Week Nine: How Little We Know
January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
To borrow the words of our profound little Benson, “Uncle, you have not done writing in so long. You will start where?”
I will start with a list. The kids first kiss with the ocean; my mom and brothers carving tall grass in the Mara, sweeping kids into their arms, button-hooking the luminous hills of Rwanda like the glowing pages of a pop-up-book; a fifty year rain record; Father Christmas and ‘the deers;’ the rainforest; the new year; back to school; more jobs; Angie’s mom; the most awe-inspiring Kilimanjaro group, and the sun – thank heavens – the shining summer sun!
2011 was a mad course; a hailstorm of implausible trials; a relentless test of sacrifice and surrender. From it though came opportunities to better love, better provide, and more wholly find meaning in this wild journey. So with optimism saluted and love exalted, I welcome the clean vastness of the year now upon us.
Scene from Rwanda / Ode to my Mom and Brothers:
In the trunk of the LandCruiser, a seat is folded down. From it, I am watching hills upon hills of tea leaves and banana trees dance a slow whip along rivers looking born from a pottery-wheel. My mom – in her quiet strength – is taking in every child waving and every dress blushing in the wind. My brothers are laughing, making me feel like I could easily die from happiness overwhelm. And then the rainforest, when I suddenly knew nothing about anything and was honored to be so humbled by such fearsome beauty. Please, bury my heart in the rainforest.
To Mom and Blake and Brandon, I am so thankful and so in love it chokes me in fullness. For every pothole and mud stuck shoe, every airport race, fear-conquering and wandering conversation, I am grateful. Thank you for your patience, your sense of humor, and for expanding my bounds and the bounds of love for the kids. You can see me now, and that makes all the difference.
Chapter 3 : How Little We Know.
This weeks test of compassion is to embrace how little we know. By this and only by this can we more fully ‘inhabit our humanity’ and sail in the beauty of mystery, instead of ‘pluck out the heart of it’ for ourselves and for others.
Muumbi and Mwangi. Do you know these names? If you don’t, it’s best yourecoil to last post and come furling back to see some serious wings throw open. For those who do, it’s time we cut loose the hive of inspiration and stand the hairs on our arms like soldiers of the Royal Compassion Army. Wisdom is the horizon love, let’s run for it.
Muumbi is in an IDP camp; her worldly possessions scorched, her family scattered, and her future is in every way cryptic and dark. She is one refugee in a forest of desperate thousands. Mwangi is sitting on a mattress with his pregnant wife, his orphaned nephew, and food has run out. He doesn’t have one coin to build on, not one second to rest, but every reason to fold and sleep. He is one hungry man in a sea of billions upon billions hungry.
Not everyone makes a comeback you know. It’s a lottery, who will be chosen. And why them? Why them and not me? We spend so much energy swimming in search of answers for these huge aching questions. But what if the creators of the lottery and thus the creators of those questions of inequality? We are. And if we created it, can we not repair it? We can! And what if the answer to all our hungry, panging questions was wildly simple? It is. The answer:
Compassion is an inexhaustible resource; boundless, timeless, and infinite. It’s our GIVING of it – our making sacrifice for another’s betterment – our inaction – that divides a world of scarcity from the world of which we dream.
Think of it like this. For your two hands, there are two hands reaching.
Chapter 4: Hands Together
It’s not easy to shine in an IDP camp, but blessings come from strange places. In her efforts to project hope and find potential goodness, Muumbi found light where there seemed little.
“I met my greatest friends in camp. Still now, they are the greatest. One of them was working for the Red Cross at the time, helping care for us others, and she told me there a was ‘a good Samaritan’ I should meet and she arranged a meeting.”
He was a total stranger. He said, “I have a house you and your family can live in for the next five years. No cost. I ask only that you return a favor to someone else someday.”
I asked Muumbi what she feels now thinking about his act, and she said this:
“In losing everything, I learned you can be rich and be poor in the same day. To be rich takes a long time and a lot of hard work; but to be poor can take only one day. And I’ve also learned that goodness comes from the smallest things and the smallest acts. That man, that ‘good Samaritan,’ saved my family’s life sharing just what he had. We didn’t have a single piece of furniture, not even a chair to sit on, but just by coming together – my husband and I and our remaining children – we had a chance to come back and live. Not the life we used to live, but a life that could still have peace. We came together and achieved this. Every hand was needed and when people gave just what they could, that was enough.”
