Tuesday, October 11, 2011

almost ....(cont'd)

A continuation from this previous post: click here

It was something about a cheetah/or leopard. The vision that the leader had about me. He said he could see the animal running in the dark with a sense of determination and urgency. He then interpreted the vision saying that he could see that I would pursue my calling and the cause of "reaching the lost" with the same sense of urgency as the animal in the vision.

The whole experience served it's somewhat mysterious purpose at the time. We headed back to Dallas, Texas for a few days before I flew back home. When we were in Texas I began thinking of back home with some anxiety. When I had left for my mission trip the house that my family was renting had been sold by the owner and my parents would have to evacuate while I was gone and still hadn't found another affordable home to rent in the small Ontario town in which our immigrant family of seven had settled in. During our team sharing/debriefing time I thought of talking about the situation back home, but I couldn't quite find the words, somehow talking about such things always felt "out of place". Life went on after those few weeks of the summer, I came home to my family being in the process of moving to a nearby small town in a house that had become available in the last minute. The vision of the running animal and the mad black woman in the South Central L.A. Park all become images that that would collect themselves in my gallery of memories, images that I revisit once in a while but not very often.




It is taking me a while to finish writing this piece because I struggle with why I started writing it to begin with. I think I was maybe trying to remind myself of something. I am now twenty seven years old and the vision has come true. But I also find myself in some kind of quarter life crisis, feeling very lost myself on most days. My story still feels out of place although I know I am very ordinary in my struggles. I ask myself often; can I be a good mom and wife who works a job that doesn't pay? If I get the factory job I applied for does it mean that I am another casualty in an economic system that oppresses people like me and took years from my parent's life? Will he... is the Creator repaying the "years the locust has eaten?" Does the fact that another bright black boy I know is possibly getting a federal sentence mean that they are turning this city into South Central L.A? Who was the mad black woman at the park? There was a time that I would say that I was running towards resolution. Or running away from threatening memories of the cops and the children's aid at our front door, oppression at my front door. But there is some peace in recognizing that all this running and stumbling and running again is simply my nature and the way I was created to respod to story in which I have been placed. There is no tidy resolution or escape from the story of our lives. But I believe and I am thankful that there is renewal and restoration.

I think I know why I began writing this. I was trying to remind myself of something; the story of my life. And this is why I cannot finish writing it. One good thing about becoming more brave about telling my story is that it almost always points me back to a bigger story that I am part of.



I have appreciated the journey of sharing my stories on this blog. Writing in this public way has helped me encounter myself and my God, our Creator in ways that have deepened my healing. Thank you for those who have read, engaged and sent me your meaningful thoughts. May you also meet the Healer on your walkabout.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

shifting closer

a song



When I move, to you I shift closer,
On a stretch of Ontario concrete you are my far right slower lane
I am a child I clutching your trousers,
I really don't want you to go, I want you to prevent the pain
You let me weep upon your shoulders


As I glow and melt, you’re my candle holder
The paternal scent of your corduroy blazer collects into my brain
Our firm exchange has made me bolder
I feel that I belong somewhere as sort through my loss and gain
As I move, to you I shift closer




"The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too."
~Saint Teresa of Avila

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Continuity and Suffering: Auden, Bruegel, Bishop & Me

My relationship to 19th and 20th Century Western poetry and prose is a bit awkward still. It's still not clear if I appreciate it for its beauty (and the genre is beautiful to me) or if as a reader and writer I feel to it the allegiance a child might feel to the home into which she has been adopted and raised after deciding to leave it. I have started to read poetry again, a practice that had become somewhat deadened to me in recent years. To be *able* to read is just a little better than writing to me; my first marriage was to reading and then to writing!

I started sharing my writing on this blog out of a desire to explore my suffering and healing. I continue to be intrigued by the human experience of suffering. I think that this year I have grown a bit and learned a few things about suffering. In this season of my life the two areas of suffering that I am paying close attention to are:

1. Suffering as a result of justice withheld
2. Suffering as a result of loss

My fascination with the second is personal, and the first has to do with my life's work. I am not interested in suffering for the sake of suffering but because of my life's Spirituality that provides stories and archetypal patterns where life giving events are accomplished within the experience of suffering, resulting in healing that extends beyond the initial scope of suffering. This is exemplified perhaps no better than in The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi when he writes that "it is in dying that we are born to eternal life, Amen".

I mentioned that I think my relationship to suffering has matured this year. I think specifically in a deeper acceptance of *continuity* as a reality within Suffering.

The following pieces for me reflect the themes of Continuity & Suffering:


Twenty Seven


Chicken Madras from the Corner of Northfield and Wisler, A pack of Players for non-smoker, a car radio for company, rainy night, the baby boy cries to have his head wrapped with my head scarf, quasi-life crisis, Season premier of The Office, Emily Dickinson's Narrow Fellow in the Grass, A business plan for Social Justice, A phone discussion with my father about finding the earliest link between the African Coptic Church and Ethiopia, self disappointment, and rest.

"Fall of Icarus" by Bruegel



I do not have a personal affinity to this painting but the Auden poem bellow that I love is based on the piece above, and gives it life for me.


Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden


About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.



The Poem above reminds me of some of the dynamics of societal suffering (especially from justice withheld) and the cruelty and therapy of continuity, now Bishop's poem bellow seems more personal to her and I think to me, in the experience of suffering from personal loss, continuity becomes an artificially real way to deal with it, get on with things... there is a sarcasm and anguish in the tone that resonates.




One Art by Elizabeth Bishop


The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing


The act of pushing through from beneath and taking a bite of air,

It’s a struggle for sustenance and an inhaling of grace.

Providing no direction in a moment of decision; only confirming that indeed we have reached a crossroads, then moving on to describe the sights of South, and making note of the songs of North.

An unabashed pronouncement of greatness,
and simultaneously a naked exposure of weakness.

Writing is taking and giving,
hiding and emerging.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

almost

When I was fifteen I began to entertain thoughts of saving the world, so I sold cookies and washed a few cars one summer whith the help of some good friends in the small town where we lived. I bought a big backpack, the biggest one I ever owned in my life, it reminded me of the tourist muzungus (whites) that used to walk around Nairobi when I was a kid, smiling at everything in their surroundings. If there is anything in this world that will make you feel like you are about to accomplish something seriously epic, it’s probably carrying around a backpack about the size of your own body. I boarded a plane and after a one week detour in Dallas, Texas, where we were provided with the basics and essentials of how to save the world, I ended up eventually in an inner city community in South Central, Los Angeles.


The kids I travelled with giggled a lot, laughed a lot, cried a lot, talked a lot and took many pictures. But I spent that summer like most of my teen years mostly in silence. I was the only non-white member of the short-term mission trip team of young people. But I wasn’t particularly aware of that in those days seeing as most of my world back home, at church and at school was homogeneous. I would break my silence every once in a while to share a thought or force an attempt at a conversation after feeling that my silence was getting awkward. Almost all of the time what ended up coming out of my mouth would be unintentionally funny and soon I was dubbed the funny girl from Canada. It was a comfortable little nook for me to settle in for the rest of the trip, now that I was explained away I could fall back into silence with less awkwardness. It also meant that now during meals when some extroverted voice would notice my silence and single me out sweetly with a “Hey Fanis, why are you so quiet?”, another equally extroverted and eager voice would quickly chirp in “You should have heard what she said to so and so” and then the voice would go on to quote one of my random remarks that would induce the laughter of the whole group. And I would smile comically as if the humour was perfectly intended and feel relieved at having escaped once again the unimaginable task of making myself known.

I think at fourteen and for the rest of our lives, we all feel deeply the desire to be known, but also not quite knowing ourselves, we have to withdraw hastily from any chance of meeting the impossible challenge of making ourselves known.

One day we went to do some drama and give away free stuff, and share the Christian gospel to those who would listen. On that day there was a mad black woman with worn clothes in the park. I felt really struck by her presence. Her mind had given way to either years of drug use or mental illness. I didn’t know her story. But something happened when she came to the park, I felt almost uncomfortable. I felt almost protective of her and indignant for her. I cringed when my team mates talked about her no matter how harmless their words. Looking back I think I was experiencing a crisis of belonging. I didn’t quite belong in the world that she seemed to represent, a hint margin and suffering that was out of the reach of my young imagination. Yet I projected something onto her as she wondered around laughing aloud then mattering to herself: I allowed her to represent all the unknown parts of me that were quiet and withdrawn and did not allow me to quite fit in with my team mates. And for this reason I felt drawn to her. We made eye contact many times during the drama presentation. When she laughed out loud disrupting one of the scenes of the dramatic presentation, I wanted to laugh with her. Something at that moment was perfectly humorous and I felt the joke. But at the same time like everyone else, I was afraid of her. I wanted to contain her, heal her, and explain her… anything to stop the awful muttering and laughing.


