December 31, 2012

observing our life. in ghana

front porch where our clothes dryer is located
the sun rises by 6am and sets around 6pm everyday no matter what the season.  we rent a house that we chose within the company budget.  it is almost a mile from a paved road and is surrounded by empty lots and big, unfinished homes.  some of the lots are rented out by people who have come to Accra from other regions of the country where there is less economic opportunity to provide for one's family -- most of these homes are built out of wood and almost none have running water or electricity.  our house is behind a tall wall with a metal gate and electric wires like almost every other big house.  it has 5 bathrooms with 4 showers -- more than we need but typical for the way homes are built here.  it is where we spend most of our time when we are not engaged in service to the community.

everyone addresses me as 'madam' or 'mommy' and my husband as 'sir'.  we have no bank account and use cash to purchase everything.  we are learning the basics of 'twi' and our kids are able to speak with a ghanaian accent when they want to.  we laugh a lot because there is so much about life here that we have enjoy observing -- the customs, the language, the dancing, the food, the dress, the markets, the signboards, the traffic, and the animals all add to the experience of living here..

the company insists that we have a security guard because all of the furniture in the house belongs to it (we just purchased what we liked within the company budget).    the day guard works for 12 hours, 6 days a week, from 6am-6pm; the night guard works the opposite shift.  it makes our hearts ache knowing how little they are paid (6 cedi/day ~ $4/day); we share something with them everyday and help them in ways that they need (like replacing a tire on a bicycle or picking up medicine for them with the car).

every couple of days i walk down the road to buy naturally organic tomatoes, eggs, cucumbers, and other locally sold goods, but most of my shopping is done at the 3 supermarkets in the area.  we drink water from a jug on a dispenser; the empty jugs get returned where we purchase the jugs full of water for drinking.  the stove and oven must be lighted with a match or a tool for igniting, something i used to do as a child in America.  geckos hide throughout the house, coming out mostly at night when we are asleep, leaving their excrement as proof they are still there.  the company provides a driver so i do not have a license to drive here -- a situation i deeply resisted for over a year but which i now accept with contentment.  our children attend a British international school which is very small and has almost no accommodations to boast about, yet it is their favorite school because of the friendships they have made.

we haven't always lived the way we do now, and our children will not always be at this stage of development.  i want to try and capture this moment in our lives..these are some of my observations of our life as a Baha'i family in Ghana at this time:

kids' art & Baha'i poster in dining room
walls are adorned with our children's artwork and are dirty from their little hands which can't keep themselves to their sides while walking.  their rooms are places of imagination, creativity and activity without the excesses of materialism or computerized games.

every evening we come together for Devotions, offering prayers and reciting from the Baha'i Writings which are interspersed with singing and drumming.  afterwards we often talk about something that is in our hearts before saying goodnight.  depending on what time it is, they may spend time reading in bed before lights are turned out.  sometimes i read stories to them while they are in bed, but this doesn't happen nearly as much as it used to now that they are older..

kitchen window with bars
our home is used for studying and investigating the Baha'i Faith, for jr. youth group, dinners and devotions, friendships, tutoring & movie nights.  our children are learning how to show forth courtesy and hospitality, cooperation and preferring others before themselves.

a handful of buckets are used to collect water from the condensation which drips outside from the air con machines.  these same buckets are used to help water the garden.  in the kitchen, buckets and basins are used to wash produce, collect grey water and soak stained linens.  brooms and mops are used everyday for the never-ending dust and dirt which accumulates on bare floors.  kente cloths are hanging from the bars which are bolted to the windows' walls.  baskets of vegetables and fruits are full or becoming empty depending on when i have shopped.  very few family photos are hanging on walls now that digital cameras and laptops store most of the pictures taken.  water tanks are sitting on the roof of the house instead of city pipes constantly flowing and delivering water.  every 4-5 days these tanks are refilled by a water truck that pumps water through a giant hose into the tanks.

