Friday, July 13, 2007

This is impossible..I can't find my way back into writing...i just can't focus...too far away from Africa, too many miles, too many months and in Zimbabwe too many mouths to feed...Zimbabwe, when I was there, last October/November, inflation was high at about 1200%. It was crazy then. Everything was done on the black market; I carried around a sack of paper money, wads of it wound up tightly with elastic bands, bulging from my backpack in the morning, only to have it gone by nightfall. Here in Canada we can't imagine this....but over there, since their President Robert Magawbe established an ab orted form of land reform in 2000, basically by kicking white farmers off their lands and handing out those farms to his cronies, not to the black farmers or farm workers who had been tiling that land all their lives...and soon the land went fallow..this proud country, once called the 'bread basket of all of Africa", supplying surrounding countries with the bulk of their vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry..now lost over 45% of its farms, the remaining ones limping along...He did this to impress rural voters, insisting that once land belonged back to black people life would change for the better, but it hasn't. Thousands of farm workers were forced to leave their families behind in the country and migrate to the larger cities in the hope of finding work. Once proud and with means to feed their families these men threw together makeshift shacks of corregated tin, cardboard, rags - creating a hodge podge slum town in the middle of the capital city of Harare. In 2003 the government, suspecting opposition support seeping into this area, sent brute force in the form of bulldozers much like those we saw in Tiannamon Square, who charged in, crashing down and demolishing this semblance of homes, leaving behind construction piles of torn wood, metal and debris, and 750,000 people out of work and home.

Since then, the economy slipped and slithered out of the hands of the people, inflation rose, and since I left, soared...today it is over an astonishing 9,000% - the worst in the world. As Globe and Mail African correspondent Stephanie Nolan said in an article this morning, this means that a tube of toothpaste, if it could be found on empty shelves today, costs more now than a two bedroom bungalo did only a few years ago. Can you imagine! Last week the government, in their attempt to stop inflation, forced merchants and retailers to cut prices of their produce in half, causing desperate and starving people to stampede into stores to stock up on goods like cooking oil, maize, sugar and bread, to such an extent that police were brought in...clerks frightened for their lives dashed out backdoors, merchants refused to restock depleting shelves to sell at half price, and closed down their shops. 450 businessmen were arrested in the last two days and thrown into jail. 90% of the butchers are no longer in operation; when i was there there were fuel shortages every week or so, but today the gas tanks are closed down, finished. Electricity has been limited to a mere 5 hours a day; there is little drinking water and in some places, none. In the last 7 years, 3 million people from Zimbabwe have fled the country for Britain, South Africa, nearby Zambia and Malawi, earning money elsewhere and sending it back home; these days, nights between 2 - 3000 people a night are risking their lives crossing the crockedile infested rivers into South Africa, and for the rest, the situation has become life-threatening. South Africa has yet to intervene - Magawbe has been seen and treated as a freedom fighter, a hero, having freed his people back in 1980 with Independence from the British.

I am getting emails everyday from friends there.
They don't write of hardship; they can't.
The government is monitoring international phone calls and emails; people who appear to be in opposition of this government are arrested, their computers confiscated, phones lines torn and destroyed.
They write as if nothing is happening.

Emily, who created 12 batiks for me to sell over here as a fundraiser. I included $80. US for shipping, but each time she has tried to pay for air shipping, the prices have skyrocketed. She trucks them home...and doesn't get back to me for weeks, ashamed, I am sure, because one, she has not been able to keep her promise in getting the pieces to me, and two, I am sure, she has spent the money on feeding her children and grandchildren.

I totally understand. I would do the same.

And Tawanda..who I sent $450. for him to buy 6 bikes for my project coordinator Mary Meza and her five high density, translate 'slum' home-care workers. About 2 months ago, he bused down to South Africa where bikes were cheaper and better i am told, and bought all six of them. Upon coming back into Zimbabwe, the border people allowed him to bring only 4 across, forcing him to leave behind 2 bikes at the border until he could come back later with a second visa. The four bikes were brought back to Harare by bus, and stored carefully in his father's house. A few weeks later, a family friend, desperate for money to feed his family, stole all four bikes and his father's camera collection and made off to Botswana with the proceeds. Tawanda has yet had the funds or ability to get back to the border for the two remaining bikes.

And again, I understand.
He was straight up about the bikes. He was ashamed in his confession, broken, disjointed, as if this was his fault. And even if it was, I have learned to understand.
I live in a beautiful home, on a river lined with tall healthy trees. I have enough food in my fridge to feed myself and my friends, family for weeks, with money in my pocket to spare. There are groceries in nearby Creemore, a huge selection of anything anyone could want. There is fresh well water pouring out from my taps; fuel in my car, and more only five miles away.
I surely understand.

Cathrine, who sewed me a little bag covered in African lions which she presented to me as a going away gift, had a new little baby girl only a month ago and called her Lynn. She has a husband who is out of work, and two other children, aged 3 and 4 - how are they coping?

And Paddington, once an actor and film maker, who i met back in November at a workshop as a home care worker holding down a volunteer job of coordinating 70,000 people in his high density community of Rugere. By day, he worked part time in nearby Harare installing satalite disks to support his wife, five children and aging parents, plus the wives and families of four brothers he had bured with Hiv Aids. When I spoke to him back in November, both of us taking the bus back into Harare after a full day workshop he confessed to me how scared he was, even back then, that he wouldn't be able to make ends meet.
He used the metaphor of them all behind him scratching on his back.
Can you imagine what he is going through now?

And little Leo, the remaining twin i was buying milk, soup, soap for, his sister Leona having passed away of Hiv Aids, just before her second birthday, and the family of his father who has taken he and his brother in, both mom and dad gone now from Aids....what of those people?

I have had a little success with Zimbabwe..sending $200. through Western Union to Mary Meza toward an orphanage project she has begun, and another $200 to my friends who teach people how to grow vegetable and herb gardens now sprinkled throughout the ghetto slums of Mufakose.

Tanzania is another story....
and i will leave that for another day..
Funny, since coming home, i have barely been able to sit down and write, it is just not happening, writers block, not in the mood, too busy, I don't know...or maybe it's just not time, the information mulling around somewhere in my head, ready to leap out at some precious given moment..I find myself consumed though, by Africa...I have been out there making presentations, eleven of them in the last couple of months....fundraising speeches, showing pictures, talking about my experiences, what i saw, how i felt, just from my point of view and certainly not the last word on anything...and that has gone incredibly well....Grade 2 up to grade 6 classrooms filled with enraptured children, grandmothers with the Steven Lewis Foundations in little towns sprinkled around Ontario, learning about and raising money for grandmothers in Africa, a senior citizens nursing home in Creemore, a group of interested people in Orangeville, Dunedin, the Creemore churches coming together for the first time with an Ecumenical service, focussing on Africa. Raising money, quite a bit of it, dollar by dollar. I drew ten pictures of African masks and printed them into postcard packages, each one selling for $20. I have raised over $300. with these cards. Along with ICA, the NGO who was kind enough to take me on last fall, we are about to send 3 Masai girls to secondary school for a year, plus buy 30 goats and sheds for members of the HIV AIDS positive group in Handeni, Tanzania....tomorrow i am doing an interview with CFRB's Tabby Johnson, who i used to work with a long time ago in another life....

I started to say, back at the beginning of this blog, that i seem to have writer';s block....unable to get at any of this at home on my own computer, in the quiet of my office..I just haven't been able to do it...it is hopeless! I am hopeless...one day with time on my hands, unable to get into this work, i washed my car down, not just the outside, but the inside too, a first, anything and everything to avoid writing....so today, I made a vow to myself that i was going to do it. I drove down to the city around noon, unloaded the car, my house spotless and waiting for a rental, with no excuse but to sit down and write. I couldn't. Couldn't. I got on my bike, road over to the Vieniese bakery at the end of the street, bought a brownie which i never do, and ate the whole thing wandering down the sidewalk, a new gallery on the corner of Ossington and Argyle, i take another twenty minutes to go through..where to go? what to do?
You get this horrible feeling of restlessness, a flakey feeling, of a summer's day wandering and wasting...of meandering into nothingness, and yet i have this book idea, book project. Book I have told each and every presentation i am busy writing...and i am not doing it. Jeeeessssseeee.
I just can't do it at home....so in desperation, I bike up to an internet cafe on Bloor street and like the proverbial duck to water, where did that come from? I settle in. And the writing began. It was easy, just like being in some little internet cafe in Africa, hiding out in a tiny cubicle, focussed, the pressure on, even the fear of the electricity going down, it all came back, so get down to it, and write! And it worked!