Many of the black people I came across in South Central L.A are almost black like me. It’s unexpected because the Black Americans on T.V are usually light skinned and I did not expect to find people that looked like me. It’s kind of like the bodies that they showed littering the streets after Katrina in New Orleans, and the people on T.V that were seeking shelter. They were surprisingly black. The little girls in South Central L.A had their hair twisted in matutas (thick braids). When my team mates started to hug them and take pictures of them. I wanted to shout at them. I wanted the cameras to stop flashing. And in my head I was screaming: “Stop it! What are you doing? Who are you going to show those pictures? You don’t know them! You don’t know me! They are not what you think, they are not faces from your mission trip, they are people like me!” Instead I stood quietly in the background.




We went back to our sleeping accommodations. Before we left L.A one evening we had a prayer service, the charismatic kind that some decades ago were not unfamiliar to that part of the United States. I like charismatic prayer meetings because I always feel free and like myself. Even then I was somewhat aware of the hundred year old history of William Joseph Seymour, a black preacher man born of slaves who started the Azusa Street Revival in L.A that gave birth to the Pentecostal Christian tradition in which I was raised. Seymour had also used his voice through the Azusa Street Revival to engage issues of racial inequality. All these had taken place at the turn of the 19th century just a few blocks from where we then stood during our prayer service.

The leaders took turns praying for each team member and soon it was my turn. When I was a teenager, perhaps as a result of my eccentric/egocentric adolescent imagination or some overenthusiastic sensationalistic sermons at youth meetings, I had developed a strong inner desire to discover that I was destined to fulfill some great purpose that had something to do with saving the world. When it was my turn to be prayed for, I really appreciated the drama and ceremony of the whole ordeal. A group of leaders surrounded me and took turns praying and saying blessings over me. Finally one of the leaders expressed that he was sensing a vision. I was very excited.





To be continued...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Travelling Coach


. . . written as an anniversary song, for my Justin, with the hopes that it will take on a pretty blues tune one afternoon during Izaka's nap, after the missing middle string is replaced on our guitar.



All these years and things that have passed,
carrying us slow and sometimes pulling us fast
to where we are now, sitting on this travelling coach.

And once in a while, when rocking calms
you lean my way and lift a skirt that hangs
curtaining the window of this travelling coach.

Your fingers let in some white-grey light
that escapes from moving fields into our tight
little space, spilling over the darkness of our travelling coach.

And on my left all our baggage is piled
and against your arm is our sleeping child.
I’m happy when your eyes meet mine on this travelling coach.

A family of three we are carried on,
Always thinking of the place we’re coming from
And the hands that hold the whip of this travelling coach.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Canadian black-eyed bean plant as the Kenyan kunde vegetable



This evening I had the wonderful experience of gathering once again with some fellow African women friends of mine at one of the Patchwork Community Gardens. I have been very eager to start talking about some autumn planting and we are all sharing in the exciting process of discovering which veggies that are indigenous to our various African regions can also be found here in Canada.

Today I discovered from one of my fellow African gardeners that the indigenous Kenyan vegetable known as "kunde" that is grown for the consumption of its nutritious leaves, is the same as the Canadian "black-eyed pea/bean".

Grown in Canada, "kunde" is perfect for fall planting as the leaves can begin to be harvested in as little as two to three weeks. For the next couple of weeks, we will be mobilizing a group of women from the local East African immigrant network to fill up some unused garden plots the various Patchwork Community Garden sites with "kunde" seeds.

This gardening season I have also learned a couple of other interesting facts for producing culturally relevant foods: Broccoli leaves can be harvested as a kind of "Sukuma Wiki"; The most common "Sukuma Wiki" (kale) plant available locally is also a winter vegetable that will return in the spring. So much to look forward to!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

red wagon and a letter

Sometimes while waiting for things to change, we ourselves change.... Today I wanted to cheat and drive the van to get groceries at the plaza some blocks up the hill from us. Izaka was excited the first couple of times riding in the van since we got it back because of its novelty and I am quite sure he had forgotten what it was to ride in it. I let him know that we were going to the grocery store, and the announcement was followed by the usual bustle and excitement of getting shoes on and getting all ready to go. When I tried to strap him in the car seat he had one of his I'm-not-going-to-have-this tantrums, he felt deeply cheated out of what had become our traditional grocery store trips. I had to give in because he was right on this one. As soon as he was released he climbed up the porch to pull down his red wagon. So up the hill we went, pulling the red wagon together and my little boy looking very content that he successfully disallowed me to drive.

Many people, who know me well, know that the stories of urban immigrant youth have a major role in shaping my work and passion... so these past several days and the events that have been taking place in the UK have captured my attention significantly. Before the recent events I had come across in my work some articles about some of the increasing tensions in European urban centres that visible minority youth face with parents who cannot access the job market and the experience of relative poverty. I remember two years back reading about similar events in France as youth from immigrant families began to engage the reality that their families and communities were getting squeezed out of opportunities to rise out of poverty.

If I could write a letter to black immigrant youth in the urban cities of the West, especially those who are in the difficult process of realizing that "nobody is coming", if I could send a small message I would say the following:


Dear Black Immigrant Youth,

It is true that there is no politician working for you and that there isn't any policy or program that is coming to save you. It is true that your MBA, Phd, MA mother and father will probably not find employment at all, or if they do work, they are looking at retirement in a menial labour job and face poverty as senior citizens. It is true that you will see some of your brothers and sisters lost to prostitution and drug abuse and mental illness. It is true that you may be arrested. It is true that you may graduate and not get hired. It is true that as a black boy you may be harassed by the cops. It is true that they will hire their own before they hire you. It is true that you are smart. It is true what you see and feel and what you have lived. It is true that you have felt pain; you are not making it up. It is true that the system is not working for you. And that is enough for a moment. For you to hear that it is true. That your story is true.

And given that your story is real and true, the next important question, is then how to *BE* in the reality of your truth. How to be and continue being the black son and daughter of an immigrant mother and father who moved to London, Vancouver, Birmingham, Strasbourg, Toronto, and Boston? If you can find a way to exist in the reality of your true story, if you can do the most radical thing and survive... continue to *BE*, understand that in every living moment of your existence you are strong.

Somehow you have pulled together in some mysterious way different worlds like scenes in a stage drama, you have taken roasted maize from the side of the dusty road, language and dialect, beatings and praise, chemistry and history and exercise books, long flights and snow and black skin and hair extensions, mental illness and scholarships, refugee camps and immigration papers, arguments and fights in the mother tongue, pride and shame and humour, domestic disturbances and dreams, being unknown and misunderstood and being celebrated and entertaining and mastering the social code . . .

You have pulled it all together and smashed it all together into a single expression on your face as you wait in the subway pocketing your black hands a bit dry from the harsh winter air. And just in case your mind wonders in this few moments and you almost begin to doubt it, let me assure you, now that you know are no longer seeking affirmation that your story is true, let me assure you that given the truth of your story you are strong.

I will tell you one more final thing before I end my letter, a shocking thing, but you need to hear it. Most likely, nothing is going to change. At least not the kind of change that you are waiting for or hoping for. This is the story in which you have been dropped into like a stolen black man put on a ship and delivered to a new land; you have been dropped here on this page. This is your new true story. And like the stolen man would have hoped that the hand that holds the whip would come to its senses and lay the whip down, so you too will hope that a policy be developed and the reporters tell the truth but you must begin to separate yourself from that hope at this very moment. You must never wait for such things. But here in the truth of your story, what you must do is begin to hold on to the person that you are. Feel your strength and the fact that you exist and acknowledge that to yourself. And that will help you to see the hand that holds the whip for what it is, and you will begin to continue to exist in a way that does more than reacts to the violence, you will begin to create and continue to be.

Yours truly,
Black Immigrant Young Adult


When I first started using the wagon to pick up groceries, Izaka liked sitting in it on the way up the hill, now in these later days of summer he pulls the wagon right along side me all the way up to the grocery store, and only sits in it when it's filled with groceries on the way home, so that he can get first picks on what he likes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

a treat on the deck





After supper I get to eat a treat on the deck. Much earlier in the day I brought those big muddy gardening shoes inside. I smiled and smiled, moving my feet as fast as I could across the living room and then I hid them inside behind the big sofa, I cried whey mummy took them away.

