Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things to pack when traveling to Mali

I am a fastidious packer.  In fact, my husband makes relentless fun of me when we are getting ready to travel.  He is a 'throw a few pairs of shorts in a backpack'' kind of guy, while I am of the school that makes multiple lists, organizes with a staging area for weeks before the big trip and spends countless hours thinking about what I am likely to need.

Having said that, the following is a snapshot of what my suitcases are going to contain for a 17 day trip to Mali, West Africa.

  • Bug repellent.  I use 3M Ultrathon, a long acting, highly effective repellent reccomended by the travel clinic.  I bring one tube per week and bring it in my carry on bag so it won't get lost in transit.  
  • Sunscreen.  I am a ginger.  Need I say more?
  • Hat.  Ditto.
  • Travel plug adapters.  Turns out most modern electronic gear does not need an actual converter, but does need an adapter to plug in to Mali outlets, which are 220v European style.
  • Clothes, of course.
  • Electronics.  An embarrassing array, really:
    • Ipad
    • Still camera
    • Video camera
    • Good quality digital recorder.  (I am going to Mali, after all, home of the best musicians in the world.)
    • Bluetooth speakers (See above) 
    • NIMH battery chargers
    • Kindle
    • plugs, outlets, av cables, aux cables, etc. for all of the above
  • A small throw for chilly nights
  • A well-stocked medical kit which includes:
    • Antibacterial cream
    • bandaids
    • gauze pads
    • Zpac antibiotics
    • Malarone anti-malarial meds
    • Cipro - for diarrhea
    • Ambien- for sleeping on the plane and jet lag
    • homeopathic jet lag medicine
    • Airborne
    • Emergen-C
    • tweezers
    • small scissors
    • Benadryl
  • A tripod
  • A sketchpad and some pencils
  • Deck of cards
  • My pillow
  • Ear plugs
  • Chap stick
  • 2 pairs of sandals- one dressy and one casual
  • flip flops for the bathroom
  • And speaking of bathrooms- wetwipes and mini kleenex packs for the public bathrooms in Mali.  
I also pack my positive attitude and prayer.  Travel is an adventure that is so much better when you are in a good place spiritually and emotionally.

Friday, July 22, 2011

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Facebook Wisdom

A few of my facebook friends posted this:

Don't like gay marriages? Don't get one.. Don't like cigarettes? Don't smoke them.. Don't like abortions? Don't get one.. Don't like sex? Don't have it.. Don't like drugs? Don't do them.. Don't like porn? Don't watch it.. Don't like alcohol? Don't drink it.. Don't like guns? Don't buy one.. Don't like your rights taken away??? Don't take away someone else's. {re-post if you agree}

Needless to say, I didn't repost.

It is so hard for people to understand that personal rights can't trump the health and well being of the society as a whole. My right to kill you is trumped by your right to live.

Illegal drugs, for example. A personal right? Really? Tell that to the 40,000 Mexicans who have been murdered recently in the drug wars. Maybe the Mexicans would disagree that this is a victimless crime.

And abortion is a personal right? Tell that to the 45 million people who have died in the world this year.

Even something like smoking cigarettes has massive impact on the society as a whole. We ALL pay for health insurance. We all have to bear the burden of the people who are killing themselves with cigarettes. We are all impacted if we go into a public space where people are smoking. So, not only am I a fan of banning smoking in public places, but I also favor taxing cigarettes. I KNOW it has been a factor in some of my friends choosing to quit. And the tax money can go towards supplementing the health care costs that weigh all of us down.

Yup. No. I won't be reposting this one.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Resting in the Lord

Is it possible that the act of trusting another person can also lead to a deeper trust in the Lord?

I have learned to trust in the act of confession. I trust the sacramental nature of it. I trust the person sitting on the other side of the screen. In my case, my confessor is always someone I know, so it is an even greater trust knowing that I will see him again outside of the box.

But God has led me to a place of courage.

And in that place of courage, Love resides. God is there and his love surrounds and fills us and invites us to rest in him.

Which I do from time to time.

But never more than after a challenging confession.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The art of medium well

Today a friend was talking about her 50th birthday.

It makes me wonder if I am ever going to do anything significant, she said.

I believe that for me, the answer is no.

I used to think that I was going to be exceptional. At what, I was less sure, but I really thought that someday, somehow, I would be.... known for something.

