May 24, 2012

growing seedlings from egg cartons

about a month ago i brought a pile of used cardboard egg cartons to my neighbor, Monica's, home with a bag of seeds.  some jr. youth had brought a large bag of rich soil for us to use.  we started sprinkling soil and a seed into each egg holder and by the time we were done, we had made about 10 cartons' worth of seeds.

the benefit of growing them first in the egg cartons is to prevent the possibility of chickens coming and eating the seeds out of the garden before they have sprouted.  the family kept the cartons in a sunny area where the chickens couldn't fly to them; they also chose a place very close to where they hang out so when the rain came suddenly, they were able to quickly manage bringing them into shelter.

Monica's family took on the responsibility of caring for the seeds.  they watered them daily and within 2 weeks they had begun the process of transplanting the seedlings into their own keyhole garden which was made by Emil and Magdelene, ages 12 and 10 respectively.  it isn't a true keyhole garden but they tried their best and it is serving, for the first time in their family, as a formal garden dedicated to growing food.  it is simply beautiful.  the seedlings have taken root and are thriving now in Ghana's rainy season..
adjacent keyhole gardens made by Emil and Magdelene
Monica tilling the garden and removing weeds; beans plants are growing in the foreground
tomato seedlings growing in a cluster; the kids will transplant them to the completed keyhole garden across the road
Monica decided to replant some of the carrots i gave her to see if they'll grow bigger

May 22, 2012

striving to connect spiritually..in a material world

"Observe how darkness has overspread the world. In every corner of the earth there is strife, discord and warfare of some kind. Mankind is submerged in the sea of materialism and occupied with the affairs of this world. They have no thought beyond earthly possessions and manifest no desire save the passions of this fleeting, mortal existence. Their utmost purpose is the attainment of material livelihood, physical comforts and worldly enjoyments such as constitute the happiness of the animal world rather than the world of man."


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

we are all in the world together but we are all living in different worlds.  i am striving to live in the world of the spirit, a world that connects many kinds of people together who can relate to each other as souls and connect with each others' hearts..we don't have to be the same in any other way except that we are conscious of the holy spirit operating in our lives as souls -- rather than superficially connecting with each other on some material level..

"The world for the most part is sunk in materialism, 
and the blessings of the Holy Spirit are ignored. 
There is so little real spiritual feeling, 
and the progress of the world is for the most part merely material."

 (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 122)

i recently attended a PTA meeting at the kids' school.  i felt like i was immersed in the world of materialism.  it is a world without radiance of spirit, without humility, and often without the purity of heart.  it is full of love, but not the love which emits radiance and humility.  this is the world with many layers of love for one's self and of the things of this world..  i was surrounded by wigs, fake nails, excessive jewelry and make-up, fancy clothes, high heels, tight jeans, exposed breasts and attitude.. i couldn't spiritually connect with anyone.

i tried to judge fairly, to look for the light in everyone, and to see with the eye of perfection.  but i had to be fair and honest with myself:  i didn't feel the warmth of spirit in the room.   in its absence was the coldness of materialism which takes over the soul of man like a disease and leaves the body cool..  i kept thinking to myself, 'who is that person beneath those layers of self-love?  who are you without your wealth, degree, position and body image?'  it made me long to be in a world with people who are at least striving to free themselves of becoming entangled by the tentacles of materialism..


"Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful."


Baha'u'llah is announcing to the peoples of the world that they may adorn their outer being with the delights of the earth and enjoy the good things which come from the material world -- if we allow 'nothing whatever to intervene' between us and God.

this is a big if.  if materialism is like a disease, and if we are able to partake of the benefits of this material world, i'm concluding that it's not a simple matter of choice.  it must require an ever-present, conscious effort of making God's love one's greatest treasure, and that one's heart must remain full with God's love and not become filled up with the love of this world, including one's self -- if we want to remain radiant in spirit, humble in countenance, and pure in heart..

as the extremes of wealth and poverty pervade every corner of the earth, i find my heart yearning more and more to be surrounded by a world of humble souls and protected from the world of worldly people.   i thrive on being around people whose souls are not wrapped under layers of self-love and love for the vanities of this world.  i am striving to keep my heart pure in its servitude to God, being and doing everything wholly for the sake of God and not for myself.  being close to humble souls helps keep my world genuine and real, down to earth, sincere and rooted in reliance on and love for God more than myself or the things i possess.


O BEFRIENDED STRANGER!
The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power, quench it not with the contrary winds of self and passion. The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not. Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life.
 