I went up for nap but I couldn’t make myself sleep. So I chatted and told myself stories and even giggled very loud. After a very long time I think I finally went to sleep; Mama suddenly woke me up. I almost cried but then she said we are going to the park… the BIG PARK.

I had a small snack and then we went to the big park. Mum was in a hurry a bit and kept saying something like “picnic”, but I wanted to stop and look at the animals, and then I wanted to stop at the “Thomas” tracks.

At the picnic there were many people there and things to eat. I felt shy when the big people talked to me, I just really wanted to play, not eat or talk. There was a playground close by I had never played in before. It had bright colours and so many fun places to climb. I played and played.

When it was time to go home we stopped and fed the yak, and this was my favourite part. We call them yak because they look like the yak in my book. In my ABC book when you get to Y, they say Y is for Yack but when daddy is with us he calls them Llama and I like that word too. We also fed the deer.

This time they actually came up to the fence because mummy made a funny sound, we pulled leaves from the ground to feed the deer. And then a slimy tongue touched my fingers, it made me laugh. But I didn’t want it to happen again so I just threw some grass through the fence.

It was timego to home and get some supper, I cried a little because I was having so much fun. Daddy was home when we got back, I like to see daddy and I can even say “daddy home!” I gave him a hug and told him about the big park and then I ate all my food.

After supper I get to eat a treat on the deck. It’s almost the end of a happy day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

eccentric habits which belong to a state of lonliness

I was accidentally a half an hour early for an interview this morning. I don't carry a watch and usually the mishap is against punctuality and not in favor of it. But I did have a chance to take off my heels and walk across the road to the Public Library. I took a stroll through Fiction: DIS - HUS until my fingers rest on my good companion Eliot and what will now be among the top five favourite opening passages from any of my favourite woman authors; it read as follows:


In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses-- and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak--there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. The shepherd's dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure bent under a heavy bag?--and these pale men rarely stirred abroad without that mysterious burden. The shepherd himself, though he had good reason to believe that the bag held nothing but flaxen thread, or else the long rolls of strong linen spun from that thread, was not quite sure that this trade of weaving, indispensable though it was, could be carried on entirely without the help of the Evil One. In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing that was at all unwonted, or even intermittent and occasional merely, like the visits of the pedlar or the knife-grinder. No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother? To the peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery: to their untravelled thought a state of wandering was a conception as dim as the winter life of the swallows that came back with the spring; and even a settler, if he came from distant parts, hardly ever ceased to be viewed with a remnant of distrust, which would have prevented any surprise if a long course of inoffensive conduct on his part had ended in the commission of a crime; especially if he had any reputation for knowledge, or showed any skill in handicraft. All cleverness, whether in the rapid use of that difficult instrument the tongue, or in some other art unfamiliar to villagers, was in itself suspicious: honest folk, born and bred in a visible manner, were mostly not overwise or clever--at least, not beyond such a matter as knowing the signs of the weather; and the process by which rapidity and dexterity of any kind were acquired was so wholly hidden, that they partook of the nature of conjuring. In this way it came to pass that those scattered linen-weavers--emigrants from the town into the country--were to the last regarded as aliens by their rustic neighbours, and usually contracted the eccentric habits which belong to a state of loneliness.



Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe, by Goerge Eliot (1861)

Friday, July 15, 2011

St. Paul

You write letters from the other side of prison walls. You have made more than peace with death, you have made love and pledges to it; and almost casually you announce in these pages how in fact your being gone from us, will begin your new life.

But for now, persuaded by your sense of concern and mandated by the one whose dusty sandals you and me would fear to carry, you are bound to stay a little longer. And you write to me a little longer.

I continue to read; every now and then pacing between sentences, and then coming to a contemplative stop in front of the sliding glass door. I feel like a wonderer in a big city gallery whose eye has been caught by a piece that reflects and mimics my own slow, mundane, repetitive existence.

I imagine you being anxious for nothing. I wonder how I might be able to tear the secrets of your reality from the words on these pages and smash them into my reality. I sit down again and reach for your letters from this side of my prison walls. Then my eyes fall shut and I allow my whole self be aware of the heated wood of the deck slowly warming the bottom of my bare feet and I think to myself how beautiful it is, that old saying, that the righteous shall live by faith.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Vehicle Ownership and Normalcy




When it's not a source of frustration for me, I actually find it rather interesting that owning a car in this culture is sometihng of a rite of passage. You don't realize it when you drive one, but sometimes not being behind the wheel provides a new perspective. Owning a car can send the social message that you are a responsible, trustworthy, normal and good person. Admittedly, I am writing this while the sting of a recent experience in which my possession of some of the above attributes was scrutinized based on the fact that I do not own a working vehicle. But outside of inducing frustration, the encounter also made me feel the need to vent and reflect on my own own experience of not owning a working vehicle and the various internal and social dynamics that I have encountered.

So like I said, this is not as a rule but it's been my observation that a vehicle can come to symbolize that a person is responsible, trustworthy, normal and good. Now if you own a car and choose not to drive it, then you are a responsible, trustworthy normal and good person who is also enviromentally conscious or of superior fitness. I think it's interesting that most non-driving commuters in my part of the city also happen to be wearing some kind of tight work out clothes or running while pushing an intense gigantic stroller. So if you are non-student commuter on foot in regular clothes who does not appear to be an olympian behind an intense stroller, then are you? A hobo? And if you're a mom whose got a kid with you, then you might be on your your way to pick up the goverment cheque.

I'm not a student, I'm not an uptowner or downtowner. I live in the suburbs and in recent months we pulled our van off the road as primarily financial choice (and I would like to think a political choice) while things were tight. On the most part I have enjoyed busing, and taking Izaka's stroller on the bus.

I have never really owned a car until I got married and my husband happened to have one. I must have never really been meant to drive because less than a year into our marriage I accidentlally crushed it. We then got a deal on a van just before I got pregnant with my son, and had it for about 2 years, before moving from a small town to the city and pulling it off the road.

I also spend my childhood in a city where it was more rare to own a car than not to. In the 1990's in Nairobi most people took the bus or walked. I think things have changed now. So I guess it's been a bit of an adjustment not driving for the last several months (with some significant inconviniences) but I found that also on many levels it felt familiar and good, and certainly preferable in the winter.

Having said that I have also found myself to be more of anamalie than I enjoyed. During the process of prioritizing our expenses and recognizing that we could not afford to keep our van on the road, one encouraging fact was that we had access to affordable/comfortable public transportation, and also felt that we lived in a city where alternative ways of commuting were celebrated and encouraged; you know, to lessen the carbon footprint and all that. So we made the transition with some naïveté on my part and expectation of a best case scenerio of approving nods or at the very least no stigma or shame.

Quite frankly on the most part not using the van in our day to day lives has really been a non issue. There have been some inconviniences like doctor appointments outside of a bus route and not being able to leave town as frequently as we would have to see loved ones.

But for me the challenge on the most part has been feeling like a bit of an outsider, I guess culturally/socially speaking. I have been very surprised by this. Maybe I should have anticipated the tension should going into the transition, but I felt quite unprepared for the sometimes general experience of feeling like I had something to justify or the isolated incidences of being related to with a hint of condescension, or being given the "charity case" treatment.

I have mostly expereinced patience and kindness of friends and neighbours, but there have been times the, well, I guess painful times, when an acquintance has offered to "rescue" with an obvious intent of shaming or othering. The excessive requirement for explanations and "when are you guys going to put the van back on the road?" probing that can be pressuring and also shaming. Or the blunt challenging and expression of dissapproval that makes one feel judged. I don't write about this to sound like a martyr especially when people around the world are facing real problems like not having anything to eat. I write this as part of my own experience processing but also because I think it's important to have dialogue about some of the cultural resistance that may continue to over-emphasize the nececcity of a car.

There many things (material or otherwise) that some people have that I don't have and perhaps vice vera I would imagine. So why is this one item such a game changer. And I realize now that it is a cultural symbol of normative living.

Suddenly if I was having a bad day or struggle and began to talk about it the first suggestion provided was it was understandable considering we didn't have the van. It was an adjustment for friends and loved ones, and some are yet to adjust. I have found something out about myself in the past few months. I would sometimes rather be alone than be an anamolie in spaces that used to be comfortable for me becaue community and a sense of being understood is important to me.

