? Yes, it can be. Hard? Nope. Dreamboat is living proof it doesn’t have to be.

 

Renewing our vows, for our 10th anniversary, at the same Vegas chapel where we got married.

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Filed under November 2012

Abu

There are two men I’ve seen, in the halls of the hospital ward downstairs, that each have a very large, benign tumor growing out of the right side of their neck and face.  Today, and every day, they tie hankies over them, to keep others from being too shocked and horrified at their appearance.  But still, seeing their right eye grossly misshapen, and pushed up to the side, a good 6 inches away from where they should be, is shocking.

I had prepared myself today, with a smile on my face, ready to look them in the eyes and offer what I hoped would be solidarity, courage, understanding, empathy. But, as I walked around the corner and saw Abu (not really his name–I can’t spell it, and would like to give him some anonymity to share his story when and if he chooses), our eyes locked, and I’m ashamed to say, I recoiled. Hopefully it was only inside, and that my smile stayed in place on the outside. And then I looked at his mamma, sitting, tired and scared, by his side. And my heart broke for her. And I smiled, deeply. Warmly. With empathy and understanding. Because being a mamma, with a hurting child, whom others look at strangely, wondering what all is wrong, is something I understand.  I recognized in her eyes the look of exhaustion, tinged with hope, of someone who has prayed and begged and bargained for the life of her son, while sitting by helplessly as he suffered.

I bet his mamma was thinking about this Wednesday.  Abu is no longer the emaciated 64Kilo/103lb man that arrived onboard. He has gained over 10Kilos/22lbs. I’ve wondered what on earth is in those IV’s: Guinness? Ensure?  Whatever it is, it’s working.  Abut is now strong enough for surgery.

Abu used to be strong, and handsome, representing Guinea as one of their elite football/soccer players. Think tall, dark, David Beckham. But five years ago, a small lump began to grow on the right side of his neck. And for the last two years, he’s been unable to eat solid food. He had a few weeks left to live.

You’d think my vanity would stop me from admitting this, but injustice drives me to do some crazy stuff…A few days before leaving on our epic year of adventure, a mole on my neck got red. I called my doc and was irritated at the two-day wait to get an appointment.  But, as soon as she had a look at my mole (which until then, had been quite cute, but if I’m totally honest, may have been camouflaging a zit), she cut it off. Without even asking.  Now how is that fair?  Why is it that I received the pinnacle of science and medical care? And Abu has lived FIVE years with a tumor that is killing him? I’m not sure who to be angry at…but I am angry. Abu was, is, dying. And his mamma’s heart is broken.

His surgery on Wednesday offers hope. Without it, he will die.  Soon.  But, the surgery is not a guarantee that he will live. In addition to the usual risks of general anesthesia, Abu’s tumor has grown through the vital nerves and arteries in the back of his neck.

Because of the tumor and his misshapen face, Abu is hard to understand.  But, he, and his mamma, have talked with several people about the risks. About the risk of death. Or a stroke. And you know what Abu said?

“This isn’t living.”

“I want to take the risk.”

If Abu and his mamma have the courage to take the risk, what about me?  What about you? Where are we letting fear stop us from living?

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you better believe I will be praying for Abu. For the doctors. For his mamma.  For his life.

I know that life isn’t fair. And I know that Abu may not live beyond Wednesday, and that he didn’t receive medical care that would have prevented this crossroads. And on Wednesday I will go and visit Abu’s mamma, and sit with her during his surgery.

But, I am also going to use this opportunity (that I wouldn’t wish on any mamma or daddy or elite soccer player or any person, in the world) to examine my life to see how I can make a difference in the wellbeing of other people’s lives, and in what areas I am not living. Where I need to take a risk.

Will you make the same choice as Abu?  And please pray for him too?

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Filed under November 2012