Category Archives: Meanderings
Brief comments, quotes or things I want to remember or share.
It’s a farm. I mean, there’s a lot of other things, but ultimately, it’s a farm. This is a rural area. And no, there are no elephants or giraffe or hippos or lions. It’s a farm.
And there are plenty of paths to walk about, listening to the birds (I saw a Yellow-Mantled Whydah), and buzzing insects and people working in the fields and on the buildings.
There are a lot of buildings: 10 Village buildings house the children & teens, and there are buildings where some of the workers live, and there is Elizabeth House (for young women in crisis), and of course the school (both lower & upper schools), and of course, the library. But there are more buildings in construction as well.
None of these buildings existed 10 years ago. That’s just one of the amazing things. But now, not only are there lots of buildings, but there are eleven deep water wells, electricity for every building, and at least at the Schwartz home, Internet access. Unbelievable really.
Next week, the school will open and now begins the planning for receiving over 700 children (including the 84 from the Village). Lots of trips to Lusaka for school supplies and food for lunches. They feed every child and teacher lunch every day.
It’s a simple life, but for the kids, it’s a good life. They have plenty of food to eat, a roof over their heads, adults who care about them, and most of all, love.
For Westerners, who don’t know better, it may look like nothing, but for many of the 130 employees it’s a livelihood and for the kids, a true hope for the future.
In some ways, they are like teenagers everywhere.
Intellectually, I knew they would be older. After all, it’s been at least 8 years since I was last here. For me, that didn’t seem like such a long time, but for a teen, it could be as much as half a life. So many are all grown up and yet not grown up at all. Something like 54 teens out of 84 children are being raised in the Village of Hope.
Of course, that means hormones are raging and curiosity of “other” is overwhelming. It means pushing at the envelope of authority. It means making lousy choices without thinking through the consequences.
But here’s where they may deviate from their western cousins. They are not married to “screens” and still know how to enjoy conversation and good-hearted game play. Most are devoted to God and understand the miracle of being in a “family” where love rules the day and compassion is a given.
And they lead in the church, from musicians (self-taught keyboard players and drums) to worship team and service host. They lead in prayers.
It’s a hotel. My window is open and it’s January. Yep, honey, this ain’t Maryland.
This is my first trip post retirement and it’s lovely. Granted, my brand new Christmas gift suitcase got destroyed on the way and the Johannesburg airport carousel was littered with my underwear, but it all worked out. It’s a story now.
I am here because my host, Benedict, who picked me up along with Muzo (rhymes with Ouzo), had some errands to run in Lusaka before heading back to the Village of Hope. They also have to make another human pick up (Gipepe, that spelling can’t be right), who is the Village doctor, an amazing woman I met once before in Maryland when they were visiting stateside. There’s a cholera outbreak here and it makes everyone nervous, but it’s mostly in the poorer areas. Nonetheless, bottled water is everywhere, and still I almost brushed my teeth with sink water. Habits die hard.
But that is the point. I am here to serve and work at the Village, true. I am also here to break down the every day habits, to discover the me I’ve lost in the busyness of my life that has been on automatic pilot for too long. I want to be more conscious. And integrated.
And it’s time to write again. Here yes. Also on my Meditations blog, as God leads. And maybe, just maybe, another story may be birthed as well. Slow down. Listen.
Watch the trees bend to the wind and leaves flutter outside my window.
That’s how long it seems to take for the repercussions. . . . or results.
I know that sounds strange but I began to notice this trend during the last couple of months I’ve been doing Weight Watchers. I’d come into the meeting expecting a big gain only to have a loss but then, after being very “good” (e.g. keeping to the point regiment), I’d have a gain. Then I saw it: I was on a two week delay. Those three glasses of wine show up on my body later. That crabcake reappears later.
And then, I started wondering about other body phenomenon like cold viruses and the like. Sure enough, if I would just tough it out for two weeks, the worst would be over.
