In June, I posted about Real Global Poets and their efforts to give a voice to young Kenyans and youth in Alabama using poetry to express experiences and feelings. At the time they were putting together a book of poetry so I pre-ordered one. This week it arrived and reading through it I was moved to do a follow up post. You can order one for yourself via their website.
The poetry in their book is a stark reminder of reality and its multiple layers. Your reality isn't my reality. And my reality is Dadaab's reality. While what surrounds us every day is "real" it's just a fragment of the truth. It's just a piece of the puzzle. Some puzzle pieces have smooth and crisp edges. Others are worn and jagged. Yet somehow they all fit together. They must in order for the puzzle to be complete. It's at that point when the full picture emerges. That's how I like to think our true reality is.
So I'd like to reintroduce you to a piece of the puzzle that people tend to throw back in the box or set off to the side of the table because they don't have a place for it. I encourage you to re-examine the pieces on the table, shuffle them around a bit and take a new look at the picture on the box. Perhaps that worn out, jagged piece will be a little bit closer to the center of the puzzle when you do.
Every human life is sacred and upholding the dignity of each unique person is the foundation of a moral society. Once we realize we are one human family (whatever our regional, economic, racial, ethnic, ideological, etc. differences may be) we can move beyond our divisions and come to the understanding that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers wherever they may be in the world.
Once we've truly come to that understanding we can see the world in a new light. No longer will we feel vague compassion for others. No longer will we feel shallow distress at the plight of those we see briefly on the news (or blog posts). We will be moved to take action and to make a difference.
This is a difficult paradigm shift in one's mindset. We're often raised to embrace independence (which is a good thing). But if not articulated correctly, it can corrupt our thinking. An often missed component of independence is interdependence. Humans are necessarily social creatures. Our freedom is not meant to allow us to promote selfish ends. Rather, our freedom is a gift which can allow us to love others more deeply and care for one another more compassionately.
Concurrently love, itself, has lost its meaning. True love is not how someone makes you feel about yourself. True love is to desire, indeed to will, good for another person. Loving someone is not about getting goosebumps when they're near. Loving someone is about sacrificing everything for them.
Now imagine if we all developed a true love for humanity - all of humanity. There's a song in there somewhere. I'm sure of it.
My family and I just returned from Mazatlán (in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico) after a 10 day vacation to visit family (my wife is from Mexico). It's kind of funny how things line up in life. We had to spend the night in Dallas on our way back due to flight delays that resulted in a missed connection (thanks American Airlines!) so we had to take a taxi to the hotel. Our taxi driver was from Sudan. In 2004, he fled the instability and violence that resulted from the prolonged civil war. Thankfully, due to the research I did for my previous blog post, I was able to speak somewhat intelligently with him about where he came from and what he went through. It was already my intention to do a post about our trip to Mazatlán (and specifically in regards to an orphanage there) so I found it curious that my "real life" had a similar transition as my blog posts. Anyway, on to the intended post....
Taken from the airplane as we left.
Though not as well known as other more popular tourist destinations in Mexico, Mazatlán is known as "the Pearl of the Pacific". It's a beautiful place where tourism arrived as an after thought.
First founded in 1531 by an army of Spaniards and indigenous settlers, industry earnestly began to build Mazatlán in the mid 1800s. It is Mexico's largest port and one of the west coast's largest sea ports behind only Los Angeles and the Panama Canal.
While Americans have been discovering the charm of Mazatlán in recent decades, it has long been a popular vacation spot for Mexicans.
Today, there are at least four general areas of Mazatlán:
Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) - where the majority of hotels and restaurants are located
Centro Historico (downtown) - where the old, historic center of the city is
the Malecón - a scenic beach-front avenue that bridges the gap between the Golden Zone and the historic center
Everywhere else - if you go to Mazatlán as a tourist, you'll get a glimpse of everywhere else on your ride from the airport to the Golden Zone
It's "everywhere else" that leads me to my focus in this post. Like the rest of Mexico, poverty is a major problem. About 42% of the population live below the national poverty line. There are few safety nets within Mexico's economy. Lack of funding and lack of social programs for the poor also negatively impact the orphan population of roughly 1.5 million children. Orphanages in Mexico run largely on the good will of strangers and private organizations.
