Muddled Musings

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

something beautiful.

Tonight I am eating a sacred meal. Most of the ingredients come from the gardens of two men that I've known for years. One of these men gave me his very first tomato of the season-- the crowning glory of any gardener. He's been eyeing it for weeks, updating me on the status of this first fruit. The other man literally depends on his garden for survival; yet, he's shared more vegetables than I can eat this week. If it weren't for them, I would probably be eating Kraft Dinner tonight. I am honestly overwhelmed by these gifts.

Ironically, both of these men have had several bouts of homelessness. We usually think of giving food to the homeless, not of receiving food from them. I think I've just tasted something beautiful.

Friday, August 01, 2008

africa in my blood.

I(along with Kara K)am back from South Africa and Swaziland-- physically. But there is something inexplicable about that corner of the world that's made me crazy in love with it and I can't quite leave it behind. I've heard so many people say that Africa gets in their blood...they weren't kidding. It's not the awe of being 3 meters away from a pride of lions eating a wildebeast. It wasn't the curious taste of chicken feet (don't eat the toe nails), crocodile stew, ostrich pie, giraffe sausage and worm (surprisingly tasted like salted licorice). I think it's the people.

My complicated love affair with these people began at a church in the Daveytown Township (just outside of Johannesberg). Some serious soul-singing. Some serious depth. Maybe it's the music that first tugged at my heart-- layers of heartfelt harmonies, rythms and dance. And the mealand conversation afterwards, lovingly prepared for our group of 10 Canadian women (despite never having met us) confirmed that I was definitely infatuated.

Their pastor, Pastor Eric, was a role model to me this trip. I would be missing a big piece of our experience if I didn't talk about him. He joined us during the duration of our trip, leaving his wife and 2 young sons behind. He acted as our pastor (and it seems he is the pastor to everybody in South Africa and Swaziland-- he is known and respected by what seems to me to be the entire population!!!), our interpreter (I'm pretty sure that he sometimes had to re-invent what we said to make it culturally appropriate. We Canadians are kinda crazy, I think), our comic relief and our cultural navigator. He has a heart for bringing life-giving gospel to everyone around him.

We headed to Swaziland, dissuaded the border crossing guards from making us give them bribery money, and practiced our isiswati greeting: Saobona! WE met a remarkable woman, Halisile. In a country where women are not allowed to own property, she had a vision from God of starting a low-cost preschool (children in Swaziland cannot go to elementary school without going to preschool. And they can't go to pre-school if they can't afford school fees-- which means at age 4, many children already have been denied any hope for an education and little hope for a viable future). Her father, the elder of the village of 2000 people, Phonjawe, caught her vision and gave her land. From there, Halisile had a tiny school room built-- 3 meters by 3 meters-- and 40 little students. The name of her school: Big Things Begin Small.

I feel it's important to note that many of her students have HIV/AIDS (15% of the child population, according to stats). That means that many of her students won't ever grow up to be adults. I think one of my most meaningful, painful interactions over the past 2 weeks was an afternoon spent holding a tiny, lethargic 6-year-old (I thought she was 3), who went from playing Ring Around the Rosie with me enthusiastically earlier in the week, to barely being able to lift her head. The reality is that she has in her blood an inevitable death sentence. Despite this reality, Halisile finds it crucially important to educate. Because she truly believes that God wills it. (I wish I had faith like that).

Now that Halisile's plans to establish a pre-school are well underway, she has been making plans to use her schoolyard as a place for adult eduation courses, for Pastors to get theological training, a feeding centre (Swaziland has had drought and famine for a long time now) and to start a sewing co-op. Somehow (and I'm not sure how) she was connected with our organization-- Missionary Ventures. The South African MV director, Coralie (who also joined us and was also a crucial part of this experience), is a gentle force to be reckoned with and has been able to support Halisile in fullfilling her vision. To support and jump-start her vision, our MV team brought 5 hand-cranked, motor-less sewing machines (there's no electricity) and two of our Canadian women taught basic sewing skills to 15 Swazi women. Eventually, these Swazi women will be able to sell their hand-made crafts and earn an income. This "Threads of Hope" co-op is incredibly important in a place where finding a job is near impossible, where women are often dependant on unfaithful husbands to provide, and where women have not necessarily been given the opportunity to learn a skill.

Our presence in this little community did not go unnoticed. Some of us had a chance to visit the Under Chief (the Chief was summoned by the King and could not meet with us). Our organization-- Missionary Ventures-- will most likely be given a plot of land to continue community development. To show his appreciation, the Under Chief gave us a live chicken.

I had the fun priviledge of discussing HIV/Aids with these warm women. How the heck is HIV/AIDS a fun topic???? Games. These women sure know how to play. Through games like "Button, Button, Who's Got the Button", I was able to talk openly about how the virus works, the injust social stigmas we find ourselves stuck in, and joined them as they taught each other facts and fiction about HIV/AIDS. I was able to engage in a few conversations with women living positively because of these games, and I praise God for those times.