the sounds of hammers, radios, goats and gospel singing are almost constantly a reminder that we live in Africa.  tiny ants roam randomly throughout the downstairs wherever food has been eaten (despite my endless attempts to clean every possible spot along their routes).
eating out at Sunshine Salad

our children are giggling, arguing, being goofy, telling stories, learning or quietly listening, depending on the moment at hand.  the boys are kicking, throwing or bouncing balls as much as they possibly can with the hope that they will become a super sports star one day.  nail polish, guitar, Facebook, YouTube lyrics to songs, and last but not least, books, occupy our daughter's free time at home.  recorded sports games, Chopped and BBC special programs about Africa are what we mostly see on tv as a family.  we often play games like Risk, Earthopoly, Phase 10, Chess and Yahtzee.  once a week we try to go out to eat at a restaurant; it feels like a treat and we do not take it for granted.

beans, tomatoes, pumpkin & peppers
outside, vegetable and plant seedlings are sprouting along the dirt path.  pavers are breaking from pressure exerted by the water trucks.  the soccer and basketball are in a basin waiting to be played but the courtyard is quite small and outside there are no flat surfaces.  the generator is sitting right on the small grass lawn, depending on us to refuel it after each use when the electricity goes out.  neighbors are outside cooking, selling, bathing, playing, sleeping and making the best of what the grace of God has bestowed upon them.  huge piles of trash adjacent to the compound are burning as i write, leaving a light dusting of ash all over our courtyard.

neighbors are friendly, with smiles that light up my life in an indescribably joyful way each day.  little children are radiant and full of the African spirit of warmth which melts my heart every time.  some of the jr. youth are visiting almost every day to study and hang out with our family. 

i am grateful to be here, serving humanity, as a Baha'i, with my family.

December 29, 2012

sexual abuse ~ an excerpt from the Baha'i Writings

It is clear from the Bahá'í Writings that a vital component of the education of children is the exercise of discipline. Shoghi Effendi has stated, in a letter written on his behalf about the education of children, that:

"The lack of spiritual values in society leads to a debasement of the attitudes which should govern the relationship between the sexes, with women being treated as no more that objects for sexual gratification and being denied the respect and courtesy to which all human beings are entitled. Bahá'u'lláh has warned: "They that follow their lusts and corrupt inclinations, have erred and dissipated their efforts. They, indeed, are of the lost." Believers might well ponder the exalted standard of conduct to which they are encouraged to aspire in the statement of Bahá'u'lláh concerning His "true follower", that: "And if he met the fairest and most comely of women, he would not feel his heart seduced by the least shadow of desire for her beauty. Such an one, indeed, is the creation of spotless chastity. Thus instructeth you the Pen of the Ancient of Days, as bidden by your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Bountiful."

One of the most heinous of sexual offenses is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and she is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she become pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá'í Teachings. If she gives birth to a child as the result of rape, it is left to her discretion whether to seek financial support for the maintenance of the child from the father; however, his claim to any parental rights would, under Bahá'í law, be called into question, in view of the circumstances..

"Discipline of some sort, whether physical, moral, or intellectual is indeed indispensable, and no training can be said to be complete and fruitful if it disregards this element. The child when born is far from being perfect. It is not only helpless, but actually is imperfect, and even is naturally inclined toward evil. He should be trained, his natural inclinations harmonized, adjusted and controlled, and if necessary suppressed or regulated, so as to ensure his healthy physical and moral development. Bahá'í parents cannot simply adopt an attitude of non-resistance towards their children, particularly those who are unruly and violent by nature. It is not even sufficient that they should pray on their behalf. Rather they should endeavour to inculcate, gently and patiently, into their youthful minds such principles and teachings of the Cause with such tactful and loving care as would enable them to become "true sons of God" and develop into loyal and intelligent citizens of His Kingdom..."

