Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hello from Africa,

Things are so unique here, I don't even know where to start!

I guess I will tell you that I am writing to you after a shower in the dark, yes today there was water, though it was cold, but no power. I've just navigated myself back into my room around the tarantula that greeted me on my front step and have tucked myself as tightly as possible into my bug net, laden my body with deet and swallowed another nightmare inducing malaria pill.

Things really could not be better. I'm exhausted deep into my bones and hoping I can stay up long enough to finish my note.

The builds are going really well, we are doing two houses and I am proud of both the work we are doing and the progress we have made. We started with the foundation and we are know finishing the outside walls and starting to work on the gables. We have doors and windows framed in and are starting to work on the top portion of the inside walls. We just have to get the twigs and tree trunks cut length wise into a fine balance to form our scaffolding.

To get to this stage there was a lot of digging in the dirt with a tool likely last seen most places in the 1930's, a wheel barrow that will barely wheels. There are only so many people who can handle the heavy labour so I am on it most days, all day! I am happy that we are such an integral part of the build because I was not so sure we would be when I considered my expectations for this experience. But we are definitely working hard. I'm near exhaustion by the end of each day, but it is a really good tired.

I have laid enough mud bricks that I now feel completely confident in coming home and building a brick house. I may start with a shed or playhouse and see how it goes from there.

I am working with a great team of people. I came to africa for a number of reasons but have found an added bonus in meeting a number of interesting and inspirational people. I love to hear about the many walks of life people are engaged in.

Some of the things that I love:
- we are making a difference here
- the children are so precious and there conditions are enough to break any heart.
- the country is gorgeous, there are beautiful flowers, trees and really blue sky with fluffy white clouds, and millions is stars every night.

- there are warm and beautiful smiles that greet me from my first encounter until my last everyday all day

- all the children want is for you to take one picture of them, to be tickled and loved.

- the little girl who is deaf and mute who is 2 or 3 years old that has latched on to me.

- that they have found a million uses for dirt, making bricks, making mortar, sealing things, drawing in it, playing games with it... Really it goes on from there.

- that the kids wear almost exclusively used clothing donated from western countries and their shirts say things like " I love shoes" even though they don't wear or have them, or "fashion diva", or "I am drunk"

- that one of the workers wears a hard hat everyday yet he has no shoes or work gloves

- that children everywhere play with tires and balled up plastic bags

- that everyone holds hands

- that there is corn growing everywhere there is a plot of dirt and they basically live off of it.

- thatched roofs

- education is a valued and high priority for children, and they now given them food to further encourage them to show up everyday

- the African sun

- the slower pace of life

- the family and community values

- that there is often no power in places that have access to it yet it's no big deal. For example they still produce breakfast for 20 complete with coffee using a very small stove and fire.

- that grass is trimmed using machetes

- that even if you have a car it may be tuff to drive because there is no gas anywhere, yet they just drive from station to station looking for it

- that people put a sign up on the side of the road and they are in business!

- that women everywhere walk with very heavy loads on there heads

- that life is stripped of all the noise and the focus is on a persons most basic needs, and that if these are fulfilled you have already got more than most and a level of happiness and satisfaction is achieved. This is something we will never have because we have too much.

Some things that I struggles with in Africa:

- I feel helpless

- eating in front of the children

- my own ignorance

- no power, cold showers if there is water, limited contact with home.

- carrying things on my head, like buckets of water

- very hard and tedious work required to build these homes and the knowledge of how much easier it could be

- the bugs

- the language

- the feeling that I can't do what I need to here. Seldom do I face a situation I feel like a can't handle or work through, but here I am again reminded of how much it would take to smooth but one wrinkle.

- there are very few old people. The life expectancy is 40! I am very old here.

- the simplistic tasks that each day of life requires are tuff. Women walk miles to bring a 90 lb bucket of water to their homes.

