Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Weight of Injustice

Dear blogees -

I'm so sorry it's been so long since I've written. It's been a whirlwind of a few weeks - we celebrated Chris's birthday with about 30 friends (we have 30 friends in Nairobi!!), we've been increasingly involved in helping lead worship at our church, I started tutoring a 6th grade boy, and the kids are growing like weeds. Amidst all the busyness, newness, and Dr. runs (several bouts of tummy bugs and colds over the past few weeks) this blog has been neglected.

And in my down time, I have been enjoying a bit of crafting, a bit of cooking (croissants & roast tomato/red pepper soup perfected!), and recovering from several sleepless nights spent hugging a vomiting Kai as the contents of his stomach ran down my back - oh the depths of a mother's love...and oh the needed increase for laundry detergent.

We are overall doing incredibly well, and are feeling more and more settled here.

Through a friend's connection & forwarding of my resume (as 90% of things happen here in Kenya), I was invited to attend a training on Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). I was incredibly excited, and attended my first day today.

Let me say this: It was potentially one of the most amazing experiences of my life (and I have had amazing experiences). Having the opportunity to discuss and learn about child & adolescent mental health development and trauma responses & healing with and from approx 45 Kenyan mental health professionals was/is absolutely exceptional. I learned so much in one day - not just about TF-CBT but about counseling in Kenyan culture, about contextualizing therapy, about the profound influences of culture/background knowledge/upbringing in therapeutic theories. I can confidently say at least 30% of what I learned today was not intentionally taught - but all observed.

Some humorous/endearing/truly Kenyan things from the training:
* we started and ended with a prayer, though the training was in no way religiously affiliated
* we did warm up exercises including singing a Christian children's song, and tracing letters in the air with our bodies
* the presenter would often leave open ended questions, which the class would end in unison: "so the client then experiences the..." class: "trauma" (please note the end of the presenters statement was always made with an upward intonation, marvelous attention getting technique)
* participants actively suggested rules, and changes to schedule - and the presenters accommodated
* we ate stewed bananas for lunch (delicious)

Some difficult things about the training:
* absolute prevalence of sexual abuse obvious in Kenya - every person in the room worked specially with Gender Based Violence issues
* normalcy with which counselors discussed severe trauma experienced by their clients - rape pregnancies, rape by family members/school teachers/close friends. The normalcy indicated the frequency and the widespread knowledge of the occurrence of these traumatic experiences
* the fact that Kenya has no laws on mandated reporting - it is perfectly legal to have knowledge of a child being actively abused, and stay completely quiet
* the stories that were shared about the trauma affecting children, young children, here. Where I live.

I've been in this situation before - I worked in this field for 3 years in Los Angeles. I know the stories. I haven't heard anything today that is new to me - I know abuse happens, and it happens everywhere. Any of the stories I heard today could have been told in Los Angeles, London, Chicago - this happens everywhere.

The dilemma lies here (alert - the following information may be difficult to read): one of the stories told was about a young girl who is abused twice a day by two separate family members. Other family members know of the abuse and have told her to keep quiet. The counselor knows about the abuse, and the fact the girl was beaten for telling the counselor. And yet, the counselor can do nothing. There are no immediate laws, no provisions, no safety for this 13 year old girl.

So tonight - as I write this & as you in the West wake up to your coffee, jobs, and to do lists (and arguably your own difficulties, traumas, and trials) there is a 13 year old girl, within 20 minutes of me, being traumatized. And I know. I know.

Knowledge is not always power, is it?

At my old job in LA I had the comfort of knowing the specific stories I was told had all ended in the child being removed from the situation - of course it could happen again, and of course it was at that moment, at this moment, happening to another child in every city in the world. But to hear the story today, and to come home with this knowledge tonight - this is a helpless feeling.

This feeling screams for justice, and is stifled in my throat - because what is my power?

My husband voiced his confidence in me - in my ability to change the lives of others positively, and to make a substantial difference in the well being of abused children. I appreciate his confidence, and I hope at the end of my life I can say that is true.

But, for tonight, that aspiration does nothing for the 13 year old girl, or for her younger siblings that watch & know. Tonight, I am helpless. And tomorrow, I may stand next to her aggressors at the grocery store - I may even talk to them, smile at them, receive help from them...and I will not know.

I know this is raw - I know this is offensive - I know some of you may think I'm speaking negatively about Kenya or Los Angeles or law makers. I know.

But I do not apologize. The world is raw, the world is offensive, the world contains negative things/people/places/events.

And it also contains me, in all my imperfection, and it contains you, in all of yours. Us - with our aspirations for better, our aspirations for justice, our belief that we will eventually triumph over those who use their power for selfish gain at the expense of those without a voice.

