I wake up each school day to the sound of washing at 5am. I’ve never quite sure what is being washed as I lay in bed. I assume it clothes being washed but it seems too early. As the day progresses more washing is heard and the roosters start. Pots bang, birds chirp, and sweeping and mopping are in full swing. It’s now 6am and some mornings I even feel cool here in Africa as I lay in bed surrounded by a blue mosquito net. The sweeping continues and I can hear the water being pumped from the well. The voices of children begin to get louder. A girl sings a worship song as she moves about her morning chores.
Sweeping inside and outside, the floors and the hard packed dirt around each home. Sweeping the road. Washing of floors by hand with towels immediately red with dirt. Floors drying nearly as soon as they have been washed. Red brown dirt at every turn. Always sweeping and the sound of the well, pumping, pumping, pumping. Always children heard at school and here in the village.
A cow mooing. Water being used again, washing, is it clothes, a floor? Always washing. More roosters, chickens and then the bleat of goats, baby goats. Goats galore leaping and playing and seeking their mothers out. I look up and there is a lost goat in my room. Are you here for me or can you catch the rats living in my room which I hear at night? Outside bunnies hopping across the path. Wait now it’s turkeys strolling through the middle of the Children’s Village.
Digging, banging – construction being done for more houses. Children – you can hear them in the school and then clammering for lunch. Laughing, playing games, sitting together under the tree. The smell of fires burning to make food all day long. It’s the end of the day – a school assembly under the tree. A sea of pink uniforms.
School is out and a stream of children in pink uniforms stream home and back to the Children’s Village. Bees buzzing, birds chirping, metal doors and cabinets clanging, blue with color and long in endurance. Boys doing their laundry together, girls as well. Laughter and raised tones from the older children for the younger to behave and act maturely. The clotheslines full of color at every moment. Then I smell charcoal for ironing clothes and newly washed sheets.
Children are sorting beans, finding the rocks, picking out shells. Herbs being dried and nuts being roasted. Children washing clothes, cooking posha and beans, eating with their hands. Football being played, bikes ridden, homework remembered and completed by solar lighting. Singing, a dance practice, washing, bathing, and laughing.
I look hard enough and I see a lizard on the wall in the girls room. Don’t step on the toad as you catch white ants to eat later. It’s a game and our arms hurt from helping children catch them, like money falling from the sky. They’re better than bubbles, grab them and enjoy them later.
Singing, dancing, laughing, playing cards, water pumping, washing, homework and the night begins to wind down.
I was staying with my parents for a few days this summer right around County Fair time. I love the fair, especially Maple Creemees (in Vermont a soft serve ice cream is called a Creemie, the spelling is negotiable). I also love Maple Cotton Candy, melt in your mouth heaven. However this post isn’t about the fair it’s about going to see my friend Val and her family. The maple delicacies recommends were a bonus added in as pure Vermont Maple products are amazing.
Val and I met at about age 4 or 5. We were both witches for Halloween and our hats seemed to get swapped. We could only determine who the owner was by the remnants of green hair that had attached itself to Val’s hat. I didn’t have a green wig, though hers was an excellent touch. Val and I more officially met when we started 1st grade together and remained classmates for the next 12 years. The first 6 years we were never in a class of more than 13 students so despite Val and I never being “best friends” we know each other well.
Val and I got together at her house. I didn’t ask directions, she has moved into her parent’s old home. I don’t know her address but know the road and that her lawn borders a pond where her 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son fish and look for turtles. They know the difference already between painted and snapping turtles and Val also probably learned this important information before starting 1st grade. On another side note, Val and her husband met because she was a single foster parent to a teenage girl. Her foster daughter gave her teacher Val’s number, a little lie about a requested call, some pursuit, and a marriage ensues.
When I think of the time with Val and her family an image comes to mind – purity. Imagine for a moment dirty children. Not the type that are necessarily caked in mud but ones who have been hard at work playing throughout the day. There have been hands washed, but where hands stop baths eventually must take over elbows, ears, and knees. Her son is bronzed from the sun and a shirt only dons his body when he needs it to walk into a store. Yet purity still comes to mind, especially when I think of her daughter. I’m told I witnessed the third outfit of the day. It was a long green dress with ribbons of pink and purple. Not quite a tutu but a similar material. She ran from back yard to front and insisted on showing me the flips she can do on her swing as her dress fell round her head. She hung upside down feet off the ground while Val seemed unfazed seeing it so many times before. Her older brother doesn’t do the same tricks but commented on how well she does them. Then this 4 year old wonder scampered to the back yard and came bounding back to show us her garter snake. This image I want you to imagine – a bronzed 4 year old girl in a green dress with a snake around her neck and hands petting it like a friend. The garter snake perfectly complements the green in her dress.
