Saturday, July 16, 2016

epiphany or heresay, i will be mecurial

so. there's the whole 'God made man/woman in his image', right? regardless of your beliefs, you must at least know the idea is out there? but when you ask someone - even someone who theoretically believes that - to describe God you get all kinds of descriptors that don't sound like anyone i know.

how can the daughter be like the mother without mother also being like the daughter?

what if God is like me? or like you? what if God is actually pretty funny, sensual, smart, creative and loud? i asked some of my friends a couple of years ago to describe me in one word, and looking at that list, what if those words also described God? expressive, unfiltered, mosaic, open, authentic, brave, loving...

people are always loping off parts of themselves to try to fit into whatever religious or social or cultural mold they happen to be trying to fit in - what a terrible idea. all the parts of us are so, so important - the ones that make us confident and the ones that make us utterly fragile.

instead of loping off more parts of myself to fit, i'm going to start collecting up the pieces of myself lying around and figure out how to reincorporate them. i do not want to live piecemeal anymore - i want to be whole. mercurial as that might be.

Monday, July 11, 2016

picture this

picture this:

elegant women effortlessly carrying 5 gallon buckets of water on their heads, no hands. trailed by 2 or 3 small children, also carrying water (in smaller buckets), usually with one hand to steady. now add me, and a couple friends, *attempting* to carry the water on our own heads. it was joyously disastrous! 

picture this:

the sun is bright pink, setting over the savanna. looming baobab trees are outlined in black against the sky as you stand with your feet in the Zambian dust, sipping a gin and tonic. now add friends and cool evening air and blankets. i wouldn't trade it for the world.

picture this:

girls jumping rope with long grasses tied together, chanting and counting and laughing. they jump in and then as they skip, get lower and lower until they are crouched like little frogs. they jump and jump and jump! now add me, in dirty overalls, years past jump-roping, and laughing as i valiantly make 2 or 3 hops. i want to skip all day.

picture this:

a high riverbank overlooking a river full of hippos and crocodiles. vervet monkeys scamper through the trees and an elephant silently creeps up to pull branches down for lunch. now add chairs and friends and silence and time. stop here and sit for a long time with me.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

on isolation (or "the village within the village")

i am lonely, so i have a strong need to reach out. rather than text a thousand people a thousand times, here i am.

i have spent the last two weeks living with a small village of people as we served a larger village. the rhythms of waking and sleeping, meals and feasting and working and resting all happened together. and now i am alone, and i feel the loss of my village. no silent companionship, no toasting to a days work well done, no commiserating over cold showers (or no showers)... it's lonely. so my visceral experience of Malawi can be summed up in this: i need a village.

the power of presence

the last half of our week in the village was so different. there was no jump rope or baka, baka, soccer and no groups of children running through the street. there was a death in the village over night, an elderly woman. picture this:

there is singing, but you can't see the singers. slowly, shuffling feet and swaying hips, women come into view - a whole village worth. they are singing a lament, increasing in number as they pass homes and porches. it's a long walk but they don't hurry... there is time for sorrow in this place. they arrive in front of a brick and thatch house with a solitary woman on the front porch, bent double. she is the daughter...left behind. the singers stop several feet away, but do not stop singing. i keep expecting them to, but they don't. hour after hour they stand in the sun and sing what our guide tells me are gospel songs. as the morning progresses, i notice that the side and back walls of the house are slowly being surrounded by men sitting on the ground, leaned up against them. when we leave for the day nothing has changed.

it wasn't until the next day that i was struck speechless. in the early morning sun, sitting in the dust and still singing, were the women. sitting vigil along the sides of the home were the men. they had sat, and they had sung, all night. the power and the beauty of that...the safety and protection, the comfort of not being alone through the darkest hours... i was awed and humbled by the power of it.

it's the power of presence. by being totally present to the place and people you are, wholehearted, you are more powerful than you know. there is more comfort in presence than a thousand kind words.


... i am working on pictures, i promise. you would not believe the technical difficulties over here...