O MY SERVANT!
Abandon not for that which perisheth an everlasting dominion, and cast not away celestial sovereignty for a worldly desire. This is the river of everlasting life that hath flowed from the well-spring of the pen of the merciful; well is it with them that drink!

O CHILDREN OF DESIRE!
Put away the garment of vainglory, and divest yourselves of the attire of haughtiness. In the third of the most holy lines writ and recorded in the Ruby Tablet by the pen of the unseen this is revealed:
 
O BRETHREN!
Be forbearing one with another and set not your affections on things below. Pride not yourselves in your glory, and be not ashamed of abasement. By My beauty! I have created all things from dust, and to dust will I return them again.
 
O QUINTESSENCE OF PASSION!
Put away all covetousness and seek contentment; for the covetous hath ever been deprived, and the contented hath ever been loved and praised.


(Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

May 21, 2012

jr. youth group ~ trying to keep the momentum going

since the break-in, our jr. youth group -- 'Gems of Justice' -- has been struggling to keep the momentum going.  three of the members live quite far down the road in a different neighborhood and they have less incentive to meet.  they used to walk all the time to my house but now that no one from the neighborhood is allowed to enter the compound, we now meet outside on a concrete foundation of an unfinished house that's dirty, without privacy, without a computer with music, without a toilet, etc.. another challenge is that three of the members are older than 13 and are bored with the level of material in the Breezes of Confirmation book.  the last challenge is the ongoing demand from the mother of the 2 sisters who are expected to do a lot of work, despite all efforts to communicate and find a time that works best for their family.  this is how the story continues..

this past saturday's jr. youth group session was most unusual.  about 2 hours before we usually meet, a severe storm suddenly appeared and made everyone's activities shut down until it passed.  for the many families who live in wooden shacks, the storm was devastating.  roofs were blown off, floors were flooded, and some entire structures were blown over on their sides.. from my family's living room windows, we watched with awe and wonder at the might of the wind and the pounding of the rain.  we were protected from the storm while our neighbors were threatened in a way we'll never know..

it was still drizzling when it was time to meet for the session.  i thought i should still try and make it happen even though there would be no dry place to meet.  on the other side of the wall of our compound, the two sisters, Evelyn and Gifty, live in three shack-like structures alongside an unfinished cement foundation of a huge house that is owned by someone else.  when ayana and i arrived, we found the girls helping their mother in the structure that is used for cooking and storage.  no damage was done to any of their family's structures but i could see that the morning's laundry was soaking wet and puddles of mud surrounded their walkways.  they had quickly prepared to collect water from the storm by putting large basins outside around the cooking structure..

as ayana and i stood there against the side of the walkway, out of the thick of the mud, we held our umbrella over our heads and tried to keep my bag of materials dry from the drizzle.  a neighbor who sells goods was there, trying to recover from the storm after it had beaten upon the goods that she sells from a small wooden stand.  she was making us laugh as she sang about her troubles and enjoyed the plastic bag wrapped around her head to protect her hair from the rain..

after a few minutes of standing and talking about the storm, the girls' mother arranged for us to sit inside the structure.  it is constructed of wide slats of wood on a cement foundation.  the tin roof is nailed into tall wooden posts that extend beyond the walls on 2 sides.  this design enables light to enter through the open space between the roof and the walls.  although the doorway allows light in as well, most of the room is still quite dark..

one of the girls brought a plastic chair for me and a little stool for ayana.  i sat next to Mama Yaw as she made cassava in a pot over a charcoal fire.  the eldest daughter continually fanned the fire for at least 20 minutes until the cassava was cooking.  as she fanned the fire, her sister came and went in and out of the room, doing a variety of jobs that her mom requested -- wiping off a dirty table outside with a dirty, damp cloth from a basin of used water; dumping dried charcoal into a large basket; filling a basin with fresh water; and helping the neighbor carry containers of goods across the road to help her set up her selling stand again..

the floor of the room was thick with a black, dirty substance that was damp.  i thought i would slip on it as i walked to my chair.  my eye scoped out the space trying to figure out how the family organizes their life and sustains their well-being.  the room is cluttered with tools and wood, baskets and basins, a shelf with bowls and supplies, and a low table with matches, cloths, and more bowls..

as i sat there i started asking questions about how the cassava is made.  i was curious about the charcoal and learned how they burn wood to make the charcoal.  talking with the girls and their mama was full of laughter and little moments of helping the girls feel more comfortable talking with me, as they are quite shy.  the older one translates what i say to the mama, and what the mama says to me.  before long, Mama Yaw was 'inviting' me to try and stir the cassava.  i placed my feet up on the steel bars which anchor the pot and attempted to lift up the heavy, porridge-like mixture with the long, wooden spoon..but i struggled to turn it smoothly and effectively like Mama Yaw does.  the girls had a good laugh watching me try..

