March 20, 2011 § 3 Comments
“A moment of enlightenment is a moment when we realize ‘the blessings that are always pouring forth.’ We are, by nature, endowed with qualities of absolute goodness –purest love, compassion, wisdom, and tranquility. Those radiant qualities are intrinsic to our being. A moment of enlightenment is the moment that we newly notice such ‘blessings’ as having been all around us, and within us, from the beginning. Whenever we are ready to notice, we can sense their healing, liberating energy pouring forth right here, right now.”
This excerpt, from a book called ‘Awakening Through Love,’ by John Makransky, well captures the blissful sensibility and radiant power that blankets us when we take time to be present in the hands of the single moment. Yesterday, I celebrated one full year of life in Kenya, and having carved the day to reflect on all that has unfolded around and within me, around and within us, since the beginning of this great adventure, I can hardly grasp the extent to which I have been sculpted by this chapter in life. When I think about all that has happened in this one year, all the people who’ve graced us, the smell of each season breathing through our house, the extraordinary places and cultures I’ve been blessed to weave through and into, and most of all the ceaseless state of motion that comes with twenty seven extraordinary children and the nature of a climb that has no end, it seems to have been a year that tucked it’s wings and soared with great speed. And yet, when I think about my arrival to Kenya, the first time I met the children and pined for their approval, the many hardships we have grown through together, the bonds forged, the triumphs, and the depth to which my life has been forever changed, it’s hard to believe that it’s a measurable amount of time at all.
It is through this duality that I notice the greatest changes within myself. Every twist, bend, and break; every revered moment of clarity and understanding; every trip, struggle to find hope, step upward and flash of pure elation is equally necessary and beautiful. Like symphony. I’ve learned, more tangibly, that we grow through complexity, and the more we drive into the unknown and challenge our weaknesses, the stronger and more affirmed the brightness of every living day becomes. No matter your circumstance, wealth, social measure or the like, happiness hinges on this hunger to grow, to find passion, and let every day ride the dance of its opus. You are alive and thus you are limitless from this very second on. The blessings are pouring over.
I have much to share, but I want to start this post by thanking you, for lending me this moment and for extending your wish of love, to me, to our children, and to our aim. By caring enough to be here, you are declaring your belief and hope for equity, declaring yourself present in this desire, and it is through your wish of love that we can together change the future of our world. Be enveloped in the beauty of your gift. We who receive it are beyond fortunate and with equal luminously and gratitude and fire, we send you our wish of fulfillment and love.
Since I last wrote, I have traveled to unexpected length, and the fruits of being thrust from routine and the toothy speed of need are taking shape. I started writing this in Ethiopia, if you can imagine, at a small, round, tangerine table, with coffee black as cowhide, watching the sun drop gold behind a massive, swaying bank of Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees. I was given three days notice to leave East Africa and this is how I found myself in one of the most historically rich, caffeinated, and colorful places I’ve ever been. But I’m already ahead of myself. Come to the present. I am on the bus; my favorite, peculiar space, like a corner café, and from here I have two very special people to introduce you to.
Please welcome, Joseph Muchiri, a beautiful life, now forever changed. He is gentle and intelligent, speaks softly and tucks his chin to shelter his slow, climbing smile. He is thirteen bright years old. And once again, we are given the opportunity to prove that love can be an unconditional force and the world can act to LIFT with more faith than it can turn away.
Now meet Virginia. She is the long awaited, ten year old sister of our little Michael, who has not stopped smiling since she came. Virginia is outgoing and vibrant, with dancing eyes and a heart-crinkling smile. Like her brother, she is very bright and quick to shoot her hand during ‘nightly gratitude.’
With Joseph and Virginia, we are now twenty-seven. What is the potential of a single life? How sacred and vital then are twenty-seven and growing?
You decide. Click: INFINITE
Now, in equal joy, for those of you who don’t know her, meet Angie.
Like with my grandparents and dad, it’s hard to explain what it feels like to introduce someone you love to someone who has equally laid root in your heart; to watch two people hug, who have both so totally altered the course of your life. It’s bliss.
Watching Angie lift the children, chip away with matrons over tea, shake paws with the Chief, and ask me gently, hand in hand with Lucy Obama, for permission to stay up past bedtime to finish a book was surreal. She wove herself excitedly and lovingly into the texture of it all and came to understand the inner working of our small and beautiful machine. She taught yoga to the children and adults, gave each child their own yoga mat, was rarely seen without a girl in each hand or an anxious reader in her lap, and her insatiable hunger to impact their lives and become a part of this mighty push was a dream in motion.
Thank you Urban Yoga Spa (in Seattle) for donating yoga mats to our beautiful children; a space for them to learn the art of caring for their body, both inside and out. And Angie, thank you for sticking with me and for crossing the ocean to be part of this magnificent story.