I know I have posted before about my exceptional parents. I grew up thinking that everyone had parents that were well known. I grew up thinking that it was expected that you would accomplish at least one extraordinary thing in your life.

Some of my parent's exceptional friends seem to have had exceptional offspring. One is releasing his 4th or 5 album this month. Another just won a genius grant from the MacArthur folks. (He is, incidentally, the second one of his exceptionally talented family to snag that particular distinction.)

And since I have posted about this before, it might seem like I am obsessing, but since my friend brought it up, I decided that I really need to set the record straight.

I am not exceptional, except perhaps in my fondness for junk television and fascination with historical travelogues of West Africa. (I love you, Mungo Park. Hope to meet you on the other side some day.)

I think that it was the King himself who finally lifted the burden of exceptional from me. Jesus pointed to the beauty of ordinariness. He calls us to be extraordinary in the most ordinary of ways. He asks us to be Holy, as God is Holy, even as he tells us that no one is Good except God.

We cannot be extraordinary Christians. We are always going to be mediocre, stumbling in our faith, prone to sin and selfishness, spiritual goofballs that have to learn the same lessons over and over again.

But truly I tell you, I would rather be a striving to be better Christian than an exceptional anything else.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


And after a weekend of gorgeous weather, lovely drumming, church, great food, even a beer or two, I am trying to get back into work brain.

It is a tough transition sometimes.

So, off to bed I go to read some psalms and say some prayers and get ready for the week ahead.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does this mean I am officially a zealot?

Almost every day, one of my facebook friends posts a picture of a dog that is destined to be put to sleep in a shelter, somewhere in the country.

I am never sure what we are supposed to do about it, but every time I see it, I think of the thousands of tiny, unwanted babies who die every day at the hands of a doctor in a clinic.

It's not that I don't love dogs. It's that I think our society is just, well, a little confused in it's priorities.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holy Week was just one big LOVE fest this year

I am still feeling like I spent a weekend away with the love of my life.

My Sweet Friend has drawn me close in the last week. I feel very blessed indeed.

And joyful that the Easter season lasts until Pentecost...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom is read at the end of Orthros (Matins) at Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, universally throughout the Orthodox Church. It was composed sometime during his ministry in the late 4th or early 5th century.

"If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense."

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

Thank you to Peter+ for sending this to me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

News from the Vigil

I have good news.

Yesterday during the three hour meditation at church, I was reflecting on Jesus crying out to God from the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Sadder words have never been spoken. A more anguished cry I could not imagine. And for years now I have tried to understand how it could be that Jesus would be forsaken.

Good Friday has been for me, in the past, a day to meditate on my sins. I bring them to the foot of the cross and spend three mostly agonizing hours contemplating that the weight of them is partly what brought Jesus to hang on the tree. In Triduums past, the heaviness of my sin and the depth of my grief over His death has lingered long past the Easter Sunday service. It was like Lent sprawled beyond it's 40 days and seeped into the Easter season. One year it was nearly Pentecost before I got to feel the resurrection in my heart.

So it was strange, then, in the midst of a Good Friday service, to suddenly feel a sense of overwhelming joy. And stranger still that the joy would come from the words of Christ's agony on the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The joy was this: Jesus took upon himself the sins, hurts, anger and grief of the world. He carried these things with him onto the cross so that we could be forgiven, redeemed, set free. He became fully human in order to save us humans. And part of being human is to be forsaken by God. It is an integral part of the human experience. King David felt it. Job certainly felt it. Scripture is full of stories of men and women suffering because they feel forsaken by God. I can't explain why. I just know that there have been moments in my own life, even as a Christian, when I felt distant from God. Like he had slid far away, to a place where I could not follow.

A few years before becoming a Christian, a friend of mine died of a heroin overdose. I went to his funeral at a Catholic church in Providence. I was into the new age stuff at that point, and was having a hard time reconciling my grief for my friend's death with the sense that I was somehow supposed to feel peace knowing that he was in a better place. Imagine my relief, then, when the priest spoke of Jesus at Lazarus' graveside, weeping with Mary and Martha. Even Jesus, who understood that Lazarus was going to rise from the dead, was weeping in grief. My sweet Friend, whom I did not yet know, came to me in that darkened church and gave me permission to feel as grief stricken as I did.... no apologies, no trying to pretend I was too enlightened for grief. He sat with me and wept at the grave of my friend. Because Jesus was fully human, too... and cried right along with me.

