June 24, 2011

human savagery

Congolese woman and child fleeing from destruction
i cannot stop thinking about one of the world's worst atrocities against women: rape in war.  any form of rape is horrible, but the women who bear the greatest scars seem to be those who were the victims of war's brutality.

Congolese soldier
the subject is more than i can bear to dwell on, yet it is such a horrific and prevalent worldwide reality of war that i find myself needing to acknowledge it -- to give it a voice rather than let it continue to persist in silence.

those who bear the unthinkable crime against their bodies are left without a voice, without visible battle wounds, without societal support, and without their dignity restored.  they bear scars that do not heal.


 
the world is suffering and sick with great spiritual diseases -- i know any change begins with me, with my spiritual strength, with my own pure and goodly deeds.  in order to banish the darkness of ignorance, brutality, violence and hatred, we must become (and remain!) beacons of light.  not just a flickering light but a bright beam of light -- full of purity, hope, and servitude.  it requires tireless exertions to raise children, especially boys, to know deeply within their souls that women and men are two wings of the bird of humanity.  the spiritual man will never resort to the degradation of women -- and he would view such horrific acts as degradating to the core of his own soul.  each passing day is either an opportunity to help the world of humanity or let it languish on its bed of sickness.  i'm clinging to the cord of faith through living a life of service to and love for humanity, one soul at a time.
"There is nothing so heart-breaking and terrible as an outburst of human savagery!
"I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.
"Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.
"When soldiers of the world draw their swords to kill, soldiers of God clasp each other's hands! So may all the savagery of man disappear by the Mercy of God, working through the pure in heart and the sincere of soul. Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain!

"Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God."

(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 28)

June 23, 2011

self-mastery

the other day i was pondering my struggle here living in ghana. i have gone around and around in my head and in my heart about outward circumstances that have been leaving me without energy. it's more than just missing loved ones and the cultures of south africa. it's more than facing the traffic and lack of infrastructure here. and it's definitely more than the typical things in life that test our resolve, patience, forbearance, etc.

it entered my heart finally that my soul just isn't at peace.  it shouldn't matter what is happening around me.  happiness and contentment are never based on outer circumstances.  they are qualities of the soul.  a peaceful soul is acquiescent, radiantly acquiescent.  a peaceful soul is calm, full of patience, and able to put faith into practice by trusting that everything is God's Will..and God's Will always benefits our souls.

i can feel this internal struggle happening, making me feel discontent when dwelling on what it is that i want to change.  what is essential is that i surrender.  i must stop trying to resist God's Will -- i.e., all of the situations and circumstances of life here in Ghana.  i must stop struggling against what i can't change:
"Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The 'Master Key' to self-mastery is self- forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation."    
                                                      (Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

no matter how much i find a situation difficult for me, this counsel to forget what i want is truly the 'light of guidance' for my soul.  i am praying and striving to surrender.  it's a spiritual journey of communing with God while often feeling quietly alone in my struggle to forget myself.  i'm not there yet but i can feel myself feeling less disturbed when i focus on giving up my will for the sake of God's Will.  it requires complete conscious effort at first.  the more effort i make to conform to the Will of God, the easier and quicker it will be for me to evolve into exhibiting that spiritual habit of effortless acquiescence.  i must always remember the 'master key'..

June 19, 2011

transitioning..

yesterday our family took a piece of paper and secretly wrote down 3 places we'd like to take a vacation someday.  i played along and wrote down:1. south africa: visit friends in delft and take the jr. youth out in a rented van on an outing
2. italy/alps

i could only come up with 2 places.  this game didn't include the u.s. to see family because dash's company pays for us to travel there once a year.  and we all knew that this game would not be reality if my dad's chemotherapy doesn't help him recover from lymphoma.  so as i pondered the idea of a vacation, i wrestled with the idea of doing something just for ourselves vs. for our parents or for our spiritual family of young souls in south africa.  it took a few minutes but i played along and envisaged us in italy surrounded by beauty, good food and a trip up to the alps to enjoy learning how to ski together.