From here, dear reader, travel sweeps our story. The first word you will need to know and remember is as beautiful in it’s meaning as it is in itself. Say it lovingly with me:
Leleshwa is what you dream of, when you imagine the iconic hunting safari’s of past. It is a khaki tented oasis on the Eastern skirt of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, and to call it a camp, without fanning attention to the lions coughing a few feet from the tent at night, the serene riverside setting hung with vines and baboons, and the intimate attention paid to every detail, would be a great offense.
I have been fortunate enough to experience six different safari camps in Kenya now, and I hear first hand reviews of far more, so when I say there is genuinely no place I could more highly recommend for safari, I mean it sincerely.
Joe Charleston is the charismatic and supremely knowledgeable safari guide that led my grandparents, dad and I on our first safari in September. Since this, he has included me in his incredible family, taken me under his wing in ways, connected me to people and resources I need, and has worked to help support and promote Flying Kites, along side Ker & Downey and Simon and Amanda Belcher. He and his wife, Gillian, are extraordinary and Leleshwa is their gorgeous creation, second only to their darling son Kien.
Over the course of our stay, we visited a local school and a Maasai village, fell asleep to hyenas whooping, lions coughing five feet from the canvas, and had a private vehicle and guide for all game drives. We tracked leopard, laughed with hippos, lounged beside cheetah, watched female lion tow twelve cubs out into the plains. We sat in a green marsh with seventeen giraffe, picnicked each day in the shade of a lone standing tree, and ate dinner to the glow of a candle lit table, a bonfire, and the calls of the Mara. The only heartache to endure, while in the arms of Leleshwa, is leaving.
For those of you in search of adventure, if even in the form of a daydream, visit Leleshwa. Click.
Thank you Joe, Gillian, Kien, Mike, Gordon, and all at Laleshwa for the serenity, for your social mindedness, and the natural beauty you have so masterfully harnessed.
Now, reader, the second word. This one you may have heard before. Say it lovingly: Lamu.
From the heart and heat of the Mara, we embarked to my second favorite place on Earth, Lamu. Priest Lake, Idaho will always hold unbeatable reign, because of the king that is family. But when it comes to paradise of the spiritual, enlightening, and curious kind, this is it. Swahili culture at it’s purest; the webbed fingers of Muslim and East African influence.
We became human hammocks beside the calm, salty Indian Ocean. Angie led yoga on the beach, we linked up with the island socialites, watched a group of artists paint their bright interpretation of our surroundings: a bearded man puffing a cigarette with vines draped from the awning; canvass sails cutting the dance of cobalt and indigo like shark fins. We drank coconut milk and wandered thin alleyways. We ate fish and fruit and rice and danced. We read and talked and talked about what we read, and did nothing at any real speed. Every experience was as graciously welcomed as it was graciously parted from. This was where I finally had a chance to catch up with myself. And thank goodness, because a curve ball had begun it’s bending course.
Being a volunteer without pay, in country on a travel visa, we dance a hot dance; one we share with many, if not most, other aid volunteers. The cost of a work visa is far more expensive than the cost of leaving East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi) every six months, so to send us home to our families for less makes much more sense. This mark for me was February 28th. We are, however, amid an exciting chapter of growth, restructuring our Kenya operations, so the timing of a trip home needed to hold. I was put in touch with a sort of ‘fixer,’ who said my travel to Kilimanjaro could count or be spun to work as an extension. But this proved to be untrue. Thus, when I returned from the wisp of Lamu to find I had three days to leave the country, I was left now with a rushed and slightly blind decision to fly somewhere outside of East Africa for a weekend and do it on a supremely depleted, low-from-the-get-go budget. I ruled out a bulk of neighboring countries because of expensive flights and, in some cases, volatile climates. The two in most realistic reach were Egypt and Ethiopia. Because of unraveling politics in Egypt and Libya, the delicious love affair born between me and Ethiopian food, and the little, luring knowledge I have gathered from the waiters at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Nairobi, I opted for Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.
What I would find upon setting foot off the plane was that I had drastically underestimated the amount I did not know about the place I was going. I had no book, no exchangeable currency, a credit card that worked in one ATM machine in the whole of the city, and no bearing on what the actual cost of anything was. Following the chuckle at the currency exchange desk, given my platforms of trade, I had to loiter the newly arriving flight gates to convince travelers heading back to Kenya to trade me Kenya shillings for U.S. dollars. This finite criteria, in addition to everyone’s hesitation to trade money with loitering strangers, made for an exciting first few hours. Once finally through customs, I made my way to the sunny street to pretend I knew exactly what I was doing; to act as if I wasn’t the juicy, tourist shark bait I most certainly was.