Have a great day, and light a candle for Zimbabwe....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Home Sweet Home....
4 and a half months later....a million miles away from Africa..a thousand years away from coming home -Alliston, Ontario...tonight, I'm giving a speech with the 'grandmother's" at the St. John's United church...last night Orangeville...am steaming along as though something grabbed me, engulfed me, my very being, as if i never had any choice...the longer i am away from Africa, the deeper my feelings are for those people, those beautiful countries i worked in....it is as if they have become my family, they have, i hear from them everyday..emails, phone calls, especially from Zimbabwe: "help me, Lynn you have to help me" that country is under seige...inflation is up to 4500%, when i was there it was about 1200. Back then, in October, fuel was in short supply, days when you couldn 't get gas, line ups everywhere, people waiting for hours, days...everything was done over the black market, everyone used it, electrical shortages, water shortages, people I knew walked, miles sometimes, in shoes threadbare, without enough money for bus fare, or lunch..
But now it is worse, so much worse....where once they were able to have two or three meals a day, they now have one..if they are lucky. Corn, the staple of Zimbabwe skyrocketed a few months ago - a family of five could have six days worth of food for 21 cents, but in one week it had gone up to $1.45..and now, who could even imagine... everything is up, schoools and hospitals closing down, nurses and doctors walking out because government paid salaries are so low they can't afford even bus fare to get to work, let alone a decent salary to put food on the table for their families; the economy has died, dead, and it's getting worse,Somewhere I read that inflation could soar up to 1 million percent. It is unimaginable.
My life today, four months after coming home. i am consumed by all of this.
Everything in my life changed. i closed down my art retreat when i got home..i had the choice of reving up the whole machine once again, for the 12th year....of getting a brochure out to over 2,000 people, running all over Ontario to art stores with leaflets, information, and endless hours on the telephone, registering, discussing, explaining...I just couldn't do it...i knew i would lose Africa, whatever that was, whatever that meant to me back then...four months ago...I sent out the big email..that this year the Creativity Art Retreat in Dunedin was closing, i sent back deposits for participants who had registered and wrote a bit of a notice in my website. Within a few days i had over 150 emails back, most of whom wrote, you go girl...some were upset, disappointed; life changes, people change, things we do change..there is a time for everything, ...a time to begin, a time to close down...i said to a friend oh how i would miss running the art retreat..he said "no you won't" just like that, and i knew i wouldn't, ...the energy i had to put out was huge, i simply had no desire to carry on...i needed to reserve my strength and creative juices for whatever was to be for me for what i needed to do about Africa, for all the things i experienced, what i saw, what i felt..i didn't want to lose that...

ICA were great..supportive, they listened to my stories, they set up an event where i was given the opportunity to show slides, do a bit of a review about my journey- but what next?

My kids were still living in my house: they had moved in back in September - John, Shauna, the two babies Pyper and Finn....they were renovating a big old house a few blocks from mine, it had been the perfect solution, but they were still here! The building permits had taken three months, the job was far bigger than first planned...they weren't about to move out, so i moved in, with my happy little culture shock tucked quietly under my arm and sort of reclaimed a bit of space at the back of the first floor, camping out on a futon couch ...my computer, my studio, my clothes mingling together a few feet from my bed. My place has two floors, two open spaces but for the bathrooms..great for one or two people..but not for a family and me coming home, glad to see everyone for the first few days, the presents dispersed, a hundred phone calls, a few parties, all of this in 26 degrees below February weather. The kids had settled into the living quarters upstairs with the babies...I took over the back of the downstairs, sort of. No privacy, I had more space in Africa - space to think, breath,write...meditate,whatever, and here we were all jambed in tumbling on top of each other, all of us with major sleep deprivation.

I took a baby every night for feedings...Pyper and Finn. They were gorgeous, fat, blond, blue eyed and 8 months old. They didn't remember me. They had a babysitter who came in by the day. For the first three weeks she sat with the babies on my futon bed downstairs, leaving the upstairs space for Johnny and Shauna. It had been a great arrangement while i was away but now i was back, squeezing into the adjacent bathroom which is the size of a broom closet to change my clothing, the jolly jumper hanging from the top of the door jam, preventing the door from being closed tight, the babies and Amy a scant few feet away...

Johnny and I had a bit of a meltdown one cold morning sometime around the third week. He arrived downstairs at 6 am, as he did every morning, a coffee for me in one hand, a baby tucked under his arm in the other; we all played together while Shauna slept upstairs. It was a beautiful time, most of the time, but that morning, for me, with no space of my own, no ability for reflection, no meditation, no writing time, no thinking time - up three times that night with Pyper, tired, exhausted, without my home.

John rose to the occasion, and produced in a minute a huge piece of muslim from his van and tacked it up across the loft space, now visually dividing me from the entranceway and baby changing tables and clothing... it was a good solution for awhile, at least now i had visual privacy....Amy and the babies were moved upstairs during the day; I got a sort of room of my own; and Shauna lost her private space upstairs.
I felt discombobulated.
I tried to keep up my exercise routine i had developed in Africa from walking so many miles everyday and pulled something huge in my right knee on the treadmill...I had just found out the night before that my freshly-declared ex of three years had been living with another woman the whole time i was in AFrica. My right knee swelled up double the size of the other and is still large to this day. Eventually i had an MRI and will have to get knee surgery sometime down the road. A nasty winter cold had set in..outside, there was no colour, no people singing, dancing in the streets, no outdoor cooking, no music, no laughter. It was Canada in the dead of winter. Cold. Mean, Hard. People running from one destination to another, bodies wrapped round and round in dark boring clothing, heads down to the wind. No communication. No looking each other in the eye, no hi, hello, how are you, no smiling, no greeting, no connection with each other, just the huge deep silence of winter. And me. I was sick with the flu, my knee throbbed, my heart ached, I had no place of my own, no space. I stopped writing this journal, stopped reading good books. I cried a lot. It occurred to me how ironic it was, that in Africa, during all those months, I was never sick, my body was in great shape, I could walk for miles and I barely thought of G from one week to the next.
It sucked. I hated being home.
What to do, what to do, what to do? I did babies, lunches with friends, read celebrity magazines. My brain dissolved...I couldn't keep my mind on anything. It was like a dose of candy floss in the circus, too much popcorn in the movies. Light. Inocuous. And boring.

I decided to try to live like i lived over there.

In Africa you can get up in the morning and plan your day, but for sure, within a very short time, plans would change, tires would blow, hours would be spent waiting for something, someone, you had to just let it happen, not get upset, be flexible, actually enjoy the changes and let the whole thing flow, and it did. Things always worked out. Always. if i was three hours late for my workshop i was facilitating, i was simply three hours late. People were still there patiently waiting. I had to readjust the agenda and get going, and going we got to, and did and it worked out perfectly. People showed up late, often, maybe even a day or two later, but show up they did....something always happened in the waiting..someone came along, another conversation, another experience. It was that way all the way through the travels.
Why couldn't it be that way back at home in Canada.
Let whatever is supposed to happen, happen. Period.
A simple thing to say,think, but in our culture we are used to organzing and trying to control our lives, to such an extent that we, I get impatient, when plans are not met, at that time, or place. Well i was going to change that and let whatever was supposed to happen to me, happen.
And it did.

Within a very short time, maybe a few weeks only, I decided to write a book based on this blog of mine..I had had some pretty good feedback from a lot of people, some of whom I was shocked had been reading it from the beginning. I could rewrite the blog, add some drawings, photographs....something along the lines of Eat Pray Love...a personal odyssey, the evolving and understanding of someone, me, who knew so little as i headed out to AFrica...a little afraid of Zimbabwe..having been told that black men with HIV AIDS raped white women as a cure....and how i grew to make my way around these countries, a personal story, voyage..something i was sure people would be interested in reading...

I also wanted to do public speaking presentations of what i saw and felt over there...to raise consciousness of what is going on and to raise money, lots of money... I had honed down my fundraising projects to buying bikes for homecare workers in Zimbabwe, goats and sheds for HIV AIDS positive people in Handeni, secondary school education for Masai girls in Tanzania, and money to send positive people to a Masai healer i had met in a village in Sindeni, where i was told there was a cure for Aids.

And lastly, i wanted to make an exhibition of paintings based on photographic images i had taken in Kibera, one of the worlds biggest slums, deep in the heart of Nairobi.
The course was set..now all i had to do was to do it.

My friend Maxine came over and helped me make sense of the over 1,000 photographs lodged in the IPHoto section of my computer. We separated them into categories: orphanage, art workshops, HIV AIDS workshops, Masai, street scenes, children, projects, Kibera and one entitled "my favourite Africa", the best pictures of the lot, and there were lots of them. It was impossible not to take fabulous photographs there.

-Sierra's grade 2 classroom
-ICA speech.
-Mexico, allergic to 5 million bugs = welts, itching,misery.
-Chicago: peace, quiet, crying in the African section of the museum,sitting on the floor drawing masks. and drawing African masks.
-Home: Cat house.
-Roly Flemming: angel of organizing Creemore speeches.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ophmert, Holland...5:50am, cold but not so nearly as cold as Toronto, raining all day yesterday and grey, the first of this colour i have seen in four months - in AFrica, it is the brightness of light you first notice, the phenomenal clarity in the early morning blasting forth a smile of the day to come.....but here in this land of Merit and Hans and Casey McGlynn my watch remains stuck on African time: ten to 8, two hours ahead of Holland, 8 hours ahead of Toronto - the knob on the right side of the face refusing to budge embedded with months of dust, oil and dirt. I can't get the coffee machine to work; too many buttons, or maybe last night so tired i didn't listen properly; the computer in this technically-unchallenged land swallowed twelve emails yesterday while Merit and I went shopping for presents for the kids.

Happy Valentines day!