the storm brought us together in this unusual way and led to the moment when it crossed my mind to ask the question, 'What do you do with the cooking water that's in the basin when you are finished cooking?'  Giftie quickly replied that they throw it onto the ground by the house -- where nothing but dirt and broken concrete slabs lie.  i was able to explain to them that this is the water waste that can be tossed into the center of the keyhole garden each day.  it finally clicked for the girls!  i had encouraged them before when we were learning about the keyhole garden idea, but now that we were in a practical setting for this to happen, they were able to truly learn what i meant and apply that learning in a very real way.  this will now become a part of their work when they are cooking!  they were so happy to tell their mom what we were talking about so that she, too, could understand and help the keyhole garden be most effective.

soon another jr. youth came by, Emil.  he was all ready for the session with his Breezes of Confirmation booklet.  the four kids and i immediately started consulting about our next outing.  it's not exactly 'consultation' in the fullest, Baha'i sense but we try.  i make sure everyone feels encouraged to share and that everyone listens to each other's suggestions and tries to support them before moving on to a new idea, etc.. but in Africa, it takes a long time before the kids will be forthcoming with what they really want or what they really feel.  we're just now at a point in our group that half of them will easily say what they think or feel -- these are the ones who used to visit our home almost every day for tutoring, Devotions, storytelling and children's class.  the others still sit quietly in that passive mode of being talked to and receiving what is offered rather than contributing to the process.. the consultation that afternoon went very well because Gifty, who is very quiet, shook her head 'no' when i offered going to the beach, as some of the group did for the last outing.  the four of them were able to agree on going to see a waterfall, which sounds really nice.

at that point, another girl arrived and our session switched gears.  i suggested that we go to my place to fill up the water balloons for a game of tossing them.  we walked and talked together with the intent on everyone doing something to help make the game happen.  since none of the kids can enter the compound, i filled them up myself while they talked just inside the gate.  everything we experience together is what helps the group grow into its own identity.  this group session was about just being together.  i was pleased that 5 out of 9 of the group were together, despite the rain..

the balloon toss was fun.  the jr. youth were joined by 3 of the children who come to children's class.  this is an activity everyone always enjoys.  it was close to 6pm now and there was nowhere to sit outside, so i announced that i was going to leave.  Emil immediately suggested we have closing prayers.  this is a soul who is attracted to the spiritual excellence aspect of the jr. youth group.  i was elated and quickly took out a prayer book from my bag, as well as the Selection by Abdu'l-Baha which starts with 'Be in perfect unity..'  i gave the Selection to Gifty and we all formed a circle on the edge of her yard by the road.  once our eyes were closed, prayers and Selections were offered with sweet, pure hearts..

having a jr. youth group is multifaceted with sports, service, games and activities, but it has a core element of prayer, memorizing, and spiritual discourse while working through booklets that stretch the mind and heart in ways that help the kids strive toward spiritual excellence.  without this element it feels like we're just any other group of people hanging out and socializing.  today, we didn't begin with prayer or study and talk about anything relating to excellence, but after that closing moment of prayer together, i felt confirmed in the dynamic process of being a group when we make an effort to come together no matter what the circumstances.

after i left, the 3 boys that live down the road came by at 6pm to see if we were still meeting.  i appreciated that they did make an effort even though it was too late..  at last week's session, the few who came consulted and decided to meet every other week where these 3 boys live to make it fair.. the last boy who didn't come at all today is 15; he is genuinely interested in the group but was introduced to it too late and has other commitments in his life -- that afternoon he was expected to help his family repair one of their shacks that blew over on its side..

it's not easy to keep the momentum going, but there's nothing else in my heart but a willingness to try.

May 16, 2012

recipe ~ peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

this recipe is by far the most decadent and delicious peanut butter cookie with chocolate chips.  one batch of dough can make at least 50 small cookies -- and since they are very rich, smaller might be better.  i like them both big and small.  they taste indescribably amazing when still warm, about 10 minutes after letting them cool.