dashiel announced the children's suggestions first.  domani's first 2 choices were jamaica and seychelles.  dyami's were jamaica and mauritius.  ayana's were mauritius and europe.  then it came to mine.  my beloved husband started off by saying that mine were taking ecovillage excursions in places like burkina faso and cote d'ivoire.  we all laughed.  then he joked and said i'd like to take us up country in ghana and visit the permaculture institute. :)  we laughed again (knowing how much hard work and full of potential malaria it would be rather than a vacation).  but when dashiel read out loud that i would like to go to south africa and be with our friends in poverty-stricken areas, i started to cry as they lightheartedly laughed, not considering that this is a real vacation to me.
watching the jr. youth performances

jr. youth performing a dance
the tears welled up from deep in my heart.  my heart longs to be there again.  it misses many friendships and the culture.  it wants to return to a land that opened my heart to love of service and souls.  to me it would be the greatest vacation to share time and more memories together.  many of these souls are part of our spiritual family.  to be with them is to feel God's presence.  all of us felt great joy when with our friends there, not just me.  why would i rather go and be without comforts, good food, or new, interesting and beautiful experiences?

my emotions expressed themselves and were received with tenderness and understanding.  i entered the consultation about possibilities as we dreamed of what we would most enjoy sharing together.  my honesty enabled me to feel closer to my family and we all agreed that in a year or two, we would definitely plan to go visit south africa.  we also agreed that since we are surrounded by heat everyday, and recently lived surrounded by beautiful beaches, a trip to a cooler climate would be a welcome change.

Pinky Gova, a new Baha'i youth
deep within my heart lies a pulse of empathy and love for others who are less fortunate.  something within me struggles enjoying the pleasures of life knowing that others cannot, especially others who i love that are deprived of opportunities to travel.  i find great comfort in helping others, sharing with others, and enabling others to experience the pleasures of life.  i often wish i could do more for them, even sacrificing our time and money to benefit them.  as much as i have enjoyed our vacations (!), right now my heart desires to return to south africa to be with our friends who we love and who have no money to travel within their own province, let alone out of the country.   my heart will mend as i cling to God's Will and see the end in the beginning -- knowing that i will look back and realize why we were meant to leave the land where our hearts remain at home.  all the while, i will continue to love them from afar...


June 16, 2011

sights, sounds & smells of Accra

after six weeks of living in accra, it feels like a long list has accumulated in my mind's eye for experiencing many new sights, sounds & smells here.  for most of my adult life i have felt like i had a sense of what ghana was like -- perhaps through my friend's stories, articles, college courses...i'm not really sure.  i have seen the traditional, round & colorful baskets being sold in the u.s., as well as the kente cloth which is so internationally known.  i had an image of village life with fires cooking food, basins full of clothes being soaked for washing, tropical plants creating a density of lush greenery all around, thatched roofs keeping the rain out, dirt paths and roads to carry people, bicycles and trucks, and children on mamas' backs snuggled under beautiful patterned fabrics.

now that i am living in accra (which is far from village life), i have come to see that i had no real concept of this land and its peoples whatsoever.  aside from the fact that we're living in a city and not a village, i could never have imagined or known what life is like here.  i also realize that even if we have great interest in other nations and their cultures, we are far removed from the details of life that make each one unique and distinguished from one another.

the first aspect of life here that struck me with great surprise is the lack of infrastructure.  paved roads do exist but they are not common enough to make one feel like it's normal.  dirt roads intersect paved roads along common roadways in every neighborhood.  the dirt roads are so bumpy and rocky, with uneven rivets as a result of heat and heavy rainfull, that only the 4x4s can get through them with a sense of ease.  when you factor in the traffic and chaos which typify life on the roads, it becomes an experience that challenges whatever sense of accomplishment one had felt in the virtue of patience.  every simple trip from one neighborhood to another becomes almost an ordeal.  if you add in two additional factors -- the presence of police who are eager to find any reason to fault you and send you to the local station unless you offer a bribe, and the endless stages of highway construction which create massive bottlenecking or the lack of maintenance of the roads (potholes, broken gutters, eroding asphalt along the edges of the road) -- the errand that should take a half an hour is easily more than an hour.  we must take all of these factors into consideration when needing to use a vehicle when traveling around.  somehow other countries like tanzania, mozambique and cote d'ivoire -- all 'developing' nations -- have managed to create cities that have great infrastructure and modern landscaping.  accra has some very nice hotels but surprisingly, it has no area which facilitates people to travel with ease and enjoy restaurants, beaches, and other typical tourist attractions.
it is common to see broken coconut shells on the side of the road, littered plastic water bags (which are sold much more often than water bottles), people carrying local foods on their heads, lizards scurrying into hiding spots, corn stalks growing on lawns instead of grass, urban gardens in public lots, and women dressed in gorgeous, traditional outfits to take care of their daily business.  there are always container shops or wooden stands selling a variety of essentials, snacks, local cuisine and produce.  i like how they are interspersed with official businesses and in all kinds of neighborhoods.  accra is still a city that has people of all classes living side by side.  those who are striving to make a living by selling goods open up containers in front of their homes.  it fascinates me to see how this is occurring -- there are no laws preventing people from 'setting up shop' so it's nice to see people being able to create business opportunities for themselves.  i especially like how tables with umbrellas are set up for those who can't afford something more substantial.