Friday, July 08, 2016


the one where i learn i am the slow goose

(transcribed from my journal)

today, perched atop the scaffolding - feeling the heat prick my bare neck and the weight of a heavy brick in my hand - i looked across the village and thought to myself, "i could live this life."

a romantic, western notion to be sure, but sincere in the moment. i haven't had internet for days - no phone, no email, no facebook - and i don't miss it. instead i have people i look in the eye and talk to, people who laugh when language fails, people who have stories and theories and opinions. instead of netflix, i have Life.

this afternoon, under the chief's tree, a wild game of "baka, baka, goose" broke out. over 50 kids and a couple of our team sat in the dust, grinning like fools as hands tapped heads - "baka, baka, baka...goose!" mothers with babies tied to their backs gathered to watch, laughing out loud as their children and their friend's children raced around the circle, kicking up dust, sliding safely into the empty seat.

i sat in my place, watching. it was amazing... such a paltry word for a profound experience, but language fails me here. i watched a beautiful girl of about nine come toward me, smiling knowingly ... baka, baka, baka....goose!

i heaved my tired body out of the dust and took off as fast as i could. around the first corner i looked over my shoulder and she was right on my tail... second corner, closer...third corner, wipe out! the dry dust slid smoothly under the mortared soles of my shoes and i was down, to great hilarity from all corners - kids, moms, my friends ... it was glorious.

i was it now. i baka-baka'd my way to a girl i had seen eager to be chosen. it wasn't even close. before i even made it around the first turn she was on me. i tried again, a younger kid, same result. third time's a charm, and i managed to outrun a slightly confused but eager toddler...and that just barely. i was officially the slowest goose in the pack, and there was a target on my back. i lost foot races one after the other until i surrendered to sit as a spectator. my heart was fat and happy. 

when i say i could live this life, i think what i'm saying is buried in my previous thought (yesterday's blog) about wealth. i am used to living a life where what makes me rich is what i have. i am seeing profoundly here that what makes me rich is what we have. i am envious of their interdependence and community.

the camaraderie and easy exchange between the men who help us build is infectious. the work is hard and back breaking, but they do it together - setting lines, mixing mortar, throwing bricks like cotton candy while they flash smiles at our shock and awe. these houses we build will owe their existence to many hands who know each other and care about what happens to the members of their village. it surprised me to recognize the thought that ran through my head as, "i could live here, like this, if these were my people."

i am dissatisfied with so much of my life ... today i recognized that as the ache to be part of a communal life... where many hands make light work and big messes, and laughter eases a tired arm and a tired heart.  i have no idea how to carry this home, how to re-order my life. but what i have seen and experienced can not be unseen.

when we first drove to salima, i thought i was seeing aching poverty. i think now that i was not. 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

things rarely go as planned

so, i had no interwebs at all in africa. i am going to see what i can do about catching you up on my trip in the next couple days, now that i am home and have slept for 17 straight hours. :) also, my laptop appears to have died (!?!?) so pics will still have to be forthcoming... sorry!

a few non-linear thoughts to get us going:

...lake malawi is gorgeous. one of my favorite nights was when the power went out (scheduled roll-out) and me, brian, charlie and ellie sat on the beach looking up at the stars. you could see the milky way, billions of years of light... we saw shooting stars and an upside down & backward 'big dipper' and brian found a giraffe constellation which he named bartholemew. it's a night i'll remember.

...we had several wonderful dinners out, and i do mean *out*. very little of life in malawi takes place indoors. we ate outside, walked outside, marketed outside, rested outside...and the rest of the population seemed to, as well. it was totally up my alley. of my personal highlights was dinner every night. we worked hard - *really* hard - and dinner was the most relaxed part of the day. communal bottles of wine were passed, stories and histories shared, along with much laughter. i think i will miss dinner most of all.

....village life. again, so communal. i will do my best to describe it to you in upcoming posts, but i have to say this: it made me question my personal definition of wealth. i rather abruptly realized that i define wealth by what *i* have, instead of what *we* have. i saw in the village that life is much richer with a community. i may have running water, but when i saw the trips the women took, about 3 times a day, to the pump to fill their buckets...when i heard them laugh and tease...when i saw them teaching small children to carry small pots of water on their head... it occurred to me that they may have the better of the two.

....i met amazing people, both on my team and in the country. sousand, dan, wise, faith, chifundo, felix, ellie, brian, emmanuel, nepman, harry, bartholemew, elias, teeny and charlie, just off the top of my head. if it's really people who make life rich, then this was a huge deposit into the 'bank' of my life.
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....nature is (pardon me here) fucking amazing!!!!! the universe in all it's glory - from the milky way to the warthog - is absolutely breathtaking. the human person, the impala, the frog and the hippo....breathtaking. turns out i can go 4 days in construction clothes without washing them, but that's it. *gross*

....goat is actually really tasty

....plane rides are better with friends...and ambien

....we should stop arguing about who our (faith) stories belong to, and start paying attention to the things they are trying to tell us

....Jesus gets turned away. a lot.

....endorphins and dopamine are overrated (if they come from a cold shower)

....there are brilliant people with *amazing* ideas out there