There are five orphanages in Mazatlán. My wife's cousin, Claudia, volunteers at one of them: Ciudad de los Niños (City of Children). The orphanage was founded in 1970 by Padre Lucas Carvajal Lopez (who, two years earlier, had also founded a Catholic order of nuns called "The Institute of Missionary Sisters of the Christ Child"). The Father died in 1985 and the nuns (12 of them) continue to run the orphanage to this day.
Currently there are about 40 residents at the orphanage. Most are under the age of 18, but a handful are adults with special needs who likely will never live on their own. The orphanage's creed is "To provide protection for orphans, the needy, the homeless, the abandoned and the poor." So it's not "18 and out". In fact, some of the older residents work full time (and contribute back to the orphanage) or attend college (or both). You can sense here that the purpose isn't about just feeding and clothing orphans, it's about helping people not only to survive but to thrive.
On Father's Day, we went to see "Alice: Through the Looking Glass" with 14 of the kids. Later on we went to Walmart and bought some cleaning supplies for the orphanage based on their most current needs.
While we were there, we were trying to think of ways we could help them throughout the year. So we set up an Amazon.com.mx account with the intent to buy things on Amazon Mexico and have them ship directly to the orphanage. So here's the plan...going forward, a portion of the book sales and a portion of the Swagbucks earnings will go towards shipping supplies to the orphanage.
If you'd like to help out without buying the book, just sign up for Swagbucks and start earning gift cards for yourself. But be sure to use this referral link. When you use the referral link, the Read and Seek account earns a 10% commission. So for every $1 you earn, the Read and Seek account gets $0.10.
If you prefer to make a tax deductible cash donation to a charity that helps this orphanage along with the orphanages in Mazatlán, please check out the Tres Islas Orphanage Fund. Please note: I am not affiliated with them, nor can I vouch for them. I reached out to them about a week ago and haven't heard back yet. I'll update the post if I do. From what I see on their website, it looks like they've been doing a lot of good work for about 30 years. You can also learn more about the orphanages and their needs on their website.
Every so often, you come across someone whose love for life and genuine love for humanity shine through. You might say they're a treasure. Recently, I’ve had that experience thanks to Katie Travis. She’s currently playing the part of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera US tour. One of her passions is a program called Real Global Poets. Please read through this and consider purchasing a book of poetry from them to help support their cause. You can also make a donation of any amount through their website. More details are below.
Something about this program strikes a chord with me. While we tend to get caught up in our first world problems and the news media seem to over-focus on issues of relatively minor importance, there's a whole world out there that we ignore out of choice, convenience or complacency.
One such place is Kenya. Kenya's geo-political position is anything but enviable.
To the east is Somalia. Its recent history consists of lawlessness and clan warfare. The UN estimates over one million people have become refugees since the military government collapsed in 1991.
To the north is Ethiopia. Its recent history has been greatly influenced by its neighbors. Somalia invaded in 2006. Historical tensions with Eritrea flared up again 2011. In 2012, the government was accused of forcing thousands off their land for foreign investors.
To the northwest is South Sudan. Its recent history includes gaining independence in 2011 after the conclusion of Africa's longest-running civil war. But independence didn't bring peace. South Sudan itself had a civil war in 2013-2015. During the war, 2.2 million people became refugees.
To the west is Uganda. Its recent history includes military involvement in South Sudan, Somalia and DRCongo.
While Kenya has its own share of domestic challenges, including numerous terrorist attacks by Al-Shabab militants, it has become a refuge for millions of people displaced in the region. Just recently, Kenya announced that by November it will close all refugee camps in the country. That means more than 600,000 people, already refugees, will again be without homes. Imagine that. 600,000 people. That's like Wisconsin announcing that they'll be closing Madison in five months. Closing the camps also means no more (or severely reduced) health services, food aid, access to water and general security.
Refugees here aren't allowed to build permanent structures. Many live in tents or structures made from old tarps.