Let's not lose sight just because seeing is painful. Just because seeing is believing - and this belief is raw, and ugly, and overwhelming. Just because we, or our friend, or our children are not the immediate victim; it could be, at any minute. Maybe it is you, was you. Fight it - you have a voice.

I'm done depressing you for the night/day - and of course if I've offended you, and all that comes of you being offended is you being offended, and not some pause for reflection - I'm sorry. If this is/was you or your experience, and this post re-surfaces a difficult past, I am so sorry - I hope you know it is your courage to continue living that inspires courage in others, in me, and renews my belief this is worth me raising my voice.

If I've offended you, know I've also offended myself in some ways, to be perfectly candid. But I hope those ways continue to jar me out of my inclination towards complacency and ignorance - because that is where my mind peaceably wants to be. But that is not, absolutely not, where my God calls me to be, or where the 13 year old girls of this world need me to be.

You have a voice. I have a voice. Raise them. In small or large ways, in direct or indirect ways, to a crowd or to your spouse - raise them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Nameless and faceless

We are sensationalists - and we are our biggest sensation.

We crave being bigger than we actually are - doing something more grand then we are actually capable of. We crave success. Feel entitled to it. Feel like it belongs to us. And feel like we can define it - for ourselves and for others.

I'm brought to this thought by the recent clamor over Joseph Kony, the LRA, Invisible Children. Just like 'Charlie bit me', it's gone viral. And somehow, as much as I hate to think it and to be the downer who says it, it has the vast potential (just like 'Charlie bit me') to fade back into the category of 'casual dinner topic' within a week.

Where does the hype come from? How do 20 million views just happen in a matter of moments? And even more importantly - how do we forget just as quickly as we learned?

Because we are governed by sensation - we crave it, and we can hardly respond to anything without it. What wakes us is not a high moral sense, not a deep belief in the goodness of humanity, not an unwavering conviction - but a sensation. At least that's what sparks us out of our seats - what makes us keep going is an all together different question.

As soon as that sensation comes, we are sparked right out of our seats - though not literally, we usually remain seated. We are driven to tears, we are inspired to grandness and show it by posting to our social media and telling some friends - maybe, maybe we even give a little bit to help the cause. Those who are really sparked will write a letter to someone, maybe host a viewing night to show others the video and spread the knowledge. And through all of our little 'sparks' a light will shine - at least for a time.

But inevitably it will die down, it will fade. Our sensation addiction will crave something new, something 'harder'. And we will continue on - looking for the next sensation to jolt us out of our seats for a minute. Something to remind us that while we sit here, we are supposed to be living - we are living. We. Living.

But living for what? And how? And for how long? For those sensations. Somehow, ironically - we have come to a place where we live to remember we live. And I would argue, that if we recognize this is what we are actually craving & look past the sensationalism that temporarily satiates this craving & give up on the desire to be successful/important/impacting on the entire world, we will realize that remembering we live is actually an excellent form of existence. Let me say that more clearly - realizing we are alive, this moment, alive, is the greatest thing we can do & the most thrilling sensation we can ever absorb.

If we actually remembered we were alive every day, every hour, every minute. Every second. What would that do to us? To me? To take a deep breath in, to savor it, because it indicates we are alive.

To recognize our smallness - even as 20million, to recognize our insignificance. To recognize the few in political power always have a stronger voice than the millions - even when they join the millions (and well done to the millions for getting the one voice to join - though that's what it often takes). What if recognizing our smallness didn't mean we felt in adequate or insignificant or un-sensational?

What if it means the opposite? What if recognizing our smallness means we recognize our limitations and our realities? Means we recognize our most profound influence is not grand but small. Perhaps this would free us from the self-imposed & societally-imposed pressure to be sensational.

The recognize our greatness is not in posting a video someone else made, but is rather in stepping outside our own door, turning around from the computer to look at a spouse, a child, a roommate. Taking a moment to breathe - to see the beauty surrounding us, to give thanks for it. And then to intentionally look for the pain - yes the pain.

Whether our own or the pain of those immediately around us. And then to say thanks when we see it - to say thanks for seeing those who remained nameless and faceless because we were too busy being grand and sensational. Because now that we see them, and I mean see them with our entire being, not just a glance - they are no longer nameless and faceless. Give thanks for seeing the pain.

Social media is a powerful tool - you all know that. Even this blog pursues that idea and belief. But if we think for a second that we are grand or sensational because we jump on someone else's bandwagon, we have missed living. We have missed the greatness that exists in our smallness. Our realized smallness is great not because it means we are part of something bigger (though I think we are), but because embraced smallness is content smallness - and contentment with ourselves (and our lack of grandeur) allows us to really look beyond the skin-deep walls of our own being. And absorb the realities we will inevitably see.

I'm not saying we should ignore the causes of the greater world - I completely think we should pay attention to them, be informed, be well-informed, be intelligent in our discourse, and unemotional in our analysis of how to best approach the problems that surround us (emotion is of course necessary, but very rarely useful in objective analysis).