There is a feeling of wanting to be able to start a story saying "today when I was on the bus with Izaka" without it being taken like I'm asking for help or making a political statmement, and if I need a ride, I want to be able to ask for one like I would a cup of sugar. The latter has been as much of an internal as well as social struggle for me. During the last several months I discovered how I too (although never having purchased one really) had internalized the cultural symbolism of owning a vehicle in my stage of life. And this made me undergo all kinds of inner tensions when having to socially present myself (family) as a regular single income suburban family that just can't affort the use of a car. When I was little and growing up in a neighbourhood in Nairobi, I remember that often if we had run out of somehting that we needed I would be sent to the neighbours house with an empty bown or cup to ask for some sugar or rice or three eggs. If the woman who opened the door did not have any she simply apologized for not having some and then I would try another door. Often little children with empty bowls or cups also knocked at our door. But there was something culturally understood and accepted about seasons of not having and of course you depend on your neighbours. Mama Akinyi, the school teacher, mother and respectable community member that lives two doors down is still a school teacher, mother, and respectable community member when she during the weeks when she is in need of eggs from her neighbour for the children's lunch and the weeks when her salary is enough to buy her own eggs and have some to spare. And not to be preachy, but I think it is just a fact that in western society you are many times what you are able to have.

I appreciate people in my community (many of whom are friends) who are able to afford vehicles yet choose to rely on alternative ways of commuting mostly perhaps due to there desire for creating a better environment. [I equally appreciate those who do so for physical fitness as I imagine it takes a lot of discipline, so I cheer for them, even the ones in intense athletic gear].

I just also feel that in order for the environmental/humanitarian dreams associated with a decreased reliance on cars to be realized, it is necessary to promote alternative means of commuting as something that can belong to the masses. The work of creating a better environment both depends on changing specific personal and family practices but also may mean for some working in public spheres to grow new environmental and community friendly structures.
These kind of calling I have experienced can place you outside the economic security of existing structures, and may result in not simply choosing to not to drive, but in fact being less and less able to live out and afford the cultural symbols that represent values of speed, comfort, convinience, and the accumulation of resources. These values are not inherently bad and I might ask to knock on your door when I need a little speed, comfort or convinience. But I think many agree that there is a need to promote another set of values that are neccessary for survival and have been left of Western cultural progress and the mass production of the automobile.

I guess that if we want to promote a decreased dependency on cars then we have to normalize walking and busing, and yeah I guess biking or skiing (personally I am not likely to do either). I find myself wanting to walk with some out of shape suburban moms. I used to see fat women walk all the time when I was a child. You didn't have to be an olympian to walk to the grocery store. It would nice to see more work men and women in work clothes and ties walking, or parents picking up there kids after school, in uncomfortable shoes, complaining about the cold or the heat. Can walking/busing not belong to the masses anymore?

How do you normalize a life without affording a vehicle? I don't really know completely. Maybe car sharing is one option. I hear and don't really know but that in some European societies these changes are taking place and car's are not such a central cultural symbol. Maybe more out of town buses so we can still visit loved ones out of town or go to the beach two things I miss a lot. I think it has to be normal to talk about not owning a vehicle and still feel like you are a responsible, respectable, trustworthy, normal and good person.

Yesterday I cut the tail end of Izaka's nap short because a flatbed truck showed up in front of our drive way and I couldn't have him miss it. Izaka has many books on trucks and tractors and is learning them by name. He is intrigued by machines, ironically :) I loved watching him watch the parked van that had become part of the landscape in front of our place get lifted and rolled onto the flatbed. My dad knows a guy who might give us a deal, he's an immigrant so it's all good. I get very pre-excited about maybe going to the beach. But trying not to get ahead of myself as I have been reminded the it might be well into the Fall if we get it back at all and it's not scrap. But I'm also not ready to or willing to let go of the lifestyle we have now. I guess if this immigrant mechanic pans out, I will get to enjoy being one of those people who could totally drive but will make the alternative choice to walk or bus, so I'm still normal :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

still here

My life is a circle and I’m living here in this land that I love and hate and love and hate and learn to love again.

Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring. The best thing about Canada or Turtle Island is all these seasons and colours, I am always astounded.

How can one place have so many colours, so many different worlds to see when you look outside the window?

In the Fall I venture out like a traveller on a walkabout. I have a small bag of strategies and desires. God is the great wind Nodin, and she picks up along the way all my scattered thoughts and impulses and makes sense and motion out of everything. And everything is beautiful.

By December passion has frozen into cold resolve, as I come face to face with the reality of death. Death in the old and the gone. Death in the burial sites we trample on. Death in the living faces that stare back at me at the meeting downtown; death in the Toronto Stock Exchange, death trailing the late night news and then creeping into my heart. There are flurries of romance, parades and processions, but I am wrapped and bundled up in my own self- protective, necessary stuff. And but for the silhouette of now naked trees that stand as signposts and reminders, in Ontario’s winter I would be doomed to forget that once a colourful wind blew around me.

Spring is nothing that it claims to be. All I feel is awareness of all that went array. I want to heal so bad. I want to say I can hear a trickling of a brook or feel life in the crackling of melting snow. But the chilled brown street water is soaking through my salted suede boots, my toes are achy, and it’s an uncomfortable, humiliating walk up to the cross, where I sit alone and wait for my resurrection.

Summer is here and you catch me off guard; showing me that my growth is in your readjustment of my expectations. You go from nowhere to being everywhere. And you heal me while my hands are deep in the earth. My good God just like last year, you heal me. I can sit in the sunshine, and cry a bit at what is gone and the mistakes made, and tie up my apron and see what is here now. There is kale in the garden. There is a boy on my lap. My husband is home from work. Canada is still Canada. I can still dream of a Turtle Island Fall. I’m still here and you are everywhere.

Monday, June 27, 2011

sway

Sweet water filling up between my ears
and spilling through my eyes,
sway my skirt close to the floor.

My skirt is made from patches of yellow
curtain cloth torn from the kitchen window
and white lace.

Dancing to the sound of ripples in my chest
and wet eyelids shut I let the tip of my toes,
carry me to the warmth of the quiet sun room.

Baby napping
Laundry hanging
Lavender drying

Sweet water rocking my soul
when your waves turn black and I can’t see
my embroidery stitch,
I’m learning not to cry.
I’ll lay down needle, cotton and thread
and wait for your sweet water
to pass me by

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bondwoman



Strong enough to wait on the one that has left you
In darkness and dust
You sit.

I travel back to where you would have been
With him close to you, eyes tired with hunger and not sleep

Bondwoman,

Strong enough to leave him long enough to let yourself cry.

Tell me your story.

Monday, June 20, 2011

trees planted by water, dark shredded bark, and beautiful immigrant men with silvering beards

A couple things happened these last few days that have been meaningful to me. I will only mention them and not tell the whole story here. The first was a conversation with a taxi driver from the former Yugoslavia, he used to be a corporate lawyer in his old country. After he shared with me a bit about his former life, I also told him about foreign trained parents and there experience getting work in Canada. We talked about the increase of immigrants and the lack of jobs. He narrated some stories of his experience first as an immigrant in Germany then in Canada. "In Germany they didn't like us, but you know they don't lie to you. If you make a deal with a German he won't break it". He said.

I loved the bluntness with which he spoke, he was a beautiful man perhaps in his late fifties with a silvering beared, and his manner of speaking, the honesty and feeling in his voice made me feel like I was in some wonderful old film. I have completely romanticized/dramatized the conversation in my head but that is what I do. Howerver I can't exagerate the purity of the incident that to me was a gift.

"I got into a fight with one of the German guys, you know I told him take your shitty job!" He turned around to make eye contact with me in the cab that was now parked. My passanger door was open as the conversation had continued on my way out the door. "sorry for language, but you know, I used to get into fights with those guys".

"No problem" I excused him with a waive of my hand, and then continued expressively. "But you get it, for me it's not about them liking us, we just have to survive, we just need to find a way to make a life".

"Yes but listen to me," he looked at me more intently and reminded me of an old sailor from a book I might have read, "Money is not everything, the German guy at the cleaning job used to tell me, I can take away your job you know. I told him: You take my country, you take my life, my home, you take my brother, what is this shitty job? But you can't take my soul eh? so you remember that".

"Can I shake you hand?" I asked him before our small encounter came to a close and I shut the door of the taxi. The thought crossed my mind as I walked away that perhaps I am really part of something, some collective stories larger than my own single life.