1/2c. butter, softened
6 T. brown sugar
6 T. sugar
1 egg
1t. vanilla
1c. natural peanut butter
1/2t. baking soda
1/2t. salt
3/4c. flour
3/4c. (or more!) chocolate chips

preheat the oven to 375/190 degrees

*****

cream butter and sugars.

add egg and vanilla.  mix well.

blend in peanut butter, baking soda and salt.

add flour and chocolate chips.

drop onto lightly greased pan -- may flatten slightly with fork if big.

bake 5-6 minutes.  don't overcook.

cool 5-10 minutes


May 14, 2012

mother's day..humble souls make my day

yesterday was Mother's Day.  i woke up and made my family a special breakfast of sauteed vegetables with an omelette and sticky rice.  sunday mornings are a great time for us to eat breakfast together and yesterday was no exception.  i received a lot of soft kisses on my nose from my beloved husband who had just shaved and my heart was bubbling with appreciation and joy..

for the most part, our family doesn't outwardly celebrate these kinds of holidays.  we tend to be different than most people, or just not the typical family.  we do tend to cherish and celebrate each other very often, usually with a note or at the dinner table or with an enjoyable experience that we all share together..

as the day progressed, after expressing my love for my dear mom and step-mom who live so far away, i found myself thinking a lot about Monica, my friend whose 4 children have permeated our lives for about a year now.  she lives one block away, down the dirt road behind our compound, and she shines with the brightness of the sun every time i come to visit her.  'Aunty Pamela!' she exclaims, often running with a great big smile toward the cement wall that usually separates us.  it is Monica from whom i purchase eggs, tomatoes and onions regularly.  we communicate mostly with the love we have in our hearts more so than many words.  we both feel exceeding amounts of joy when in each others' presence..
sitting next to Monica while celebrating a birthday

i decided to send her an sms with greetings of love for Mother's Day and put together a bag of things from our home to give her family.  two of the items were specifically for her:  locally made ground nut butter (peanut butter - the best i've ever had!) and a package of chocolate chip cookies from the store.  i added items that her children need and like such as pencils, markers, pens, scotch tape, matches, and some Baha'i kids' materials.  on their own, our boys added a container of small toys for Monica's boys which was very sweet.. i soon received an sms reply from Monica, written by her 19 year old daughter, Katrin:
"With luv...i wish..U..a happymother's day...n may God bless u...n live long.."
it is such a lovely message.  my heart filled with gratitude for the soulful bond of friendship we have developed..

a bit later i sms'd Monica again, asking if she could send one of the kids over to pick something up.  since we were having a day together as a family, i had decided not to deliver it to her myself.  when the guard knocked on my door, i knew it was Monica's children coming for the bag so i quickly grabbed it and ran to greet them at the gate.  upon seeing each other we hugged and sat down on the curb to hang out for a short while..it was during this short visit with these kids that my heart was embraced by a moment of sadness, for i really miss sharing our life with them in our home.  i am still recovering from the changes that have resulted from the break-in..

my day was coming to a close as our family's storytelling time began shortly after dinner.  we were each sharing details of when Mulla Husayn met the Bab for the first time.  this has become a weekly event on Sunday evenings for over a year now -- the kids stand up and share stories from memory, followed by a lively, musical Devotions.  we were having a lovely time when there was a loud knock on the door -- it was Emil, Magdelene and Joshua with a Mother's Day card that they had made for me!  i was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, love and humility, to be the recipient of such love from these tenderhearted souls.  Monica's children touch my heart with a purity of motive that is highly desired in the sight of God.  i felt so blessed to receive this sentimental gift from them with expressions of their love for me!

our family finished storytelling time with songs and prayers of love for God.  as everyone began to go upstairs to floss and brush teeth, i checked my cell phone and saw that a most dear Xhosa family -- whom we love and miss from our days in Cape Town -- sent a message for Mother's Day with so much love that i felt like crying..i really miss South Africa.

perhaps 5 minutes later, the phone rang and it was another Xhosa family calling to send their love for Mother's Day!  this is a friend whose son went to my kids' school in Cape Town; we became close friends as a result of me taking her son to my home after school many times a week.  after the initial excitement of greeting each other, Mayandie started apologizing for not being able to sms me back in a long time..then the call cut off.  she had used up all of her credit -- so i called her back and we talked as quickly as we could to catch up with each others' lives.  it was one of the special moments of the day when i heard from a friend who lives in South Africa and who has no money to spare yet she managed to have enough to buy credit for a long distance call.  this means so much to me..

i have come to realize in my life that my heart is drawn like a magnet to humble souls -- they remind me what it means to be genuine, have a pure heart, work hard without complaining, endure patiently while suffering, and to appreciate everything in life..

yesterday a handful of dear, humble souls reached out to me -- all of whom are African, and all touch my life in a powerful way.  sharing friendship with other mothers is such a special part of Mother's Day.. and for my life on the African continent, humble souls make my day.