Thankfully, I arrived with enough daylight to move slowly and with patience. I hopped in a cab with a man who was reading the paper, opposed to the one’s rushing toward me, and asked him to take me to a few decent hotels. The few we saw smelled like the inside of my grandma Pat’s old car, were frugal with things like toilet paper and running water, and were in areas that were questionable at best. So instead of continuing down this mile, I decided to start small, with a cup of famed Ethiopian coffee, at a tangerine table, beneath Blue Gum eucalyptus trees. It’s here I started to write and from here that I eventually found myself a nice and affordable place to stay. And just like the bending course Ethiopia in the first place, my exploratory path would collide with the bending route of a cheerful man named Elius.
It started with a beggar actually, one who was following me on my walk toward the ‘Mercato.’ He was shaking his hands relentlessly for money, and Elius, who was walking ahead of us, turned to him and asked, ‘why do you beg from him and not me?’ He gave the man a coin, of which I had none yet, then helped me to find the Mercato and the one bank that took my card, and from here he became by lens and guide to Addis and outlying areas. He worked for an Irish NGO, had just finished up with a conference, knew the city from attending a local university, and was with no plans for a few days before returning to a more rural part of the country. It took me some critical thinking to open and trust the serendipity of this, but once I did, so too did the inside track.
I found myself walking through crystal alleyways of raw incense vendors, men cutting horse saddles, cracked hands scooping from three foot mounds of red pepper flakes; mountains of hand woven prayer mats and clay coffee pots; silversmiths and goldsmiths cutting crosses and rings in the intricate float of traditional design. I sat in a barbershop chair with my ever-present cup of coffee, listening to locals heckle over Chelsea and Manchester, talked religion over scoops of warm, deep orange bean paste, carried to mouth in pockets of gray injera. I visited the palace of Emperor Menelik, the humble ‘mother’ of Ethiopia, and the colorful Orthodox church that sits high above the city, behind which a village of people infected with HIV live to drink holy water, believing it, opposed to medicine, will heal them. I admired the gold plated chairs, silver plated umbrellas, robes and crowns of Emperor Heile Selassie, or ‘His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Juday, and Elect of God,” as he was to be called. I went out to clubs, where prostitution is a heart-breaking commonality, and I sang with a troop of traditional performers, who sing with incredible jumps in range, and danced with my shoulders, as coached by the women performing.
From Addis, I traveled to Debra Zeit, a town near a chain of volcanic lakes, and commuted by tuk tuk and horse drawn carriage from one café and reading place to another. Every menu was carefully combed and every bite eagerly welcomed. I left Ethiopia with six kilos of Harar coffee, a clay coffee pot, two pure silver crosses, and two 315 year old prayer books, each hand written in Amheric on animal hide pages; the owners fingers squeezed into the body.
I missed the kids before I even left to Ethiopia, and I was more than ready to get back to work, so with a coveted stamp back into Kenya and treasures in tow, you can imagine the tidal wave of joy that comes with thirty five hugs and the site of your warm mountain bed.
Before and since returning, a multitude of processes, personnel changes, and partnerships have led us to extraordinary new heights of impact and efficiency, and in another post I will paint these in their due color. But one, very notable, extraordinary act of kindness I cannot delay in honoring. Peter Keating, my dear friend and a tireless supporter of Flying Kites, has consistently pushed the extent to which we understand sacrifice and measure generosity. To add to his already lengthy list of education incentives, infrastructure inputs, and staff and child support, Peter bought us a beautiful, extended and fully equipped Land Cruiser. And with the long rains now beginning, this is a gift that eases logistics as much as it does peace of mind and progress! The money previously sinking into repairs of an old, shimmed Land Rover is now making room for beautiful children like Joseph and Virginia.
You never cease to amaze us Peter; those who have met you and those who have not. You are a gift from beyond.
If you have read this far, dear reader and friend, I love you! I will close this lengthy gratitude-parade by thanking the vehicle that has made every sentence possible, Flying Kites. Leila, Toby, and Justine, the realization of your extraordinary dream has become the platform by which so many countless others now brightly living their own. On behalf of all us thankful souls, we love you as family. Thank you for fearlessly charging the unknown.
I’ll leave you once again with John Makransky. Have a RADIANT day today. You are powerful and beautiful and limitless. Soak in the strength of this moment.
“That radiant blessing of love has been coming to us from the start, not just from a few people close to us, but also from many not personally known to us or forgotten. So many have offered themselves to us quietly, unnoticed, and unremarked upon…
We need to become newly aware of the love that has infused our life all along, to turn our attention to it afresh with the eyes of a child. To do so is to become conscious of the tremendous capacity of love that even now permeates our being – to open to it, heal in its life giving energy, and participate in its power to renew our world. We can awaken to the deepest goodness in ourselves and others. We can learn to recognize and commune with ‘the blessings that have always been pouring forth.’