Lucia has something to say

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Charlotte USA

It's odd. The signs in this airport say "Welcome to Charlotte USA." No state. No identifiers. Just Charlotte. I'm waiting for a flight from Charlotte USA to Guatemala City.

For quite a few years I've been part of a lovely group called Weave A Real Peace (WARP). Most of the members are involved in fiber arts–weavers, spinners, knitters–and have an interest in development of textile communities in need around the world.

I love getting together with these women. They're fascinating. They're talented. And going to meetings with them is like vacationing with much loved friends. I like listening to the projects they're involved in. I like learning new techniques. It always makes me happy.

Last year, we went to learn about Gullah culture and indigo in South Carolina. This year, we're headed to Guatemala. We'll visit weavers. And on Saturday night, there will be a full moon over Lake Atitlan. I can feel myself aligning with the rhythm of the trip.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I am awake when I should be sleeping. The streets in Kigali are in mid-morning bustle, and so am I. I love that space between sleep and wakefulness when the mind wanders at will to strange and wonderful places that under the harness of daylight it might not go. In truth, I’m trying to prolong this time zone for one more day since I need to head to the airport at 4 am tomorrow, and it will be much easier if I do not make the shift quite yet.

My mind winds around ripe purple passion fruit...maracuja...maracuja of the soul, juicy and gritty.

It laughs in delight over a translator looking at picture of a protest over the price of tomatoes at McDonalds and asking McWhat? (What a comfort to know that there are still people in the world who do not know what McDonalds is!)

So much snow has disrupted my sense of groundedness. I want to put my feet on the earth and feel my soles (and my soul) make contact. I want to feel that invisible pull from the top of my head, through my body, down each leg, and through my feet that connects me with the ground.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I am grateful to have arrived home between snowstorms. There is endless shoveling. And the totaled car is still at the body shop where it has been since I left. And I have heaps of things to do before leaving for Guatemala in a few days. Apologies for not reading your blogs lately. In about 10 days, I’ll be back again and things should be settled down.

I have wisps of thoughts from Rwanda floating in my head which I have gathered and compacted below...

Coffee Washing Stations: I visited half a dozen very expensive coffee washing stations (averaging $60,000-80,000 each) which have been built in the last 3 years. When the harvest starts in March, farmers will bring red coffee cherries to the station within 6 hours of being picked. Meeting with farmers from coffee cooperatives, their main question is how to get a better price for their coffee. I don’t know, but I am with experts - a buyer and a roaster. Fair trade coffee brings a better price to the farmer, but the price is also dependent on quality. A slight difference in quality will impact the price. It’s a vulnerable position for a farmer with the risks of the weather, the processing, and the ever-changing coffee market price. And their family’s food, health care, and school fees depend on it.

Sparkling Soil: In the western part of the country, there is rich volcanic soil that sparkles and looks as if truckloads of glitter have been mixed in. A beautiful and amazing sight.

Plastic Shopping Bags: There are no plastic shopping bags in Rwanda. They are not legal. At the airport, bags are confiscated, and arrivees go through immigration holding cans of dry milk, gifts, and whatever else they carried onto the plane in plastic bags. Purchases go into paper bags and things are carried in traditional baskets. In this country, there isn’t the roadside trash of yellow and blue plastic as there is in so many countries.

Lake Kivu: Riding in the back of a boat on Lake Kivu, with the spray washing over my feet and migrating between my toes, I thought that life surely could not be any better.

Genocide Memorial:
Along the road, there are graves. At the genocide memorial in Kigali, 250,000 are buried in mass graves. Their photos are from happy times. They are dancing, getting married, standing together with family or friends. There are photos of children–babies, primary school students, teenagers. And there are survivors. I visited a project called Speak, I’m Listening. It’s a drop-in center, for women who need a listening ear to move through their pain.

And with this, I leave Rwanda for now...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders

In Nairobi and on my way home via Amsterdam and Detroit...

In my row on the plane, there was a young woman, an Indian doctor trained at Johns Hopkins, headed to the Congo to work for 8 months with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). She had a big, heavy pack, the official bag of the organization, with a required ID sticker on the outside and MSF tape hanging off the side. She said it contained everything she might need, including a tarp that could be used as a tent. She had an ID badge too, which she was required to wear. “It’s awkward,” she said, “People always ask me if I can help them in airport stores because they think I work there.” We laughed. I really liked this woman. She had a great personality and sense of humor, and I know she’ll do well when she’s picked up and taken 300 km to the site where she’s going. There are already 2 Canadians, 2 Italians, and some other volunteers there. She said they desperately need a hospital, so they are working to petition the government.

Medecins Sans Frontieres always impresses me. They manage to use every dollar well. They get right to the heart of the problem and fill in gaps left my other NGOs. They were the first ones on site when the tsunami happened, and since there was other health care arriving, they focused on what was lacking, psychological assistance for survivors.