Last year when the flood destroyed Nguyen's business, I spent several weeks feeling like I was supposed to be handling the whole thing better. I am a Christian, after all. I know that God has a plan and that he can redeem even the most difficult situations. So why was I in such pain, such anger, such helplessness? I cried so much... all the while having to listen to some of my Christian friends tell me that God had a plan for all of it. Sometimes it didn't feel that way. And knowing it didn't seem to help. In fact, sometimes their words felt like hollow shortcuts through my fear and pain... a way for them to avoid the unpleasant reality of my suffering.

Yesterday in the church, as we contemplated the last words of Christ before his death, I suddenly understood that even our Lord felt forsaken while he suffered.

Let me repeat that.

Our Lord felt forsaken on the cross.

And because he was fully human and came to earth to redeem us, his experience means something. It means that no matter how separated from God we might feel in our moments of grief or loss or anger, we are not alone in that. Jesus is there with us. He is experiencing it right along with us.

Which means we are never actually alone.

So maybe next time something happens that causes me grief, I will rest a little easier knowing that Jesus is truly there with me.

My sweet, sweet Friend. Even in your agony, you draw close to us. Even in your pain, you give so generously. Thank you my Beloved. In your suffering, Lord, ours is redeemed. I praise you and worship and love you. Lord, you have taken on the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Holy Holy Holy

This is my 7th Lent as a Christian, and every year I am given a gift from our Lord. And every year so far it has been some kind of painful. It isn't easy spending time in the desert. No. Not at all.

I was having lunch with my spiritual director this week and remembered something from my days as a student of tarot. In the ancient Jewish tradition of the Tree of Life, there is one branch that has both Mercy and Severity.

For me, Lent is both of those things. Severe and Merciful.

Holy Week is fast approaching and this year I have chosen to not organize the overnight vigil at Grace Church. Every year since I have been there I have accepted the task of the vigil... writing a newsletter article explaining what it is, putting out sign up sheets, chasing people to try and fill up the time slots until morning. And then, when there were vast spaces of time left unfilled, I would sit in the church, sometimes alone, sometimes with someone else, often for hours at a time. One year I was there for 5 hours. Last year, the day after the flood destroyed our shop, I was there from midnight until 3am. Then Nguyen relieved me and sat for the rest of the night.

I am not complaining. I love the vigil. It has been, for me, a highpoint of my year. Every year I have something to bring to the altar. A death. A near death. A miraculous recovery. A loss. I lay them at our Lord's feet and ask his forgiveness. I lay myself at his feet at the base of the big stone altar and spend hours in his presence. One year the priest left the chalice uncovered and the heady fragrance of the sacramental wine wafted through the tiny chapel. I was sitting on the cold stone floor with the smell of gardens and burning wax and wine. It was incredible.

But this year, I am not up for organizing much of anything. This year I will be Mary and find a place to just sit at his feet and adore him for awhile. I will let someone else be Martha this year.





Monday, March 28, 2011

I wonder if Nehemiah ever felt like this

Lord, I am tired.

I look upon the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, creator of Heaven and earth.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

To my pro choice friends

I know you are compassionate. I know that you believe that a woman has a right to control her body. I know your hearts are in the right place. I truly believe that about you.

But from the moment of conception, from the moment a sperm cell and an egg unite, there is a shift in the woman's body. The union of those two cells is a moment when a separate life is born. The woman's body recognizes this. That moment of union sets in motion a series of events that the woman cannot control. Her uterus begins to build a home for the new life. Her breasts grow tender. Her body creates hormones to sustain the life growing inside her. Physiologically, she is no longer a single organism. She now holds within her a separate and distinct life. And her body knows, even from the first day, from the moment of union. Her body knows. She is a mother.

And whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe that life is sacred or not, you have to recognize that a woman who is with child is a mother, even if that child is unwanted. Even if her life is chaos. Even if a kid is the last thing in the world she can imagine for herself. It has already happened, from the moment the sperm and egg became a separate living being, she is a mother.

And whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe that life is sacred, or not, you have to recognize that no matter how tiny that new life is, abortion extinguishes it. There is a death in that clinic. Two deaths, really. The death of the embryo or fetus and the death of the motherhood inside that woman.

