Posts Tagged ‘Multi-Cultural’
Mama Helen with one of her daughters Rogathe and one of her grandchildren, Shirley.
The first time I went to Africa was in 1993; that seems like two lifetimes ago. Since 1993 I have been back to Africa well over twenty times (thank you MSCF!). Most of these times I have stayed in the home of my dear friends Eliudi and Helen Issangya, in Sakila, Tanzania.
The first time I rode from the Kilimanjaro Airport to the village of Sakila I felt as if I had travelled to some foreign planet, or possibly the moon, that’s how strange it was to me (and also to my good friend, Mike Wood). Now when I go to Sakila it is truly my “second home.” Other than my own house I feel most at home when I am in Sakila. Much of that credit goes to Mama Helen Issangya who saw to it that I was welcomed and cared for over the last seventeen and a half years. This dear woman, wife of my great friend Eliudi Issangya, and mother to six children, has now passed on to her eternal home, a greater home. A land that will never grow old.
This blog is a small attempt to show her the honor and respect that is due to her for taking care of me and the many other people who showed up at her home in need of care. Mama Helen was always there for me. She made sure that I had the food that I needed, the clean water that was necessary, and she showed great compassion towards me as I went through everything from malaria (1996) to a heart attack that caused me to be hospitalized and have surgery in Amsterdam in 2007. She had suffered so much with her illness that she knew how to care for those who were in pain or distress.
Helen treated me with such respect. I hope that I sincerely returned that respect back to her. Thank you Mama Helen for giving yourself to all of us for all these years. I, and many others, African and Americans, will never forget all that you did for us, and the “Mama” that you were to us. Be at rest, Be at Peace, Mama Helen.
Helen Issangya went to her eternal home on February 2, 2010.
James R. Smith
On November 10, 2009 my British Airways flight (BA179) brought me to JFK and my final destination after six weeks of travel to the UK/India/Nagaland/Sweden. As the South Asia Director of projects for HOPE FOR CHANGE INTERNATIONAL www.H4Cinternational.org my purpose was to visit and evaluate the development and needs of schools and orphanages. My review of prospective partners and projects required me to travel to various regions of India. Additionally, stopovers in Coventry, England and Enkoping, Sweden were included in the itinerary to meet with the European supporters of projects in Nagaland.
In order to accomplish our H4C goals, my timeline would extend across 41 days and 41 nights, over 24,000 miles on 11 different air flights. I slept in 7 different beds, ate 7 different cuisines, and drank from 7 local water sources (after boiling, of course!). My body and outlook needed to adjust to temperatures ranging from 36F to 96F – a sixty degree spread. My carry-on and two luggage pieces were filled with clothing for 3 different cultures and 3 different climates.
“Health is Number One!” When travelling in a developing nation staying healthy has to be on the top of the list. Any of you readers who have travelled to villages in Africa, Latin America, and Asia will concur that you do not want to get sick and have to go to a hospital or medical clinic in a developing nation. Here’s a personal fact – generally, I do not sleep on planes. My sleep patterns during this trip included several twenty-four hour periods with absolutely no sleep at all and numerous nights with only three to four hours of the blissful state. Nevertheless, despite my lack of sleep and my arduous & rigorous schedule, excellent health was mine from start to finish! “Beyond my human ability!” was a frequent thought and statement from my lips. For those of you who prayed for my health and stamina, your prayers worked!
In airports, cities, and villages Sarah Jane (my travel partner) and I were the focus of all eyes, firstly because we are Westerners. Add to that that we are two women and I am fair-haired and interest in us reached the tipping point. I cannot count how many times the question was asked to me, “Where are you from?” Usually these were women, women with children with searching eyes, and sometimes with husbands leaning in on their shoulders, and sometimes with a small crowd behind the brave one who would ask the question. Shall I say that I found the Indian people to be curious?
