Thursday, October 11, 2007

Welcoming You

The time was right. We had spent months discussing when and how we would make ourselves ready to receive you. After returning from Africa and giving myself time to rest and heal from that beautiful and soul rending journey, your father and I cleansed our minds and bodies with a special diet and self-care program intended to aid in fertility. I loathed the spiritless mathematics of tracking my monthly cycle with daily measurements of temperature and fluid, but attempted to infuse the possibility of you into this monotonous information gathering. After only a few weeks of paying closer attention to my bodies signs I recognized the subtle change in my cycle and your father and I cleared a space in our hearts and minds and bodies to invite you to join us. On a small altar we placed a few things of meaning to us: a soft warm shawl, a small baby toy, a single candle, and a couple of stones. We burned some sage to cleanse our bed and lifted up a prayer to invite your sweet soul to find us…

Several hours later in the early morning hours a vivid dream came over me…

Your father and I were guests at a large celebration in an enormous and beautiful mansion. The host suggested that we step outside the ballroom to have a look at the stars. On the balcony, just the two of us in the balmy night air, we were stunned to see stars and planets like we had never seen on this earth before hanging in the sky. They were huge and brilliant and colorful! As we took in the awe-inspiring sight a gentle rain began to fall. Filled with wonder and joy we began dancing around the balcony. I started to spin around and around and suddenly felt an intense energy spiral down through my body with so much power that I began to lift off the ground. It was wonderful and frightening and I called out to your father to grab my hand to hold me to the earth. I felt his strong, warm hands anchor me even as the energy continued spinning through my body. I awoke to find that I had actually called for him out loud and he was there holding me. For several moments I was still aware of the spiral force within my body…and intuitively I knew…you had arrived.

It wasn’t until 2 weeks later at the family cabin, a special place for us, that technology confirmed what my spirit already knew…I am pregnant with you. What an honor. We welcome you great soul. Thank you for choosing us. I can’t wait to meet you face to face in March. In the meantime I will enjoy this intimacy we share and continue clearing space for you in my heart, mind, body, and home.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


The first time I traveled to Africa 2 years ago I returned with a deeper level of personal awareness of my impact on the earth and it’s peoples. I turned a new corner in a journey that had already begun in my soul long before; one of a deepening consciousness about global issues regarding the environment, trade, health, and human rights. But since my return from Africa on this last trip, I can only say that I am even more awake than ever…excruciatingly awake to the terrible injustice that exists on our planet and my complicity in it. Everywhere I look I am confronted with it. It hides under thinly disguised and not-so-thinly disguised trade policies, corporate expansion plans, military actions, and even humanitarian aid campaigns…I see it in my home in the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the fuel in my car, the cell phone I use, and the diamond ring on my hand. Even my house is built on stolen soil, stained by the blood and tears of the native Duwamish tribe…and I cannot wash it off of my hands no matter how hard I try. The oppression is pervasive. I realize that I will never be able to truly sleep again…even when I forget for a moment and begin to live in the daydream that is our society…I am shaken out of it again and again. Tormented.

It is difficult to describe the outrage and grief I’ve experienced upon the realization that the very act of living on this American soil and participating--if even in the most conscious ways--in this economy, means I am paying for the very injustice I claim to stand against. It is the most agonizing paradox. I pay my taxes and grit my teeth while my money funds environmental degradation, violence, and unthinkable kinds of exploitation. My very skin symbolizes generations of conquest, arrogance, murder, slavery, and global oppression. I feel like a snake trying to shed my skin only to find another layer of the same stuff underneath and I wonder if I will lose my mind.

The words from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible move me. One of the characters especially resonates with me: Leah Price came to Congo as a young, naïve American girl with her missionary family in 1960. Now and adult living in Congo and married to a Congolese man her “awakening” haunts her too…

“Be kind to yourself," he says softly in my ear, and I ask him, How is that possible? I rock back and forth on my chair like a baby, craving so many impossible things: justice, forgiveness, redemption. I crave to stop bearing all the wounds of this place on my narrow body. But I also want to be a person who stays, who goes on feeling anguish where anguish is due. I want to belong somewhere, damn it. To scrub the hundred years’ war off this white skin till there’s nothing left and I can walk out among my neighbors wearing raw sinew and bone, like they do. Most of all, my white skin craves to be touched and held by the one man on earth I know has forgiven me for it.