I guess what I am saying is this - we are not as great as we think we are. And thank goodness. We are sensational - but not in the way society tells us we must be. We are sensational only if those around us have faces and names - if they don't, our shouts to those in our distant circles to heed the cries of other's causes will fall on deaf ears - because relationship is the primary catalyst to change.

If you've posted something on Joseph Kony or Invisible Chilren - that's wonderful, it truly is. Now, turn around and look across the room, out the window, into the next office or cubicle - do you see the nameless and faceless? They are there - I swear it. Now, go.  Be sensational. You are small, and thank goodness - someone needs you to be.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Gap of Silence

I apologize for the gap in between the last blog and this. I was informed vicariously, shortly after I wrote the last blog, that my blog in general has caused some problems among people I have never even met (and some I have). I was informed I had offended individuals and was also made aware that certain individuals read my blog and considered it to be politically incorrect - even racially offensive.

So, with a variety of emotions, I took an unannounced hiatus from my writing - partially to review my blog and make some edits, and partially to consider what the next best entry would be.

While I adore my children, I don't want this to be another 'mommy' blog - I am made up of more than my role as mother. Furthermore, I have received countless personal messages, and 'public' comments saying how encouraging my writing has been, how inspired you (some of my readers) have been to look at your students, your surroundings, your peers, and your lives in a different & more positive light. If this is indeed true, it would be wrong of me to stop writing completely only because far-removed individuals had taken offense (though the thought did cross my mind). I've been humbled by the thought my words have the potential to make the world a slightly better place.

Conversely, my words have the potential to put others, albeit unintentionally, in a difficult position; or even offend, anger, or personally wound them. A thought which is equally as humbling, and a bit alarming.

With all that said, I will continue to write - about the things I see, think, believe, struggle with, triumph over, and consider - but with a more discerning eye and the knowledge not everyone reading this will assume the best of me should I not say something as articulately as I would like.

In regards to my blog being racially offensive, I have one response. There is a difference between race and culture, though the two can sometimes be considered mutually. While I am absolutely opposed to distinction or dismissal based on race, I am also absolutely opposed to the idea that acknowledging cultural trends, differences, values, or idiosyncrasies should be offensive. Perhaps to some it is, but that does not mean it should be.

Cultural differences are amazing - they are what make us as the human race beautiful, and able to continually strive for higher ground (though the fear of them, or too adamant of a belief in them, has led to countless loss). And every culture has its quirks, its markers that the rest of the world associate with it whether the individuals in that culture like the quirks, or even engage in them on an individual level. While I will be extremely careful to avoid offending, I will also continue to acknowledge cultural differences do exist. And because they do, I am a better person. I won't make this a blog about culture, but when it comes up, I will not shy away from it.

People often ask me what I did to make my transition back to Los Angeles from Nairobi (as an 18 year old who had spent the majority of her life in Kenya) a bit less painful;

I replied: "laugh at myself before others get the chance to. I'm bound to do stupid things, to make cultural blunders, and other people are bound to laugh. But if I laugh first, they are laughing with me, not at me."

We can either acknowledge our blunders & imperfections with grace & humor (even on a cultural level) - or be sure the rest of the world acknowledges them with laughter when we aren't looking. 

So - to those of you who read this & were offended, I hope you no longer are & if you are, please feel free to contact me directly (I have to approve comments before they are published, so you can just leave me a comment & I won't publish it - include your email address & I'll write you back).

And to those of you who weren't, I hope you continue to enjoy your reading. I don't need any comments along the lines of "that's so ridiculous, etc" - we all have room to grow & a critical re-reading of my blog revealed a few instances where a misinterpretation of my statements could have led to individuals being offended. They were amended.

On an entirely separate note - we are doing ok! Kai & Mika continue to thrive, though Kai is doing it with one less toenail than normal as his big toenail got taken off by a door earlier this week. We did purchase a vehicle!!! and our paperwork is all being processed. I also renewed my Kenya's driver license and Chris got his alien registration card - so much progress!

My parents got back in country last Friday and we are absolutely 'chuffed' to have them back. Kai completely knew who they were, and has spent some afternoons running in circles in our living room saying "Kokoo & Babu, Kokoo & Babu, go to their house? go to their house?" (Kokoo (sounds like cocoa) is Maasai for grandmother, and Babu is Swahili for grandpa).

We've also continued to develop relationships with friends we've met and are feeling more & more settled here. Also, I've officially arrived at a place where I love being home with the kids - which is amazing.

Chris and I made a pact to be done with our separate activities tonight by 10:15 so I've got to run. Expect to be hearing more from me soon! I have lots to tell you from the past few weeks, and plenty of things I've been thinking through. Plus, pics and more pics to share.

Happy weekend!

The Favorites