Real Global Poets
Real Global Poets (RGP) is a collaborative effort between Real Life Poets (RLP) and The Great Globe Foundation's (GGF) Dadaab Theatre Project. RGP aims to give a voice to young Kenyans and youth in Alabama using poetry to express experiences and feelings.
We are a team composed of artists, teachers, and leaders who work with under-served youth around the world, showing them that through art we can affect change globally. At present time, The Dadaab Refugee Camp (where Real Global Poets is based in Kenya) is facing closure by the Kenyan government with the possibility of displacing over 300,000 refugees. We hope to bring a human story to the current plight of these refugees. If you would like to get involved and donate to this program in order to help their voice be heard, please go to https://globalpoets.org/get-involved
Where I’m from
I’m from the dry crops,
from the piles of animals’ hides,
and the croaking frogs in the ponds by night.
I’m from the women who walked fifty miles to fetch water.
I’m from the herbalist,
from the place where the average population can’t afford living costs,
where higher education is hidden in the abysmal well.
I’m from suasion,
where you have to grease the wheel
to achieve what you want!
I’m from the girls who are married off to the old men,
from those ladies viewed as objects of wealth,
where educating a girl is a waste of money.
I’m from the place where girls are sought for partners by their maternal fathers,
only because the stepbrothers had married.
I’m from false accusation,
where youth from an entire town are termed thugs,
where everybody is a suspect of banditry.
I’m from disdain, and denial from my birthright.
That’s about my place, what about your place?
Do you hear such words as maltreatment and bribery?
Do you move freely without the sound of antiquing racism tapping its feet on your back?
Tell me if you sleep peacefully without expecting, bang bang around your hut.
I want to know if there are such jokes as inferior and superior ethnics in your place.
I told you I’m from laboring,
where my grandfather is forced to work on coffee farms,
in unfavorable weather without wages,
where my father cuts down the trees on the roadside as part of his personal hygiene.
I’m from the place where my grandparents live as refugees on my ancestral soil.
I’m from my history and my culture,
I’m from my kinfolk who marry with dignity.
I’m from the drumbeats in your chest,
from the beads that dangle on your necks.
I’m from a search for my lost identity.
I’m from the payment of dowry,
from the kingship and hierarchy.
I’m from his majesty, Ochudho!
So who is your king?
The other night I had a dream. In the dream, it was a warm spring evening and the sky was crystal clear. I was sitting by myself on the curb looking up at all the stars. I was finding some of my favorite constellations. To the north I saw Draco first so named by Ptolemy in the second century. Draco comes from the Latin word for “dragon”. Nearby Draco (to the East) is the constellation Hercules. If you remember your Greek mythology, there was a dragon (named Ladon) who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. One of the twelve labors of Hercules was to steal the golden apples. Hercules ended up killing Ladon in the process. So there they are, captured for all of time to see, locked in an epic battle above our heads.
Looking West from Draco, you can find another epic story from Greek mythology. After slaying Medusa, Perseus went to the realm of Cepheus to rescue Andromeda (daughter of Cepheus) who was about to be sacrificed to the sea monster Cetus. Using Medusa’s head, Perseus turned Cetus into stone. Eternally grateful and instantly in love, Andromeda and Perseus got married. His new mother-in-law (Cassiopia) must have been proud. Now they’re one big happy family up in the heavens.
It was about the time that I was having that thought in my dream, when a couple of deer came walking across the street in front of me. As they proceeded to lay down by my side, one of them snuggled up close to me and put his head on my leg. In one of those instantaneous flashbacks, I had a flood of memories. Years ago, while on the way to my brother’s house for dinner on Memorial Day weekend, my sister and I saw the car in front of us hit a fawn. The mother and another fawn had safely made it across the street, but this poor guy didn’t. At first we thought he wasn’t seriously hurt. Maybe he had somehow escaped injury.
As the car who hit the deer sped off, my sister and I stopped. The fawn was flailing about, not able to stand up. When I approached I could see that two of his legs (both on the right side) were broken. The mother deer and other fawn stood on the edge of the wood watching us, not knowing our intentions. As the injured fawn kept trying to stand up, but failing, I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up the little guy and held him closely so he wouldn’t do more damage to his legs. I examined him and there didn’t appear to be any other injuries. As he cried for his mom, I looked over and made eye contact with her. At that point, the mother and other fawn slowly turned and walked away. It was as though, through the momentary stare, she had entrusted her fawn to my care.