prayer..to start the day

the alarm on my cell phone comes on at 5:10am.  after washing, i tip-toe downstairs so i don't stir any young soul from their sleep in the 2 bedrooms close to ours on the second floor of our house -- our 2 boys will be awake before 6am when the light shines through the edges of the windows where the curtains end, but our jr. youth aged daughter will need to be woken up by 6:15 as she now loves to sleep in..

i come to the rug on the floor which is situated in front of a bookshelf and a framed photo of the entrance to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah.  the room is dark except for the light shining in from the outdoor lights on the compound wall.  i take the prayer beads from the bookshelf and prostrate in submission to God, facing the Qiblih, or Point of Adoration (in the direction of the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, His resting place)..

i didn't grow up prostrating but now, as an adult, i feel as if my day is not starting properly if i have chosen to pray without first bowing my head to the floor.  to me, prostrating is a most private act of worship to the Creator -- not one demonstrated in a public space or shared with a group.  it is a sacred moment when my soul supplicates with God, submitting my will to His, without any selfish desire, only desiring His good pleasure and for my will to conform with the Divine Will.   prostrating before morning obligatory prayer has become a way of life and the first step toward demonstrating my station as a humble servant of God..

obligatory prayer as a Baha'i consists of performing ablutions and chanting Allah'u'Abha 95 times in private.  Allah'u'Abha means 'God is the Most Glorious'.  it also consists of offering one of three prayers revealed for daily use: the short, medium or long obligatory prayer.  i almost always choose the short one, which is offered at noon or up until sunset, because it ensures that i can concentrate on it with full devotion and not miss a day.  my favorite is the long obligatory prayer which evokes humility and a powerful connection with God, but i seem to mostly have enough time and attention for it when i'm fasting from March 2-21 each year..

once obligatory prayer is finished, i sit and pray, as well as recite, the holy words revealed by Baha'u'llah.  this is a time of supplicating for divine assistance, offering praise, and beseeching God for mercy.  woven within these prayers are thoughts of other souls for whom i am also praying.  these are moments wrapped in the invisible forces of spirit that sustain and nourish our souls.

dawn has arrived and i feel the energy of the day beginning.  my soul has been nourished, receiving its spiritual food to strengthen it in its journey of striving to attain nearness to God.  i cannot manage life without prayer..without that intimate communion of my soul with its Creator..the vital link which taps me into the world of divine assistance, knowing i am not alone..ever.

i can now hear the pitter-patter of little feet upstairs as my boys prepare for school.. it's time to rise and put into practice the divine Teachings from God..

May 11, 2012

being blamed..

this morning, the landlord of the compound would not cooperate with my husband's company representative -- who requested assistance from her to get the security company (that she hired) to submit a report.  she is not cooperating because she blames the theft on me -- blaming me for inviting 'all these kids' from the neighborhood to our home.  after yelling at him, she stated that the security guard is going to the police.  fear crept in as i wondered why.  what is he going to say?  is he going to lie?  is he going to accuse one of the kids?  he surely isn't going there to tell them that he slept through the entire night and didn't even know that the incident occurred until we brought it to his attention..

..this morning, before all of this entered my frame of mind, one of my boys came to me complaining about the other brother's unkindness.  i had to ask him, 'what could you have done better?'  he said he could have not acted silly in his brother's face while the brother was preparing to pray -- but he further added that his brother 'is being unkind these days' and wanted to blame the incident on his brother's unkindness.  the one who was about to pray yelled at his brother and spoke unkindly in response to being bothered.  all this brother wanted to do was blame his brother for being disrespectful rather than look at himself and see how he could have responded better..

instead of yelling, blaming or expressing their anger in other unseemly ways, we always remind them to practice using their spiritual powers or their higher nature -- ie., the virtues latent in our soul.  but we also listen to them, too, and feel their pain and support their sense of feeling violated or treated unjustly.  this time i responded in turn with my lower nature -- remiss in my duty before God to nurture them spiritually -- by scolding them for forgetting to practice this essential principle of overlooking each other's faults and focusing on their own faults:

"Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.
Shouldst thou transgress this command,
accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness."

i asked them to be silent and reflect on their misconduct.  all my joy was washed away by the storm of disunity.  i wasn't able to counsel them with tenderness and loving-kindness.  i didn't listen to what was troubling them in their hearts.  after they went to school, feeling discouraged and unhappy, i wished that i had listened to what was troubling their hearts..

