No great expectations

I’ve seen a lot of my granddaughter over the last few days and there’s nothing better for the soul than watching her find constant joy and surprises in the mundane rhythms of life.

She smiles when it rains; she is struck with awe each time the moon rises and she ‘wows’ at the stars and laughs at rainbows. The same cycle on repeat and the same sense of surprise again and again and again!

In her play world, little plastic people and animals come to life and perform extraordinary feats as she coaxes them on with her high-pitched chatter.

For Claudia, each new day is filled with joy, wonder and surprises. She has no expectations to rob her of experiencing the wonder of each day. Without that barrier of expectation she is free to be surprised and filled with wonder.

Walls of expectation kill relationships and prevent us from experiencing joy and capturing the wonder of the moment.

“Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing and are filled.” Ann Voskamp

You have a lot to teach your Nonna, young Claudia. Long may it continue!

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Multi-story thinking

I recently listened to Nigerian author Ngozi Adichie talk about the inherent dangers of the single story. By failing to understand and appreciate multiple stories, the single story can end up shaping how we view people, nations and entire continents; our assumptions and opinions skewed by our ignorance and judgements.

For the last two weeks I’ve been travelling – one week at a resort in Mexico, frequented mostly by Americans, and now in Colorado. As a result I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been guilty of casting all Americans into a single story stereotype. That story reads something like this: Americans are loud and overly confident; they talk too much; they are culturally insensitive and disinterested in what goes on beyond the borders of the USA. They are consumed by super-sized consumerism.

In my defence, I may have heard one too many single story-tellers in the last two weeks, but it would be wrong of me to judge all North Americans because of a single story, stereotypical few.

In fact, I have had the pleasure of spending time with some wonderfully innovative and intelligent people who are interested in learning and understanding more of the world; folks whose diverse and multi-faceted stories will help shape the future narratives of generations to come.

Please don’t think I’m being judgemental about Americans, because I know that as soon as I board the plane back to Australia and hear a typical Aussie accent, I will have to remind myself that it takes more than a single story to truly understand the diversity of us Aussies as well.

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Of Blood and Blogs

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well if that’s the case, Mr Hemmingway, I have been sitting at my laptop for weeks while my blood coagulates. I’ve been well and truly bogged down with bloggers block – sounds more alliterative than writer’s block.

Now don’t get me wrong, ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that I’m never short of an opinion and am happy to wax eloquently on numerous topics, but when it comes to committing my thoughts and feelings to the written word, well it’s all been a bit scary, really. Putting my words out there in the public arena fills me with all sorts of emotions. It’s as if my writing is somehow going to unearth this deeply buried Pandora’s Box which, once opened, will expose to the world the hidden and murky depths of my very soul.  All quite amusing really considering that only nine people actually follow my blog.

Over recent weeks I’ve just completed a creative writing course where I even ventured to share some of my writing with the class. Believe it or not there were no serious repercussions or violent backlashes, no opening of that infamous box. There were even one or two positive words of encouragement.

So here goes, I’m back in the blogosphere …

And Mr Hemmingway, if you have any tips for removing blood stains from a laptop I’d be much obliged.

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Hope in Haiti

I’m sitting by a log fire in the foyer of my hotel on a freezing cold, Colorado autumn day. A hot, spiced-latte is slowly thawing out my frozen body after I foolishly decided to take a walk wearing only a T shirt and thin jacket. When will I learn this is not Australia!

It’s just over two weeks now since I was in Haiti and it’s taken me a bit of time to process some of what I experienced. Although just a short flight from the USA, Haiti could be on a different planet when compared to how people live here.

Having read Paul Farmer’s book on Haiti post earthquake, I arrived in Port-au-Prince expecting to see fallen buildings and rubble all over the city. Sure, I saw one or two pancaked buildings, still untouched since that fateful day in 2010, as well as a fair amount of rubble piled up here and there. What I didn’t expect was the amount of new buildings that have been constructed in the last 12 -18 months as well as the hundreds of buildings still under construction. The Royal Palace, the nation’s symbol, so badly damaged in the quake and left in ruins for so long, has finally been demolished. International chains are building 4 and 5 star hotels. There is a building frenzy going on and to the outsider it could appear that life has returned to normal, whatever that looked like before.

