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To Give Your All

Sometimes without your consent, your life cracks into a hundred little pieces, leaving you with nothing left to do but sweep up the shards and try not to think about anything else but the very second you're living and the task before you. 

You report your losses when asked without pity or emotion because you know that yours pale in comparison to others you have known.  Compassion is something you traded in for commitment long ago, and so you do your work and you offer your best without fanfare or ego.

This is what is said without saying, and I understand but not from experience.  My way is to pick up my pieces and belabor them, to rearrange them like a thousand piece puzzle without the box, forgetting over and over again how anything fits.  My way is to broker my work like currency in exchange for privilege--the luxury of company in this catastrophe, a first row seat to a disaster where love always wins.

This is the picture the kid took of you when no one was looking, when all she could see was how kind you are, even when you saw her sad, even when you do the only thing left you know how to do--to give your all.



Where Chelsea Stands

One of the things I can never get over in my travels in East Africa is how loved the children are.  I grew up on images of kids covered in flies in need of missionaries and salvation, only to arrive on the continent a lifetime later and find that the only person in need of redemption was myself.

This week on a last minute quiet trip to East Africa, I spent hours and hours in a very congested city, talking to my very savvy driver Rogers.  No one will develop you, he told me, without wanting something in return.  And I knew it was true for me most especially.  For every good thing I have done in Africa, there is a deep and dark demand, a desperate longing to be folded into the togetherness for which I have no birthright. 

I did not survive the genocide, Innocent once told me, to be confused about money and love. 

But still I don't understand.  I'm still buying my way into the place where Chelsea stands, secure in the knowing she can never be alone.  I'm still hoping something will make that place inside a strong embrace the place I deserve to land, simply because I am, simply because it was always meant to be.



Kwizera Alfred's Hope

Picture Hope: Kwizera Alfred, Musician from LittlePurpleCow Productions on Vimeo.

Five minute video interview.

Alfred came in and out of Alex and Goreth's home during our stay in Rwanda, sharing tea and stories with us. And when he spoke in a soft voice about his dream of sharing his music with the world, I could feel his unwavering faith in that dream. A faith that has been tested by the loss of his parents, lack of finances, and a commitment to help provide food, shelter, and school tuition for his brothers and sisters. "So how do you hold on to hope?" I wondered aloud during one of his stories.

"You have to trust. I trust everyone, and believe that God is there for me – even when I have no one and nothing," he replied. And then he placed his trust in me, and insisted that I accept his bible as a gift just before we left Rwanda. Packing that bible was difficult for me. I don't deserve it. And as the months have passed, seeing that bible beside my bed has been a gentle reminder of Alfred's presence. A visible sign of his faith. There's not much that I can do for him, but share his light with you. And hope you'll share it too. 


What Strength Looks Like

Praise, manager of local non-profit organization BEST (Business and Entrepreneurship Support Tanzania), and her team introduced us to several of their clients during our visit with them in Arusha. She explained to us that the poorest of the poor are eager to cultivate the land if they are supported with farm inputs, seed capital and farm acquisition.

This is Agness, a wife and young mother. She welcomed us into her modest home in Magadini Village to show us her baby and share her life with us. Thanks to BEST's seed capital and business services' support, Agness is able to support her family with the money she earns cultivating her rice paddy. Quietly, she moved with ease out to the center of the muddy field for me to make her portrait. Patient and proud. This woman's strength humbles me.

Update 01/28/10:

I just received an email from Praise at BEST. She writes, "Agness has just harvested her rice. She harvested 14 bags and all are stored in her single room. By next week I will send you her amazing pictures. Others are doing fine too with a lot of demand and expectations from BEST. They want to copy from Agness." If you want to offer support for people like Agness in Arusha, let me know and I'll connect you with my friends at BEST.


Those Ladies

Odette tells the story of selling chickens and eggs as a child in order to care for the needs of herself and her friends in the refugee camps of Uganda.  By the time we finished, she likes to say.  We felt like those ladies from the big organizations who lend people money.

I always loved that part of the story--little girls feeling as powerful as grownups who were committed to making a change--but I didn't really know what she meant.  Until Tanzania.

In Tanzania, I met those ladies and immediately fell under their spell.  They are quiet, they are wise.  They are measured in their energy and fierce in their focus.  They are staring down poverty--its ravages, its sources, its brutal effects--and they know what to do.  They are executing their own particular brand of justice--passing over the one they are supposed to favor for that girl in the back with fire in her eyes.  They are placing their bets on that live wire, even as they readjust their enormous handbags and stamp the dust out of their fashionable shoes. 

They are believing the girls they choose can show the rest how to escape the bowels of hell. 

Meet Juliet, the program trainer for BEST.  It is her job to teach the entrepreneurial skills the poorest of the poor need to enter the market.  I watched as she checked in on all the women she serves, questioning them like your favorite aunt--the one who believes in you and at the same time won't mince words if you need to hear the truth.  She is tending them like a garden of possibility, one promising seedling at a time.

I don't always take a good picture, she told me. But I doubted it could possibly be true.  How could the camera not love this radiance?  How could the lens turn away from this bedrock determination that everything is going to be just fine?