We got back in my sister’s car and, with the deer in my lap, continued to my brother’s house. My dad called the vet on their emergency number. The vet was heading out of town, but said he would come back to take a look at the deer. We had to wait about three hours. We tried to have dinner while the deer lay in the back of my brother’s truck, but the deer had other ideas. Scared, hurt and confused, he kept thrashing about. I left the table and spent the next couple of hours in the back of my brother’s truck, holding the deer.
After taking x-rays and examining the deer, the vet said the little guy was actually quite lucky. The breaks were “clean” and easy to set and the deer had no other injuries. The vet had a friend up North who owned a wildlife rehabilitation center that sat on lots of land. He’d set the legs and take the deer to the friend’s place, hopefully to live out a long and peaceful life.
That was about 18 years ago. I’m not sure what I believe about animal spirits and the afterlife. And now I’m even less sure. Maybe my little deer had just finished out that long and peaceful life and had stopped by to say thanks as he began his next journey. I never gave him a name all those years ago. I’m thinking "Hercules" might be a good one.
Way back in 1996, the US Women's Gymnastics team won Olympic Gold in Atlanta. You might remember Kerri Strug's amazing vault. Maybe you remember Dominique Moceanu's floor routine which was, appropriately enough, choreographed to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".
It's been 20 years. How time flies.
When I was younger, I collected autographs. I've got some pretty interesting ones, but I'll do a post about that sometime later. In 1993, when I sent a letter to Dominique Moceanu asking for her autograph, not only did I get one but I got a nice personalized letter in response. So I responded and thanked her and she responded and I responded. And for a while we were "penpals" (back when that was a thing).
Through these letters I caught a glimpse of an authentic Dominique that has persisted throughout the years. Her life story is a remarkable blend of the American dream, hard work, determination, adversity, triumph, tragedy and more. All the while her indomitable, infectiously positive spirit has continued to shine.
A few years ago, she published a fascinating memoir called "Off Balance" that not only gives a detailed look into her past, but also introduces us to a sister we (and she) never knew she had (Her name is Jen Bricker and she has her own amazing story. Follow her on twitter!).
Dominique now lives in Cleveland with her husband and two kids. If you follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you'll see what I mean about her positive can-do attitude that never tires.
In 2014, Dominique and a friend started a business called Creations by C&C (Canales & Campbell; "Canales" is Dominique's married name). Every good "treasure" needs jewelry, so when I was putting together my cache, I reached out to Dominique. She was excited about the idea and contributed a pair of earrings at no charge. Yeah, I know. You're probably thinking that's just a wise business decision and low-cost marketing strategy. But I think it speaks more than that. Yes, she's a shrewd business woman. But my book and little treasure hunt are small in comparison to what she's achieved. She doesn't need the publicity garnered by my cache to help propel her career. If anything, it's quite the opposite scenario. Her kind gesture has likely helped me more than it has helped her. And that is the Dominique that continues to inspire fans and friends around the world.
Along with the earrings in the cache, there's a signed certificate of authenticity. So if you find it, you too can have the autograph of the youngest Olympic gold medalist in US gymnastics history.
Oh and as an addendum...watch her son do a handstand and realize just out of shape you are.
As we begin another journey around the sun, I always take time to reflect. I think about all of the notable things that happened in the previous year and look forward to what the new year might bring. This year, I've been thinking a bit about our calendar and how we're inextricably tied to history whether we like it or not. January, named after the ancient Roman god Janus is the beginning of the new year. It's fitting because he was the god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings. He has a double-faced head - each looking in opposite directions as if looking to the past and the future. That's all fine and dandy. Now here's something that most people will realize when they think about it, but probably have never thought about to begin with. Remember when you were in school and they taught you those prefixes (especially in geometry class)? When a woman gives birth to septuplets, how many kids did she have? How many sides does an octagon have? How many days in a row do you pray a novena? How many years are in a decade? So now we have a problem. Actually, we have four of them. September October November December You're welcome.