Their house is filled with art, theirs and that of Casey McGlynn hung up or tacked onto every wall and surface, covering the caravan trailer that sits outside the living room window, the inside walls, the outside walls. Hans is into fused glass pieces, having just finished a show in collaboration with Casey at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Toronto on Dundas Street, still on for another week, I can't wait to go - and Merit, her work changing and developing in leaps since October, so very exciting! It got me going again, charged with that particular kind of passion I haven't felt in some time, I'm anxious to get back to my studio. People have said they couldn't wait to see how my work will change after Africa and I can't either. Other than in the eight or ten workshops I gave in Africa, I barely did any art there except the Sharpie-cartooned versions of elephants, giraffe, cats and lions to amuse the children along the way.

Toronto: this very afternoon and knowing that Johnny and maybe those two fat and smiling babies will be at the airport, 8 months now and I hope not strange with me, and Lindsey and Jim, and Seanna and Ted and sweet darling Sierra who had pneumonia and root canal work over the winter, and Shauna and old Nanuuk whose still amazingly alive. Dinner tonight with salad and bbq salmon in a house with real toilets, hot water and gas stove- it's strange being here even in Holland, a feeling so comfortable, so remembered, so natural as if i have never left - that the whole thing in Africa was a bright, vivid dream and one that i won't forget.

Yesterday, sitting around their table, with cheese, the first in months, remembering and telling stories...Tawanda and I running all over Harare on my last day searching madly for a peanut butter making machine for Mary Mesa, the project organizer of all five high density areas - to supplement her income - supporting her husband, an assistant pastor without salary and two kids she';s trying to keep in school, both primary and secondary charging exhorbitant fees, plus uniform costs, shoes and books. We found one, bright blue, about five feet long and heavy, a manual because of electrical blackouts, - the inflation rate in Zimbabwe now up and over 1000%, it breaks my heart. We carried it for blocks, he at one end, me at the other, and up into the little bus, the matatta, squeezing ourselves awkwardly into our seats and laying this machine sideways across the laps of the people in our row and on to the community centre where we hid it into a cupboard for Mary to discover the next day.

The head of the centre I was to meet cancelled with a note telling me she was unable to come -her grandaughter had died the night before of HIV AIDS and was to be buried that day- a not so uncommon occurance in this country with 18% of its people stricken with this disease, far down from the 32% reported 15 or so years ago when the epidemic was at its highest. Because of sanctions, the anti retro viral ARV medicine is rare here, expensive and prohibitive with people at the bottom suffering the most. We were taken through the narrow laneways and paths of this impoverished area, one-floored shanties jammed together on each side, each one housing four or five families - maybe 16 people - mothers, fathers, grandparents and children - sharing a common kitchen and outdoor squatting hole in the ground as a toilet to douse with water afterwards - houses made from plaster and wood with corregated iron roofing, delapidated but often with plots of maize, corn growning alongside - these street teaming with life. Groups of people sitting and selling tomatoes, corn, vegetables on the side of the road, talking and laughing, children squatting and playing, running after a ball and games all the time chattering non-stop - the whole of Africa a place of community and tribes and clans, each one different from the next, but coming together from early morning all day and into the night outside their homes, because the inside is dark and grim and so often filled with despair - the constant never-ending din of making connection - it never stops.
I am the mzungu, the white person, a rarity in a country, with no tourists, no economy, no jobs, few doctors with no medicine, hospitals and health care facilities breaking down and in decay, with one third of its people emigrating to other countries to make their lives: South Africa, nearby Malowi, Zambia, to Britain, United States and Canada. Each sending money back to support relatives in Zimbabwe, only to have it taxed in half before it reaches their families. The black market system of currency is in full swing here, with the have nots stuck with the government system, the affluent using the other: I got money changed from US to Zim dollars at a beauty salon with the help of a hairdresser who took it upstairs to a travel office for conversion - leaving with huge bundles of paper bills wrapped together with elastic bands, massive wads of useless cash stuffed inside my pack. There is little fuel; oftentimes with no fuel with gas stations closed and dark, empty with no one around; and a few days later when the shortage is lifted, hundreds of cars and trucks lines up down the roadways waiting for hours, sometimes days for fuel. You can't go anywhere without hassle. Without fuel, buses are taken off the road with huge lineups at every stop and the the ones still running, full to the brim, with people sitting on top of each other, the door wide open , spilling, holding on tight and hanging out. Shortages like i have never known: no water, electricity, fuel. Remember a few summers ago during the blackout of August 03, we scrambled for flashlight batteries, candles, bottled water, prepared foods confused and afraid, not understanding what was happening and why, could I imagine living with that on a weekly basis?

Merit has just come in, it's 8:30 now, we leave in an hour - me, i've been lost in this memory. I can't believe it is time! She's downstairs wrapping and packing, my stuff, and expert far better than me, hurrying me along.

One thing before i sign out and get moving, this writing and this blog has carried me through, through the days and weeks and months through good times and some not so great times of this journey, I can't imagine stopping. There are so many more things i want to say, to get down, with so little time for writing along the way.

So i am going to continue this blog for awhile, for as long as it takes to put it all down. I thank you for listening, for writing to me, and for being there....see you in Canada!

Monday, February 12, 2007

KIBERA, Nairobi - one of the world's most awful slum areas, 1000 hectacres, some 70,000 people - and by far the worst poverty i have ever seen. You can't come to Nairobi and do any kind of work with HIV AIDS and not visit Kibera.

Monday morning, my last day with the flight taking off at 11:35 am, I woke early determined to go- Shitema, the former UN ambassador described it with such compassion his face changing, crumbling, watering his eyes. The woman on duty all night at the hotel called someone to take me through, bags packed, a bit of coffee, toast and by 7 we were on our way, strangely only a few kilometres from the place i was staying. As we get closer, at this hour, hundreds, maybe thousands of people surging out of the area and moving quickly up the hill on their way to work. We made our way slowly down the main road, at the bottom making a left turn into a world changed. The streets were mud, pockets of water collected from rain the night before, floating with garbage, a chicken picking its way through, on each side what could only be described as sheds, shacks, made from cardboard, corregated iron sheeting, crumbling plaster, wood crammed in, side by side each one attached to the next. Fences of barbed wire, sticks, wood, corregated iron, doors opening into dark and dirty hallways, rooms, with someone peering out from a sewing machine, people sitting at the side of the road, cooking chapittas, pancakes and madas, little cakes in big metal woks over fires fuelled by kerosene, charcoal or wood; open fires burning garbage in the middle of the road as we pick our way through rushing people, children in school uniforms carrying little back packs travelling in pairs, clumps standing and sitting and watching our car as it moves slowly along.

I was taking notes of what I was seeing, while Peter my driver was explaining: no electricity, no water with huge round corregated iron tanks every here and there collecting rain water and sold: 20 litres for 2 shillings about $1.40. No toilets, no privacy. Dank and grim. Churches, clinics and chemists offering free medicine and advice, youth and help agencies, woman's groups and beauty salons wedged side by side in amongst filthy crevices and holes lined with old rags and sheets of cardboard as places for people to sleep. Men bunched in a row, so many of them 10-20 maybe more, blocking the roadway in front of a sign saying Kakaunga Hotel waiting for the bar to open at 8am. for home-made beer and wine,made with corn. Bright red Coke slogans blasting 'a better way', √Źn the Wings of Love health care, Ghetto Guts - an electronic repair shop and Let's Meet Bread Depot buried amongst storefronts and shops with pink plastic shoes and yellow buckets of cooking oil, withered shanks of last week's lettuce hooked and hanging off metal pipes, cigarettes, pots, pans, bags of maize, flour, a few tomatoes, potatoes, onions and a shock of red bouganvillia strung up and snaking across barbed wire.

Early morning people, carrying things on their heads, shoulders, with babies on their backs, a team of life streaming by and peering in surprised and curious, asking Peter what are we doing?Friendly,carrying cups of chai- steaming hot, calling "Jambo! Habare!" Good morning! the children getting up close with huge smiles with a big "how are you!!" pronounced clearly and distinctly in primary school English like kids we pass everywhere.

Dogs lying on our path, sleeping as if dead and digging through garbage, the bleetingof a goat and chickens as we pick our way over sharp and jagged shards of rock down to the very bottom, deep into the bowels of Kibera to Saba, a city within a city, a valley of hell where rents are the lowest. Rags, filth, dark and smelly, patches of cardboard, wood, metal nailed, roped together onto anything to cover the dirge, the stench of big piles of rotting garbage, dank, old, tired, spent people sitting and lying down, a woman, old, ancient and weathered, resting on top of an overturned pail roasting cobs of corn, a dog at her feet. Two little ones standing in a doorway, a boy with another, slung on his back - two playing in mud, naked. For a long time, Peter and I drive slowly along,in silence.

I ask him how does he reconcile living well, how can any of us, how can any of us, who have so much, live with this in our world. I could hardly speak, repeating myself, trying to find the word, the words that weren't coming out well.

He said: "I only pray, that God, will help them". Slowly.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

ICA - The Institute of Cultural Affairs, an NGO operating successfully in over 30 countries around the world, dealing with issues of poverty, sustainable development, disease, hunger, micro finance lending and so much more-working in nine countries in Africa focusing on the HIV AIDS issue - the ICA originated in the United States in the 60s, offering workshops and trainings to people and assistance t0 communities with the goal of paving the way to help people make their world a better place.