Women don't forget. They may console themselves that it was the logical decision... the right choice in a sea of terrible options. They may deny the impact and put on the blinders. They may bury their pain in anger or self destruction or numb it with drugs or men. They may even manage to convince their minds and hearts that they are fine. But their bodies know that for those few weeks, they were a mother. They were creating life. They were nurturing life. And then they weren't.

Years go by. We have women who call our center after decades, ready to face the fact that they lost more than a baby that day. One client had her abortion 45 years ago and has come to us for healing.

Our culture has said that abortion is a compassionate option. I don't believe that for a moment. It is an expedient option. An inexpensive option. A fast option. But not compassionate. Never compassionate. Death is not a compassionate choice. We, as a society, can do better, can't we? How would truly compassionate people cope with a crisis like this?

A long time ago, a friend of mine found herself pregnant by a man who was no good for her. Her friends and family gathered around her, angry and afraid. We talked her into going to the clinic because we believed that it was best for her. We wanted what was best. I drove her, on a cold, gray afternoon. Waited in the reception area while she was irrevocably altered. Her fetus and her motherhood taken from her. I thought I was being a good friend. I think now that I had simply accepted the lie that this wouldn't cause her harm. That this was a good choice. A safe and legal option that would make the whole problem just go away.

But now I know better. From the moment those two cells unite, from the moment the switch is thrown, there is no going back.

We can do better.

We, as a people, as a society, can have a truly compassionate response to an unwanted pregnancy. We can salvage the mother, nurture her, care for her as one of our own. We can love her and support her. We can welcome the life inside her and make a place for the child in our hearts, our society, our culture. We can save the life of the baby and the motherhood of the woman.

We can do better.

We must do better.

" Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want." Mother Theresa

Friday, February 25, 2011

My dirty little secret

Not too many people know this about me, but it is true. When I play my drum during a performance, I am almost paralyzed with stage fright. My heart races. My breathing gets shallow. I begin to feel like the muscles in my arms are going to stop working at any moment. Fear sends the sweat trickling down my back and my stomach feels like it is going to turn inside out. It borders on a full blown panic attack.

For anyone that knows me, this is probably a bit of a shock. I am one of the least shy people I know. I can talk to anyone. I can stand up in front of 1000 people with no written notes and speak as though I am talking to a close friend. Public speaking is a normal part of my job and I do it fearlessly.

But put a drum in my hands and suddenly I am, well, terrified.

It has been so bad at times that I have wondered whether I should even try to play in public. Maybe I should just give it up and stick to the drum circles and classes and forget about performing altogether.

And yet, I dream of the day that I can play without fear and just engage with my fellow musicians and feel the joy that I know is inside me somewhere.

Last night, a tiny glimpse. I got the chance to play dundun for a dance class in Providence. My teacher and another drummer were playing djembes and I was on the bass drums. At first I was playing a part I didn't know and was very grateful that Laso was keeping a steady rhythm for me. But about a third of the way through the class, the dance teacher, Seydou, asked me to play the rhythm for Dansa and I was off and running.

Playing for a solid hour, even at a moderate pace, is hard work. I realized that my muscles were starting to cramp a little, so I had to consciously shift my body so I could relax more. I began to notice where I was tight. My feet, oddly enough, were cramping. My back was slouching. My hands were gripping my sticks too tight. When you are playing at a good clip for a long time, it is easy to recognize bad technique.

Once I started playing I began to feel less and less and nervous and just started to enjoy myself. I loved watching the dancers. I loved watching how Seydou moved when he was showing them the steps. One of the students was really wonderful, too. She economized her movements and wasted no energy. Just like African dancers do. Just as I was trying to do with my drums.

At the end of the class, as I stretched my arms and back muscles back out, I realized that I was one step closer to being able to play without fear. I felt joy. And can't wait to play again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I left

I was looking at an old friend's photos on facebook today. I realized that there was a whole life that I left behind. A whole group of friends who continued on without me. Lives. Deaths. Kids. Houses. Coffee and beer and parties and running into each other at grocery stores.

And for a moment, I wondered what it would be like if I hadn't moved away. I wondered if I would have been in those pictures.

And for a moment, I felt homesick for a life that never really existed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day one

We first saw our apartment at 3am after having traveled for nearly a day from RI to Mali. The cab brought us through the dark streets of the city, past countless dusty stalls that during the day sold everything from charcoal braziers to roasted lamb to replacement motorbike tires.