However, you don’t have to look too far as you drive through the streets of Delmas, Carrefour, and even the more affluent Petionville to see flimsy, weathered US AID- provided tents clustered tightly together forming large makeshift communities of people still homeless since the quake. The International Organization for Migration reports that the number of displaced people still living in these camps three and half years after the disaster is around 320,000, possibly more.

Poor sanitation and a lack of clean water make these makeshift camps a breeding ground for diseases, including cholera. With poor lighting and unsecured tents, as well as a lack of effective law enforcement, Haitian women and children are especially vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence. Living in these desperate conditions means higher rates of crime and substance abuse.

Yet Haiti is not hopeless, I found hope everywhere I looked — hope in the smiles of the kids, even those living in tent cities; hope in the staff of the child development centres as they nurture and educate the children in their care towards a future free from the shackles of extreme poverty; hope in the passionate and determined men and women of Compassion Haiti who in spite of so much personal loss of family, friends and homes in 2010, were still as committed and faithful to working as tireless advocates for the children of Haiti.

More to come …

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A meadow in Oxford

Summer blue sky
 
Wispy clouds chased by gentle cooling breezes
 
Verdant riverbanks, dense and luscious
 
Geese feasting greedily on lunchtime leftovers
 
Murky waters gently flowing downstream, swirled up by passing punts and barges
 
A mother duck leading her ducklings in a row
 
Crowded tourist boats
 
Cameras frantically snapping the city of history behind me – freezing the moment for posterity
 
Children playing
 
Lovers embracing
 
The sound of birds, boats, laughter and diverse tongues
 
A moment to relax, refresh, reflect, renew …
 
Sitting under the shade of a horse chestnut tree that has overlooked this scene for thousands of days, I am thinking that every day should be enjoyed this simply.Image
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Doing it tough

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Burkina Faso is ranked 9th lowest in the Human Development Index. With a population of just over 15.8 million, the average age of its citizens is 17.

Unlike neighbouring Ghana, there are no cocoa or oil exports. Recent deposits of gold have been found, but they are unlikely to change daily life for the vast majority of Burkinabés.

Here the landscape is dry and harsh. During the rainy season it’s possible for subsistence farmers to grow crops and raise livestock, but when the dry season hits, there is no water to irrigate the crops and the average person living in the country is too poor to afford the costs involved of obtaining water from deep beneath the ground.

Flying in to Ouagadougou airport, all you can see for miles around is scrub and very red earth. Everything you touch has a fine coating of red soil. It begins to coat your throat after a few days. Life here is tough. You get the impression that for the vast majority every day is a struggle to survive.

On exiting the airport, hawkers try to sell you SIM cards and cheap souvenirs as well as offer to exchange US dollars. I feel embarrassed as we are whisked away through the chaos into the hotel van. We are afforded a 5 minute glimpse of the real Ouagadougou before pulling into the sanctity of the Hotel Azalai Indépendance. This is the place where expats, mainly French, gather by the pool on a hot Sunday afternoon, enjoying the benefits of a cooling swim and a few beers. If it wasn’t for the anachronism of cell phones and free wifi, I could easily believe I was back in the days of Colonialism. I am, however, very grateful for the French influence on the bakeries. The bread and croissants are as good as in Parisian restaurants. The poor Ghanaians have been left a legacy of British cuisine at its worst!

As soon as we leave the tranquility of our little oasis, we enter the chaos of cars, trucks, scooters, bikes and the occasional donkey and cart. Exhaust fumes, heat, dust and sweat can be overpowering as we try to navigate along the side of the road without being hit, in search of Burkinabé fabric.

Outside of the city, it seems to get even hotter and we follow the sealed road, which eventually leads to the Ghanian border, for about an hour. As soon as we pull off the main road we hit the dirt and create plumes of red dust which swirl behind our comfortable, air conditioned landcruiser.

Waiting to meet us at the village are men, women and children from not just this village, but from neighbouring ones too. Some have walked for many kilometres. A few of the children smile and wave, while others cower in fear as this is their first encounter with a white face!