My mom might be cursing God for those times. One woman, Priscilla, with whom I spoke, works for World Vision, right beside the school. She and I discussed the HIV/Aids crisis in-depth and I'm very nearly convinced to return to Swaziland to start a clinic. During the week, I had learned that the nearest place to get antiretroviral medication (which although does not cure AIDS, can extend your life for a very, very long time) is Manzini-- a city which costs 20 Rand ($8) to get there and back. Although the meds are free (a very recent and very hopeful improvement in a place where 43% of the population is infected and the average life expectancy is 33 years)-- many people can't afford the transportation costs to go to the city once a month to get their meds. I was frustrated by this barrier. It seems so easy to set up a small clinic to dispense meds. Anyways, it seems that Priscilla is of the same opinion of myself: easier access for people living with HIV/AIDS. And not only meds, but counselling (people won't be likely to take meds if they are unwilling to accept that they have the virus or if they believe myths such as having sex with a virgin will cure it). And not only counselling, but a feeding centre (it's useless to take this medication on an empty stomach). She asked if I would come back and support the community to start a clinic. Although I made no promises to her, I must admit-- I'm extremely tempted. And that was my mom's fear: that I would want to go back.

I've already started weighing the pros-and-cons. Established relationships in the community- cheque. Have land- cheque (almost- I think Missionary Ventures has something like this on their radar in the future). Have some experience in counselling- cheque. Today, I sat with my friend Ashley in a coffee shop outlining a vision of how we could help make this clinic happen. It's exciting to realize that this clinic could be a real possibility. Our current goal is to simply continue establishing the connections made in Phonjawe and discern how committed we would actually be to this venture. I guess my fear is that it's a pipe dream, and if it's not a pipe-dream that I will eventually lose my current motivation. But I guess that's where Trust and Prayer come in. Time will tell.

Uh oh. This post keeps getting longer and longer and longer. Sorry-- I process through writing. And this trip has certainly given me a lot to process. I haven't even touched on the miles and miles and miles of government-subsidized shacks I saw Daveytown (our Torontonian Rooming Houses almost seem livable in comparison; although, to their credit, their new subsidized housing, in my tentative, humble opinion, might be better than ours-- a small house on a plot of land).

Nor have I talked about the biggest lesson that I learned-- the resiliant hope and trust in God that the people I met (both in Africa and on my team) hold. These people must genuinely, literally must pray "give us this day our daily bread"...I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

returning from a blogging sabbatical...

My happiest update is my garden!!! I've been spending all my evenings trying to tame the overgrowth of a garden gone wild. And I'm finally seeing plants peek out of the ground. Anyways, I'm no Wendell Berry, and so I can't express how much I love taking care of my garden quite so eloquently...but there is something so fulfilling about stepping into my backyard to pick some spinach for supper.

Life has actually been a time of settling down instead of moving around. Weird. Sara and I moved to a house in April. It was Move#4 for me this year. And it looks like I'm staying put for a bit. I just recently deferred grad school and am continuing to work at the men's shelter. I'm learning (albeit...slowly...)what rooting oneself in community is like, instead of just dreaming about it while I pack my suitcase and move nomadically from adventure to adventure.

And I think I'll stop with my Male Stranger Encounter updates. In part, because it's become a daily reality at the shelter. And in part because I don't feel comfortable making a joke out of a social situation that is more usually complex than I have been recognizing. Last week, I restricted a 70 year-old man for slapping me on the ass. He got restricted a week before from another shelter for the same thing. He has a degenerative brain disease from alcoholism coupled with a sex addiction that fuels an environment for dumb choices to be make. And probably a really complex past to have lured him into those addictions. And while it's not acceptable to slap a young girl 's butt, I feel it's equally unacceptable to make a joke out of a really broken life.

(Although I do have one last thing to say about that story: the word got out on the street to the rest of the homeless population that I doled out a maximum restriction for that incident. Another 70-year-old man in the park came up to me and said, "We've all heard what happened! What he did was absolutely not acceptable behaviour. I mean, we were all thinking about wanting to do that, but we never actually did."

Aargh. Thanks. Thanks for only thinking about it. Ideally, that sort of thing should not have even crossed your mind...)

Well, I guess that's a little portrait of my every day life. Cheers!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I am feeling very guilty for ditching the blog world for so long. If I had an excuse, it wouldn't be so bad. But I don't. I'll try updating tomorrow. For now, it's late. Good night, sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite, everyone! (this takes on a whole new meaning, working at a shelter..........)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

another subway man.

Last week, a man who was under the influence came up to me and commented on my female anatomy. I told firmly told him that was inappropriate and walked away. (At which point, he told me to f-off). Oh well.