I'm excited about an ICA agriculatural project: in Isingya, Kenya.
Just one example of how the ICA operates:

Over lunch Friday, with 5 Kenya ICA members in the dusty town of Isingya, half way between the Tanzanian border and Nairobi in the back room of an old hotel on the side of the highway, white metal picnic table, eating bowls of pieces of goat meat, tough, a bit grizzly drenched in a sort of thin soupy gravy, with chunks of potato, slivers of carrot, onion - all of this eaten with ugali: a whipped up and boiled corn flour mix cut up into slices which looked like white bread, broken off in chunks and rolled up in a ball with the right hand and scooped into the meal...we talked about the 3 year agricultural project I had just visited which involved assisting 12 Masai villages in developing a sustainable farming project to grow grains and vegetables enough to feed their community in the years to come.

We'd just come back from 2 of the 12 villages they had been working in over the last 8 months, where ICA, funded by donations from Japan, had successfully completed the building of 6 example farms with about 30 enthusiastic Masai members in each community.

It was a miracle to see! Imagine. Out there in the middle of nowhere on flat parched terrain of scruffy brown grasses and no trees - land which had suffered drought conditions with little rain over the last three years, they had created and grown huge garden plots using a wide variety of of beans, grains: sorgum and cowpeas; corn plants and sunflowers for oil. All growing, strong, green, a patch of hope in this drought filled field....and each one with a huge rectangular hole dug, the size of a deep 20 yard swimming pool, lined in sheets of heavy commercial plastic waiting for the big rains to come, late March, April, to collect a good supply of water to get them through another drought. The grains and corns and vegetables were chosen to be drought resistant, experiments were taken on what variety grew best and where and how long it took to grow. Members of the community had planted a garden on the right side showing how they thought they should plant, and on the left side, ICA experts demonstrated another way of planting, resulting for people to see for themselves, the difference in ways to plant, as well as what to plant.

I asked Masai chairman Kapshi Sonko who stood with great pride in front of the 8 foot high corn he had directed his people to grow, what did he think about what his community had accomplished: he told me he had never farmed before, ever, but so worried was he about the demise in livestock production and food in his community, he said, "he was willing to try anything, to see what these young ICA fellas were talking about."

The project was a huge success. ICA and the six villages they had already worked in celebrated their 8 month victory with a huge Farmer's Field Day, with over 300 people in attendance. Government, corporate, business, agro chemical industrial representative, veternarians and farmers from the community stood in the open field marvelling at the phenomenal produce in full evidence, soon to harvested in a week or so. The Government Argricultural Officers looked a little sheepish, this is what they were supposed to be doing, but how exactly did ICA do this? The Masai people, they said, "were notoriously 'lazy'. How in earth did you get them to work so hard?!!"

So, over lunch I asked them, how did they do this? I wanted to know..What were the steps from beginning to end did they take to make this project such a huge success, and in only a period of 8 months..?

By understanding this, I would better understand the basic philosophy of ICA worldwide, and it turned out, one of which I believe and adhere to completely. So here is my synopsis of what they told me, Mark and John and the others around the table that day at lunch, with such enthusiasm, passion and skill, I hope I can convey this in my layman's terms, to describe their process to you.
Also, so much of my story is about the Masai people because in Tanzania and Kenya where i spent so much of my time working, a good part of the ICA focus has been in the Masai villages, with people living traditionally in spartan and difficult circumstances with much poverty, very little education and few advantages, a community much like so many others stricken with HIV AIDS.

Lots of other NGOs had gone into these villages through the years with handouts and donations, food, machinery, money, all graciously given, but dissipated soon in a short period of time, with little to show for it in the long run. What was it that ICA managed to do to create a sustainable project which will last and will supply ample food and even maybe more important, an enormous sense of pride and self esteem for a job well done.

First of all, need. The Masai, traditionally a nomadic pastoral people, involved predominantly in the care and accumulation of livestock, moving their settlements from one grassy waterhole to the next, enjoying a diet of meat, blood and milk, period. They did not stay long enough in one place to grow maize, grains, they were not an agricultural society. But in recent years, with severe drought causing the death of livestock, hence less money for trading and eating, and now with the onslaught in December 06 of the dreaded Rift Valley Fever, they were open to looking at new means of survival.

Enter ICA, having done a PROJECT ANALYSIS which they discovered a possible need for an agricultural project in this area, and after managing to secure funding from Japanese donators, they conducted a BASIC SURVEY, where they went into the community and had meetings with and consulting Chiefs and community leaders of possible economic, social, and cultural needs of the community. From here they formulated questions which were then presented to the community as a whole in a series of 'strategic planning' meetings.

STRATEGIC PLANNING: with skilled specifically-trained ICA facilitators, here is where the backbone of the ICA philosophy is underlined: basically, to assist people to help themselves, in order for them to take ownership of the projects and to determine theselves the solutions to their 'problems', therefore to be responsible for the outcome of the project. Never to impose their ideas on the people.

How is this done?

This particular team of ICA workers, under the guidance of Project Coordinator Mark Lusweti, and Agriculture expert Githaiga Kirubi from the Kikuyu Tribe began the meetings with a
VISION: asking people to imagine how they would like their community to be, what changes wuold they make? what do they need? in the best world, imagine...let your mind go, and imagine...Well, they came up with a long list of needs, desires, dreams, and at this stage, as with other NGOs who had come into their villages, they expected ICA to hand out and provide them with the means to make their dreams come true: provide food, create schools, roads, etc.
But no...
The facilitator then asks: "what is holding you back from achieving your dreams? What blocks? What is the problem that you can't have what you have said you want so badly?
What are the problems? Money?"
ICA believes where there is a problem there is a solution.
"Money is in itself, not a problem; there is plenty of money in the world, in banks, other people have it. The WAYS of getting money is the problem. "

"So. What can we/YOU do to overcome these problems to get the things you most want?"
At this point it becomes clear that ICA is not here to solve the problems. It is up to participants to come up with ideas and solutions to the problems they have spoken about.
This is the beginning of them taking OWNERSHIP of the problem, and hence the solution.

SYSTEMATIC ACTION: Here participants offer solutions to their problems as the facilitator continues to ask: "How are YOU going to do this?" stressing that these problems need to have solutions created by participants, not ICA people. Hence, once they have decided what they want, the problems and how they can solve them, they realize that they are going to have to make CHANGES in order to make their dreams come true....

Facilitators check with them the feasibility of their solutions, keeping in mind the following points on the SMART chart:
S-specific solutions; M - measurable actions; A - Attainable goals; R - realistic and T - timebound.
They then created a TIMELINE: in increments of 3 years, 1 year, 90 days, etc.

As we wrapped up, we talked about these methods, this process....how it could be used successfully with anyone who wants to make changes in their lives, how each step could be utilized: to visualize a better life, a better future....then to look at the problems and to look for solutions, even when it means making changes, sometimes big changes....taking ownership of our own situations, stop blaming other people, or other circumstances, we can change things and we can make a difference...and yes, it takes RISKING...Julia Cameron calles it Taking the Leap and having the faith, that the net will indeed, be there....Risking. Moving ahead, even when things seem impossible, bleak, too hard...this is what i have seen here so often in Africa...people, with so little and yet with so much...taking that big step, making changes, resiliant...and doing it.

Oh i am so tired of writing right now, but i am so excited and thrilled with what i have seen here, with the incredibly charismatic, hard working and compassionate people i have met here, with the mothers carrying loads on their heads and babies on their backs, and small children covered in poverty, hundreds of people i have been so lucky to meet and to know a little, the community coordinator who cancelled a meeting one morning because her grandaughter had died the night before, the two babies in Zimbabwe suffering with lack of milk, unable to stand up, move...the group of musicians, stone cutters, painters, poets trying to set up an artist coop in that country with 1000% inflation, no economy, no medical supplies, no doctors, the question of how to make a living with their art with no tourists, no one buying; people reaching out to each other, in their own misery extending themselves, on the lookout to helping others, giving what little they have, sharing with their neighbours, being there for each other...i have seen this, always a bright good hello, and understanding, always trying, even breaking out in song together, a giving, a joy, love....

Oh i could go on, and on.....and on....on this my last day in Africa....do stop me!
Tomorrow, Amsterdam and Merit and Hans and the new Van Gogh exhibition if I can persuade Merit to go...and then Toronto....and yes, i am a little apprehensive of coming back into our western ways, the integration process.... I know for me whatever it is, it will take a long time, reflection, months...to let this be what it will be....so now, more importantly, I want to know about you!
Nairobi. Feb. 12/07.
Heading out in less than 24hours tomorrow for Amsterdam, impossible to believe. Just this morning up in Nanyuki, a bustling town snuggled under the shadow of Mount Kenya, cooler there than anywhere I have been - blankets at night without the usual mosquito netting of which i am not fond, psyched for minus ten in Toronto. Have thought a lot about being here, about this incredible opportunity I was entrusted with ICA Canada. Yesterday at this time, lunch of beans and chipattas cooked in a pitch dark Masai dung and grass hut with no ventillation, smoke billowing up and out in white puffs through slits in its corregated and straw roof, the eyes burn, not great for the resperatory system....back in Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania, ICA installed 150 chimneys with big modern wood stoves into huts in villages there - each one needing only 2 logs - a bonus for Masai living in huge open spaces with few trees. Women carrying huge bundles of sticks, wood pieces wrapped and attached to their forheads with a leather strap, walking for miles on end everyday to provide fire for their family's dinner.