when we first arrived we noticed there are sounds that are new or unusual.  one is the constant pumping of a rubber horn, the kind that clowns in america use sometimes.  it is used to alert neighbors that the vendor is nearby with food to sell.  typically it's fried foods, ice cream and ghanaian meals on the go.  it sounds like a bird calling, with repetitive honks, usually 8-10 in a row, with a pause in between before it repeats again.  another sound we hear about 2 times a week is a loud announcement on a megaphone from a car that randomly rides by.  several times we've heard it around 6:30 in the MORNING.  to me it depicts the scene in a film about africa when the rebels are announcing something about the 'cockroaches' -- as if we're preparing for war. 

the familiar sound of cars honking to get a guard's attention to open the gate to residential homes is now a normal part of life.  most of the time these big homes or compounds have little rooms inside the property for the guard to sit.  when the car arrives it beeps a couple of times and waits for the gate to open.  there are NO automatic gates in accra -- it's definitely odd how a lot of money is spent on expensive homes and security fences or barbed wire but no one has automatic gates (which they do have in south africa).  we are now a part of the beeping system because dash's company, olam, provides a driver and insists that wherever we live we have a security guard.  this is necessary to the company because the house we live in is furnished by the company.  the driver service is not my favorite aspect of life in accra, but i am learning to appreciate the advantages it offers -- like avoiding the stress and hassle of life on the roads (our driver was already sent to the police station one time and had to pay a small fine for talking on the cell phone).

one sound that we find brings a smile to our faces is the wide variety of musical rhythms one can hear anywhere at anytime.  cell phones around the world are now full of ringtones; it is fun to hear songs and melodies in ghanaian languages that we've never heard before.  the loudest and most festive sounds come early in the evening until way past midnight, but music in africa is so woven into the fabric of daily life that it's more of a 24/7 sound:  it can be heard by women singing gospel while ironing, washing or cooking, to dj's and big speakers blasting reggae, house music and local sounds at clubs and bars throughout the city.

smells leave a unique impression on us.  the biggest smell here that i love is burning trash.  it brings me instantly to jamaica where the hint of citrus scent is intermingled with piles of waste burning in backyards and the sides of streets.  each time i smell it i feel connected to life for all people in the tropics, where mango and avocado trees grow with lemon, orange and banana trees.  most families find burning waste an easy solution to accumulated waste.  it may not be ecologically beneficial but it certainly is the practical way to deal with the reality of accumulating waste.  now that i am living here, and not just a visitor, i am eager to discover ways to bring sustainable solutions to the needs of daily life.  i am hoping that the accumulating sights, sounds and smells of accra will inspire me to do so. :)