While the physical discipline of children is an acceptable part of their education and training, such actions are to be carried out "gently and patiently" and with "loving care", far removed from the anger and violence with which children are beaten and abused in some parts of the world. To treat children in such an abhorrent manner is a denial of their human rights, and a betrayal of the trust which the weak should have in the strong in a Bahá'í community.

It is difficult to imagine a more reprehensible perversion of human conduct that the sexual abuse of children, which finds its most debased form in incest. At a time in the fortunes of humanity when, in the words of the Guardian,
"The perversion of human nature, the degradation of human conduct, the corruption and dissolution of human institutions, reveal themselves...in their worst and most revolting aspects, and when "the voice of human conscience is stilled", when "the sense of decency and shame is obscured," the Bahá'í institutions must be uncompromising and vigilant in their commitment to the protection of the children entrusted to their care, and must not allow either threats or appeals to expediency to divert them from their duty. A parent who is aware that the marriage partner is subjecting a child to such sexual abuse should not remain silent, but must take all necessary measures, with the assistance of the Spiritual Assembly or civil authorities if necessary, to bring about an immediate cessation of such grossly immoral behaviour, and to promote healing and therapy.

Bahá'u'lláh has placed great emphasis on the duties of parents toward their children, and He has urged children to have gratitude in their hearts for their parents, whose good pleasure they should strive to win as a means of pleasing God Himself. However, He has indicated that under certain circumstances, the parents could be deprived of their right to parenthood as a consequence of their actions. The Universal House of Justice has the right to legislate on this matter. It has decided for the present that all cases should be referred to it in which the conduct or character of a parent appears to render him unworthy of having such parental rights as that of giving consent to a marriage. Such questions could arise, for example, when a parent has committed incest, or when the child was conceived as the consequence of rape, and also when a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse..

..it should be recognized that the ultimate solution to the problems of humanity lies not in penalties and punishments, but rather in spiritual education and illumination. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has written:
"It is incumbent upon human society to expend all its forces on the education of the people, and to copiously water men's hearts with the sacred steams that pour down from the realm of the All-Merciful, and to teach them the manners of heaven and spiritual ways of life, until every member of the community of man will be schooled, refined and exalted to such a degree of perfection that the very committing of a shameful act will seem in itself the direst infliction and most agonizing of punishments, and man will fly in terror and seek refuge in his God from the very idea of crime, as something far harsher and more grievous than the punishment assigned to it."
It is toward this goal that the community of the Greatest Name is striving, aided and reinforced by the limitless power of the Holy Spirit.

    (The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jan 24, Violence Against Women, Sexual Abuse)

December 25, 2012

community.. the spirit of the season

i woke this morning with a list of things to do:  applying sealant around windows and bathroom sinks, planting seeds, figuring out the cost of baking 2 birthday cakes for my friend, and renewing our passports.  by mid-morning, after our water was delivered and breakfast was made, my mind started entertaining the idea of baking cookies for our neighbors and the families of the jr. youth group.  i had given our night guard some breakfast (as he was still on duty 3 hours past his 12-hour shift) and my heart began to feel that familiar ache for the hardworking people who suffer through the days in ways i know i have never suffered..

after finishing up using what was left of the sealant, i figured out the cost of the cakes and emailed my friend the amounts.  at that moment i felt invigorated to manage the rest of my day around making a stew for dinner and a sugar dough for cookies.  the kids were playing the board game Risk with their Aba and enjoying art, football on tv, and playing chess.  it was a perfect day for me to get things done for myself and the family, but it became a perfect day to focus on being of service to others in the spirit of Christmas..

the afternoon flew by as i felt like i was racing the time while making the dough, letting it cool, preparing a stew for dinner, and using cookie cutters on a floured surface to make as many cookies as possible.  i added powdered sugar to leftover butter-cream icing i had made for a carrot cake last week to make it a bit stiffer.  we separated the icing into 3 bowls; the kids enjoyed adding green and red food coloring to 2 of them.  they decorated them beautifully and let them set in the refrigerator for a little bit while we were like an assembly line trying to sort them into several containers.  it was too difficult to make individual arrangements so we grouped them by areas and ended up with 3 bigger packages instead of 12..