The book closes with this beautiful and healing passage from the perspective of Ruth May, Leah’s young, dead sister…

The teeth at your bones are your own, the hunger is yours, forgiveness is yours. The sins of the fathers belong to you and to the forest and even to the ones in iron bracelets, and here you stand, remembering their songs. Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember…Move on. Walk forward into the light.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Dark Passage

Several weeks ago dear friends gave me the gift of allowing me to borrow their log cabin in northern Washington for a few days where I escaped to try to find myself. Here I immersed myself in things that move the deep waters of my soul… the art of Andy Goldsworthy, the poetry of Rumi, the music of Arvo Part. I stood in the rain under the tall pines for a long time until I felt a black heaviness begin to drain out of me. I was visited by the healing presence of deer and hummingbirds as I wept and wrote and sat in stillness.

Since my return from Africa three months ago I have been cocooned in sorrow, rage, and utter bewilderment. I have been tormented by searing questions about my purpose and my faith. I have staggered under the weight of human suffering, injustice, and the seemingly inevitable destruction we have brought upon this planet—our home. I hurt so much for all the inequity, fear, and humiliation that so many in our human family are experiencing. I feel so frustrated by my powerlessness, by my inability to even revolutionize my own household. I am filled with an unfocused passion that yields futility, and I envy those whose hearts seem to have found a home—something they believe in to pour their time, energy, and skills into. My ambition is my bane. I cannot accept being less than some imagined Great Liberator for mankind. Yet I cannot even free myself. I am paralyzed by the unending array of suffering before me and the desire growing in my belly threatens to tear to me to pieces…yet, I don’t know where to put this fire—before it devours me.

I have avoided writing here for some time because I could not bring myself to begin processing all that I saw and experienced in the Congo or how that trip has affected my inner life in profound and disturbing ways. I think it is time that I begin to let the words flow, if only for my own healing conduit. Thank you for traveling with me here on this dark passage.

Monday, March 05, 2007


After two incredible weeks of wild animals and beautiful beaches in Kruger and Cape Town, South Africa...and over 30 hours of travelling back to Seattle...Pat and I are home. It is good to see my cats and sleep in my own bed and take a hot shower, but I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed by the shock of it all. Re-entry sucks. It feels as if I had started another life in Africa, one that I was meant to live, and now I'm back home and trying to figure out how to reconcile it all. I guess one thing's for's in my bones and it always will be...connecting with other cultures, experiencing the land, the food, the music, the lifeblood of others so different from me, and yet my family. Bearing witness to injustice and suffering and hope and passion...this story is not over, it has just begun...
More soon.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

DRC Journal: Entry 7

Last night I had the privelege of meeting a traditional chief and eating fried ants (yep, I did it!) . Tomorrow I leave Congo to meet Pat in South Africa. It has been quite an adventure and I’m sure I’ll be processing my experiences for some time to come. I don’t plan on posting for the next two weeks, but there are many more reflections I will share upon my return home, including more specifics about a project I hope to help develop and participate in here. Thank you to all of you who have walked alongside me in one way or another during this journey, your presence is felt. Hope you’ll check in again in March.

Safari Njema!

DRC Journal: Entry 6

Not even the dead can rest in peace in Congo. Today I drove past Kimbaseka, a huge cemetery that has been overgrown with high weeds and suffered extreme damage from flooding. Shreds of clothing and human bones are laid bare in the badly eroded earth. This is just another sign of the complete breakdown of infrastructure in this country. There are no phone lines, no functioning bank or postal system, no garbage removal, inconsistent availability of water and electricity, and utterly destroyed roads.

Yet on the other side of the cemetery I found hope once again in the determined faces of women. It was a self-initiated and operated community co-op. In weekly gatherings these women come together to offer what little they have to a community pot that each of them has the opportunity to take loans from to increase business capacity or to use as insurance in case of medical emergencies, etc. By working together they have been extremely successful at developing a strong support system with transparency and accountability.