June 12, 2011

radiant acquiescence: a jr. youth story


this is Sami Naki, in the blue.  i've written about him before but he's worth mentioning again.  he is one of the gems in our life.  i think about him everyday.  his birthday was yesterday; he turned 13.  Sami is a charismatic soul, full of energy to sing, dance, draw, write & serve.  whenever he knew a celebration was coming up, he'd prepare traditional Xhosa dances to perform; if he was touched by something at children's classes, he would write me a letter expressing his feelings; during free time after classes he loved to draw and paint pictures of love; and he was one of the lead singers of the Baha'i school choir -- what a voice God has given him!  what i vividly remember the most is how he will instantly arise to be of service:  cutting food into small portions so all can share..fetching wood for the bon fire..planting seeds or seedlings for the community garden..being the leader of a group project..helping adults with anything they needed..and being a loving brother to all of the children.
traditional dancing after devotions at the Somni's home
when i met Sami he was 9 years old.  he lived in one of the small, concrete homes in the neighborhood of Delft, not unlike the other children.  inside his home there was no refrigerator, no oven, a shared kitchen/living area with a shelving unit that separated the back of the home where 2 beds lay close to each other.  the two burners on a transportable stove were where he'd fry a shredded potato for his meal without any assistance.  this was his basic meal.  most of the time he came to class hungry.  
it's hard to know if someone is hungry unless you are with them all day and realize they have not eaten and have no food at home.  one time sami was crying because he and his little sister were home and were so hungry.  i thought of Abdu'l-Baha.  my heart was aching.  aside from bringing refreshments for 20-50 children and youth each time, our visits were limited in terms of how we could help the neighborhood in material ways.  but this was a moment where i knew it was essential to provide sustenance to my little brother and sister.  we walked to the tuck shop and bought a few eggs, a loaf of bread and a few potatoes.  we returned to his home and it was time for me to leave.  sami couldn't express his feelings in words at that moment; instead he hugged me tightly as if it was our last time together. 

Sami's parents divorced in the first year of us knowing him.  he was 11 years old and without any parental support for most of the days of his life.  his dad had moved out; his mom almost never came home.  his 2 older sisters supported him and his little sister the best they could and with very little means, but with a lot of love and unity.  early in 2010 his dad decided to sell the house that Sami's mom and sisters were living in.  it was heartbreaking.  none of them wanted to leave the neighborhood they had grown up in.  they were forced to leave without preparation.  Sami and his sisters were crying.  i was crying.  they had to go live with their mother's brother in a shack in Nyanga.  sami began walking from Nyanga all the way to Delft (about 2 miles) to go to school.  and since he didn't want to miss Baha'i school on saturdays, he usually slept at someone's house on friday nights.  after some time passed, he started living with one of the family's in Delft until December school break.  he now goes to school in Gugulethu which is closer to where he lives and he no longer walks to Delft for Saturday activities.
sami being silly with joy while eating refreshments
sami's home in Nyanga is smaller than the house in Delft.  it is a typical shack made of scrap wood with a tin roof.  somehow there is electricity hooked up so an electrical stove and kettle can cook food and heat water.  there is no refrigerator or tv.  there is very little space inside the 2 rooms.  it manages to sleep 6 of them (now 7 since his older sister had a baby).  my one visit there over the sandy, rocky narrow pathway was full of prayer because the tires often spun without control in the sandy spots.  this was the only time i drove in an area of cape town that was full of shacks -- very few cars make their way off the main roads to enter in those areas, and no one there had ever seen an 'umlungu' (non Xhosa person) come to visit.  i was greeted by warm smiles full of surprise and apprecation all wrapped up into a friendly greeting.  i didn't see where sami goes to wash or use a toilet, but it was a discussion that i had with my children whenever they began to complain about any inconvenience or material difficulty in their lives -- i reminded them how sami must walk somewhere in the middle of the night if he needs to empty his bladder...  our visit together was full of Xhosa hospitality; it was one of those moments in my life that leaves an eternal imprint on my soul.
sami leading the study group in preparation for the Baha'i contest

sami with his close friend, yolanda -- the first time i went to delft they showed me their traditional xhosa dances
i can no longer visit sami.  i sometimes open my prayer book and read one of the letters he wrote expressing his love and gratitude for the children's classes.  although i have tried to call his sister's cell phones, i have only once been able to reach them (yesterday on his birthday) but he was not home.  sami's life in the township isn't one of staying inside at home most of the time.  it is out wandering around and about, hanging out with friends, playing soccer, dancing and celebrating culture, and attending church activities.. i know sami's life was touched by Baha'i school and the teachings of Baha'u'llah, helping him to 'have the confidence to do the right thing' (in his own words), but i wonder how his soul is managing to handle the pressures of a materialistic, morally decaying society around him.  he is one of the millions of jr. youth in the world who have immeasurable capacity to make this world a better place....

the photos below are taken during our first bon fire.  all of the children and jr. youth gathered sticks, crates to sit on & parafin to light the fire.  it is one of our favorite memories in delft.  we worked together as a group, sang a lot of songs and enjoyed each other's company as long as we could, being warmed by the fire, as the sun sank and the air became too cool to bear.  while the sun was setting, the kids started jumping over the fire with great enthusiasm and excitement. 