Delight, Ahhhs…, and BIG smiles would spread across their faces in a ripple effect. My answer, “USA”, would be repeated and echoed until all were satisfied with the answer that they half-suspected anyway. I enjoyed this experience and never tired of taking the time to be engaged in this warm exchange of cultures. The predictable second question was, ”Where in the USA?” In some encounters with groups of young people after saying, “New York, but not New York City”, a third question was necessary to complete their thought process. When this first happened I paused and quickly considered my next answer. Should I say Saugerties, should I say Kingston or…should I say … Woodstock? I reasoned that Woodstock was probably on “their map” more than Saugerties or Kingston. Really, I wanted to give them something that they could relate to or knew something about.
So I said Woodstock and they did know about it! Most had heard of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I further explained that my home was a fifteen minute drive from Woodstock, that I lived a brief walk from the Hudson River which was one of the first and most famous rivers in the USA, and that I walk along the Hudson for my weekly “river reverie” walks. I continued that The Catskill Mountains and an international ski resort, Hunter Mountain, are located in our region of New York State, that we were 60 miles south of Albany, capital of NYS, and 110 miles north of Manhattan, NYC. My listeners could see the glint in my eyes and detect the affectionate tone of my voice as I described where I live. I was boasting about Ulster County, proud of it, my home.
One week after I returned home on November 10th I realized that our frige was empty and that I needed to get back in the groove of being home and go FOOD SHOPPING. Seven weeks had transpired since I had driven my Hyundai Elantra. “Better go easy on my re-entry”, I thought and in the evening decided on just going to two smaller local stores, Mother Earth’s (Storehouse) and Adams (Fairacre Farms). You may not believe what I am about to tell you but I actually had an epiphany as I drove on Route 209, down the Exit Ramp and onto Route 9W South.
The night sky was clear with sparkling constellations, crescent moon coming up in the Southern sphere, all the road lights were glistening with very little traffic to occupy my attention, and everywhere my gaze fell ( how could I help but compare since I just come from India) was immaculate and orderly! Even certain stores and gas stations that I had considered unattractive prior to this trip actually looked okay on this, my first night out.
While making the turn past the refrigerated aisle in Mother Earth, I came upon Eileen, a neighbor of ours and someone I have gotten to know while going in to Mother Earth all these years. Eileen is a good listener and knew that I had been away for six weeks. She welcomed me home and asked about my travel. After a brief foray into my trip overview I relayed to her my “glowing” experience while driving minutes before. Eileen listened with a broadening smile spreading across her face. My last words were, “Eileen, we live in a blessed area!”
People ask me if I am glad to be home. Without hesitation I say, “Yes!”
Sarah Anne Smith
For many of us music and, in particular, certain songs mark moments in our lives, both happy and sad. When reheard many years later, the song evokes memories and awakens imbedded emotions. One of “my songs” is the hymn “Morning Has Broken”. In 1930, Percy Dearmer, editor of Songs of Praise (published in 1931), approached and asked English poet and children’s author, Eleanor Farjeon, ”to make a poem to fit the lovely Gaelic tune, Bunessan.“ We can all thank Eleanor that she rose to the occasion and wrote the lyrics for ”Morning has Broken”. Pop and folk singer, Cat Stevens, included an acoustic version on his 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat. The familiar piano arrangement on Stevens’ recording was performed by Rick Wakeman, a classically trained keyboardist with the British progressive rock band Yes.
Morning has become my theme song for my six-week trip to UK, India, Nagaland, and Sweden which was just completed on November 10, 2009. I say completed but in one sense it will never be really completed or ended. I am back here in New York once again safe in my husband’s strong, loving arms but part of me has been left in the places that I visited and in the hearts of those I lived with during the six weeks.
On the sunny morning of October 28th three of us, Sarah Jane, Tiala and I, were riding with Imkong through the streets of Dimapur, the commercial capital of Nagaland, India. Sarah Jane and I had departed from JFK Airport on October 1st. This day in Dimapur was five air flights and twenty-seven days later. I had travelled twelve thousand miles to see my friend, Tiala, who I’ve known for almost twenty-five years. She and her husband, Chuba, had founded a children’s residential school for non-income families of their surrounding. Enrollment had topped four hundred students. Running the school was now left up to Tiala and her family. Chuba died in 2005. Challenges were on every side – water supply, food supply, staffing, etc… She desparately needed a friend to come by her side and encourage her. That friend was going to be me – all the way from New York!