near the end of this process i had sms'd the jr. youth group to come pick up the cookies to take home to their families.  as my kids and i ventured out with a container to begin sharing cookies with our neighbors, we came upon 2 of the jr. youth who found us at one of the homes next to us.  they followed and observed as we met and introduced ourselves to new people while greeting familiar faces.  a few people were skeptical but most were happily surprised with wide-eyed smiles of appreciation.  it was one of those moments in my life where i am very consciously aware of the spirit of service being released into the world, exerting an influence in ways beyond the actual act of kindness.

what touched my heart the most throughout this experience of sharing cookies was meeting a young mother who lives in a wooden home supported by cement blocks.  she invited me inside to meet her sleeping baby.  i was introduced to her home with trust as she picked her baby up from the floor where a layer of blankets made a bed surrounded by mosquito netting.  after greeting her beautiful baby i said i would return when it was a better time to visit.  outside she was boiling spaghetti in a small pot over an open fire while a Ghanaian stew simmered in another pot.  it is this way of life that i admire, that i am in awe about -- how people know how to live with very basic accommodations, without electricity or running water, surrounded by the forces of nature at all times.  this gesture of offering a cookie was merely a way of making a soul to soul connection, a symbol of sharing the oneness of our humanity, as we all strive to live in this world..

as a Baha'i, i do not celebrate the outward forms of Christmas which typify the middle-class world: decorations, gift-giving, Santa Claus, etc..  our family carries on as it's just another day.  we remember the birth of Jesus and then continue striving to live life as a spiritual human being -- this is the essence of what Jesus represents to us.  He perfectly embodied the virtues of humility, self-sacrifice and gentleness.  the spirit of Christmas is purely about the Light of God that He brought into the world as God's Divine Teacher for humanity 2000 years ago.  today, connecting with my neighbors, who are very far removed from all the material trimmings of Christmas, helped me celebrate the true spirit of Christmas. 

December 18, 2012

children. suffering. change.

"Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behavior toward them -- these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices."
~ The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 157, 2000, p. 8
children all throughout the world are victims of war, violence, rape, trafficking and abandonment.   it can extinguish all our joy if we dwelt on the pain of what these young souls have faced from adults who have hurt them in these horrendous ways..

this past week's school massacre in Connecticut has touched the world through international media which has projected the horrific manner in which a gunman killed these 20 innocent souls.  i did not listen to most of the coverage living here in Ghana, but what i did read and see on the internet made the pain in my heart reach out to every child in the world who has suffered from such atrocities.  it made me want to tell the untold stories of countless lives that have been destroyed and damaged by the tragic ways in which adults have acted toward them..

suffering and calamities, trials and tragedies, ultimately serve to waken us from our slumber of negligence or lethargy and stir in us the desire to change..and the desire for change.

change begins always with the individual and expands gradually to communities and nations.  it depends on one's determined will to continually make efforts above and beyond satisfying one's needs and interests -- efforts that are motivated by service to the greater cause, the common good, the betterment of the world.  this volition of will must make tireless exertions throughout life.  for our outer lives to change, our inner life must change -- we must consciously strive to practice the virtues of God everyday.  change can be instant, but for the most part it is gradual and painstakingly slow..

humanity is at a new stage of consciousness and has reached a certain level of its innate spiritual capacity.  what used to be accepted as natural or common, like slavery or women being kept uneducated, is now viewed as barbaric or unjust.  humanity is gradually evolving to a point of accepting that war is destructive, or that all children must be protected from harm.. humanity is undergoing a collective experience of changing ever so gradually toward reaching a spiritually mature standard of what is acceptable behavior.