The second incident that took place in the last couple of days that also matters to me happened yesterday. My father, who earned his Phd in the 90s from a University in South Africa had a little car trouble and took the bus to his night shift at a factory the previous night. Unfortunatey, the morning bus on Sundays that comes out to this end of the city doesn't start till 10:00am and his shift at the factory was over at 6am. So he walked from the uptown bus stop, the many many city blocks on the morning of Father's Day. I don't have very much to say about it except that on Father's Day I when I heard this little narration from a family member I felt very proud of my dad who is approaching his mid fifties. While picking up some chocolate and a card with my two year old for his dad yesterday, Izaka also picked something small up for his Kuka, whom he closely resembles and loves deeply. Daddy if you are reading this we still have to drop off some chocolate before Izaka eats them all.

Learning to start with what I have. That is a lesson that came to me over the course of the day today. I haven't done a lot on my flower bed in the backyard because I want to lay some mulch. The grocery store that is a walking distance from us is out of mulch, I found out after pulling my two year old in his wagon up the hill, anxious to buy some bags of mulch. I had even called ahead of time and the employee said they had some bags of mulch left. So needless to say I felt a bit grouchy pulling the wagon back down the hill with a few groceries and a two year old boy sitting inside it but no mulch.

I have been daydreaming of a dark shade of shredded bark, how pretty it would make my young, not very populated flower bed look. I am the kind of person who needs to see the bag of mulch sitting beside me to motivate me to weed the garden and do some transplanting. I need to know that the outcome is close at hand. But I'm realizing that this way of approaching life is making weeds creep up all over because I'm overlooking the provisions that are already at hand.

Today I was also revisited by this verse from the book of Jeremiah 17:7,

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Circles, Stories and Processing Privilege


Privilege is not a bad word but a gift, I felt reminded today while I was vacuuming. I believe in “owning privilege” but probably don’t practice this very well; especially in the most recent season of my life when I have been steeped in some of the local realities of poverty and oppression.

Also I have felt a bit out of touch with the ways that I am privileged in recent months because of unexpected challenges in our day to day circumstances. The problem with being out of touch with my privilege is that it makes it harder for me to live in a place of gratitude.

I was confronted with my privilege this week when some of the work that I have been involved in was featured in a local newspaper article. It wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it made me think of people who work tirelessly for family and community and there work goes unnoticed, uncelebrated. I didn’t think of this immediately. My initial thoughts when the idea of having our work celebrated through a ribbon cutting ceremony was brought forward were of resistance. I felt personally that the goals of my participation in promoting community gardens as a space for meaningful engagement where yet still so far out of reach that such an event seemed like the wrong priority. I have a dream of engaging youth who are experiencing various challenges in urban agriculture as a way to increase wellness and success. With all the hard work that people have volunteered, I still feel that there is a long way to go.

How do you live in a place of gratitude while circumstances are far from ideal and actually very broken? I feel like this is Spirituality 101 in almost every tradition and belief system. But I think we all at least feel the tension in some capacity. In my faith tradition, we are taught that the starting point cannot be one of the condition or circumstance, but rather of the reality of a loving Creator that holds all things together.

Carl Jung is a teacher/thinker that I appreciate and he talks about holding together the “tension of the opposites” and uses the example of the mandala where duality is replaced and opposites are held in supportive union. I find myself and I’m probably not alone in this having to hold together many opposing “energies”/or strong feelings. I guess the temptation for me is to pick one over the other: Poverty versus privilege, rage versus love, anger versus peace, hate versus acceptance. The reality is that I am poor, enraged, experience hatred and anger. I am also privileged, in love, at peace and more and more moving into a place of acceptance.

I think when I have habitually chosen my poverty above my privilege, I feel isolated and undernourished. And I am less likely to do this in the season that I am living out right now, but when I pick my privilege over my poverty, I am likely to become judgemental, unintuitive and cold hearted.

We are all poor and privileged in different ways. But can I be both?

I don’t think the answer is balance, in fact I have come to hate that word, it is mathematical utopia and unnatural to me (just my opinion). What is balance? I cannot exist in a placid equilibrium, I can only exist here on this great garden called earth, a place of snow storms and floods, and sunny days, and gentle breezes, and only God knows which of those you’re going to get, depending on where you were born and where you travel to. My prayer is that in my joureny I would come across mandalas and the medicine wheels. That I would find a healing circle, and be reminded that the Creator holds all things together in the palms of his hands.

Not very surprisingly I am very experiential in my spiritual expressions and needs. And I tell you, I strongly dislike rows of pews. I love prayer circles and sharing circles. A circle means that we are all in this together, that there is no time restriction and that you can dance, cry and be seen and be heard.

I was reading about the history of African American Spirituals that were a way of worship during slavery. How the slaves would attend bush meetings and form circles where they would move and dance in spontaneous expressive worship. In an effort to de-Africanize slaves, they were forbidden to meet in circles and were forced to worship in pews to restrict movement. When reading these stories I felt that circles are for especially meaningful in seasons of struggle when the need for each other is deeply felt, and when you need to wail, and beat your suffering into a drum, wave your arms and speak in tongues. And leave feeling a sense of gratitude.

I have had the poverty and privilege of being involved in a community process that will hopefully promote much needed cultural circles of support in local African immigrant communities.

Anyway, while I was vacuuming, I fel awakened to my privilege. One of my greatest privileges is in my ability to tell my story. Here in this blog and in other spaces, it gives me voice and is empowering. On a global scale and even on a local scale I am relatively and incredibly wealthy. All my most basic needs are met and my son’s basic needs are met. I have a hard working partner. I have love in my life. I have inherited from my parents a love for scholarship and an ability to think well. What I lack in emotional regulation is made up for in passion. I have access to technology and feel empowered to create change in my community. I have citizenship in a stable country. I have an international upbringing and a good education, I have a patient and good Creator.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Messages


I’m one of those people who can’t remember where I place day to day things or memorize people’s names but I have a really good memory for stories and things people say to me. Like most people, I have received and responded to many “messages” in my life experience that have shaped me in various ways. I am sharing some of the messages I’m processing still from the last year or so that have some kind of imprint in day to day journeying, the way I engage the world, the way I think and feel….

Part of my life these days is about trying to find some kind of peace, resolution, or just a way to deal with or respond to these messages.

Many of the sources for the “messages” that float to me are from my environment but some come from some parts inside of me as well.



“I’m not saying that that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I’m just saying that’s how it is, there are just some tables that you won’t get invited to”

“Those “associations”, they say they care, they just come, they ask as questions, they say they will come back, but they don’t care”

“I want to do something about it, tell me what I can do. There are people in our community who know people, and those people know more people, they can do something”

“A Canadian, is a Canadian, is a Canadian”

“Let us talk to our youth from a position of strength”

“So educate me, what is cultural specificity? And if I support you, who else do I have to support?”

“Thank you for your pure volunteerism”

“This place is a colony, I woke up one day and was like, oh my God, we are living in Africa 1959. Where are the indigenous people? Out of site and poor! This place never went through any kind of independence and they are proud of it!”

“We must cut debt, we must care for the poor, we must do these thing simultaneously because of something we are calling intergenerational Justice”

“And please don’t bring food to these events, I tell you, it makes me sick, once you bring food that’s all they want to talk about, talk about the issues, and if you wear your traditional dress, it’s all over”

“Let’s not try to change each other”

“Here’s a radical idea, personal responsibility, if you want to work with youth, take responsibility and go work with youth”

“As a white person, I go through the same stuff! What about the rural poor?”

“Motion to adopt these minutes? Seconder? All in favour? Opposed? Okay done”.

“This is why I am opposed to personal stories, personal stories paralyze us”

“Well, they are not our children”

“We have found in the past that there are problems with that group, last time there was some drinking involved, perhaps you can find another venue? Maybe a Neighbourhood Association”

“They are known a problem gardeners”

“Make sure they will actually want to garden”

“If you find yourself repeating some of those unhealthy patterns that you grew up in, then you probably need to do some soul searching”

“The Camp Fanis! The Refugee Camp! There are no problems here, don’t talk about problems here in Canada”

“It was said at the meeting, 'she is just trying to get paid’”

“I was put in solitary confinement, I expected to find scary people in prison, somehow I would feel better if the people were scary and bad. It was just the mentally ill and people with substance abuse issues”.

