Wow guys, I’m back in America, can you believe it? I know, me neither! It was a long beautiful journey being away those two plus years; healing, evolving, facing fears, inducing humility, meditating, exploring, heart opening. It was the return to self really, the intentional metamorphosis of re-becoming, finding the me I always wanted to be but had lost long ago in the vicissitudes of life.
It’s so nice to be home, seeing familiar faces and sitting in your living rooms; catching up over morning coffee, cozy dinners, hurricane parties and front porch ponderings. I’m so thankful I kept my Jeep so I can roam around visiting those I love while working on my laptop forging the future. I’m looking at it as an extension from my time abroad, maintaining my forward journeying momentum, transitioning the old digital nomad life in Chiang Mai back home to the states; so far, so good.
I’m currently nomadding in Florida reconnecting with all my peeps and going through the editing phases for my book, Facing Freedom. I’m thinking it’ll be released January of 2017, but this is all a new process for me, so I’m just riding the wave for the time being. Stay tuned for details!
Now that the content is complete on the book, I can put more energy into the Conscious Creations website I started earlier and I’m excited to finally be bringing you some beautiful hand woven products from Rwanda. Look how amazing these are!
I never got to share with you, the day I spent with 4 special women in a small Rwandan village learning how to weave with them. Seems appropriate to tell you about it now since I’m collaborating with Azizi to bring you some amazing creations from this tiny country in east central Africa.
While traveling Rwanda, we learned of an organization by the name of Azizi Life that works with genocide survivors from several different cooperatives to support their indigenous craft bringing their products to market. This was the kind of thing that was starting to interest me at the time – how are people like me from developed countries mobilizing and setting up to help those in impoverished parts of the world? What are they doing? What does it look like to dedicate a major chunk of your life to a cause like that and plant yourself in a small Rwandan town? I knew there were those in the world that had chosen that path, but I could not envision how to even begin to think about something like that. I was excited to visit them as an organization to see what they were all about but mostly to spend time with the local village women learning about their life and weaving with them.
Here’s an excerpt from my soon to be released book, Facing Freedom on a special day in Rwanda. (Don’t judge me too harshly, it’s in the editing phases now)
It was a hot April day, Good Friday actually, and I had the unique opportunity to visit with 4 Rwandan women, genocide survivors, in their village learning their indigenous craft – weaving with the use of sisal plant fibers harvested from their own yard. They dressed me up in their bright African print skirt, wrapped my hair up as they often do and then we took to chopping down the four foot long sisal stalk, which looks similar to an oversized aloe plant. We used a machete to strip the fleshy part from the stringy fibers, which were then dried and dyed. When that process is complete, the women weave them meticulously into baskets, decorative trays, picture frames, bracelets and earrings.
We sat inside the home of one of the women, weaving in her living room; it was four women, one translator, a few children and myself. The floor was hard packed dirt, the walls were mud brick and the room was quite small with only the natural light of one window opening. Still I knew these people were lucky to have the home they did and they’d worked tirelessly to be able to afford it. I settled into the space, observing the many differences of this home compared to the many homes I’d lived in; indoor plumbing and electric kitchens were far away dreams in this little town.
I’d been in several countries where conditions were far worse with tarped rickety structures for homes, but now I was fully immersed, for a day anyway, in the home of a stranger in a far away land, and had a lot of time to turn the multitude of comparisons in the rotisserie cooker of my mind; the outhouse in the back yard, sharing space with their cow, chickens and goats, the mud bricks providing effective insulation instead of drywall, studs and foam batting I was accustomed to, no TV’s or computers; it was just a different world. None of this mattered though, the women were kind and beautiful and gracious, welcoming me into their home and I felt fortunate to have a translator so we could communicate. They were curious about my life, and I was curious about there’s, all of us in the same age range.
Since leaving the U.S. I’d been talking to new strangers of different cultural backgrounds about happiness in what I dubbed, the happiness survey. It turned out to be a great way to learn about other cultures, open up into honest conversations about life and understand the struggles of those outside my world.
On my first flight leaving the U.S. I came up with nine questions that I’d ask again and again and again as I roamed the globe. I was desperately seeking happiness and just could not for the life of me decipher how to find it, have it, keep it, harness it, extract it or wrap it around me as a protective shield; I wanted to know what the rest of the world had to say about happiness.