Delight at making the trip successfully filled my soul! Imkong is Tiala’s younger brother who had spent the early seventies studying in Birmingham, England, living the counter-culture life, and listening to Cat Stevens. The four of us were now listening to Cat Stevens, chiming in with our voices each time the first verse looped, completely united in the moment, and listening to Imkong as he related his personal history. I love hearing people’s stories and, believe me, I have notes on hundreds of them!
As Stevens’ lyrical version of Morning was streaming through the Pioneer MP3 player in Imkong’s 2009 Hyundai Elantra my mind went back to where I was in 1970 and 1971 and 1972…. then I fast-forwarded to September 17, 2005 to the wedding day of our oldest son, Tim, to his lovely bride, Kim. To say that the year 2005 was a tuff year for me is to understate the severity of my year-long personal struggle. Suffice it to say that I wasn’t sure that I was going to MAKE IT to my son’s wedding. For eleven excruciating months I had suffered with severe depression and exhaustion caused by menopausal estrogen depletion. Nevertheless, with the help of my friends and my husband, my necessary wedding preparations were pulled together. On a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon, September 16th, with every fiber of my psyche resisting, I inched my way into the passenger’s seat of our Chevy Blazer for the drive up to the Catskill Mountains Full Moon Resort located in Oliverea, NY. This would be my first destination wedding weekend.
During a traditional American wedding event, every mother looks forward to “her” moment on the dance floor with her son and the song of choice to express her memories and emotions at this dramatic milestone in both of their lives. Much care and effort is usually taken to select the right song. My outlook was no different and although I did not have the energy nor inspiration to choose my song, my husband, James, soundscaped ITunes and made suggestions. We chose “Morning Has Broken” as performed by Diana Krall & Art Garfunkel and featured on The Chieftains 2002 recording, The Wide World Over (A 40 Year Celebration). Amazing grace met me when Tim and I stepped into the spotlight on the parquet dance floor and for the duration of the song I felt good. Weeks later I recovered from my depression and the malaise of my soul and body that had threatened to derail my living.
Back to that day in Dimapur….if someone had told me on September 17, 2005 that four years later I would be riding through the busy streets of Dimapur, Nagaland, on a brilliantly sun-filled morning with my dear friend, Tiala, my response would have been, “Really?” A far-away stare in my eyes and a profound weakness in my voice would have defined my lipid utterance. Right now tears are flowing from my eyes as I write this blog article. Music evokes past memories and awakens imbedded emotions. My tears today are tears of joy and triumph. Read to the final words of Morning – “Praise with elation, praise every morning; God’s recreation of the new day.” If you can, take a few moments to listen to one of the versions of “Morning Has Broken”. You will be enriched! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBTDR5olRT4
Here’s a picture of Imkong, Tiala, and myself studying a table’s “Lazy Susan” in one of Dimapur’s shops and also two shots of Nagaland’s city street scenes. Sarah Jane is behind her Nikon Coolpix camera. Hope you see these Imkong!
A lovely evening breeze is billowing in through the double doors opening to the terrace balcony here in Gurgaon Haryana, India. Sarah B. & I settled in here on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 twenty-four hours after deciding to change our itinerary. The home belongs to a young Indian couple in their mid-thirties. Until six days ago none of us had any idea that the others existed which is to say that we were strangers. A mutual friend who lives in Bangalore made one phone call to them and requested that their home become our home for twelve days. Would you be surprised if someone said yes to that request if it were you? Well, Sarah B. and I have been amazed by the genuine hospitality showered upon us by N & V. Now all of you need an explanation for our long stay in this satellite city, Gurgaon, which is one of four in the NCR (National Capital Region) of Delhi (New Delhi), India.