Where was I two weeks ago anyway. Let me think. That would have been June still. I have to turn back a calendar page even. I was traveling to Chicago that day for the library conference. It was my brother’s birthday; my son’s birthday. I had lunch with an old friend of 50 plus years. I took pictures all afternoon. And then I slept. Hard. Was a seed planted that day that I missed?
This is just one of the reasons why I need to pull out my journal again and capture the moment, the spark, the muse’s child breathing and tickling my neck. And then feed it with images and dreams and sound.
Two weeks later, I’m here and writing again.
When my parents fled the racism of North Carolina, they followed an invitation from a friend of my father’s to come to Indianapolis. The Latvian community was fairly strong there, running around 2500 people. They had a community center and even two Latvian Lutheran congregations (I assume those two congregations couldn’t come together because of politics & personalities, but I don’t really know the truth behind that division). Latvians had a community choir, a variety of musicians, and of course, visual artists & traveling theater companies. Like other emigres, the goal was to maintain the status quo as much as possible. Many of the older Latvians, grandparents and the like, never learned English.
In 1952, we entered that community and because of my father (who was 100% Latvian and a “good ole boy” from the old country) we had early acceptance. Despite our poverty (like most of the immigrants of the time), my parents had a fairly busy social life in the community (card parties, dinner parties, and the like). The first hitch came when my Father refused to attend church. This put everything on my mother and since we didn’t own a car (nor did my mother drive until she was well into her late forties), the constant jostling for rides etc., put us down on a lower rung of the Latvian social hierarchy. Nonetheless, my mother did her best to be active in various Latvian organizations: she sing in the Latvian choir, attended folk festivals, worked on church committees, and so forth.
In another compliance to the culture and community, my mother insisted that both my brother and I attend Latvian School on Saturdays. I can’t speak for my brother, but I’m fairly sure we both hated it.
But of course, little did the Latvians know, that my mother was also touting our German roots, singing us German folk songs, telling German folk tales, and telling us her story that revolved around her experiences within the German world of Latvia and later her years as a “re-patrioted” German. Oh yeah, she was a long way from the Latvian model.
But the breaking point in our Latvian connection came with my father’s death in 1961 and the evolving eccentricities of my mother. My mother’s status as “widow” put her in a precarious position. Twenty-five years younger than my father, she was still quite eligible for a second marriage and the women of the community found her presence threatening. At least, this is what my mother told me.
In later years, I began to see another dynamic of the “mixed breed” syndrome. With my father’s death, my mother’s German heritage became more and more apparent and questioned by the Latvians. At the same time, our small triad of a family became interested things American (particularly with my brother in high school and achieving some acclaim there). I became quite rebellious in “junior high” and wanted to stop being different and just wanted to “fit in.” I wanted to be a regular American.
Year by year, my brother and I pulled away from the Latvian community. Oh, we still celebrated the big holidays and Latvian cultural events, but I became a Latvian School drop out and set my sights on high school acceptance and elusive “popularity.”
My ultimate return to my Latvian roots is another story. But for this moment in time, I became a self-inflicted girl without a country. Because, truth be told, despite my best efforts, I remained just a bit different from my American friends and by then, had burned too many bridges in the Latvian world.
I have no one to blame by myself. I occasionally wonder what my adult life would have been like if I had put more energy into the Latvian part of me: going to Latvian summer camps, learning all the Latvian folklore & folk songs, joining a Latvian sorority, perhaps having an “authentic” folk costume sewn, and of course, making pilgrimage there. Perhaps I would have married a Latvian and insisted that my children speak the language. This was the ultimate path for first generation Lativan/Americans, the dream of the those who emigrated here, to sustain their culture.
In the days of the Cold War, all the way up until 1991, it was a point of pride for many Latvians (and really, any of the Baltic peoples), to protect their heritage while the Soviet Union did everything it could to destroy it back home. Their ultimate dream was that the Iron Curtain would come down and all satellite countries would be free again.
But for a teenager or even a twenty-something off to live life, the idea of a free Latvia was absurd and the fall of the Soviet Union an impossibility.