The big highway from the airport was new and very fancy, with lit up LED lights embedded in the pavement, giving that part of the city the look of a giant landing strip.

But once we got out of the downtown and headed up the hills towards our neighborhood, the bright lights faded and the streets got dark. Clouds of red dust hung in the air. A stray dog darted across the road. Now and then we would notice someone sleeping next to their little storefront.

Our apartment had stark fluorescent lighting and pink walls. The only furniture in the bedrooms was a 2 inch foam mattress and mosquito netting. It was spare and quiet. For a little while we sat in lawn chairs around a low table and decompressed before heading off to bed.

Later that morning Sidy woke us up so we could go to a rehearsal of his group. We trekked back through the city and across one of the bridges that spans the Niger River. There was a big traffic jam on the bridge and we didn't understand what the hold up was until later, when we discovered that a hippo was lazing about in the water below. Such a sight is rare enough in the city that traffic came to a dead stop, right there on the bridge, so people could watch.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Red Guitar

I brought it in my big duffel bag, wrapped in clothes, hoping that the thin nylon guitar bag would somehow protect it's neck from snapping.

By the time we got to Mali, the guitar was no worse for wear. It was already old and a little beat up when we started, missing a string and out of tune.

It was Sidy's guitar. He wanted me to bring it to Mali for him so he could leave it with friends. It joined the piles of other things that inevitably make the crossing. A used PS2 game console with a FIFA soccer game. An old video camera. Some handbags and shoes. Jewelry. All of it intended as gifts.

The guitar, though, was awkward and big and the guy at the ticket counter at Air Maroc told me that if I checked it in it's soft case, it would surely get damaged. So we packed it into the big duffel bag, wrapped in clothes, and hoped for the best.

Here's what I didn't anticipate. It never occured to me that we would grow to love this guitar. That we would wait for days for a new set of strings, fashion a pick out of an old bank card, invent songs commemorating our adventures. We had no idea how much we would wish for an amp... even attempting to make one out of some spare wires and an old TV. I didn't realize that Amery would quietly play it while we had conversations late into the night... or that he would teach Noah some things on it. If I had known all those things, I would have brought a new set a strings for it... and maybe even Noah's tiny amp.

Next time we know.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hospital in Koulikoro

The last week has been a blur, but every now and then a fragment of an experience drifts to the surface of my consciousness. I relish these little gifts. They are, to steal a phrase from Hildegard of Bingen, like feathers on the breath of God.

A friend of Sidy's was in the hospital and when we were in Koulikoro we stopped by to say hello. We pulled our green bus over to the side of the road and entered through a rusty gate. We walked into the main building and someone pointed us towards the back. The building was concrete that was painted a bright shade of yellow. Over the years, the color had faded and the dust from the Sahel, which coats everything during dry season, had muted the yellow even more.

We took a wrong turn at the back of the building and wound up in an abandoned part of the property. Then we retraced our steps to a sort of open courtyard. The hospital wing was built around it, with all the rooms facing into the garden. There was a low wall of pierced concrete forms that separated a covered walkway from the garden itself. We circumnavigated the square garden and found Sidy's friend sitting on a lawn chair in the walkway outside his room. The rest of his family were sitting on a low bench against the half wall. They were making him tea.

They invited us to sit. We were concerned that there were so many of us, but Sidy's friend seemed in good spirits and happy to see us. A young child in his mother's arms became alarmed by Noah's white skin and started to cry. His hysteria mounted, despite our smiles and reassurances, until finally his mother had to take him into the room and out of sight of us.

I remember the smell. Mali tea, the earth from the garden, and a slight antiseptic smell from the cleaning solution.

A nurse came to check on the patient. She wore a well worn pink apron and a pink nurses cap over her Malian clothing. She smiled because he seemed to be doing well.

Once I read an essay by Junichiro Tanizaki about hospitals in Japan. Instead of bright white porcelain and steel, they are dark wood and tatami mats. They are places of warmth and rest and recovery. Places which feel at home for the average patient.

The hospital in Koulikoro was like that, too. A little shabby and worn. The garden slightly overgrown and tangled. The corridors a little worse for wear. But welcoming to the family. A place where you can rest in the shade of the covered walk on a warm day and let your body heal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011