“If they act like thugs, they will be treated like thugs”

“Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, those jobs are just for the white kids”

“Maybe you watched the Royal Wedding, it’s okay if you did, it is an important part of our culture”

“It’s not that they don’t hire minority youth, it’s the way they write their resumes”

“We heard that some employers were afraid of hiring immigrants, they were afraid of saying the wrong thing around the office, and getting sued”

“We are proud of our Fanis”

“You will hurt yourself”


“If I have to put this kid with me in a cardboard box, I am not afraid of poverty, I will see this thing through”

“They have no idea what I have already lost, they can’t starve me out”

“The Holy art of giving for Jesus’ Sake ought to be much more strongly developed among as Christians, never forget that all state intervention for the poor is a blot on the honour of your Saviour . . .It is perfectly true that if no help is forthcoming from elsewhere the state must help, we may let no one starve from hunger as long as bread lies moulding in so many cupboards and when the State intervenes it must do so quickly and sufficiently”

“You can vent if you want to and I will let you do that, but we both know that you are going to keep going, that you are not done”

“I mean, I’m not sure how I would benefit from this”

“We are the one's we've been waiting for”

“So let’s build this thing from the ground up, nobody is coming to save us”

“Ignorance is a privilege”

“I mean, I’m sick of the complaining immigrant, there are a lot of opportunities here, the way I see it, there are no opportunities back in Africa, and then they come here and start complaining”

“I guess I’m trying to be independent”

“We’re getting cornered from all sides, they don’t want us to help ourselves, they don’t want us to ask for help, they don’t want us to speak out”

“We were brought here to work in factories”

“After all the shit I’ve been through, If I could choose a different life, a life of privilege with a functional family, and have all my primary needs met, and turn out to be an adult who has everything and whose eyes are closed to suffering around me, I would pick my broken life over and over again. It’s made me who I am. I would pick the same for my son. My biggest fear for my son is not that he be poor, or that he suffers but rather that he doesn’t know how to care and how to respond to suffering!"

“We have 300 of our boys from this community at Maplehurst Prison”

“Because of Slavery, some blacks of African descent experience a psychological barrier to farming”

“We are people of the land”

“Out of all the immigrants groups the African immigrants are at the bottom”

“Give the poor legal title to land so they can rise out of poverty”

“There is an unhealthy relationship between the system and the community, the system should declare a conflict of interest”

"The system should serve the community, the community should be self determining"

“I’m done trying to change people’s minds. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, if they waited for all the slave-masters to change their minds we would still be in slavery”

“I think the central question though, does the federal government have a responsibility towards the poor with regards to the alleviation of poverty? And once you have addressed that central question , what might that look like? . . .the key thing that we are saying in The Call is that the government does have a responsibility with regards to the alleviation of poverty. And I would say that the fundamental argument there is not a constitutional argument, and I say that with due respect to the American constitution because we live here under the Rule of Law and that what we do in this country must be constitutionally warranted… But I would argue that the claim that a National Government has a responsibility with regard to the poor is ultimately and Biblical argument and I think that tramps the constitution, so I think there is a clear imperative in Scripture that those who rule have a responsibility to establish justice for the poor . . .everything should be subject to scrutiny, but it’s not then some kind of blind hustice that you then apply, you have to apply laws, you have to make choices, you have to determine what the priorities are, our argument is that we should give a certain priority for federal programs that effectively address poverty, when those programs can be warranted in terms of this constitutional order, but that the ultimate reason for that is a scriptural responsibility. Rulers have a responsibility to do justice for the poor. I think we would agree on that. What neither the document says nor what I am in this setting wanting to elaborate is what that responsibility looks like, because I think that is indeed a prudential question and an extremely difficult question, I have spent now, what? 25 odd years studying this question: What are the responsibilities of government with regards to the alleviation of poverty? And what actually makes a difference? And after 25 years I have very little to say on that question, as does everybody else. We know it’s an imperative, we know we have to do something about it, and we know it’s one of the most difficult challenges that we face”.

“My parents came here as Dutch immigrants and they never worked in their professions either”

“Today when I got on the bus, I felt distinctly accepting for the first time of this place as my home. I mean Grand River Transit, and the bus drivers, they show the beauty of this culture, I am beginning to love Canada because of Grand River Transit”
“They feel entitled to everything that they have, they don’t want know”

“I don’t fit in anywhere, I don’t fit in with ignorant white people anymore and I am not black”

“We have never felt at home in their institutions, they are not our institutions, we can’t fit in, even Canada Day, there are fireworks, and we feel sad and out of place, what are we supposed to say? Happy Steal Our Land Day?”

“The only way to begin to contain this thing called European culture is to begin to name it, to other it, to put limits around it”

“Christian schools seem to be producing “salt of the earth” citizens who provide the backbone of communities, are the pillars of their churches, and are living lives of purpose and hope. Fears that religious schools are the incubators of social unrest, producing a generation of culture warriors, seem to be largely unfounded"

“We must cut debt, we must care for the poor, we must do these thing simultaneously because of something we are calling intergenerational Justice”

“Grant me an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray, an invincible heart that no disaster can overcome”

“I want to be like you and like the Church Fathers, I want to be like St. Francis of Assisi and to be fearless in the face of poverty, I want courage and faith. I want to be at peace with feeling misunderstood, but where I lose all hope, is times when I feel that you have left me, that you Jesus Christ have left my home and heart”

"Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your Law"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

beginnings of community garden



A member of one of our gardener families and recent friend emailed me a picture of myself standing at the new northdale site of Patchwork Community Gardens on one of our rainy workdays a couple of weekends back.

I am watching Izaka on the deck playing with his water table, I spent this morning at home, this is a different way for us to spend a Sunday morning. The ground outside is really wet and muddy from a series of rainy May days. The heat and humidity is a welcome break from the rain. I enjoyed my time with Izaka this morning, I got out his summer outside toys from the basement and especially enjoyed how he didn't remember them from when he was one last year, and was so excited.

I also enjoyed rubbing sunscreen on his cheeks and nose and the back of his neck. I'm thinking of getting my paint stuff out from last summer, in the next couple of weeks.

Sitting here I also found my mind running over the events of the last several weeks including that rainy day at the Northdale site of Patchwork Community Gardens, a new community garden project that I have had the pleasure of having a role in creating.

My mind also stopped at a couple of nights ago at the closing ceremony of our Homework Support Program at Laurentian Public School. Maybe sixty children or so attended, as well as parents, and volunteers. We ate samosas and mandazis and enjoyed a dramatic presentation from the African-Caribbean Drama Troupe, who presented a family message on the importance of HIV testing. Walking into Laurentian Public School a bit late for the ceremony, I remember feeling a bit aware of how my volunteer hours at the HSP program has slowed down for the winter semester, with more focus on grant writing and planning for the gardens.

I almost was hesitent to reunite with one of the moms who I had developed a friendship with over the course of the school year. A Somali woman, whose name I won't disclose but she had lived in Kenya before coming to Canada with her five children. She has a very warm smile and I am drawn to her because she not only speaks Swahili which is not so surprising for any East African in a country that shares in Arabic heritage, but that she is also fluent in my mother's tibal tongue, Luo, a language that I cannot speak myself but love to hear. She picked it up living in Nairobi in part of the city that housed a large Luo community. She must have identified tribal physical features in me when she first saw me on my first night volounteering, because she approached me with a warm smile and greeted "Ithinadi?".

Anyway, on the night of the celebration I don't bump into her right away, I take an empty sit beside some little giggling and whispering girls who are making a strong effort to sit throught the speeches on the program. They are beautiful in their colourful hijab covered heads bumping together in mischief and I have to repeatedly hush and seperate the girls. We are listening to a young lady lawyer making a speach about how anything is possible with hard work and dedication. Our Association president inivted her in to motivate the children. I am happy to see many of the board members present, and some senior members of our community. It never takes long to be assigned a task and at the time to share meals I am in charge of making sure the children single file out into the cafeteria.

In the bustle I ran into my friend, and she takes me into an embrace "where have you been?" she asks. [I have to stop here and say that I love being embraced by a woman wearing a hijab, leso or kanga or really most african female clothing that involve excessive fabric, I feel wrapped and held, and for those few moments very much at rest].

Any stress that might have accompanied the anticipation of our reunification is eased by her warm smile. I tell her that I have been working on gardens, community gardens. "Where?" She asks, "I want to come, we need something to do in the summer with the kids...". Our conversation continues on in Swahili.

Laurentian public school is on the far end of Kitchener and it is going to be a one and half our bus ride commute home to my end of Waterloo, I am hoping I get to the University terminal on time to catch the last #13.

