Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Let us never live in stone houses"

I would like to share an exerpt I read in a book I am reading. It is a prayer of a man in Kenya which went lik this: “I pray that we never will live in stone houses.” The significance of “stone houses” is houses that we westerners live in or “rich” people meaning houses with doors and locks and cement. Here is what the father replied with: “People here live in little huts, and huts have no doors. That’s why your family is my family and my family is your family. But as soon as you move into a stone house, you build a door. And on the door you put a lock. And behind this door you begin to collect your belongings, and then you have to spend the rest of your life defending those belongings.” I can learn much from this attitude of openness as I think we all can. When was the last time you welcomed a stranger into your home or lent or gave your possessions freely to another person? We live in a culture completely on the opposite side of the spectrum where each individual family lives for themselves and relies on themselves. This applies obviously to individuals also where we desperately try to do everything ourselves without relying on the help of others. When we have to ask someone for help it is humiliating because our precious image of self-reliance and strength may be lost. We have this false idea that we need to do everything ourselves. Our doors are locked to others and we do not let others enter our homes to help us. Imagine if we lived without doors, where everyone felt free to enter their neighbours’ house to drink tea or to ask to borrow their lawnmower? What beauty is found in living in community where your family is my family and my family is your family. One experience I will not forget was in Ariwara where we visited the mother of one of the Sisters here. We arrived at the house (a hut to be exact) and were greeted by a dozen kids and were welcomed to sit and relax. When we were leaving the mother came out with a goat for us as a gift. This goat was not any old goat but the best and fattest goat. This offering meant that the family would most likely not eat meat for that month. Later Sr. Charlotte told us that they live by the motto: when you give, you give the best. The people here truly give their best, they are not stingy in giving. This reminds me of my birthday when my friend Bienvenue baked me a cake, which for Congolese is a special gift offering. She did not just bake any old cake but a cake which for me felt like it had 10 eggs in it and tasted as if it had 4 kilos of sugar.
To live with our door always open means detaching ourselves from our possessions, and when we detach ourselves from our possessions we become free. This reminds me of my arrival in Congo when I didn’t have my luggage for the first 2 weeks here. I can honestly say that this was a gift in disguise for me because I felt free without it. There was no worry about having my possessions stolen or damaged or thoughts about what to wear; one pair of clothes and the basic hygienic needs was all I needed. It was a weight off my back, just like living in huts without locks where we have no possessions to worry about.
The reference to the stone houses also refers to our hearts: our hearts that can easily be locked to others. So many times our hearts are locked to others and we put up barriers to keep people out of our lives. We fear others opinions, judgments, our own weaknesses and insecurities so we hide ourselves behind locked doors and our true self is not revealed in its unique beauty. When one is able to break free from these chains that hold us down what joy is found in this rebirth. Here in Africa I have realized how many insecurities and fears are created from simply living in a culture where you feel you are constantly being judged upon your status in life, your job, your education etc. To be able to simply live, this is a gift, this is beauty. This leads me to a quote by C.S. Lewis:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."
C.S. Lewis

The Charm of Africa: The Heart of Children

My feet know this earth well: the bumps along the road, the cluster of eucylyptus trees shooting like arrows into the sharp blue sky, the crops of corn, rice and manioc that grow with the energy of the hot sun, the “ndakos” or houses along the roadside where I can anticipate exactly which children will come running to me yelling “ciao ciao ciao” with their bare feet and clothes as black with dirt as their skin, the workers in the fields tilling the soil with their hoes’ under the hot sun, the mammas at the same corner of the route selling their bananas and peanuts, the flowers dripping with colour and brightness that makes your eyes widen and your feet stand still, the intricate coloured grasshoppers and butterflies with patterns that startle the unexpected North American’s eyes. The landscape here is a continual gift from God to me. Each day I am surrounded by dramatic colours and contrasts of the sky and the clouds and the trees that give me goosebumps. The darkening clouds set against the blue sky with the hot afternoon sun that casts its light against the soft twisting eucyltptus trees revealing colours of whites and browns wrought into the peeling bark is a moment when the whole world stops.
There is another beauty here other than nature which is the heart of children. Never have I gone a day here without encountering and greeting a child. They are everywhere. This is what gives Africa its charm: the constant reminder of the beauty of childhood. Their feet are always flying through the long tall grass, climbing up trees (many times climbing trees to fill their stomachs with mangoes and bananas), kicking a soccer ball or playing creatively with pieces of plastic or wood made into toy cars. The children here have nothing but they are they are content and play and run free without complaints. One experience I will never forget was when I was in Ariwara working at the hospital. I was washing the floor of the surgical room by myself one day when 3 children who are always hanging around the hospital came in and began to observe my work. They stood there for 1 or 2 minutes and then one by one began to wash the floor with me. The youngest was not yet 3 years old in my opinion and would stick his hands in the soapy bubbles and rub it all over the floor and then walk through it with his dirty feet. Despite the floor actually becoming dirtier with their help I couldn’t help but sit in awe over what I was experiencing. Here were 3 little kids who voluntarily started cleaning the floor with the biggest smiles on their faces as though it was play time. The 2 little boys bottoms were showing through the ripped shorts and none of them wore shoes. When I told them that the work was done I had to drag them out of the room. When would this ever happen at home in Canada? The children here find joy in the smallest things; they don’t need fancy toys to play with or brand name clothes: all they need is each other. The importance of community is very strong here and is something I truly admire about the culture here. Kids as young as 5 years old can be seen carrying their new born brother or sister or nephew or niece or some little child on their backs. When someone in the community or the family needs something or is sick there is always someone who is able and willing to give a hand. Also here people live much closer together in their villages and do not live in big houses with lots of space therefore resulting in people being more community oriented. Also everyday living here is physically demanding and if you are alone and have no community behind you your life will be much more difficult.
I will miss the children of Africa, always running after me and calling me by name. I will miss going to the field will a ball alone and leaving with 20 kids running behind me. The charm of Africa is truly the joy of the children who make you envious of their freedom and simplcity. But who said I can't still be like a child?