I am off on a tangent, so much to say, and i want to remember everything; today being the last day to get it all down...it is raining hard with thunder outside this magically fast and modern internet cafe, cooling the air, breezy as i write...

Four not so comfortable hours across potholed dusty roads, bright orange in colour, climbing and picking our way up riverbeds of rocks, jagged stones and boulders in an old green Suzuki with Saaya, a 20s something Masai project coordinator, his father and four others . I am in the front seat - while they're squeezed along two benches in the back. We detour off across the scruffy grass tundra as far as they eye can see for an hour or so, drop Saaya and the four off for an HIV AIDS coordinating meeting in Chumvi, a settlement of huts and wooden structures with doors and panels of wood covering windows painted everywhere turquoise or cobalt blue. We turn and head back to the main road with another three hours of joggling raggedly like being hurled around on a bucking bronco, with Saaya's father in the back seat to Ilingwesi - his mother's boma -a compound of mud and corregated iron huts encircled by a fence of upright wooden sticks held together by wire.

His dad is dressed Western, in a sports jacket and slacks, black boots and a canvass hat; he is 54 years old, handsome in a rugged way with a ready smile, and has three wives, two of whom he married with only 8 months apart when he was a young Masai moran warrior some thirty years ago. Consequently Saaya and his 17 brothers and sisters have virtually two mothers, both living and raising their families together in this boma, each with their respective dung houses and kitchens side by side. The third wife, which he married later lives in her own boma a few hours away. The father shares his time between all three wives harmoniously, without a shred of jealousy, a custom which has continued in the Masi culture for hundreds of year. The reason I an told, is practical; the more cows and goats the Masai have, the more wives they need to take care of their domas. Wives are responsible for building the dung and stick huts themselves, milking the goats and cows early morning and at sunset and looking after their children. Masai women are exotic and magestic, their heads fully shaved, tall thin bodies wrapped in royal blue sheets, adorned with rows of white beaded earings and necklaces swinging with metal discs from huge pierced holes in their earlobes, the size of silver dollars. When not busy with family and home, they spend their days collecting wood and selling tobacco snuff and beaded jewellery sitting in clumps at the side of the road.

The more children they have the better - whose job from about age 4 on is to be responsible for large herds of goats and cows with only a stick out in the hills to urge them along. It isn't uncommon to see Masia kids in the middle of day, hot and without water, standing at the side of the road with a cluster of livestock behind them as we roll by passing bottles of water and food out of the car.

Once a boy is around 13, he is initiated into manhood with hundreds of other boys in his age group in a huge and resplendent circumcision ceremony where he undergoes the operation without any anesthetics (sp) in the company of family and elders. He is required to sit motionless, without sound during the entire procedure, under threat of bringing shame to his family. Once circumcized he and the other boys in his agement become Warriors, carrying a spear and stick, their long hair and face painted artistically with red ochre and adorned in beaded and bone jewellery - their only responsiblity in life to protect their communities from warring tribes and wild animals. Every ten years or so, when a new lot of boys are of age for circumcision, the previous warriors shave their heads and move into the first stages of Elder, Orpayans...

Happily off on another tangent....we race across Kenya countryside, miles of scruffy brown grass, dotted here and there with Acacia trees , herds of zebra chewing grass at the side of the road, dashing away at the sound of the truck, we pass through a village where we are stopped by a group of women and load up the back of the Suzuki with a truckful of corn bundled up in huge white bags for roasting next to Saayas father and continue on to Ilingwesi...where was I?

I've been interviewing Masai men and women along the way with the help of the driver to translate from Swahili or Masai - who have just participated a three month project with four ICA Canadian HIV AIDS workers, exhilerated with what they had learned and empowered now to take this information into their communities - how, without my connection with ICA Canada could i have possibly experienced Africa in this way: the land, the villages, the people, the issues. Phenomenal to me how lucky i am and forever thankful to the Canadian ICA people who have directed and supported me with each step along the way.....John Patterson, David Buwalda, Liz Donelly, and especially to Sister Virginia Varley, Chair of ICA Canada and fellow artist who introduced me to this world-wide NGO in August, "by chance', and how so long ago that now seems...
I sign off here for a few minutes break....



On Miles of scruffy grass, a few Acacia trees, pockets of cows, goats and a few zebra who dart and run as we clatter along and pick up his mother, the second of three wives and his brother and back we drove again, along the way interviewing participants of the recent ICA project where 4 Canadians successfully went into this

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Second post today....the first almost disappeared as always into the hot sunny biosphere shining steadily across Africa, the big rains haven't begun yet, but the little ones poured hard this year for the first time in memory - maize, sunflowers, potatoes, avocado, mango, oranges, tomatoes, bananas abundant in baskets, plastic pails, falling out of open trucks, freshly picked tea leaves packed tightly in big plasticky cloth-like bags - lined up along the roadside waiting transportation to Dar es Salaam and then on out to the world.

Where was I? with the orphans...Lindsey and I took a bus into Arusha last week to investigate foreign adoption, albeit with mixed emotions ...the concept of raising kids so far away in culture, language, climate, peoples, tribes, rituals. Is it fair? Yet everyone here said YES, a resounding positive yes, do it....give these kids a chance. But unlike Madonna with her Malowi adoption, in Tanzania you have to be a resident for two or three years. So that is and was, that.
Saying goodbye, to people in every village, every town.

Charles and Barie last week, four days of climbing the Korogue mountain range just south and east of Moshe,4000 feet up to 13 villages of mud and clay houses, red and dusty, with meetings with farmers to organize constitutions encouraging them to work together to form collectives with fixed prices, to protect them from being ripped off by big city conglamorates...and while i wait, I get out of the truck with my sketch book, sit on a patch of grass and begin to draw what i am seeing in front of me, a sort of grocery with piles of tomatoes atop each other pyramid style, a stick and mud hut with freshly washed laundry draped and drying on top of a bush. Peeking around each corner, the children in each village at first afraid, hanging back into clusters watching this new thing, some hiding behind their mother's skirts, and then creeping closer, closer, silently, to see what this white mzunga is up to. I pretend to ignore them as I draw in a giraffe, an elephant, a cat, along with a couple of kids in front of the drawing; the silence at first small and then erupting like a noisy volcano into exclamations, laughter, shouts, drawing every kid in the village, sometimes well over a hundred, pushing shoving to get closer until the circle closes and i can no longer see.

An elder with a little round embroidered hat snug on his head appears with a big stick and a need for power shoes them away in anger. He has been drinking. Home brew made from sugar cane. He is a jerk who i assure it is okay, i like this and stand up and contine to draw as they swarm once again around again. We play Swahili and English games, naming animals, noses, mouths, hair, do a bit of singing, i am telling them all about Canada, and what the kids do there in the snow while Charles translates; we have to go, we all shout Qua Hari...goodbye, goodluck! and joggle our way into the next village.

This is life in Africa, every day, everywhere we go.
Lindsey attracted a following of kids like the Pied Pyper, imitating her antics, laughing with her, vying to hold her hand everywhere she went. It's jut happens naturally, you just have to be open.

Saying goodbye to the Masai chief we became such good friends with, who waited patiently for two days in Mto Wa Mbu while i was out in the field, I offered to pay his hotel and food. Masai have thousands of acres and more thousands of goats and cattle, but little of what we call material comfort. Rather than selling a cow or two, they live sparcely with little, walking all night without money for transportation be they a chief, head of their tribe, or not.

Over our last lunch with the usual beans and rice with a tomatoey sauce and greens at a place called Mi Casa in the middle of a little banana plantation he proposed I buy a goat for $40 can. instead of paying for food and hotel. He would have my initials branded behind its ear. LC., a huge honour in the world of Masai. Then, over a few beers and much laughter we imagined its babies each having my three kid's initials branded behind their ears, then the grandchildren, and on and on, so someday when we returned to his expansive boma with stick and cow dung huts and prickly thorn fences perched high atop the Rift valley mountain range over looking the world, we would have our very own tribe of goats to visit. The idea kills me!

A last fairwell goodbye to ICA project coordinator and superb Toyota-driver-through-hill-and-dale Charles who works with boundless energy and enthusiasm and his co-worker Barie lugging my bags up and into the bottom of the big old bus - thank you for making my and Lindsey's time superb and memorable in Mto Wa Mbu..and on to Arusha for breakfast with Tanzanian ICA director Doris, what can i say about her, except that i have known her forever and will forever know her. She is the best.

Everyone in Africa has a cellphone but me - interupting every conversation, checking and rechecking, text messaging, fingers flying, heads lowered fixating on phones on laps, on tables. Even Masai warriors high on the plains with cows and goats carry a cell hidden underneath their red and purple sheets tied at the shoulder; Everyone has a phone. I should have bought one in Zimbabwe, but didn't and didn't in Tanzania. Should have. So for me keeping in touch is a nightmare, finding a phone and getting it to work, each county with different codes, numbers, phone cards, prices. The hardest part moving from country to country is logistics: money, exchange, buses, terminals, where to stay, what roads to take,how and when to get from here to there. And now, Nairobi. Nairobi is harder than most, a big polluted throbbing pusating city of about 8 million people, harbouring the world's biggest slum at the edge of town.