Walking from Laurentian Public School to the bus stop there is a group of young boys and girls walking with me. They are heading to their high rise apartment building. It's night time and they are very loud and cheerful likely still experiencing a rush from the celebration snacks.

I also find therapeutic the sound of animated voices of families walking home in a city night, mixed with street lights and occassional trafic. It's warm, it reminds me of road-side markets and mabati canteens in Nairobi after sundown, it makes me feel like things will be okay. I look accros the road at Laurentian Park before getting to my bus stop and can't help thinking of a possible community garden filling some of that space next summer. I say bye to a group of elementary-schoolers that have been walking with me when I reach my bus stop, and they shout there goodbyes. The mothers wave.

Izaka has now had his fill of the deck and water table. He came inside, breastfed, had a snack and is down for his nap. Now I'm looking out on the deck at the sight of his toy boats and cars resting next to the play water table. His spring boots are placed carefully beside each other on a wooden bench that Justin build two springs ago for the deck. It's been a good morning.

Earlier while pulling out my little boy's summer toys from the basement and allowing my mind to go over the events of the last few weeks some of which I have shared here, I stopped on my way up the stairs suddenly. I had what I suppose was an epiphany, that interrupted me kind of effortlessly. Standing on the steps halfway up from the basement, with my arms filled with Izaka's toys I realized that my community is the place where I find it is possible to give, and equally possible to receive.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Angry Poem

I close my eyes and go to a sunny field
We are all there.
We are having a picnic after church on a Sunday
The children are dressed in white and yellow
Little girls in yellow dresses and little boys in white dress shirts
And they are laughing and running.
I recognize them,
They are our children.

The men are standing a short distance away
In a naturally formed circle
Talking with hands sunk into their trouser pockets
Every once in a while one of the men will shout
Something instructive to one of the especially energetic
Little girls, with black plated and beaded hair,
wearing a yellow dress.

And we are sitting in the shade,
Lost so very deep in conversation,
Something expressive and close to the heart,
And I throw a light kanga over my dark legs that are beginning to
Sting ever so slightly from falling rays of sun that escape
Through spaces between the tree branches.

And a breathless boy in a white dress shirt
Falls into my arms every now and then
Taking a break from chasing or being chased.
“Mama!” He interrupts our conversation catching his breath,
“Water, I need water!” We exchange glances and smile.
“Please?” I remind him placing a cup in his grasp.
“Please!” He barely repeats before taking a few heavy swallows,
And in a wild rush places the cup down, scrambles to his feet,
And springs back to the serious endeavour of chasing,
And of being chased.

I open my eyes, in a dark room, with a screen lighting my face, trying not to
write an angry poem.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

this one is untitled

Your tired climb gets slower as you near the top, I hear your steps,
And the light of the leaf game you left on mute is lighting the side of my face.
We muttered quiet prayers and a weak goodnight.
In this tight cluttered space where we sit and much has passed through
You are loved.

I bathed him today in a basin, one of the many small unplanned differences
Claiming us, me, you and him, in a basin,
I can’t bring myself to do it the other way.
And he hates the water and soap, and he bears it and latches on to my breast,
To make peace.

The basin is a small remnant maybe of something from before, ours was blue and
She bathed us outside in the sun, my sister and me, small feet.
And when he carries the bathwater out to the deck I ask myself if it is possible to
Ache for something you didn’t really get to hold for very long.

She dropped me off from the library and after my usual big sisterly questions
She tells me that she is going back again, to the sun and basins,
And I think I understand it.

The blue basin in the sun, there was a mad kitten that chased her tail while
The water splashed and we laughed at her. The black lunatic kitten.

I telephoned her to let her know that I was tired, that I wanted to be with him, really with him. Every day to read, to play and then the basin and then to bring him close to me, and let him latch and drift and dream.
But life had become the tide that comes in and goes out at will.
And I am left splashing and laughing then crying on the side of the sea,
seemingly alone.

She told me it was the same, that you give what you give, and you do what you have to do, and you always feel that it is not enough. But what I do I do for him, And how I fight, I fight for him.

And when he gets taller and weans out of our tight spaces I dream that mingled in
With the residue memory of a basin, and the lights from the leaf game,
Your tired steps, and my laughing, splashing and crying,
Will be the sound of muttered prayers, and weak goodnights, and a distinct feeling
That he is loved.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Watchman

There is a small red hill close to the
Convent called Resurrection Garden on the
Edges of the City where Pope visited in
In the Year 1995.

The small red hill is at the bottom of
A steep unpaved Rhino Park Road that leads
To the back entrance of the gated
Neighborhood of my early childhood.

In the back entrance there used to be
An old Kalenjin Watchman, who spent days
In the shelter of a narrow shack,
Rungu in hand and reading a Swahili
New Testament.

Sometimes I imagine you as a Watchman,
And you are not very old,
But you wait for me in that narrow shack.
You wait for me.










Monday, February 14, 2011

a poem and the color purple

For that which I did not see
That trailed along behind me
And made the yellow blades of grass
Whisper and chant and shuffle

I met it eye to eye that day
And lived to tell the tale,
And forced a pact between us
That no more shall be snatched

The pact was a mere child’s pretend
And soon I came to see
That all I loved and held to me
Was never mine at all

Now as the red sun bows down
And my shadow grows thin and long
The familiar stir is once again alive
In blades of yellow grass

Come out and see me standing here
I will not dodge or fall
But stare thee down with a tear stained face
And hand thee what you ask

But haste not to depart and vanish
Into the thin yellow blades of grass
I have a yet a whispered word
For you to take along into the night

See the hill where the red sun rests
That too is my place and home
You stalk me now and claim my very breath,
But there you shall loose it all.

And life once again will fill my womb
And my grain basket will overflow
For that which I’ve longed to see
My eyes will behold in full.




Alice Walker has given a precious gift to many and especially to black women and girls, that I came across as a little girl called “The Color Purple”. I caught it on T.V this past weekend. Justin and I watched it together after putting our son to bed. We of course both had tears in our eyes by the end of the film. A different part of the story stays with me every time I spend time with it. This time I was gripped by Sofia’s response to Celie’s speech, after Celie finally takes her power back from Albert her oppressor. Sofia ‘s character says these lines:


“Sat in that jail, I sat in that jail til I near about done rot to death. I know what it like to wanna go somewhere and cain't. I know what it like to wanna sing... and have it beat out 'ya. I want to thank you, Miss Celie, fo everything you done for me. I 'members that day in the store with Miss Millie - I's feelin' real down. I's feelin' mighty bad. And when I seed you - I know'd there is a God. I know'd there is a God"(The Color Purple, 1985)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Insomnia



It is night.

With a thunder clap sound
Stadium lights turned on
The mind is now a green field that is so bright
My eyes have to open and let some darkness in,
and then I force them shut again.

In a matter of moments some new developments
Have been carried into the bright stadium
There is loud theme park music
And wearing my blue nightdress,
I am wandering through an endless fun fair.

My calves and shoulders ache with fatigue,
But I have a simple task in this field,
To find a rock and the circuit breaker
And bring the noisy chaos to a quiet sleep.

I am distracted by The Ferris Wheel of Faces
Of beautiful people that I mingled with through the week,
Whose faces are now ugly and their lips sticky with cotton candy,
They loudly regurgitate the once wonderful words
Of conversation we shared, and speak each one above the other.

Rapidly backing away from the wheel,
I bump into a silly clown with a painted smile
He is balancing on a unicycle and juggling dishes and diapers,
And out of his painted smile, in a robotic monotone
He repeatedly announces “Seventeen new messages”.

Once again I have to let my eyelids open,
And escape the terrible carnival music and lights.
My fatigue ache seems to have crept to the rest of my body.
I begin to flip through my internal book of remedies
That has been written over the years.

I find the page with the Centering Prayer,
But my eyelids accidentally fall shut again,
This time I am being driven away from the theme park
In a the familiar cab I used on Thursday.

The Serbian cub driver turns his head to greet me,
His calming expression is both friendly and serious
I surrender to the drive through cold Queen Street
Though my body is still aching and fatigued

I shift my eyes from the cab window and
Begin to follow the lovely movements
Of a swinging Rosary on the review mirror
That hangs there still from Thursday

I regain hope of applying my Centering Prayer remedy
And I do so to the rhythm of the Rosary Cross,
“Jesus Christ Son of God” hold breath,
“Have mercy on me a sinner” release breath.