"Every child is potentially the light of the world -- and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God's love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host."
~ Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p.130

every child born into this world is endowed with the capacity to reach his fullest potential intended by God as a unique soul endowed with spiritual capacity to reflect the light of God.

i want to rid the world of every act of evil that hurts and kills children.  i know that i am only a small strand in the web of humanity, but i am vital to the health and strength of the web, given the interconnectedness of it all.  i am to live each moment the very best that i can in the spot where i am located, and with the people whose lives i touch -- upholding the highest standard of conduct, of friendliness and servitude, with pure intentions and a selflessness that is essential in creating strong bonds of unity with others.

i cannot change the entire world but i can affect many people's hearts by living a life that is as spiritually enamored and full of servitude to humanity as i can.  i can help reduce the existing pain that exists in so many people's hearts -- which leads them to suicide, killing other people, etc. -- by trying to be that beam of love which banishes the darkness inside of people because they have been alienated, abandoned, abused, ridiculed, etc.  each of us has this duty, this great responsibility, to live as though everyone around us in our lives is a part of us, touched at a soulful level by how much love we share through our genuine acts of kindliness, helpfulness, charity and caring each day.

i am one with the world -- the joy of one is the joy of all; the pain of one is the pain of all.  just as in the human body, each cell must cooperate and do its job in order to help the body achieve maximum health.  my prayer is to be the healthiest cell for the body of humanity..

guidance from the Baha'i Writings brings my heart into alliance with the great Plan of God and my role in carrying forward an ever-advancing spiritual civilization which will alleviate the suffering of children throughout the world:
"That which is of paramount importance for the children, that which must precede all else, is to teach them the oneness of God and the Laws of God. For lacking this the fear of God cannot be inculcated, and lacking the fear of God and infinity of odious and abominable actions will spring up, and sentiments will be uttered that transgress all bounds..."
~ Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 236

"..education cannot alter the inner essence of a man, but it doth exert tremendous influence, and with this power it can bring forth from the individual whatever perfections and capacities are deposited within him. A grain of wheat, when cultivated by the farmer, will yield a whole harvest, and a seed, through the gardener's care, will grow into a great tree. Thanks to a teacher's loving efforts, the children of the primary school may reach the highest levels of achievement; indeed, his benefactions may lift some child of small account to an exalted throne. Thus is it clearly demonstrated that by their essential nature, minds vary as to their capacity, while education also playeth a great role and exerteth a powerful effect on their development."

~ Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 131


"And as to the world’s evil plight, we need but recall the writings and sayings of Bahá’u’lláh, who, more than fifty years ago, declared in terms prophetic the prime cause of the ills and sufferings of mankind, and set forth their true and divine remedy. “Should the Lamp of Religion be hidden,” He declares, “Chaos and confusion will ensue.” How admirably fitting and applicable are these words to the present state of mankind!
 "Ours is then the duty and privilege to labor, by day and by night, amidst the storm and stress of these troublous days, that we may quicken the zeal of our fellow-men, rekindle their hopes, stimulate their interest, open their eyes to the true Faith of God and enlist their active support in the carrying out of our common task for the peace and regeneration of the world.
"Let us pray to God that in these days of world-encircling gloom, when the dark forces of nature, of hate, rebellion, anarchy and reaction are threatening the very stability of human society, when the most precious fruits of civilization are undergoing severe and unparalleled tests, we may all realize, more profoundly than ever, that though but a mere handful amidst the seething masses of the world, we are in this day the chosen instruments of God’s grace, that our mission is most urgent and vital to the fate of humanity, and, fortified by these sentiments, arise to achieve God’s holy purpose for mankind."