We sit in the small village church, the men on one side, the women and children on the other. What is unusual about this meeting is that the church is filled not just with Christians, but there are Muslims, including the village chief, along with Animists and others. They are coming together in unity as part of a pilot community development program facilitated by the church. It seems to be having an amazing impact on this village and beyond. Many of the men and women testify that their lives are beginning to change as a result of working together and sharing ideas and resources to create food security and income generation. They are dreaming big and hopefully these gorgeous kids, many of whom are tied to their mothers’ backs, will grow up to complete their schooling; to become business owners; to be self sufficient.

Small steps of progress are being made, but life is still tough. I need to remember this place when I get back home. I need to be more grateful for what I have and be willing to share more.

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Through my eyes

I have the enormous privilege of occasionally travelling with my husband as he does research for Compassion International. As a result, I appreciate and understand the importance of objectivity and gathering good data etc in order to present valid evidence, but as an emotional arty-farty type, I tend to be very subjective and reactive so the following accounts of our West Africa adventures are based purely on my personal observations and opinions and are not in any way endorsed by my husband!

Africa draws me in every time. Although a continent of many lands and different cultures, there’s something about the combination of red earth, dust, crazy traffic and the warm smiles that warm my heart and give me hope for the future of this amazing continent.

Accra, Ghana’s capital, is a sprawling city. You can see the signs of development among the many building sites across the city. There’s also the Accra Mall filled with western style stores. ( Not necessarily a good sign of development!) Arriving at our ‘ Grand Hotel’ where the brochure promises that we will be treated as ‘royal guests’, we are greeted by staff in brightly coloured traditional dress who effortlessly swing our heavy bags onto their shoulders and climb two flights of stairs to our room. Along the same street are similar grandiosely named restaurants and hotels, pertaining to royalty and all things majestic.

Along the dusty streets sprawl myriads of shops and stalls where owners stand plying their wares from dawn until dusk. They sell everything from fridges, stoves, couches, audio gear, clothes, pulpits and even coffins. Trading names include Blessed by God electrical enterprises; Glorious healing hair salon; hallelujah hardware …

A predominantly Christian country, there are church signs in abundance and giant billboards with pictures of animated men in suits advertising crusades and healing ministries.

And then there’s the food. My western palette is not used to banku, fufu and palava sauce, although I did at least try some – once!

For me, the highlight of our few days in Ghana was the visit to a Compassion project where we were apparently the first white visitors to actually visit on a Saturday when all the children were there. I am always humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff and volunteers and of course it was a joy to be among the children.

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Back to school

Today was a big day. After 10 years of doing other things, I survived my first day back in the classroom!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love kids. That’s why I decided to study teaching at university way back in the day. However, most of my teaching career was spent teaching either French or English to middle and senior school students with the odd 20 minute French lesson to years 3 and 4. When I left teaching 10 years ago, for what I thought was forever, it was to work for an international child development organisation. However, over the last three years, circumstances have changed and a few weeks ago I applied to become a casual teacher and head back to the classroom.

Having said that, when the call came this morning asking me to spend the day team teaching Year 1, it was indeed a shock to the system. To be honest I was still in bed. So exactly 60 minutes later I was showered, dressed, caffeine-fuelled and ready to mark the roll!

The kids were great. I had a small group of eager young ladies who were more than happy to keep me accountable to the class routine and rules! I loved watching the children interact with each other as they worked out for themselves the answers to some of the questions surrounding the topic of Weather. It was fun to watch them solve problems and ask questions.

At ‘fruit break’ I was indispensable as a peeler of bananas and mandarins and at lunch time I switched roles from teacher to band-aid administrator, peace-negotiator and shoe-lace tier! In fact I lost count of the number of little boys who ran up and asked me most politely if I would tie their shoelaces.

As for the peace negotiations, well I reckon I could have given Ban Ki-moon a run for his money as I definitely managed to avert four potentially violent conflicts all in the space of 15 minutes!

After lunch we successfully negotiated a trip to the library and then finished the day at a Junior School Assembly, with many parents in attendance, where I sat trying to subtly chastise three little munchkins who thought it would be a good idea to tackle each other on the floor as well as pick their noses and talk through the entire proceedings!

Having said all that, it was a good day. A day that served to remind me just how much I love kids and what a privilege it is to influence and speak into their lives in a positive way.

To my friends and colleagues who do this 5 days a week, you have my utmost admiration. It’s 8:45pm. I’m knackered and off to bed!

 

 

 

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