Soon I my whole body is part of the sway
And I feel myself being tossed back and forth
From the arms of St. Basil the Great
And received by St. John the Chrysostom

Seamlessly I am transported to my room
Where I lay fast asleep in lightening darkness

Oh no! Not another thunder clap?
This time it is the neighbour
With a his plough against a snowbank
Then the emphatic cry of an abruptly woken toddler,

It is morning.

Monday, January 10, 2011

memoirs of a fat woman




I have been thinking about fatness, and of being fat as part of my experience of womanhood. The thought came to me after a shower, I was thinking of gardening and some exciting opportunities that I might have this summer to do some community gardening. I thought about my little trial garden last summer and digging out the turf, and pushing dirt in a borrowed wheel barrow. It was hard work, and it occurred to me that it would require some physical fitness on my part to be an effective community gardener. This was not such an unwelcome or intimidating thought because I feel like we (my partner and I) are at a place where we can incrementally make space for giving towards our physical health and wellness.

My contemplations were bitter sweet as I remembered a summer when I was about 22 years old, I was home in small town Ontario from University and wanted to get “in shape” so I took to running early in the morning around country blocks. I loved the soft dirt on the side of the road and fresh air, and even though the burning sensation in my lungs and throat was hell, there was something life giving about challenging myself and being able every morning to run for longer and longer increments. The nature was amazing. I would run to our Church building out in the country, and do my stretches by the entrance while watching the horses grazing in the fields next to the church compound. It all was mostly good.

A thought came to me and rather surprised me as I stood in my towel thinking about revisiting a life of running, I thought; but what will happen to my fat body? I don’t want to lose my body!

Before I drive you to dismiss this little essay on the gloriousness of being fat as obnoxious or inauthentic, I should express that it has been a long and dreadful journey towards receiving the gift of loving and being rather passionate about my body. I think it has to do with the mysterious healing walkabout that I have found myself on, drawn here by a Creator who knit me in my mother’s womb. So I am grateful to be here.

The deep interest I take in my womanhood extends into a deep interest in the body that encases that womanhood. I remember taking a Women’s Studies course in my fifth year of an extended undergrad experience. I took it long distance from a wonderful woman professor out West. Talking to this Prairie woman on the phone a couple times a week was perhaps one of the most transformative experiences of my life. One essay I read in that course articulated what my own relationship to my body had been in a way that for me was releasing. There was discussion of how we women try to escape our own bodies, and how the disordered obsession of losing weight is one of the most telling expressions of an internalized oppression.

Now this may not be everyone’s experience, maybe to some counting calories and trying to shed pounds is a life giving thing, but I know for myself by the time I was reading these words I had lived a young adulthood that included the tortured existence of wanting to alter my body. So it was refreshing, to hear a different perspective than the noisy dominant cultural message that demanded of me that I had to be thin in order to be beautiful.

I love being and feeling beautiful. So this is far from a “the outside doesn’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts” appeal. I love pretty things, it comes in waves but I do love clothes and colours. I think I also love being sexy but I’m still reflecting on what that means because sexiness is valorized culturally to such a degree that it becomes difficult to identify an inwardly resonating meaning and experience of sexiness. But when I have experienced/felt authentic and good sexiness I have loved that place. I think that something just as unhealthy as trying to escape my body is denying the reality of my body, and I have lived in both spaces; spaces of self-depreciating attempts of escape, and spaces of oblivious and neglectful denial. In moments of weakness I do revisit those spaces from time to time, but they are not my home anymore.

When I refer to myself as a fat woman, it occurred to me that in this culture, being fat, or being described as fat is not a very neutral thing. If I call a woman a red-head for example, it’s just the colour of her hair. If I call a woman fat, it is almost an abusive word. So I could say full figured, or curvy, but the thing is I am fat, and I don’t mean that in a self-depreciating way, any more than if I said I was thin. I am not the fattest or obese, but I do feel like I’m a bit fat.
I am starting to learn the difference between beauty and culturally constructed standards of beauty. There is beauty in the latter but beauty itself cannot be reduced to or totally trapped within it. So while my beauty and that of many women and men may or may not fit into these cultural standards of beauty, it remains just the same.

Culturally defined beauty is a funny thing, and somehow I have always found myself a bit out of favour. I was a thin little girl and quite late to blossom, in a culture where curves were very much celebrated by everyone and most importantly boys. I was still a bit thin when I came to the west but in my late adolescent years began to develop curves and more curves that bring me where I am today. I remember being frustrated at feeling a bit invisible next to flat bellied girls as a young adult in college. The parts of me that are competitive and prideful, resented this deeply. The part of me that allows my own value to be dictated by the social attention was wounded and tortured by this and thus the running and horse watching in the country.

But the gift in having endured this kind of unfavourable relationship to culturally defined beauty is that it has drawn me into something of a Dante’s Inferno, where I have undergone a kind of purging that has forced me to come to face with my own as well as the collective fallacies and idolatries* that inform a disordered experience of beauty.

Mount Kilimanjaro on the border of Tanzania and Kenya is beautiful. It is as old as memory and has been crafted by the Ancient of Days and placed in this bosom of Creation. Should the nations and civilizations that arrange themselves around this mountain begin to think it hideous and dangerous and wrong, and then the other people groups that rise centuries later, consider the mountain a wonder to be worshiped, the truth remains that the beauty of the mountain has remained untouched and intact throughout all of these paradigms. Such might be said for the untouchable beauty of the woman’s body that has expressed itself in many colours, waves, wrinkles, folds and contours since the beginning of time.

I knew I had entered into a season of newness in terms of my relationship with my body this summer when I was letting myself float in the waters of the Lake Huron. I had avoided the beach for almost a couple of summers prior and had not been in a bathing suit for maybe longer. I was waiting to be worthy of living by losing the parts of myself that now seemed to be very much in harmony with the beautiful Huron. Folds and waves, and bulges of water now massaged and cradled me; it was like God telling me that this was where I did indeed belong. Let me say that again: My good Creator was whispering to me through the swelling and resting waves of Lake Huron that I belonged.

Belonging is something quite different from a token categorical addendum on America’s Next Top Model known as “plus size model”. Belonging means having a worthy affirmed place and space that is deeply in touch with the fullness and facets of who you are.

It was extra wonderful that I had managed to score a vintage inspired one piece for $20 dollars at the Great Canadian Super Store. I thought it was reminiscent of the 50’s pinup couture that you see on those old seaside pictures plump American girls with the red lipstick and polka dot hair bands.

Returning back to the opening scene of me standing in my towel, the more I thought about it, the more it became clear why I would be hesitant to lose my fat body. Now it is not predetermined that as we begin to pay more attention to our diet and seek out opportunities within our own lifestyle to be active that I will definitely lose my fatness.

Here I would like to mention mention something about my mother that came to me that afternoon in my towel; my mother is a very slender and beautiful woman. My mother came from a family of eleven siblings. There is diversity is shapes and sizes in all my aunts but there is definitely a slender gene that some of her siblings have inherited. My father has all brothers and it is hard to locate a definite body type from memory, but I remember it being said that women in the homestead of my paternal relatives where naturally heavier.

My mother and father had all daughters and we are varied too in our body shapes but more dominantly curvy. So it may perhaps be revealed further into my journey weather my body is the result of a natural gene inherited from my paternal woman relatives or the result of paying little attention to my diet in a context where foods had a lot of sugars and additives and also taking leave of exercise for period of time. I feel it is perhaps both in varying degrees.

But regardless of the contributing factors, normative or misdirected that formed my body, nevertheless it continues to persist in its beauty. Beauty and perfection are two different things, and I am not trying to pass one for the other. There are times that I am frustrated by my body as I am by other parts of my womanhood such as my mothering, but I continue to love and hold both passionately close to my center, they are not perfect, but they are sacred.


On that afternoon I wanted this to be known of my body. That it has been my lived experience of womanhood and has served me tirelessly. This body has suffered and borne joys. It has been as a fat young woman that I have accomplished some significant work for my family and my community. Quite alive and active in my body is a kind of a special brain. It was as a fat expectant woman almost two years ago that I completed a job interview at a down town shelter in significant labour pain, I wanted to stop but my body endured and did not fail me, later that evening in the same room where I stood in my towel, my body,in two pushes, with no medicinal assistance, gave life to a healthy male child of eight pounds and four ounces, I am glad that my full thighs received him. I can't believe that he was created inside this body, my glorious son! My body gives care and makes love and carries me here and there all day long, around the kitchen, on and off the bus, in and out of meetings. So standing in my towel after an afternoon shower, I consider with a sense of appreciation my fat woman body that encases the Image of God, and also encases me.