- the most difficult aspects of life that we face in the western world they face here as well and it is already so hard. For example domestic abuse; a woman is beaten and then to provide water for her children she must pull herself together and go find water and food.

- people can be very hard on the children.

- 6 year old siblings spend their days carrying babies on their backs and caring for these children.

- AIDS and HIV affect a very large number of the population and as a result there are many child headed households

- the infant and maternal mortality rate is very high. I want to cry because I don't understand why no one can save these mothers and their babies.

- I've been forced to take a long hard look at the person I am and I'm not to sure how I feel about her...

Happy Easter Everyone! I send much love your way today.

xox Marie

Monday, April 25, 2011

From Malawi with Love

Hello from Africa,

Things are so unique here, I don't even know where to start!

I guess I will tell you that I am writing to you after a shower in the dark, yes today there was water, though it was cold, but no power. I've just navigated myself back into my room around the tarantula that greeted me on my front step and have tucked myself as tightly as possible into my bug net, laden my body with deet and swallowed another nightmare inducing malaria pill.

Things really could not be better. I'm exhausted deep into my bones and hoping I can stay up long enough to finish my note.

The builds are going really well, we are doing two houses and I am proud of both the work we are doing and the progress we have made. We started with the foundation and we are know finishing the outside walls and starting to work on the gables. We have doors and windows framed in and are starting to work on the top portion of the inside walls. We just have to get the twigs and tree trunks cut length wise into a fine balance to form our scaffolding.

To get to this stage there was a lot of digging in the dirt with a tool likely last seen most places in the 1930's, a wheel barrow that will barely wheels. There are only so many people who can handle the heavy labour so we are on it most days, all day! I am happy that we are such an integral part of the build because I was not so sure we would be when I considered my expectations for this experience. But we are definitely working hard. I'm near exhaustion by the end of each day, but it is a really good tired.

I have laid enough mud bricks that I now feel completely confident in coming home and building a brick house. I may start with a shed or playhouse and see how it goes from there.

I am working with a great team of people. I came to Africa for a number of reasons but have found an added bonus in meeting a number of interesting and inspirational people. I love to hear about the many walks of life people are engaged in.

Some of the things that I love:
- we are making a difference here
- the children are so precious and there conditions are enough to break any heart.

That's all for now, take good care. Until next time,
*marie

Monday, April 18, 2011

Helping with Housing

So, crazy. I feel like I am dreaming as I look around and realize that a few plane rides and 36 hours in transit has landed me in a whole new world. I'm once again reminded at just how small this world is and that the problems, conflicts and struggles of other nations are but a few hours away from us. I'm amazed at how easy it is for us to ignore and secretly be grateful that we are not connected more closely to the fight.

On the other hand I am also staring straight at the fact that there are so many offerings in the so called far reaches of the planet and they are so easy to access. Each place offers a beauty, very special in unique ways as well as cultures, customs and a way of life so different from the next that the idea of basic needs and wants is up for debate.

As a traveller I am often surprising the fight to share my tales, adventures and wisdom acquired through the 30 plus countries I have visited and explored. Spanning the gap between the worlds richest and poorest I have taken with me a variety of first hand experiences and knowledge so raw and truthful no description could do it justice.


......and so here I am in Malawi, Africa one of the poorest nations in the world. In the background of this blog, the sounds of song from the locals drift through the air and are complimented by the sounds of the jungle that relax me so. A soft breeze floats through the warm dry air and I am content to be far away from the snow I've left behind at home.

The primary purpose of my trip here was to cleanse my soul and lift my spirits. Over the years I have learned the best way for me to do this is through service to others. I am normally fairly private about my little acts of kindness as I feel egotistical or selfserving when I share them with others and this takes away from the feelings I hope to derive from doing such things. This is why for many this is the first you will hear of my adventure into Africa to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

It's important for me to note that in order to allow for this oppurtunity there are a number of people who came together with a tremendous amount of love and support to make this happen. I am grateful and touched by this as I am able to make yet another dream a reality...So thanks to Dave, my monsters (Summit, Trekker and Journey) lending out Mom is tough on the little ones, Alli who will try to hold all of my hats as best as she can, Sharon (the orange Grandma) who we flew in from Parksville to watch the kids, Pat (Grandma) for postponing travel plans to aid in the care of the children and running Slateworks, Mindy who has taken on a tremendous amount of work in order to allow me this time and to all others who will be roped into contributing in some form or another as I know there will be many.