The next day, I saw a strangely vacant seat on the subway and sat down. I realized why the seat was vacant when a severely sickening stench wafted my way. The man next to me had awful breath (the smell of rotting that comes from too many years of drug use) and had begun breathing quicker and quicker while giving me The Stare. My gut told me: you don't know this guy's story, his mental health issues, if he currently has drugs in his system, etc... get off the subway and take the next train. So I did.

Meeting men in public who aren't conforming to societal norms (ie. stalkers, stare-ers and gawkers) feels somewhat commonplace these days, given that I'm a female working at a male shelter...and I think I am finally learning how to set boundaries, confront and walk away!!

Monday, January 07, 2008

this one's for you, Dane...

(Note: I promised Dane that I would write a blog entry in exchange for him posting pictures on his blog of our trip--since I ended up taking pictures from a camera with no film inside for half of the week. Yes, that was brilliant, Ann Renee.)

My week in one word? Hezellig. (can someone tell me how to spell that???) It's that warm, contented feeling you get when you are with people you love being with. Sitting down for a really good cup of coffee and conversation. Or a glass of wine and talking until late into the evening, losing concept of time. That's hezellig. And the Netherlands is a really good place to have hezellig times. I'm pretty sure most of my time was spent with coffee or wine in hand.

It helps that Amanda, our dear dutch latino bride, pretty much embodies the word hezellig. She went faithfully to the airport every time someone got off their plane. I'm pretty sure that she spent most of her time living at the airport for the 2 days before her wedding. I'm still not quite sure how she got all the last-minute details of the wedding done.

Highlights of the trip...
...watching Matt K lug a million-pound keyboard around the Netherlands.
...a lingerie party with Amanda's grandmas!
...sitting around drinking wine with Dordt peeps until 3 am.
...seeing my 2nd cousins...and 3rd cousins...and 4th, seriously. It's so wonderful to be with family, even if you don't speak the same language.
...crazy quick shopping spree with Dane to find on-sale European stuff, in hopes that we'll come home looking fashionable, or something like that.
...convincing Carmela to move to Toronto (note this well, Carmela!)
...having a real dutch Heineken, which is better than the imported stuff
...driving over the border from the Netherlands to Germany (there is barely a border, because it's all the EU)
...Amanda and Luuk saying "I do" after a really, really long engagement (too bad my camera was broken, because I had the perfect picture taken of this moment)
...playing with firecrackers in the sreets at New Years
...Having Amanda and Luuk around when someone committed suicide in front of a train, preventing us from getting to the airport, and having them barter a taxicab driver down from 70 euros (140 bucks) to 40 euros so that we could get to the airport.
...making it to the airport 2 minutes before gates closed. And then making it through the security 3 times with knives and liquids in my carry on. (No, I wasn't planning to do anything with those materials)

The Non-Highlight of my trip...
...playing Risk with a minister (Amanda's dad) and a politician (Luuk): I ended up having to make a moral decision of having to break a treaty with a minister or play dirty with a politician. This is definitely a high-level stress game for peace-loving hippies like myself.

Oh, good times in the Motherland.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

HA! I am not proud of the following rating...

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans

Sex and the Streets.


An African woman’s husband strips her. Strips her of her right to live by tearing off her clothes. He is HIV positive. And condoms just don’t make sex as pleasurable. So fuck you, Bitch, it’s sex or the streets.

Sex or the streets? She stands at the door, staring at the streets. The shadow of her naked body stretches outside. She wants to step through the doorway and join her shadow. To free herself from these 4 walls that renders her a sex slave, not a spouse.

But she won’t find freedom on the streets. The streets are synonymous with sex, sickness and starvation. Not unlike her own home. So she stays.

Fuck you, Bitch.


A Torontonian woman’s pimp hands her some hooker boots. He is hiding the searing burns that he gave her as he whipped her legs with a copper clothes hanger that he heated in the oven. He needs crack cocaine. And she didn’t bring home 2 000$ last night. So fuck you, Bitch, it’s sex on the streets.

Sex or a beating? She stands on the corner. She could forego the condom, raise her selling price, and save herself a beating-- for tonight. It’s true that she might contract HIV. But what the hell. Life is hell anyways.

She can’t walk away from her corner. Fear keeps her there. Fear of the next beating, of not making enough money, of being found if she hides. So she stays.

Fuck you, Bitch.


I’ve been really haunted by these two stories this week. I went to an AIDs fundraiser, where I heard the first woman’s story. I did outreach for the sex-trade workers in Toronto, where I assumed the second woman’s story. It doesn’t matter that one woman is from Africa and one is from Toronto. It’s pretty much the same story, different setting: the lack of voice, the lack of freedom, the exploited vulnerability. And it makes me so angry and hurt.