Tears streamed down my face as I told them about how during my travels in DRC over the past month I have continued to witness the most beautiful, courageous women that are holding together families, communities, and so this country. Because of their commitment children are in school, food is on the table, and those who are sick are getting treatment. They are effectively raising their own status in society. Even men admit that Congo, indeed Africa, is being held up on the backs of women. I have been encouraged by more than one thoughtful, intelligent Congolese man, “If you are going to help Congo – please, please help our women.” It is not that men aren’t also integral to the health and vitality of this country but it appears that the society is undergoing a shift towards a more balanced power structure in which women are in the process of standing up to take their place in this new order of authority, and importantly, to be recognized for the strength and stability they provide.

One last time I danced and sang with these jubilant burden bearers, and as I pulled away I heard the now familiar cry---

“Do not forget about us.”

DRC Journal: Entry 5

Abused at home she had run away as a young teen only to find prostitution as her only means of survival. Now rescued off of the unforgiving streets of Kinshasa in a home where she is learning how to sew and how to deal with the stark reality that she is HIV+, Janine hopes to help other young girls like her have a chance at life.

It is estimated that there are at least 50,000 others like her on Kinshasa’s streets…Thrown away children, lost and forgotten.

There is a growing movement in some fundamentalist churches here wielding a distorted, fear-based religion that makes mass accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. It’s followers are encouraged to indiscriminately banish people and things from their homes that might be “unclean”. Children have been targeted in the hysteria…and once again the innocents suffer.

There are churches here that truly aim to follow Jesus’ example and are reaching out to these “witch-hunt refugees”, but the street kids are understandably hesitant to once again put their trust in an institution that has so deeply wounded and betrayed them.

How is it that a religion that is supposed to be based on love and the sanctity of life can be responsible for so much suffering?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

DRC Journal: Entry 4

Back in Kinshasa after some of the wildest adventures of my life…

Last week I headed to Baraka, an 8-hour drive into heavily war-affected areas south of Bukavu via Rwanda. Here I stayed at the UNHCR guest house with a wonderfully random collection of aid workers who had forged a unique family with one another in this remote and severe post-war environment where militias still roam and security is tenuous. From our base Lisa and I traveled with a staff member from Women for Women International over the roughest off-road terrain I’ve ever experienced to visit several small villages in the surrounding mountains where there were “sisters” we had sponsored through Run For Congo Women. Our reception was unbelievable, even in the midst of such poverty and suffering these women dressed in their finest fabrics and greeted us with flowers and singing. We spent hours listening to their stories and delivering greetings from our friends and family in America. Our main message to them was this: “We know about you, you matter to us, and we love you.”

The large majority of these women were recent returnees from refugee camps in neighboring Tanzania where some of them had spent up to 10 years after fleeing the conflict in Congo. 90% of them were rape victims, some of them numerous times. Most of them had lost children as a result of the war due to violence, malnutrition, and preventable disease. One woman I met had lost 10 children. It was too painful for her to even recall all of their names. The majority of these women had lost their husbands in the war or had been abandoned by them because of the rape and were left alone, struggling to provide for their children. The brutality they have seen and experienced is unimaginable…cruelty so dark I can’t even write about it here. I am trembling just thinking about it.

One of the very special opportunities I had was to distribute small hand-made glass hearts to these women as a token of hope and solidarity. The hearts were made by a friend of mine who is a rape survivor and asked me to pass them along with a message that even though we live far apart and have very different life experiences we can understand eachother’s pain and care for eachother as sisters. She asked me to tell them that everytime they hold the small heart in their hand they will remember that they are not forgotten and that beauty can come out of suffering. The women loved this small gift and begged us not to forget them. I never will.

Near the end of the week we took a small boat out to an island peninsula in Lake Tanganyika to visit one last village. It was clear these people rarely get visitors and our arrival was cause for a major celebration. From far away we could see tiny figures running down the side of the mountain and gathering at the beachfront. What followed is something I will never forget for as long as I live…

First the singing came to us on the wind and as we drew closer we could see the moving mass of brightly colored clothing, palm branches and flowers waving, and grass mats laid out for us to step onto as we disembarked. The entire village received us with laughter, embraces, and squeals of delight. We were immediately caught up in an impromptu parade, winding up the mountain through the village, carried by the jubilant singing, dancing, and drumming. It was breathtaking!