After touchdown in Malawi, I met the driver Fred, who would take me and a few others out to a girls school. This was a private trip seperate from Habitat for Humanity so logistically it was a struggle to organize. However it was worth it, every penny spent, every ounce of jet legged energy expended.

A quick stop at the very civilized Shop Rite for food and supplies and we were off. A very bumpy ride and a couple hours through the amazing country side and we were there. I was amazed at the size of the grounds and the amount of progress realized by a very small group of dedicated people.

The school which was originally publicly funded and located four districts over about 5 hours by car, was shut down in the middle of the school year because the government no longer wanted to fund a school for girls. A teacher working in the school from Victoria, B.C. (Kristy) and a local teacher (Memory) decided this was unacceptable. A 5 hour drive and alot of determination later I stumbled into the same group of girls that had their education stolen from them and that came together to get it back. They will be the first to graduate this year and the excitement is enough to make even the most hardened person tear.

I don't ask about the scars I see all over their beautiful faces and bodies. They do not talk about them either, instead they tell me all that makes them happy in their lives right now. I receive a gentle yet painful reminder on the importance of living in the moment.

I sit and help to bind books and chat with some of the girls, most of who did not speak a word of English before attending the school. I am impressed with the fact that they comprehend so well and speak so fluently after such a short amount of time. Even joking with me, I loved it. I asked them to teach me some ketchwan and the group collectively giggled at my attempts to learn a simple greeting. I am tested on my knowledge a few hours later and fail miserably. I've decided to focus instead on local slang as it seems easier to manage, plus I'm trying to blend.

I move on from book binding as I hear there is some sanding and painting going on in one of the new dorms that is under construction. They gladly accept my help and I begin to work away. Of course it is difficult to sand the plaster and cement with a small corner of sand paper I've been allotted and even more difficult to apply the very thinned out oil based paint evenly using as little as possible. I'm ashamed as I think of the Reno bin that sat out front of my house overflowing just weeks ago. The unbalance that exists for me in this world at that moment is overwhelming.

As we are driving through the country back to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, I'm engrossed in the scenes as they pass me by through the window. I look at the struggle each person absorbs just to make it through the day. I let a side of myself that I don't like very much think something horrible along the lines of why do they bother. Even children as young as 3 walk with heavy loads balanced on their heads. I think of how lucky my own children are and wish I could be the one to right all that seems wrong.

However one thought leads to the next and I wonder if my life would truly be perceived as better? Though we want for different things we are always longing for more, they pace themselves, work does not own them, the clock is a foreign object and most certainly the idea of living a life so enslaved would be nauseating. There are way to many days when I don't even have a chance to ask my husband how his day was or I feel acute stress because my kids want me to read another book but I know I have one million other things I fell I HAVE to do. To me there is less noise and life is simpler but to them maybe that just means harder.

This is all to say that I do find myself strangely at peace in this foreign land. I feel blessed, rich in so many ways, and am more grateful than I've been in a long time for all that I have and all that is available to me. I can dream anything I want and the only thing holding me back from going forward are my own excuses. It is not the same for the people of this country especially the women. I feel lucky to have lived my life in such an accepting environment.

This country it's people and this land have touched me deeply and have taken hold of me in a profound way. I hope it only pushes me to do more for myself and others. I am excited to start the Habitat for Humanity build tommorrow and am ecstatic that our team here are enough to be able to allow us to work on two homes.



Until next time my friends, feeling great and appreciating the moment! Sending love and motivation your way......



Marie