..being blamed is the theme of the day.  i am being blamed for the break-in -- many people are affected because i trusted a group of kids in my home and one of them betrayed that trust.

though blaming others when angry about a situation isn't necessarily right or conducive to creating a solution, i still must reflect on it (as i hope our children will learn to do as a natural habit of reflecting on their faults).  i have to look at myself and see my connection with how the break-in occurred..

initially, my ego responded defensively and with sadness.  my soul responds to it differently.  if i remove my ego from the reality of this situation, i can admit that, as a soul, i wasn't wise, or wise enough.  even with wisdom, trouble occurs as a natural test in life, but without wisdom the trouble is much greater..

i acknowledge that there were some kids in my house whose parents i hadn't met.. there were a couple of kids i didn't know well enough to trust yet.. and i had a party 2 months ago with 60 kids who didn't come inside but who now knew about my house, my laptops (which were on a table outside to play music) and i didn't know most of them..

as i stumble through this situation learning about myself, accepting to be blamed so i can grow in ways that may be difficult or painful, i am consciously practicing another virtue:  detachment.  in this situation, detachment looks something like this:  don't care what people say about you if it's bad, and don't attach yourself to the good things people say about you -- both make your ego act like a veil between your spirit and your soul.

..as i learn to be more wise, i mustn't let what people say or think about me make me feel bad about myself or prevent me from having a 'pure, kindly and radiant heart'.  detachment is the necessary virtue at all times if we want to grow as a spiritual human being.  we must arise after we're knocked down, allowing other people's blame toward us launch us into self-reflection, while ever focusing our attention and energy on what we could have done better..

when the boys return from school today i will revisit what happened this morning, using my spiritual nature:  i will listen to how they felt and then encourage them to practice using their spiritual powers as the means to discover true happiness.  i will empathize with them as i know how difficult it is to overcome one's own ego when blamed..  and i will apologize to them for not listening with patience and tenderheartedness. :)

May 10, 2012

'the pupil of the eye' ~ the beauty of black people

"O thou who hast an illumined heart! Thou art even as the pupil of the eye, the very wellspring of the light, for God's love hath cast its rays upon thine inmost being and thou hast turned thy face toward the Kingdom of thy Lord."

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 113)
in the immeasurable depth of beauty, Baha'u'llah referred to the African people of the world as 'the pupil of the eye'.  Abdu'l-Baha further elucidates on this analogy, describing the pupil as 'the very wellspring of the light'.  it is quite an extraordinary analogy.. it enables me to appreciate how the pupil is able to instantly adapt to its surroundings, how it is the source of light which emanates from our souls, reflecting that which is before it.  i feel it is a magnificent and awe-inspiring comparison to the people of African descent..

living in ghana, i'm surrounded by people who feel a deep pride for who they are as a people.  in general, they hold themselves in a certain manner which typifies dignity, oftentimes adorning themselves with certain dress which depicts their culture.  surely there are many Africans who have this pride as well, emanating a sense of wholeness to who they are.  this pride, however, has nothing to do with the spirit of being like 'the pupil of the eye'..

in a very different experience is the African-American and people of African descent throughout the Americas whose ancestry is from slavery -- that long and indescribably painful passage through which the African people passed in the name of colonization -- and which have faced the evil of racism and the myriad forms of racial prejudice from the white cultures surrounding their life experience for hundreds of years.  deep in the psyche is a battle against inferiority as well as wholeness beyond the color of one's skin..

whether one's ancestry is rooted in traditional culture and history from one of the many black African countries, or one's ancestry is a result of slavery, seeing oneself or others as 'the pupil of the eye' transcends  pride and wholeness.  meditating on this analogy and internalizing releases a spiritual force into the world, leading all of us to the most appropriate attitude in our hearts toward the black peoples of the world..

furthermore, if people of non-African descent can take this analogy deep into the recesses of their heart, their hearts will regard the African people with exquisite beauty and purpose, with honor and respect, for they will see with both an inner and outer vision the unique ability and role that the African people contribute to humanity..

if people of African descent absorb this analogy into the core of their psyche, they will be uplifted and ennobled, carrying within them a most special and beautiful view of themselves -- not a vain glory but a dignified, spiritual glory which will enable them to tap into their capacity to serve humanity adorned with the glory of God..

i continue to hold this analogy close to my heart each and every day and strive, as i press onward as a white Baha'i who has much love for people of African descent, to grasp the essence of what this analogy means..

"Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye which is dark in colour,
yet it is the fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world."