Big, mean and scary, after all these pastoral villages, I haven't looked forward to it.
But as usual, with most situations i brace myself for, I am proved wrong.

A great greeting with Canadian ICA Miriam Patterson and her co worker Saaya fresh off a very succesful four month HIV AIDS education and testing project with a series of Masai villages in a community called Ilingwesi, 3 hours out of Nairobi - very exciting and the first of its kind in Africa. I will go there this weekend with Saaya to interview peer educators and participants and meet his mother.

And this morning by chance, if there is any such thing, breakfast with the former Kenyan ambassador to the UN responsible for disarmament, anti apartheid and nuclear issues. Aged 75, astonishing and rare his stories, my emotions a little raw these days, bringing me to tears. Held up and arrested in the mid 70s, followed by a police car with lights blinking on his way home to his house in Scarsdale, New York, he made it into his property through the large security door the police in close tow. They jumped out, pinned him against his car his arms raised high, demanding to know what a black man was doing in this neighbourhood, on this property. Mean. Angry,they raided his body, stripping it of identification. With disbelief they discovered his cards stamped with UN protocol and signed by Cyrus Vance himself. As they let him go and got back into their car without a word of apology, he hit the down button on the gate which slammed shut, locking them into the compound. Out they got in a second surge of anger, demanding to be let go, but until they offered a proper apology he stood his own, refusing to raise the gate. Finally, they did apologize and hopefully damned shamed, they learned something that day, as they drove away.
I ran into him, again by change a few hours later, and invited him to breakfast tomorrow..
And so it goes.
It's 6:30...
I have been at this all afternoon...the first internet cafe with machines that don't stick and collapse, with electricity, ambiance and a fine restaurant downstairs called Java, serving sandwiches, hamburgers and salads - my first sampling in almost 4 months...I have lost weight, maybe15 pounds. My hair is coal black, the only colour you can get in rural Africa - I like it, the changes on the outside....but as with the orphans it is said that tears fall silently, and only on the inside. Leaving Africa, saying goodbye, leaving so much of a part of me here and taking so much of Africa home, it will take some time of looking back, to understand whatever this has meant to me.
Lindsey wrote to describe the babies: "HUGE now, their heads encased in big smiles, almost talking, almost crawling.....Sierra, I can hardly wait to tell her about the elephant running after our van of orphans, the giraffes gobbling thorn trees high above the trees and show her all my pictures of the orphans....and hello soon, to my kids, and to you....
I sign off with emotions raw and kind of huge.....xxme.
Greetings from Nairobi!
...the Masai have a proverb: "never move ahead until looking carefully behind first". I thought this was to protect yourself, especially in Nairobi, its reputation as the world's most thieving, raping, mugging, criminal city with eyes in the back of your head, with bits of Kenyan shillings hidden in your pocket, your backpack, your purse, moving carefully ahead..but no, this proverb is about reflecting on the journey of where you have been, before going on. With 5 days to go I find myself in a place of both behind and ahead, so much of where i have been, the people i have had to say goodbye to, the ten small children of the orphanage in Mto Wa Mbu..the last day with big black eyes, lined up in 2 rows along front of the building, each one decked out in freshly-donated uniforms of yellow and blue, watching with wonder as Charles, Barie and I unloaded a table, bench, bedsheets of yellow, pink, green and blue, towels and a bag of used clothing from the back of the truck....and finally six dolls for the girls and four shiny new trucks for the boys. Speechless they were, laughing, dragging combs through the doll's hair, running the trucks across the cement floor, hugging, protecting, hording their toys, maybe the only ones they have ever had. We went back for my last good byes four hours later to find three of the four trucks in pieces, and several dolls with hair askew and eyes missing, hugs, lots more pictures and a final Do a Deer sung many times over as i dragged myself out of there. so terribly sad.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Greetings from Karatu! about an hour up the Rift Valley into the Ngorangora Mountains, through red earth and brilliant green, fields of wheat, cut into squares like a puzzle on each side of this good road of asphalt.....just came off the Crater, two days of Safari with Lindsey, so much fun being with her, sharing with her, amazing....
Emails out for two weeks up there somewhere floating around the Universe...but some came through today, welcoming....am thinking a lot of coming home, what that means...met a great couple from BC last night at the campsite, they are travelling for 8 months through East Africa, by local bus, staying in local hotels, amazing journey...he said to me: back home "we have everything and yet we have so little, and here, they have so little, but yet they have everything"...I know what he is saying. Here, people are joyful to say hello each time in greeting, and with the little Swahili i have learned i can keep the good mornings going for a good minute or so,...the local people stopping for ages, five or ten minutes just to say hello and catch up....People care about what each other are doing here, really care....the interest and joy is in each exchange. Despite despair, there is always a sense of happiness just to be with each other here, just to be alive..death is around every corner.....the little four year old i wrote about positive, staying with her grandmother in Handeni last month died a few weeks ago, I just learned.
This in not unusual, and is received with a sense of honest sadness, the information reported, and then an almost 'oh well' and moving on.....I was disheartened, but as they say, what can you do?
Age...those of a certain age are respected, enjoyed, consulted and totally integrated into this society..it is unthinkable to them when we relate how our aging feel invisible in our youth oriented society, how we put elderly into homes where sometimes no one visits except on Christmas, birthday, holidays...they simply can't imagine....the society is at ease with everyone, from babies and children up through elders and ancients.....not just Masai, but as far as I can see the African people everywhere i have travelled..It is not unusual to see a child raised by a sister and her family, its mother unable to keep it herself.....it just moves on...I have been asked to take home several chidren, and one masai woman handed me her baby as I admired it, saying here, if you want her, please, take her with you...
So my Elia at the orphanage....it would be a matter of a week or so for formal adoption that's it..but I am told the situation is very different upon arriving at the Toronto airport...Canadian visas are difficult to obtain, and not done hastily, which is probably a good thing in the long run. Adopting a seven year old would be wonderous in many ways, and also challenging in others, needless to say, but being here the problems and issues of this seem small in comparison with the greatness of it. That is what i am thinking now..today!
Lindsey leaves Saturday...then i head out to a new district Kerogue, s of Moshi snuggled deep into the mountains...we have a project with four villages there, dealing with the Allanblackia plant which produces oil for margerine which is colestrol free..ICA is hoping to encourage a lot of growing of these plants for sustainable incomes down the road...
After that, up to Kenya for the last week or so where four Canadian/US ICA people have been working all winter, Il Ngwesi, near Nairobi....doing HIV Aids education and voluntary testing..the first such project from start to finish in Africa so far....
And then....leaving on the 12th for Amsterdam, a few days, there is a big new Van Gogh Expressionist exhibition there, and then...home....the babies and Johnny and Shauna are still in my house, of which i am thankful...can't wait to see everyone...
and figure out what in earth this journey has meant to me in perspective.....
Hugs to you all..thanks for keeping this thing going with me!
I intend to sprinkle it with photographs when i get home..
xL