Next we were presented with a formal welcome address from village leaders along with gifts of chickens, goats, eggs, rice, wood carvings, and weavings. Just writing about it makes me want to weep, it was so beautiful and surreal. Hours passed visiting and dancing together before it was time for us to head back. Once again they accompanied us down the mountain to the beach and sang a farewell as we pulled away. Within minutes the sky darkened, a huge storm appeared on the horizon, and the wind ripped the canvas top off of the boat. We scrambled for our life jackets as the water grew rougher and the captain decided we had no choice but to turn back immediately.

We reached the shore just as the torrential rains came up on our backs. I heard women’s voices as strong hands emerged from the opaque night and led us quickly up into the village. I felt utterly powerless, completely at the mercy of our new friends’ kindness. We were huddled into a small house with nothing but an oil lamp and within minutes bed mats were fetched for us (I know some generous souls slept on the hard earth that night for our benefit). Two men volunteered to stand guard outside our door all night long to ensure our safety. Lying there on my back in disbelief of the turn of events, listening to the loud chirps of bats in the eaves, my fears diminished and a strange peace washed me to sleep. We headed back at early light feeling like our hearts had become a little more African after that magical night.

This was followed by two of the most stressful travel days I’ve ever experienced. Racing to get back through Rwanda before the border to Congo closed we ran into a huge backup on the road where a UN SUV was half sunk in a muddy hole. After helping extract the vehicle we made it literally in the last minute over the border. I’ve been learning that in Congolese speak “no problem” actually means “there could be a major problem here.” I’ve in turn been teaching my Congolese friends what “by the skin of your teeth” means.

The following morning I caught an early boat for the four hour ride from Bukavu to Goma on Lake Kivu. Shortly after arrival in Goma I was supposed to catch a plane to Kinshasa. Due to some miscommunication my ticket had an old date on it and was not accepted. With the help of a local translating for me they finally let me go to the plane at which point I was told the plane was full and they were not accepting any of the 15 or so passengers still waiting with me to get on. I think the flight attendants saw the look of horror on my face as I realized I was completely alone in a small town in Congo with only a few dollars left, no where to stay, and no other flights to Kinshasa for several days. I was the only woman in the crowd and the only “muzungu” (light skinned person). It was no longer an adventure…it had become a nightmare. But just as they were closing the doors to the plane I heard my name called. The flight attendants called me up and quickly ushered me to the last seat on the plane, amidst yells of frustration from those left on the tarmac. I’ll never know exactly why I got to get on but I didn’t dare ask questions at that point, I just sunk into my seat with a profound sense of relief and gratitude.

Now safe and sound here in Kinshasa I’ve met up with my friend Pakisa Tshimika, director of Mama Makeka House of Hope, who arranged much of this trip for me and with whom I will be partnering with on a community development project here. I have spent the past two days processing and recovering from all I’ve seen and experienced. Finally being able to rest an extreme exhaustion has overtaken me and I could barely function for a whole day. I feel emotionally raw as I am just beginning to come to terms with the suffering I’ve encountered. I am glad to have a few days here to gather myself, do laundry, re-pack and get ready to reunite with Pat in South Africa next week for a much anticipated holiday together.

I am full of ideas about my continued involvement here in Congo and am working on developing a plan which I look forward to sharing with you soon. I will try to post again later this week. Til then, peace to you all.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

DRC Journal: Entry 3

I spent some time at a child soldier repatriation center earlier in the week. Hundreds of young boys are brought here after having been rescued or escaped from enforced service in various militias. So many had stories of committing unspeakable atrocities...some could not even bear to remember their experiences. Talking and joking with them in my very limited Swahili it was hard to imagine these young, bright faces had seen and participated in so much violence. Childhoods stolen, innocence lost...what will become of them?

Yesterday I spent the day with the staff of Copare, a coalition of local peace and reconciliation organizations. I learned so much from these amazing Congolese human rights defenders about conflict resolution and trauma healing. They spent hours helping me understand some of the intricacies of the issues of violence, poverty, and politics in DRC. They were thrilled that I had come to see and learn for myself. They encouraged me that my experiences "on the ground" in DRC would help make me a much better advocate for peace in Congo when I return to the U.S. I especially connected with Pierre Zihindula, a kind and gentle father of 9 who along with his work in facilitating community dialogues for reconciliation is effecting social change from the roots up by challenging gender norms in his own family. He and his wife are raising their boys and girls with a genuine understanding of equality and respect in the face of cultural assumptions that devalue women. His story moved me with a sense of him I see the peacemaker I aspire to be.