-`Abdu'l-Bahá


May 09, 2012

'Century of Light': full of divine gems

this was my post on facebook today after facing the insidiousness of police corruption here in Ghana:
"nothing like police bribery.. nothing will get done without it..and then nothing gets done anyway.. when you go to the police, they ask, 'What have you brought for me?' and when they come to your home they ask, 'What do you have for me?'"
this is what i read later in Century of Light, a book published by the Universal House of Justice, the Baha'i Faith's supreme governing body:
 "Baha'u'llah urges those who believe in Him to 'see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others', to 'know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor'.  Tragically, what Baha'is see in present-day society is unbridled exploitation of the masses of humanity by greed that excuses itself as the operation of 'impersonal market forces'.  What meets their eyes everywhere is the destruction of moral foundations vital to humanity's future, through gross self-indulgence masquerading as 'freedom of speech'.  What they find themselves struggling against daily is the pressure of a dogmatic materialism, claiming to be the voice of 'science', that seeks systematically to exclude from intellectual life all impulses arising from the spiritual level of human consciousness."
every page of this book is full of divine gems!  it enables the reader to deepen her understanding of all of the changes and current circumstances facing humanity's 'coming of age'.  i find it soothing and inspiring.  it helps me to further articulate messages written by the beloved Guardian, as well as gain a complete view of this past century's history from a spiritual standpoint.  i am reading it as much as i can to gain insight and understanding about the progress of the Faith in the 20th Century despite all of the struggles humanity faced..


May 08, 2012

lack of trust breeds fear

i am waiting for the police to arrive to make a report about the break-in.  the kids are in school and my husband is at work.  my stomach is in knots.  it's like i'm living the entire experience over again..

this morning we had my husband's company talk with the owner of the compound to ask her to ensure that the security company complies with our request to make a report.  my husband's company needs a report from them but they are stalling.  they aren't exactly liable but one of their employees didn't make his rounds that evening so he didn't even know that the barbed wire was cut wide open and our window and sliding door were left open.. security companies in ghana are supposed to pay the amount of whatever is stolen once a report is made.  this company is doing nothing -- they didn't even 'sack' the guy, which means fire him -- AND i find it a bit uncomfortable that they took the tool that was used to cut the barbed wire -- it was left on top of the wall where the opening was made.  if we had known, we would have kept it for the police evidence..even for the possibility of fingerprints.. 

even though our driver is handling just about everything with the police, when they arrive they will be scoping out our house.  if you don't please them, they become your enemy -- they will expect a bribe.. our driver will handle it as he knows best but i am very uncomfortable with that corrupt element in our home.  the local Baha'is had armed robbers steal and assault them 2 years ago; they said that the police were no help and they had to pay them money..

i know that whatever happens is God's Will, yet i find myself struggling to have no fear..to feel tranquility and trust again..as i used to..unconditionally.  fear has crept all the way into my veins as a daily aspect of life.  it is bad enough that i don't know who it was that broke in and betrayed our trust; now i'm battling the thought processes of wondering what else might now happen -- what if..?  the lack of trust breeds the fear.  this is what needs to heal within me, no matter how corrupt the police are or how deceiving one of my neighbors or security guards may be..

this is our life at the moment.  we breathe deeply a lot and consciously practice being present while striving to find a balance between tying one's camel and putting one's trust solely in God.  this is the challenge we must overcome so that we can be wholeheartedly free of fear and not become chained down by the fetters of this world..
"Free thyself from the fetters of this world and loose thy soul from the prison of self.  Seize thy chance for it will come to thee no more."   ~ Baha'u'llah

'Joy in the Congo'

'Joy in the Congo'  is a 13-minute story produced by 60 Minutes about a most impressive symphony in Kinshasa.  it is an incredible example of how a people can triumph amidst the most difficult of life's circumstances, determined to channel all of their talents and achieve great results..

i have a great affinity for the people of the Congo.  although i cannot speak french and have never been to that land, the Congolese people i have met are illumined with a radiance that draws my heart closer to God.

in addition to the natural beauty that the Congolese lend to the garden of humanity, i am drawn to the suffering which has touched that land.  i wonder how the injustices of war purify the character of the innocent masses while indescribably corrupting the nature of those who perpetuate the ravages of war..

my affinity for the Congolese is but an example of my affinity for all cultures and peoples who have suffered war and slavery, and who now, as a people, emanate humility and self-effacement -- those gems or magnetic qualities our soul yearns to attain as it strives to draw nearer to God.



May 07, 2012

Magdelene and Emil's love for the Baha'i Faith

it is another day in accra and the house feels empty without the light of children and jr. youth coming and going on a daily basis like they used to.  in addition to visiting and hanging out with some neighbors more so than ever, i am constantly striving to live life in the spirit of Abdu'l-Baha's example of justice through the smallest acts of sharing my time, experience, knowledge and resources with love..

one family, in particular, is the recipient of most of our time because of how our hearts bonded together in friendship.  this family has 5 children living at home (and one that lives on his own), 2 of whom are in the jr. youth group and 2 who have been attending Baha'i children's classes.  all 5 have come to our home for weekly Devotions and storytelling..

i love being around this family because they are joyful and humble.  there is always laughter in the most pure-hearted, beautiful way while sitting around outside enjoying life.  life to this family is a continual breath of gratitude and love for God, the One Creator.  now that our family's home is closed to the neighbors because of the break-in, this family's living area is becoming the site for further developing the relationships and activities (eg., the kids have already asked their mama if we can hold Devotions there once a week)..