Monday, January 22, 2007

Two days later..
Exhausted after those workshops, treking across the length of Mto Wa Mbu out of town as much as we can to the Blessed Comfort Orphanage, with huge bunches of freshly cut bananas (mangos, pineapples, oranges, everything sold on the side of the road out of big buckets and plastic bowlsa thriving business for local women sitting on crates, boxes,enjoying each other, breast feeding babies, admidst the thrive of everyday life, tourist safari land rovers and cruisers filled with white people from around the world some dressed in full safari garb moving swiftly through town en route to Ngorangora Crater a few hours up the road..)- art supplies, exercise books with lines, boxes of coloured pencils, crayons, Lindsey and I took the Masai chief along with us today to meet the children. They have no toys, their clothes are torn, dirty andthread barren, there is no table for them to eat, no soap to clean their clothes. As we come into range of the Orphanage the little souls are outside sitting on the curb in front of the crumbling building, catching sight of us, they stand up ,waving and cheering. Of course most except one speak Swahili, so we spend a few hours drawing elephants, giraffes, simbas and monkeys , singing Do a Deer, alphabets and numbers, these childrens soaking up any attention, learning, inspiration. The older ones don't go to school.
LIke I said the other day, I am enchanted by Elia..he is seven, and has captured my heart. Adoption. Of course it crosses the mind.
I will leave you with this, with seconds to go before this email crashes..
we go on safari tomorrow..
more later, have a great day! xxL
Ok hi! well, i have had the pleasure of receiving nary an email from not even a single soul but for two junk messages from persons of whom I know not for over two weeks now.. is Sympatico down? Ah..well I shall still soldier on with this blog, writing stories and ideas to whomever again of whom I know not.
Life gallops along...we are hugely busy everyday, last week two full two day workshops for me, two half day ones for Lindsey....my second was the actualization of a dream for me, to work in a Masai village with Masai warriors, women and youth, Friday and Saturday...we were combining with ICA running Hiv aids education sessions, headed out over intrepid terrain, scruffy dirt tundra, high grasses, stunning mountains, rivers, huge vistas... to the right front tire giving out, causing our arrival to be three hours late - participants waiting, anxious for lunch, no, lunch money, unbeknownced to me, so we set up our materials in a classroom in the public school and rounded up two chipatis each per student plus a coke, eaten on the dusty ground under a ring of trees..and started the workshop over three hours late, hurling into exercise after exercise, spirit cards, graduated skies and big land little sky. By three thirty they were exhausted and becoming relatively hostile having been told only that morning about the workshop, having shut down whatever means they had to make dinner money that day, and now realizing that they were not being paid to attend this workshop....we let them go early and dragged ourselves back across dusty holey tundra to Mto Waa Mbu...Barrie who is the financial man for ICA here filling in as my interpreter declaring all the way home that "they are hopeless", that he wanted to kill himself!!It was a challenge, and not one I cared to repeat day two, but Saturday morning bright and early we set out only to realize we had forgotten some things, turned back and again arrived three hours late....
We paid them lunch money this time.
Funny how sometimes you expect something to be fabulous, you imagine the ultimate, when in fact events leading up to it far surpass the ultimate expectation. How life is.
But on our way back we paid a visit to the local Masai chief's doma....perched high into glorious rolling hills with vista of mountains, valleys, open meadows, clusters of cows with young Masai in red and purple here and there, goats running in little herds, we drove off the main road across tundra....He with his brothers, their Masai sheets blowing in a soft wind, their spears and staffs silouetted against the sunsetting sky standing against a backdrop of mud huts and thorn stick corals, ...his father a ninety two year old ancient elder sitting on his special wooden stool a metal cylinder of tobacco snuff at his lap, we were told how to greet him. I have been learning Masai lately, this Chief becoming a friend, the practice of greeting done in accordance with age and gender, confusing at best - sometimes not being able to guess age, whether a young boy has been circumcized and therefore has graduated into the MORAN or warrior bracket, or whether the elder I am meeting and greeting as a woman is in fact a gentleman...
Hello to the father, the matriarch of this huge family, having had twelve wives and over 60 children, our chief with only two wives, five kids, but brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, many children, goats, chickens and flies all living together in some kind of peaceful arrangement atop this mountain of God's indescrible paradise.
I attempted to milk a goat with his first wife with a child holding its head still while we crouched down at its behind and tried to hang onto a long teet, yanking and pulling it, with it leaping out of the clutch of my fingers each time.
.....to be continued...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Back up the mountains, through stunning hills,valleys, a sunset of pink, peach, purples to never forget...after aday with Lindsey facillitating two half day acting improv workshops, this mornings at the office under hot African sunny skies with 8 local drama people,3 Rasta artists, the second at the secondary school just outside of Mto Wa Mbu with kids from 13 to 20, twenty maybe....both great! Monday and Tuesday my turn with art workshop..takes a fewdays to get supplies together,paper, paint, mixing colours, 28 of them in plastic containers with airtight tops - I'm reducing supplies to a minimum, the paper very rudimentary, the colours: red, yellow and blue, with black and white..everything costs so much more here,maybe twice..sponge brushes, Sharpies, felt markers andcrayons...trucked around in a red suitcase like a travelling fuller brush salesman.25 participants, three women with Hiv aids who are home care workers, the above Rastas who are good artists selling their paintings out of a wooden shed with corregated roof along the road coming into town to tourists from around the world en route to Safari up Ngora Ngora crater or around Manyara National Park. The tourists stick to campsites or pass through to expensive Safari lodges seldom seen venturing into town,so Lindsey and I are basically the only whites around...I'm called Mama Canada, affectionately careened by venders selling Masai blankets and necklaces made from bone and beads along the road - each one determined to lure us into their huts to buy and buy and buy..we insist we are NOT tourists, we are working here...and move along..I had maybe 12students at the workshop, secondary school kids,dressed in white shirts and grey pants or skirts, so keen to learn. Primary school is free here in Tanzania, tho books and uniforms are not...tough for parents desperately trying to put food on the table,pay rent...if kids complete primary with a very high average, they MAY get accepted into government SEcondary..likely not as the numbers are terribly low despite great grades, and still have to pay school fees of about $75.US a year,plus uniform, books..maybe room and board as well, it is prohibitive to most families... a woman positive with hiv aids collapsed andwas hospitalized upon learning her son was accepted,with no possible way of affording his future; luckier kids head off to private secondary schools costing over five hundred a year....
Well where was I? with the flick of my finger I lost a good half hour of writing, but retrieved this bit so far...
I'll get to the point. I am smitten by one sweet seven year old boy called Eliah... the oldest of ten kids at the Blessed Comfort orphanage just outside of town..I want to bring him home...we rented a big van, with Charles our director, the driver and conductor, two teachers and headed Sundayinto Manyara National park...for a day of animal watching...great....except a massive elephant broke from his herd of over one hundred beasts and headed down the road straight for us, his huge wide ears stretched out like a big bird, a nasty look in his eye, steadfast, he trod closer and closer. Charles in the front was unperturbed....the bus driver terrified, slammed the gears into reverse and headed backwards into a muddy trough. We made it through, racing as fast as he could backwards, Lindsey in the back remarking: "then tradgedy struck"..on and on...
I have three minutes time left, having lost so much..
Quickly, Eliah...oh my heart...
What can i say...?
More after the Masai workshop tomorrow and next in the village...
xL

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I give up on pictures...800 or more stocked safely in my digital, wrenching them out like pulling a hunk of chicken away from a starving goat.. Am covered in mosquito welts..a ten hour wait at the airport for Lindsey..

Thursday night: arrived early, two hours to wait..to be told the plane was delayed, coming in at 2am...not 8:45 pm ...we head upstairs to the big bar for a Safari..then down and out to another to watch CNN for the first time since Zimbabwe..Whaaaaa??? What the heck is the US doing in Somalia?? Way too close for comfort, the Somalians fleeing into Kenya and Tanzania, the papers alude to possible strikes here...yikes!

I'm with Ben (the son of an ICA project worker - aged 20, my interpreter, my body guard...) we settle in and wait,around 10:30 or so, we're told, her flight further delayed, TILL 6 AM...maybe...maybe 4:30, maybe 5:30. We head back to the big bar, closed and darkened now, pull some cusions off the chairs, line them up and lie down, Ben on watch...then the bugs...hundreds of them, windows wide open, interior courtyard doors - it's a hive of swarming bugs. I pull Masai table clothes out from under spoons, forks...wrap my feet and head in them, lie back down, more mosquitos, more searing whining....give up..around midnight, Ben is gone, back to the bar to get cognac.. I am alone, dancing around the huge bars, in and out around the tables, a universe to myself...running away from the bugs..
An hour later he comes back, locked out of the airport he has searched for the guard all this time...who doesn't believe i am up there...we are relegated to the downstairs waiting area, just the two of us, a big bottle of cogniac, water, my sketch book with six hours to go....

a night to remember, this guy tells me of his brother's murder three years before, how he was arrested wrongly and spent two years in jail before they acquitted him...never found the murderer...I am drawing all night, his face, sketching, writing the words i am hearing, the story, sipping cognac, writing, drawing.....
the plane comes in finally, people flooding back into the airport to meet it, I am delerious with the tales i am hearing, the description of a boy whose father left when he was one, growing up, tough hard, on the streets, a mom single handedly raising five kids alone...witnessing of the murder, helping his brother home, the blood on his shirt, the arrest, jail, fights, drugs, attempted suicide, poison...I start to cry and can't stop...
Lindsey arrives....after a 27 hour journey...laughing, crying...taxi back into
Arusha, drag ourselves into a local bus and back to Mto Wa Mbu, surreal....
Sleep, oh heavenly sleep....
4pm: head out with Charles in the pickup, along with a huge wonderful smiling health care worker Esther, through miles and potholes of banana trees, up up up, into her family home... the father in his late 80s, gregarious, strong, proud, I love him, his wife, a daughter, her two kids and a small grandson...this huge loving family, we squeeze into their darkened living area, Christ and crosses hang with family photos, pages of calendar, newspaper clippings on the walls.
We talk; They've had 12 kids, 30 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren...the family expands, one daughter so sick with HIV bedridden, all down on their knees waiting for God to take her away, the magic of ARVs, the love of the Lord "she crawls up from the grave" and gets stronger, healthier, no stigma, no shame here, this huge loving family pulling together, pooling resources, everyone helping, caring for her and she's going to make it...
Thistime it's not the grandparents doing it, it is the GREAT GRANDPARENTS.. lodging and caring for the tribe icredible story of love and strength...we are treated to a plate of jackfruit cut straight off the tree, the chickens clucking amongst the children, the little boy asleep in the arms of his great granddad....

a great day one for Lindsey, and for me, another unforgettable experience in this land i so love.