There was such joy for me knowing that she is doing what she loves. There is a purity her in her joy and living of life. There is purity in that she is learning and doing what she loves with no pressure from a culture that monetizes little girls’ dreams of a royal court. She doesn’t care that dresses can become dirty and aren’t really made for playing with snakes, turtles, and checking the fishing trap. She loves that she is good at swinging and is getting better at turning herself upside down. She loves snakes and even giving them a quick peck of a kiss before she releases them. When I think of purity and this time with Val I think about her kids and their motives being pure, their joy being pure, their curiosity being pure, and their love for their family being pure. When Jesus said “let the little children come to me” I’m going to imagine a little girl in a green dress with a garter snake to match.
Life is most often at a full force pace. Some days my eyes are more open to the interactions and observations that make me smile and I pause to try and soak it in. Here are a few moments that made me wonder, ponder, and smile over the past few weeks.
Yarmulkes: I was driving to an appointment and initially confused about what I was seeing. I was following a car for a number of miles and the sunlight was shining into the car illuminating the guy’s head. He was wearing a yarmulke – but not just any yarmulke. It had an image of Bert (as in from Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street). It matched his vibrant tie-dye shirt and he was singing with the windows down. I didn’t know this was a trend and it made me smile.
Tibetan Monks: On a Women’s World Cup semi-final day I met up with a friend for lunch. We were going to a sports bar which is next to the China Buffet. If you didn’t know the Tibetan Monks North of Boston are patrons of the China Buffet on Route 1. It made me wonder if the China Buffet was rated a few more stars than I originally thought. Maybe the Tibetan Monks are excellent food critics. I smiled and thought, where do they keep their wallets?
Evan and Seth: My college roommate Kasi, her husband Thor and 2 boys, Seth and Evan drove across country from Colorado. I made the 70 mile drive (to their 2700 miles) to meet them and visit Plimoth Plantation. Evan made a character of me on the game he was playing on his Nintendo DS. Upon asking me what weapon I wanted to use I responded “a sword.” The boys asked me why I picked a sword and I informed them I own a sword. Seth, age 7, informed us later that I’m the “coolest one” because I own a sword. Oh if it was so simple as owning a sword to be cool and loved by a boy. I love those kids. They make me smile.
I don’t always take a moment to pause to smile at simple statements or humorous thoughts but I desire to try and pause more often. Thanks for indulging me. What do you need to stop and pause for so you won’t miss it?
I’m sure this will be one of many times I share about one of the young adults I work with. I wish for everyone to have a glimpse of their strength, struggles, and stories. As a social worker I’ve walked along some of “my kids” for 10+ years. One young woman who is dear to my heart, I’ll call her Beth, has a personal story that I explain this way…think of all the bad things that can happen to a little kid… that’s it. Due to the severe trauma she turned to self-injury. When a little kid finds self-injury and makes it her own personal way of coping it is a bit overwhelming. She did not hear about self-injury from a friend, at the lunch table, or on the internet, rather as an elementary age student she found a way to harm herself uniquely in a way that still makes me wince. 100’s and probably 1000’s of times she has tried to manage pain and memories. It is not exaggerating when I say that due to being removed from her family (safety-wise a good thing) and the subsequent care, but also trauma and treatment, she has had millions of dollars spent on her by the state… her surrogate parent. She did not find her way into a permanent home or family and by the time I met her at age 12 ½ they had stopped looking for a family (though technically they weren’t allowed to say this until age 14). I have been humbled to walk with Beth and she helped me grow. This past week I was visiting with her. She was feeling good and we were just shooting the breeze before we started a meeting. And then she said it . . . like we were talking about the weather . . . “Remember when I used to cut?” I looked at her and started laughing, she did too. Yeah, we both remember, it’s pretty hard to forget. There is not that much distance between the last time and our present day and I wonder if it will last. Today though I don’t want to miss celebrating…. she is healing. On the best of days Beth lets me into her world through her journal and some amazing talks. One of her life goals is to learn more about God and grow closer to him. This past year in simple faith she made a step to follow Christ. That story in and of itself is amazing (I’ll share another time). So Christ’s healing continues to come… and not just to Beth…and I don’t want to miss it. Beth has a long road ahead of her yet today I celebrate healing.
Treating Self Injury by Barent Walsh, PhD is a recommended book if you need more information on self-injury. Dr. Walsh is extremly knowledge and having sat in on an assessment I can say he is amazingly repectful and skilled.