Monday, May 28, 2012

The Land of Dirt

The land of dirt is in my veins.
I was just three when my feet
first touched the light beige soil.
I was three when I first saw
a leper, wearing rags and begging
in front of the western burger restaurant.
I stared at the remnant, dead tree at the zoo,
imagining the sandy desert stretching
thousands of kilometres with not one tree left.
As I played in the dirt with my brothers
and tobogganed down the dunes on the edge of the city,
I was mildly aware:
Of the women at the river
washing their clothes by hand,
carrying children on their backs
and loads of wood on their head,
pounding what little yam or millet they had
to feed their families.
At three, and four and five and six, I was curious
about why people washed in such a brown, dirty river
and what the beggar man ate for dinner.
I understood that I lived on the edge
of the biggest, driest desert on earth
and that growing plants was near impossible.
And I understood that when I contracted a disease
rarely experienced in the developed world,
I had the medicine to save my life
in a day.

The land of dirt is in my veins.
Thousands of kilometres away and comfortably cool,
my walls contain fabric pictures
from another world.
Mementos of a place far removed from this
green, humid land-
soapstone elephants and wooden bowls.
Photographs of mud brick temples and nomads on their camels
remind me of an existence
most around me will never know.
I am twelve. And I remember
the women on the banks of the river
with babies on the backs and loads of wood on their heads.

The land of dirt is in my veins.
Although I sit in a state-of-the-art university
I am transported to the dirt
by the film showing the women
and the disease the babies on their backs
are dying from.
The land of dirt
appears without hope, without help.
Stories of economy, of corruption, of debt,
complicate and obscure the obvious-
In the land of dirt
life is unfair, unjust,
people are hungry
and people die
at rates not seen anywhere else in the world.
I am moved to learn-
the economics, the corruption, the debt,
to un-complicate the hopelessness and
locate the hope for the women at the river
with babies on their backs and loads of wood on their heads.

It’s 2012 and the women
are on the front page of a far away newspaper.
My mind trades the comfort of Sydney
for the river banks of the river in Niamey.
The horrific statistics no longer shock me,
the images no longer make me sick,
I know the babies are dying
and the women have no food to feed their families.
In Niger there is a drought
there is famine
there is hopelessness.
But I remember the women at the river
with babies on the backs and loads of wood on their head.

And because the land of dirt is in my veins
I will tell their story.

The place of my childhood - Niger- is facing one of it's worst famines in the last century. It is land-locked country almost entirely made up of Sahara Desert. It is one of the most undeveloped nations in the world, frequently seen at the bottom of the UNDP index and with some of the most consistently terrible women and child health statistics. 
Thankfully, it has begun to make it into our news in the past few weeks. But unfortunately the reality currently facing the country is not new and is the result of consistent neglect from the international community. The perfect storm of climate change-induced severe drought, rising food prices and poor aid and development responses to it's unique problems are causing widespread hunger and malnutrition.
This place holds a special place in my heart.

Here is a link to the story (including image gallery) from this weekend's Sydney Morning Herald that inspired the poem: A Tragedy in Niger

If you are interested in supporting any of the immediate relief efforts here are some links:

And for some further context, read this recent media release from Oxfam: Joint study finds Niger communities will run out of food before next harvest

Thank you for listening....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen heard or discovered
"What if the closest I get to the moment is now"
It is a haunting question that Katie Herzig poses in her beautiful song 'The Closest I Get'.

Last Saturday I spent the day with some of the dearest people in my world- William, Sascha and Vivienne (and their lovely parents!) They are aged five, two and a half and one, respectively. I love them like they are my own children. And now that I live an hour away I don't get to see them anywhere near as much as I would like.
As I was preparing for Will's 5th birthday party and playing with them, I caught myself feeling sad at what I am missing out on, how much they are growing between visits, and the fact that at some point that evening I would have to leave them.
(And if I'm to be brutally honest, I was also feeling emotional about whether I will ever have the blessing of my own family.)
Then in a moment as I was sitting on the floor cuddling a giggling and happy Vivienne, I was struck with an epiphany- by being sad and sorry for myself I was missing the moment!
Here I was with a precious little human who wanted to play with me and I was somewhere else.
And Katie Herzig's song came to mind... "what if the closest I get to the moment is now?"
What if I miss the joy and beauty of a child's love and play because I am too caught up in myself?
It was still hard to kiss them goodnight and tuck them into bed later that night knowing I wouldn't be there in the morning, but I experienced all the rest of the evening's moments as best I could.

Watch Katie's song...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

 This afternoon I sat out on my porch with a cup of coffee and some uni reading to do.
... not much reading got done...
But I sat. I listened to the noise of children playing in the lane behind our house, the sounds of a band practicing in a garage nearby, the birds and wind (along with the occasional Boeing 747 overhead!).
I looked out at the changing colours of the vines in our yard and the beautiful clear blue sky.
And I felt at peace.
I have spent much of this week feeling very unwell, miserable and sorry for myself - I'm not very good at being sick. And my mind is full of worry at so many things. Like uni and relationships and money and where to live and my health and what the future holds.
But in that moment, I was so grateful for taking the time to sit and enjoy the beauty of reality right there.
There was a time when I had no idea how to do that. And another wave of gratefulness came over me as I realised the growth - the autumns, winters, springs and summers - that have allowed me to come to this place... of spying beauty....
God is faithful. And beautiful.
I am blessed.

Now to get back to that uni reading....