tomorrow, to the Manyara Park with ten little kids, from the Blessed Comfort Orphanage here in Mto Wa Mbu..one on his knees running his fingers across my dark red toenails, another in my arms stroking white skin maybe for the first time, Lindsey today swinging another around and around, she wouldn't let go...thank you Uncle David for your hugely generous donation, this is where it will go....!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hi !! from ArushaTown...about 3 hours north of Mto Wa Mbu..en route to Kilamanjaro airport to meet Lindsey! I must remember to curtail my excitement pointing out this and that and this again..allowing her a chance to embrace and drink in the marvels of this country in her own way... of course I can't believe she is finally almost here....!! We're taking the orphaned kids Sunday to Manyara National park, have rented a big van, along with two teachers, Charles, Lindsey and I....lunch....a great beginning....
Arusha is huge compared to anywhere i have travelled, bursting and booming with safari vans vying road space with buses spewing black diezel, cars, trucks, vans, people sitting on wooden crates, boxes of fruits along the sidewalk selling vegetables, barrels of bananas, avocados, mangos - anything and everything, a blend of white tourists from all over the world wandering around waiting for the start of their safari adventure. I found an excellent bookstore, and this internet shop in a Patisserie...unimaginable here in this often technically challenged land of electrical shortages and ancient communication apparatus.
INterviewed three home care workers, from the Hiv aids community group in their homes this week...tiny rooms, wall to wall beds hanging with mosquito netting, with a few chairs, maybe a couch in the corner, cement floor, walls, corregated wavy tin ceilings, with two little kids rolling around on the floor as we talked - a lone window, the light coming in from the open doorway...
Distressed: the local govt has bequeathed each of the 30 members of their group a goat to milk which they each keep tied up neartheir own homes...along with the goats arrived three cows,a bull and two lady cows...young, not yet milking..a generous gift except that there was no shed for the cows, nor anyone to look after them properly...they spent two weeks roaming around outside until the groupn was able to borrow materials to erect a makeshift shed for them in the garden of the Chairwoman who lives in the middle of abanana plantation, with chickens, goats and now three cows, her children and grandchildren....on ARVs now, almost at death's door a short while ago...weak still and unable to look after these cows herself she hired someone for $40 Can a month to bring fresh grass to them, and to mop the shed everyday.....
Three months later and they haven't been able to pay this man yet....one of the lady cows had a miscarriage and now lies motionless most of the time. The other female is pregnant, due in March...when they hope she will begin to produce milk, until now these cows are heavy burdens on the chairwoman with no support from the group, causing great despair.
Trying here to create sustainable opportunities for people to earn their own money, allowing them soon to be self sufficient, with esteem for themselves. Giving sick people three cows without further resources for maintenance until they produce themselves seems a futile venture.....but maybe i don't get it!
Okay more later...am determined to get pics on this one ....
Have a good day!!

Monday, January 08, 2007

MTO WA MBU!! greetings...it took me weeks to pronounce this properly..each vowel in SWalhili is spoken...so in this case, there are four syllibles to remember..M Two Wa
MmmmmB U...try it! Lindsey arrives Thursday night after a 16 hour flight, leaping eight hours ahead. Can't wait..! Visited an orphanage today,with Charles my Project Coordinator,driving up, ten little kids sitting on the front stoop of the place...age 3 to 6..preschool, each one having lost both mom and dad to hiv aids..it is so so sad...as i got out of the truck one raced up with arms outstretched, i picked him up as the others flooded around me, all wanting to be held, loved.
ON Sunday with LIndsey....we are renting a van and collecting all of them to visit the Manyara National Park just three miles from town....for the first time all ten of them will see all the animals: giraffe,elephant, imapal, gizelle, monkeys, baboons, lions...what else! I can't wait...then in the next weeks when we arenot doing workshops Lindsey andI can volunteer to do art and play with them...I know they are barely surviving on 2,200 aday (around $2.50 US) per child....when comfortably they need 4,000 per child...adding vegetables and fruit to their meagre diet of porriage (ugali: corn meal), morning and night..more later after this remarkable day Sunday....
WE don't have internet access in Mto Wa Mbu...an hour local bus ride with goats and bunches of bananas away up onto the rim through stunning mountains and ridges gets us here, just hoping the electricity hasn't been shut off....!
Arrived last WEd, Thursday to Saturday night late...headed out with Charles, two water experts on irrigation, watersheds, etc from India, and the local Agricultural director for the region, non stop driving across awesome country, huge expanses of mountain, hills, valleys..visiting four Masai villages usually under such drought at this time with precious cows dying, devestated without water, food..but this year lots of rain, lush, green, gorgeous....looking for appropriate watershed projects for ICA to begin working with...At eachstop...after meeting the Masai and local government leaders, signing guest books, a custom observed religiously in every African village i have visited, sitting, talking a bit, discussing what we are doing, why we are there..how long we will be....bringing the community into the project, it is never imposed upon them..working together, all parties taking ownership of the project right from the start....
then allof us..the Masai warriors draped in purple and red sheets with spears and long hardwood poles nimblyleading running easily along like goats up hills and down rocky rough dales...the government guys, the INdians, Charles and me..
picking ourway through stones and deep sucking blackmud dimpled here and there with big deep elephant tracks, dung, on up through raging riverbeds, follow the leader like ants one by one.. leaping across a wide chasmof rushing fiord,scary,but i had
no choice.in my new green gum boots...up up up we all climbed to the top, thick forest, exotic trees winding vines, massive root systems pulled out of the narrow trail through fallen rotting branches, hot,moist,green, wet....finally to the
water source...fascinating so new to me...
This is deep into Masai country...ICA here works predominantly in Masai villages: hiv aids education, testing....micro economics, womens and children's rights...now Water Irrigation Watershed projects....
My fascination for Masai is endless...I have read BOOKS and books on these exotic, ever interesting people, their customs...marriage, their love of cattle..goats...women in charge of children, building mud huts, food, early morning milking...small children with hundreds of animals and a long stick proding them onto new pastures..often alone out there across miles and miles of green meadow, it is all about the cows.... the more you have the richer you are...and because of this, you need more wives..each one bought for 15 or more cows...to raise more children to look after more cows...these people, tall, thin, lanky, high cheekboned, stunning...wearing beads, small round metal disks linked together, white necklaces,long drooping earings hanging heavily off huge holes in their ear lobes the size of an old silver dollar...red, purple, checked, striped, shiny, plain sheets knotted at the shoulder...each one, wrapped with grace around the next...the warriors, glamorous, arrogant, haughty in their prime,red ochre smeared across face, through hair, adorned...old wrinkled ancient elders, most esteemed, most revered....

As I said,my fascination is endless...
....and on..and on....
be wel....is it snowing yet??

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Moshi...last night's dinner, with Doris my Tanzanian ICA director and her husband Joseph...a full moon, a large plate of chicken, bananas, potatoes to share, lots of wine...we move into Africa, ICA and what can we do? What can we really do?...Plaguing me always, it is never enough, never ever enough...i know, each little bit counts, helps somewhere, but i am troubed these days, coming home soon, what next? what best can i do, what can anyone do? Joseph who is magnificent, said to pray tonight, ask those questions, what can i do he said, to be remembered here...Well it is not to be remembered for me, it is that it is never enough..leaving Handeni a few weeks ago, with just so much money in my purse, dividing it up and giving it away in little bundles...to the woman for her son's education, to the pole thin and frail woman with the Masai (I hope that picture goes through to you), to the wonderful and crippled Benson who hasn't seen his family in two years - no funds for his travel...to the babies i am trying to supply with milk, (from Zimbabwe, and how to get money there, the bank won't let them open a foreign account, and even if it did the govt would take most of US money as taxes, duty, whatever)..it goes on and on, and there are hundreds, thousands more...millions.. Dividing what little i have in bundles, the feeling of playing God and feeling horrible about it, cause whatever it is is never enough...ever...
I'm leaving for Mto Wa Mbo this afternoon..another town, another journey....i'm glad to be finishing these days of 'holiday'...I dont like being a tourist...I said to someone i want to be treated equally, and when you are not working you aren't..he was surprised....
So on to Arusha, and Mto Wa Mbo...(try saying that in four syllables!)....in a few hours...
The lights just flicked, a generator was turned on...time to head out...
hugs!
Finally....hoping these pics will come through...safari, markets, Digna's two boys-my yoga mates, lions, elephants, the aids positive woman we took to the Masai healer (still haven't heard back) art workshops, remembering walls......
Well...happy new year! 2007....blessings to you, my wonderful family, friends, the people i have been lucky to meet here in Africa - in meditation, imagining a white light around each and every one of us, at first, in the room, then surrounding the village, then Africa and then on into the whole world...a white light filled with love, joy, good health and peace....i wish you all....
Africa...New Years...a time for me of reading, writing, remembering...a bit of swimming, walking, thinking...white sands on the INdian Ocean, without electricity, no water, no light, no functioning toilet, and yet, what can you do? Reflecting on what this country has given me...maybe patience i am hoping, the need to never know where i am going, and if i do, certainly understanding that whatever i think might happen, never does...much like the process of painting a painting...you begin with an idea and through the journey of working on it, it never turns out the way you plan...like life!!
Patience, and not judging..determined to look upon everyone i meet with new life, new adventure...i am on the local bus from TingaTinga, Pengane out on the sea heading toward Tanga, three hours away. I think i have chosen the best seat, up around the door, with lots of space around it...settling in quite pleased with myself...
The doors open and people pour in...filling each seat from the back to the front, and then more, and more and more..each time we stop, the squeezing bodies pushing further and further toward the back of the bus, i have five hands belonging to five standing and careening people crossing my head and shoulders, each one desperately grasping onto the pole in front of me...the flapping flimsy fabric of a woman's brown and black shawl swinging down and sticking into my face, her elbow juts into my cheekbone..
I want to bite it!
Ah...patience, white light... a matter of altering consciousness...
here's to the new year....