Magdelene and Emil are 2 of the children from this family.  they are ages 10 and 12 respectively.  they are distinguished for their sincerity and eagerness to learn the ways of being Baha'i -- they consistently demonstrate pure-hearted interest while practicing many new behaviors that depict a Baha'i way of life -- ie., they resist the temptation to say anything negative about anyone; they embrace everyone as their brother and sister in the spirit of the Oneness of Humanity; they show forth courtesy, equity, preference for others before themselves, and a spirit of serving others in their daily life; and they love reading the stories of the Faith, as well as memorizing the holy words and prayers.

this morning Magdelene and Emil came to the gate of the compound.  since they aren't allowed inside the compound anymore, they wait for the guard to notify me.  they should be in school today but they explained to me that they no longer have proper shoes or a backpack to use.  last term they returned late to school because they didn't have enough money for school supplies.  after warmly welcoming them with a big hug, Emil said, 'Auntie Pamela, i made this for you.'  he proceeded to show me a tiny Shrine of the Bab which stands up and has a little gate on the front of it which, when opened, reads, 'the Bab means the gate'..

it was one of those moments i find difficult to express adequately in words.  not only does he have a natural talent to create and build with his hands -- having sawed a little bank out of pressed wood, a kite out of reeds and a pot out of clay -- he made something that was inspired as a result of reading the story about the Bab's Declaration..all by himself!  yesterday he wasn't able to attend the children's class because he had to wash his clothes, but Magdelene had attended and must have shared the story with him.  i was deeply moved as i thought of him making this symbol of the Baha'i Faith with his hands and pure heart..

he and Magdelene are very interested in learning some lines of the story to share with the adults in a couple of weeks for the May 23rd celebration.  this morning they asked for their lines so they could write them down with the intention of memorizing them.  they were impressed by how Ayana, Dyami and Domani put on a little skit for the 12th day of Ridvan celebration.  the entire story of the Ridvan garden was told by memory in front of more than 100 people.  Emil and Magdelene hope to prepare something like that for a Baha'i holy day in the future. :)

after being out all morning at the US Embassy and the supermarket, i am now going to visit Emil and Magdelene to see if they are finished copying their lines and if they need any help.  having developed this spiritual relationship with these 2 sweet souls is an example of how my life here in ghana is full of meaning and purpose..as a maidservant of humanity.

May 01, 2012

cell phone photos. life in ghana

we lost our camera while traveling a couple of weeks ago, and then our laptops -- with all our family photos and videos -- were stolen by the thieves.  i am managing to use an old laptop that has nothing on it anymore because it gets hot very quickly (we had it stored away for emergency purposes..and here we are in the midst of an emergency, post break-in)..

for the past few days i've started relying on my cell phone to capture some photos of daily life.  i learned how to use a memory card to copy photos and transfer them to the laptop.  i realized that there are a bunch of photos i took this past year that were never downloaded.  i thought i'd dedicate this post to sharing some of the photos..

Mama Yaw, Gideon's mother, making fufu
Mama Yaw pounding the fufu
notice how Mama Yaw's foot is up on an iron bar which holds the pot up - hard work to make fufu!
our most recent development: planting seeds in egg cartons to grow seedlings before transplanting them into the keyhole garden.. this was a great community project, now being cared for by the jr. youth
Katrin writing down which seeds are in each carton


Dyami and Domani playing chess while waiting in the Nyaho clinic - always a long wait at a clinic!
 
young girl selling coconut juice

kids trying to make a fire at uncle Mawushi and Cecil's home

Dyami and Domani's first performance test at tae kwan do
Ayana's bedroom door
our water tank adjacent to the pepper and bean plants

first time hanging out with our new friends

Gideon mixing water into the silt

a sample of our pottery

Emil's clay pot

Emil mastering his skills (this is where he lives)

Emil's mom, Monica, with her masterpiece
Evelyn and Ayana's flip flops

Evelyn and Ayana studying lesson 11 in Breezes of Confirmation

Gideon hugging 'Coach' at the 9th day of Ridvan celebration

Magdelene, Gideon, Emil and the Douglas kids :)