Tomorrow I will head south to the Uvira region over 7 hours worth of horrible roads. I will be traveling with my friend Lisa, founder of Run For Congo Women, who is also in Bukavu now. We will spend a week in the bush visiting rural areas to meet participants in the Women For Women International empowerment program that have been sponsored as a result of Run For Congo Women. I will have the opportunity to meet many sisters who were sponsored by the Seattle Hike For Congo Women I organized last fall. I look forward to passing on greetings from those of you who pledged or participated in the hike. I also get to meet Furaha, the woman I personally sponsor and correspond with.

On February 11th I will head to Kinshasa and hope to post again sometime that week.
Kwa Heri! ...bye for now

Friday, February 02, 2007

DRC Journal: Entry 2

Jambo! Habari gani? Greetings from Bukavu!
I have seen and experienced so much in the past week it feels
as though several weeks have passed already. I am on
the far east side of DRC on Lake Kivu, walking distance
from the Rwandan border. It is stunningly beautiful
here amidst the horrifying backdrop of a war zone.
The Congolese have a tenacity of spirit similar to
what I recall sensing from other war-affected people
during my travels in the middle east.

I am staying with a family of 9 here, experiencing a
taste of Congolese daily life. I am enjoying
plantains, cassava, peanuts, dried fish, mangos, and
bananas. i even had goat meat last night, but decided
to pass on the dried monkey meat. Unfortunately I've
had a bad case of "traveler's tummy" but am starting to
feel better now. The woman I am staying with, Yvette Kalumuna,
directs PAREC, a peace and reconciliation organization that is
working on an arms exchange program for the many
militias still roaming the mountains. She facilitates
dialogue with militia leaders and collects their
weapons in exchange for highly valued tin roofing
materials and bicycles. The weapons are then
destroyed during community gatherings - a practical
act of peacebuilding and a symbolic rejection of
violence. She is a brave and passionate woman and I
am deeply inspired by her committment to healing the
wounds of her country.

I spent today with Yvette's husband Dr. Dieudonne,
director of treatment for leprosy and TB in this
region for the ministry of health. He works closely
with the Leprosy Mission headed here by an Australian
woman named Maggie Mead who has lived here for 14
years, through three wars. Quite a woman! Leprosy is
still an issue here but new cases are decreasing.
Much of their work addresses the needs of families
affected by leprosy due to the disability it causes
and the associated stigmatization. TB is on the rise
here due to its connection with poverty, malnutrition,
and HIV. Many continue to die of this preventable
disease every day.

Yesterday I visited Panzi hospital especially known
for it's work with the multitude of rape victims from
the war. Thousands of women have been treated here
for rape-related injuries including many who were shot
and mutilated with sticks, knives, and gun barrels
resulting in fistulas. Doctors here specialize in
fistula operation and women travel here from far and
wide for a cure. I met one woman here who was raped
and tortured at the age of 17 during the height of the
war. She has been at the hospital, away from her
family for over 6 years now enduring one operation
after another. She said that she did not feel human
anymore and had no future.

I also met a precious 5-yr. old girl named Julie who
had just returned from 8 months of medical treament in
the US after being gang raped and shot by militia.
Last week I visited with women in a small village
outside of Bukavu who told their stories of being
raped and then shunned by their husbands, families,
and communities. I met women who are pregnant as a
result of rape and some who have also been infected
with HIV. The stories like these are unending.
Though most of the conflict related violence is
diminishing these women will continue to suffer for
years to come due to the physical, psycho-emotional,
and social wounds that have been inflicted on them.
My heart does not stop cracking open...
Even so, there is q sense of hope present. It is in
the air - a tangible desire for peace, stability, and
prosperity. People seem tired of just surviving.
They are careful not to be too optimistic as they have
seen the country plunge into war and political
instability all too many times. But leaders are
arising, choosing to forge ahead to develop a better
place for their children even in the face of
overwhelming odds.

...internet cafe closing... more to come...