Chapter 5: Pairing and Pairing
For Mwangi, one person could spare only a 100 shilling note torn in two pieces ($1.20). He said he couldn’t’ find anyone who would take it and wished our warrior luck.
“I knew I could go without eating, but my wife could not. I can hardly think about that pressure even now. I took the bill, hoping so much it could be the start of a change, and went to the bank. The woman at the counter said the only way she could change it was if I had an account, but I didn’t have any money to open one. So she said ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do’ an called the next customer. I started to choke up, as if to cry, and I turned to walk away. She said ‘sir, wait’ and reached through the window for the bill. I remember how that felt to me; the hope that I felt just from that turn.”
Mwangi bought food with the bill and later met a man who he told the ‘torn-bill story’ to. The man decided to loan him 5000 shillings ($65), with which Mwangi bought kitchen utensils from the city and went from village to village, door to door selling, until he had enough to pay the loan and start over. “Ask anyone who I am and they will tell you they know me, just because of how far I went with those spoons!”
“I knew I couldn’t support my nephew, even with what I had going and my son was born at this point, so I took my nephew to a place called Flying Kites. I appealed for help, but they were full. Many people come to them seeking help. But I was lucky to meet the manager and overhear him talking about how they were struggling to get birth certificates made for some of the children because of some government issues, so I volunteered to help them. I felt that if I could show him my ability, they might consider me for employment. I stopped selling my wares and put myself completely into this small project. And I impressed them. They really stood for me after that.”
“So, first came Flying Kites.”
“Then came Mike and Jane.”
“And then came Njabini Apparel.”
“In the strangest way, I am doing everything I have ever dreamed of being able to do now.”
Chapter 6: Njabini Apparel
What if one pair of hands could grab many? What if hands once reaching, were now hands grasping others? What if scarcity became abundance?!!!
This is the story of Njabini Apparel:
A woman named Jane introduced a you man named Mike, a Flying Kites volunteer, to a woman named Muumbi. Muumbi made the first line of test products. Mike founded the fundamentals and developed a market, and he needed a manager to scale the whole business up. In consulting Flying Kites, he found Mwangi. And what was once was a single scarf is now near 170 per month, and what once was just Muumbi – one woman and one family forever altered – is now fifteen and growing.
“I think about my son and I could cry,” says Mwangi. “I think about how beautiful his life will be, how different it will be from mine, and I wake feeling so proud. Because of Njabini Apparel I am now in business school, as I always dreamed, and I get to manage a business that helps women provide for their families. Flying Kites found my nephew a sponsor so he is in a great school with many opportunities, and now I get to be a leader in my community, bettering my community. So when you ask me about our products, I will tell you we make them as perfect as we can… because our whole life is in them.”
“I think about the day I was sitting on that bed, and I can only thank my wife. If she wasn’t serious about loving me, she could have left me on that day. She is a good friend.”
Muumbi now provides for three of her children, her husband, and two of her grandchildren left without parents from the violence. “Can you imagine that I used to be unable to afford a single pencil? And now because someone buys a pair of slippers my son and daughters and grandchildren can go to good schools? We eat and grow because of Njabini Apparel. I used to just want for my children to be fed, and now one is working to become a doctor and one a nurse. So when I make a scarf, I use the pride of a mother. I used to be so ashamed that I couldn’t provide for them, but now I am able, and I am so grateful for this.”
Mike Behan is student at Northwestern University and because he is an incredible friend, I know he will kill me if I praise him with too much gusto. But he deserves every ounce of love. Njabini Apparel is building something for the community, owned by the community. If you ask Mike or Mwangi whose company this is, they will both say ‘this is the women’s company.’ ‘They are the pioneers of this.’ The truth is, it’s equal parts of all. And we, as Flying Kites, are the beneficiaries of their work. So every purchase goes to supporting women, supporting childcare, and supporting the local economy. Support Muumbi, Mwangi, Mike by visiting Njabini Apparel and ordering their product. Just as hands reach, feet can reach too. Give them slippers.
In end, it’s as simple as a whole world of people looking for the same thing: Abundance. Deeper meaning. Deeper connection. A good Samaritan, a Red Cross worker, a torn bill, a bank teller, a grocery store entrepreneur, a young man with a great idea; an orphanage in the mountains.
What hands will you grab today? Embrace the mystery of what could come.
***All photos by Brandon Jones
Tagged: africa, banana trees, brandon jones, flying kites, kenya, micro-finance, new year, njabini apparel, orphanage, orphans, pottery wheel, rain record, sunshine, tall grass, tea leaves, women's empowerment