June 10, 2011

story: life in ghana

we are staying at a guest house in Accra until we find a house to live in.  we have been here for 2 months and it continues to be an interesting experience, to say the least.

yesterday the boys kicked the soccer ball over the tall wall of the compound into the adjacent cemetery. they explained to me that their 2 friends didn't want to enter the cemetery alone. so i did the natural thing and jumped up from my seat, slid on my sandals, walked down the stairs, opened the heavy gate of the compound and began walking around the side of the compound along a rocky, dirt path that often smells like urine by the time it reaches the intersecting market-lined street.

about half a block down the market-lined road we entered through an opening of a cement wall that looked like we were entering an abandoned lot. tall grass was interspersed with rows of baby cornstalks, the tiniest chickens i've ever seen, and about 15 old tombstones. i followed the two local boys along the dirt pathway which led to the family's home. set partly under an old, large tree, the light blue colored, wooden home had 2 young women sitting in the doorway braiding hair. after a friendly greeting, i noticed their surprise that i could say 'thank you' in the local 'twi' language. they gave their permission for the boys to retrieve the ball and went back to braiding.

i realize now that i didn't take in much detail of the home itself. i was immediately attracted to the woman who woke up from her nap. she sat up on the bench which was put together with scrap pieces of wood, and with a bright smile she motioned for me to come sit next to her. we were under the tree -- in front of us was a dirt courtyard area; behind us were many baby cornstalk plants in perfect rows shooting up as a result of the rainy season that began last month. in the corner of the garden area was a large compost area next to a shed.

after sharing some greetings in twi, the elderly woman explained what all of the tattoos on her arms and legs meant. the young woman came over and explained to me in english what the woman was saying -- apparently the tattoos were very painful but she was proud of them: gardening shears, a scorpion, a butterfly, a bird & a watch (on her wrist). just when i was in the moment of this special moment, the boys returned with the ball. we hugged and said goodbye.

it felt like i walked into a world that was rich with stories of survival, cooperation, innovation and dignity. it reminded me of the kind of movie, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where a child enters a whole new world which is magically connected with yet completely different from the one from which the child lives in. we are staying in a giant guest house in a neighborhood full of big homes and large yards. behind us is a world of full of material poverty. 

i like entering new worlds and find myself drawn to the ones with less material comforts yet more humility and love -- it is there i find myself full of joy.  the woman in the cemetery is one of God's gems in the web of humanity's oneness; she enriched my life in that short moment together.

June 08, 2011

millionaires wanting taxes to be increased

today i listened to an NPR interview with a few of the millionaires who have asked the President & Congress for an increase in taxes to help offset the fiscal budget crisis.  it was the first time i've ever heard of the wealthy responding in this way to the spirit of Baha'u'llah's Teaching:
That is why, in the Religion of God, it is prescribed and established that wealthy men each year give over a certain part of their fortune for the maintenance of the poor and unfortunate. That is the foundation of the Religion of God and is binding upon all.
And as man in this way is not forced nor obliged by the government, but is by the natural tendency of his good heart voluntarily and radiantly showing benevolence toward the poor, such a deed is much praised, approved and pleasing.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 277)

i long to see individuals with wealth and means voluntarily offering what they have for 'the poor and unfortunate'.  the world continues to suffer because we, as individuals, talk of ideals instead of making decisions that transform our lives and the society around us.  this endeavor by the millionaires is commendable and a good beginning..and most of all rewarding for all.

June 07, 2011

South Africa: photo memories from cape town to durban


this is how our vacation began and ended..with joy!  traveling along the coast from cape town to durban..

Drawing in the sand on a chilly and rainy summer day



i love the eastern cape scenery of village life

we enjoy leaving our footprints in the sand at Chinsta beach
cleaning up after the traditional Xhosa wedding

Khonaye and Zoliswa

Domani, Ayana and Dyami Douglas

cutting greens for over 100 people to eat
traditional rondeval

what joy watching the Xhosa ladies in the village chat with each other
learning all about mealies
visiting Steve Biko's resting place: Domani Biko Douglas :)