The happiness survey on this day led us into topics of conversation surrounding depression, education, divorce, clean water supply, abuse, birth control and of course happiness. I’d done the happiness survey a hundred times before in café’s, ashrams, rice fields, busses or beach huts; I’d become quite good at putting people on the spot asking them challenging, some might say intrusive questions, almost with a journalistic approach, but this time it felt different.
I was now sitting in a room with women I knew had lost much of their family in the genocide and it’s a fair assumption that at least one of the women in that room had narrowly escaped death. They may very well have hidden as teenagers in the banana fields or in a shed, under dead bodies, who knows how they survived. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t dare venture down that road of senseless bloodshed and exponential heartache of 1994’s madness. Based on what I’d seen at the genocide memorials and footage from that time, it seems a true miracle to have survived when people were being so viciously hunted; almost 20% of Rwanda’s population brutally wiped out over the course of 100 days. Sitting amongst these women that had survived so much as individuals, in their family and as a country, well, suddenly my happiness survey – and even my own search for happiness – seemed inconsequential.
The women wondered why at 38 I wasn’t married. I explained briefly that I had been, but was now divorced. They said, “Oh your husband beat you?” Gulp. “Uh, no. No, he didn’t abuse me. We uh… We weren’t happy. We couldn’t be together anymore. Uhhh…” As the words left my mouth, I felt how insignificant they sounded as I sat in the living room of a tiny house, made of mud, on the land of a small banana farm, in a little village amongst a thousand hills of bloodshed. My mind searched itself for something I could say truthfully that would be perceived by them as a matter of significance warranting divorce in their culture… Nothing.
The translator thankfully filled the silence as my mind whirled circles in the cross-cultural dichotomy unfolding before me. “They only leave their husbands if they’re being abused” the translator said solemnly. One of the women, very timid and withdrawn looked at me, studying me quietly. I could feel her questioning my life, wondering what brought me from the life I’d known in America to a mud hut in Rwanda. I held her gaze for a few moments seeing the pain and hurt and an indescribable wounding in her eyes, and I knew… I knew she was divorced.
I asked them about their water supply and if fresh water was an issue. The translator explained to me that they walk with jugs to collect water from a nearby village. I wondered if it was safe drinking water or how they ensured that it was healthy to drink. He explained that they were supposed to boil all water before consumption, but he shook his head, “no one does it.”
We talked about education; I was curious if their children went to school. It was explained that the Rwandan government educates children in primary school taking them to age seven. Beyond that, the parents have to pay for education, so for subsistence farmers in rural areas – all the women in that room – the fees were most often too much. Education would likely end for their children at age seven.
The struggles of their lives, things we think little of in the U.S, turned endlessly in my mind, searing and scorching a Thanksgiving size turkey of gratitude. I thought of the clean water, education and independence I always had; and always knew I’d have as I sat in their living room connecting with each of those women.
Don’t you find the scales of gratitude are rarely measured in our minds against the inequalities of the world? If they were… well, I think humanity would look a lot different than it does today.
As for me, I’d always known I was lucky; intellectually I could quickly calculate that I was on the positive end of an irrational equation, but on this day, I felt it deeply. I realized I’d never really felt gratitude fully before. But on this day I let it invade me and smother me; the charred ashes of disproportionate circumstances smoldered in my mind, the smoke suffocating me just a little. But I allowed it, I welcomed it; I didn’t want to forget.
We ended our day like they do every day, with dancing and singing. They had so little and had survived so much, but they had love and forgiveness in their hearts. They chanted and sang and smiled their beautiful smiles and I’ll never forget the day I danced with them in the depths of humility.
What might the happiness survey evoke in you? Maybe you’ll be inspired to talk about it at your own dining room table as a change up from the usual politics, gun control and health care issues? What if we could propel a shift in the world just by changing the conversations we have with one another every day?
The Happiness Survey
- What is happiness to you?
- What do you value most in life?
- How do you feel depression or other mental health issues affect someone’s happiness?
- What role if any does religion or spirituality play in your life?
- What does the world need more of?
- What does the world need less of?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you in your daily life?
- If you could change one thing in your life to bring about greater happiness, what would it be?
- How does one obtain happiness?
I hope you’ll check out my Conscious Creations website to see what beautiful products are being made in the Rwandan hills.