So much for impossibilities. The curtain did come down in 1991 and many stalwart Latvian/Americans returned to their homeland. Not me. Not until much later. Much, much later did I yearn to know and to go back. Almost too late. Almost.
In our case, we actually had a three car garage, but since we didn’t have a car, my parents rented out two of the garages and the third was storage for my father’s stuff (tools, wood, wheelbarrow, whatever). We also had two wide gates that met in the middle and would swing into our back yard; these gates had had to be closed each night, no matter what (that’s another story: the walk from the gates to our back door). Any trash that couldn’t be burned (that’s right, we burned all paper products back then) or added to the “compost” pile, was put out into the alley for trash pick up. Alleys were handy that way.
The best use of the alley in our neighborhood was kickball, softball (which I hated), tag, kick the can or hide and seek. It was a narrow playing field for kickball, but it worked well enough. Of course, there were dangers.
Opposite our garages were the ball-eater couple with their immaculate yard. Naturally, they had a fairly high chain link fence and gates but of course, not high enough to block a sailing kickball. When the ball did land in this yard, we would gather for a lengthy discussion and round of “one potato, two potato,” to determine who would scale the fence for the ball. Any kid discovered in the yard would receive 40 lashes or so we feared. Usually the adults would inevitably come out and simply confiscate the ball. I always wondered what they did with all those balls.
But the real danger, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the alley floor itself. On the other side of our property at the back was the machine shop. It was a small white concrete block building with a double wide door on the alley side, usually open, particularly on warm days. Along their back wall were a number of metal barrels which they filled with metal shavings and scraps. (The mother in me of today just cringes to think of it.) Our section of alley was littered with sharp shiny metal fragments among which we merrily played, and often in bare feet. Naturally, there were dramatic moments of blood and accidents, but it was never enough to keep us away. It was simply part of our world.
My mother called it the shack. It stood at the corner of the alley facing 10th street next to the green duplex. If that house would have been in Appalachia, it would have seemed more appropriate, or if it was on a farm somewhere, you could have called it the “old house” grandpa built. Instead, it was one of our neighbors. No one knew what really held it together.
I was forbidden to go inside the shack under any circumstances. My parents considered the family suspicious, dirty, and probably dangerous.
In the summertime, the shack was downright entertaining. All kinds of people would pull up to the house from hot rods to trucks to motorcycles. It was a loud house. People were screaming at each other all the time but it was never clear if it was out of anger or normal conversation. It was a drinker’s house and a smoker’s house. It was a laughing house.
I wish I could remember the name of the girl who lived there. It was something like Brenda or Sue or maybe it was a combination like Brenda Sue. And in her own way, she became my friend. And of course, I had to go inside. It was an adventure, another world: men in undershirts sat around the tiny black and white television, grandmas and daughters sat in the kitchen smoking cigarettes and drinking iced tea from Ball jars, toddlers walked around in dirty underwear and heavy diapers, while younger guys with slick greasy hair drank milk from cartons as they stood by the open refrigerator door or picked at a guitar on the stairs. There was always music playing, day and night, on the radio.
Brenda Sue was worldly to me. She wore make-up and she teased her hair and she wore curlers at night. She smoked cigarettes, used a lot of swear words, and listened to country music. She probably wasn’t more than three or four years older than I was, but she acted much more so. Brenda Sue soon became my source of information for all the dirty stuff and bad words I would ever need to know.
I don’t remember who ratted me out for hanging out at Brenda Sue’s. It might have been my brother or Gladys or maybe my mother just figured it out. I’ll never know.
The shack finally burned down. It was a miracle no one was hurt. Like putting a match to a very dry, dead pine tree, the house blazed and was gone in what seemed like minutes; then nothing was left but black timbers, a brick chimney, fluttering papers, and roaches. Every house on the block got a share of the shack’s roaches.
Later, as young adults, my brother and I would reminisce about the rednecks and white trash from our old neighborhood. We would tell stories of the fights and the brick throwing and the filthy graffiti. But there was another part of me that also remembered the people, the ordinary people, who had made a life in a ramshackle little house on 10th street.