Our original itinerary called for a two hour flight from Delhi to Raipur on October 14th followed by a seven hour vehicle ride through a mountainous region of Chattisgarh State which has recently been the target of Maoist violence and infestation activity by Naxal Militants. Throughout 2008 I have been in regular contact with our friends in this Central India locality and the topic on the top of our lists has been SAFETY. Two days before I booked our tickets for this HOPE FOR CHANGE trip, I checked in with them on this topic and they issued assurances that the time was right to proceed and visit them, their ongoing projects, and prospective ventures.
That all changed last week and I had to move fast to arrange a PLAN B. A bombing incident occurred within 50 KM (thirty miles) from the home where we would have stayed. That is where this mutual friend, G. came in. His plans for October had been to be on a speaking tour in the USA schools but his visa application was denied twice.This was fortuitous for us! Consequently, G. was in town and spent an afternoon meeting with us and discussing his projects with bereft children and the progress of HOPE FOR CHANGE in the last year since I had met him while in Bangalore in 2008. What would we have done without his help? God only knows!Divine Providence Prevails!
So we are safe, with comfortable beds, water, PH access, and building friendships with N. & V. Diwali Festival (Festival of Lights) has been in full swing while we’ve been staying in The Palladians Colony. The pictures tell some of the the story although one is sideways. Two Sikh families have invited us for dinner and multiple tea times and requested HOPE FOR CHANGE web info.
Some practical facts: 1) temperatures have been 32-34 Celsius (89 – 93F) during the day; 2) power outages have ocurred nearly everyday; 3) eating Indian food every meal although intro’s tag the state or region, such as, Kerala State, Punjab State, etc…: 4) wearing Salwar Kurta & Chunni almost all the time (which I enjoy – THANK YOU to Zeresh & Ashna – our wardrobe suppliers; 5) cooking also now: Aloo Mutter, Navratan Korma, Palak Paneer, Roti, Chat Masala Salad, RICE, and Daal (eighteen colors of lentils, just kidding, I think the exact number is sixteen, hahaha!).
Perhaps in my next blog I’ll pass along spice of my favorite spice blends and uses. Believe me, there are about a billion!
In closing, thanks for all of the good wishes and prayers.
Sarah A. Smith (this pic of Sarah Bird is soo…cute!)
Hello friends and family and blog-followers near ‘n far! Tonight is Sunday, October 11, 2009 and we are marking eleven days since our departure from home and Ulster County. We’ve been staying in Bangalore for five complete days and we’ve experienced comfortable sleeping arrangements, delicious Indian food, and good times spent with old friends, new friends, and new HOPE FOR CHANGE prospective partners. Time and space only allows me to say that these guys are tirelessly working to provide job training and micro-income sourcing for families hit hard by natural disasters and ethnic conflicts.
I thought some pictures would tell some of my experiences here such as…1) using candles during one of our evening power outages (which is why this blog is coming tonight and not sooner); 2) some of our friends hanging out on the roof terrace here at the hostel; 3) our favorite “street-cow” grazing in the empty lot below our balcony bathroom; 4) an early Saturday morning driver and cart.
Personal hygiene (PH) and toilet access are always a HUGE consideration during this type of travel and I feel compelled to inform you that for the second straight year I have mastered the MUG ‘N BUCKET mode of PH. Hot water is produced by submerging a twelve-inch electric heating rod into a bucket of freshly drawn water from the faucet ( I may get some questions about this…it is okay). Next, combine the hot water with another half-bucket of cold water and VOILA! you have proper temperature for neither chilling you or burning you. The mug is used to simulate a shower effect and you are now ready to become a new person and a clean one a that!
More discussion meetings regarding H4C goals and partnerships are planned for tomorrow and a trip to the money exchange as well and buying a SIM card for the Motorola mobile phone. Get ready James, I hope to call you this week! Tuesday we may visit Commercial Street for some errands and a little shopping. Tuesday night we will pack, begin saying our “goodbyes” to the many wonderful people we’ve met here in Bangalore. Our flight to Delhi departs from Bangaluro (accurate name to be used since last year) ten minutes before noon.
Thanks for all of your encouraging comments through Twitter, Facebook, and on this blog site. I am making the most of every twist ‘n turn. Here are two more photos… Sarah A. Smith