 ~ Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, pp. 50-52

December 17, 2012

turning 9 - Domani Biko


Domani's birthday began a day early when we spent the day with families from school.  hanging out with them is like a dream-come-true for our boys who get along perfectly with the sons.  after a day of playing and eating together, we all sang 'happy birthday' to Domani and enjoyed eating homemade carrot cake. 

later that evening, Ayana made him a batch of butter cookies as her way of giving him a present. :)


the morning of Domani's birthday began with rolling chocolate, chocolate-chip cookie dough balls on a tray to bring with us to Baha'i class that morning.  i prepared the crumble for his apple crumble 'cake' that he requested for his birthday while he hung out in bed with Aba calculating their predictions for the NBA season (a sport they are all crazy about!)..



Baha'i class was about 'thankfulness to God'. Domani participated in the discussion, colored a picture, learned a new prayer & enjoyed the chocolate, chocolate chip cookies :).

Domani hugging Gideon at Gramma & Prof Asare's home for Baha'i class
the fellas hung out watching a taped basketball game while the apple crumble baked before we all went out to eat a late lunch at Mama Mia's.  the car ride was like a party in the backseat with the kids and their Aba..

after eating pizza, we further filled our tummies with gelato.  while savoring the gelato, Domani observed a music video being played on the tv up on the wall.  he whispered to me that when he's a father, he's going to teach his children what's appropriate.  he continued to explain how he will tell his daughter to sing good songs and not dress inappropriately.  he finished by saying that he'll say the same kind of things to his boys, 'in a boy kind of way'. :)

when we arrived home, we were too full to enjoy the apple crumble so we sang 'happy birthday' without it and then Domani opened his presents.  it was very sweet how he showed appreciation for the humble gifts (hair gel, bouncy balls, and art materials) and showed them to his brother in a way of intending to share them..




by early evening, the local friends came by to join us for Sunday night storytelling and devotions.  afterward, we sang again to Domani, ate cookies, drank sobolo, and played around the living room while listening to music..


when it was time for sleep, the kids snuggled in bed with their father.  it was a perfect ending to a very joyfully-filled day for Domani.

ps.  in our family, turning 9 marks reaching the end of one stage of development and entering a new one (we embraced the Montessori view of child development many years ago).  the number 9 and its star symbol represents for us the highest single digit number which carries within itself the significance of the smaller numbers as it evolves into the next stage of growth.. we try to honor each stage of growth as a new beginning, reflecting back on the previous 3 years, acknowledging all that was acquired along the path of spiritual, academic, emotional and physical growth..

December 09, 2012

jr. youth group serves, plays & studies

"Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth and be of some benefit to him."
~ Baha'u'llah

 the 'gems of justice' jr. youth group consulted last week and decided they wanted their 6th service project since last October to be cleaning up the road leading to our new house.  they said we would need shears, plastic bags, gloves, snacks and water.  it was a sign of their own development as a group because they were able to consult and find agreement as to what they wanted to do in relation to what they understand is a need in their community.  one of their intentions was to directly help one of the families by cutting down their weeds along the side of their home.
arriving from a neighborhood about a mile away
wearing a rubber glove to gather trash
the spirit of service brought everyone joy, including some children and parents along the street.  some of the children began helping us and by the time we were finished, a car drove by asking what we were going to do with the bags of trash that were collected.  the driver is part of a neighborhood association -- he was eager to help resolve our problem of trash being dumped and burned.  he was impressed by the youths' efforts and said that the association would call ZoomLion, the private trash company, to come and clean up this dumping area and post a sign for no dumping, as well as provide a bin.  it would amaze me if that really happens, but i am hopeful because it would be in sync with the spirit of the 'breezes of confirmation' which occur when we make efforts to do good.
at the end of cleaning up, with their bags piled in front of them
Evelyn serving the snacks (each one of them took turns serving something different)
tired but fulfilled
 the service project ended with a water balloon toss, one of our favorite activities in the hot weather.

we're currently studying the book, Spirit of Faith, which begins by introducing the theme that our true identity is that of a soul which transcends all physical and material descriptions..
creating a story on the themes in Glimmerings of Hope
creating a story on the themes in Breezes of Confirmation