In the crowded transfer line at the Nairobi airport, where people kept trying to push in, from my place smashed between the Mexican businessman in front of me, the Muslim woman in black in back, and the African man with the cross around his neck who continually tried to cut the queue, I couldn’t help advocating for this woman, since her connection was tight and I wanted her to be able to get there to do this great MSF work.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rwanda: Her Dream

Her dream is to have solar panels, lights and switches in her tidy brick house. The nights would no longer be lit by a gasoline lamp.

The house is big by some standards, with 4 bedrooms (one used for food storage, of a large basket of beans). The beds don’t have mattresses. The children need to carry them back from school, rolled into tight bundles, during holidays.

There is a traditional bathroom, which is nothing more than a concrete floor with a rectangular hole, and a traditional shower, a place to splash water from a bucket. These are next to the cow. When the cow moos, it sounds like she is in the house. And there is a calf in the kitchen, and some sheep, and 6 chickens.

By our standards, the solar wouldn’t cost much–about $400 for the whole kit and caboodle. But for her, she will need to save for at least several years. It is so far off, she still thinks of it as a dream.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rwanda: Friday Weddings

I'm putting up a number of posts I wrote while out in the village. I am leaving to visit coffee farmers for the next several days, and don't expect to have internet access. Pace yourself and enjoy!

On Friday, there are brides in the village. I spot the first one, dressed in white, with her bridesmaids in stiff blue satin in the back of a car. When I arrive at the work room for the basket makers, in the back a bride and her bridesmaids are getting dressed. These bridesmaids are in safety orange satin with an enormous bows on the back of the dresses. The bride carries silk flowers. She is fearful of what is to come.

Women cannot marry until they are 21, but if they make it to 23 without marriage, they are considered old.

The priest will have the couples form a semi-circle, and he will go around and marry them. On some days, he will do one group and then another. I was told that there were 15 couples marrying today.

They will have cake after the ceremony. A nun has prepared 3 small cakes, held at different levels on a stand which is decorated with bright Christmas garland.

At night, walking on the dark dirt road back from a house, with a tipsy nun who gave the benediction to people we passed, and with children screaming, “Mnzugu! White peeeeople!”, we passed people heading home from the marriages.

Tomorrow friends will come to bring the couples gifts–mostly food that they will empty from baskets they have carried on their heads. An offering to get a household started.

If the women do not have a baby in 9 months, people will start to speculate about what is wrong. In this very Catholic village, the women tell me that birth control, which is not condoned by the church, makes them feel not healthy, so it is better to just go on having babies.

Rwanda is a crowded country, with even rural areas being densely populated. There are many children, but people don’t want to think about potential future problems. After what they’ve been through, I can hold no judgement.

Rwanda: A Day in the Village

Following the muddy path, we made the rounds–to meet the priest, to meet the basket makers who sang their welcome, to see the orphans at the school who presented me with a lovely drawing of the village, and then with the basket makers again to share a meal and give speeches. The women were dressed in their best clothes. They all wore shoes. They wouldn’t wear shoes to anything that wasn’t important because they’d just wear out and there’s no money to replace them. Many had babies with them. The rain pounded outside muting voices.

While we ate with forks and drank bottled beer, the women ate from heaping bowls with their hands. They drank from big plastic tubs filled with sorghum beer and banana beer, a thick concoction that may be nutritious, but didn’t look at all appetizing.

And then there was singing and dancing. And I was invited to join in for a short time. And they asked, “How do you know these African moves?” And I wanted to tell them that I learned them while watching them, but I just smiled.

Rwanda: No Orphanage

There are orphans, but there is no orphanage. The development agencies do what they can. The children live in their parents’ houses. They are given money to buy a pig or rabbits or chickens, they receive assistance with food and health care, but they are on their own to make their way. The oldest, often only 13 or 15, takes charge of the younger siblings. I ask how they do it. My friend says, “There is no choice. People do what must be done.”

A few families do what they can to help. My friend, whose husband has passed, has 3 children of her own, and has taken in another 6, paying their school fees. All ten of them squeeze into her small house during vacations from boarding school. The government has set up schools with children from all over the country to avoid the separation that caused the genocide. Children are taught not to think of themselves as Hutus or Tutsis, but as Rwandans.

Paying school fees and attending school are compulsory. A parent can be jailed for not paying school fees. But what to do if there is no money?

My friend is not wealthy, but she is powerful and giving. She works to get by, and shares what she has, and her small banana plantation, sweet potato garden, and cow provide enough for her family.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rwanda: The Convent

Our destination was a convent where 5 sisters of the Holy Mother Virgin Mary (or somesuch order) live and do parish work. They use African stools in the chapel for their worship.

My room is basic and clean, with sturdy wood single beds and a concrete floor. There’s a garden of large onions outside the door and daisies out the window.

Food is served often–breakfast, tea time, lunch, snack, dinner. In the convent, bottled Rwandan beer appears with dinner. If I do not eat much, my friend says, “You are lazy in eating.” Losing weight is not a priority here. Staying healthy is.

A generator runs from 6-9 and a small fluorescent stick lights the room. When the generator goes off it is dark as pitch. And quiet. I brush my teeth with bottled water with my head out of the window, so as not to trip over anything in the night.

I wake up under my mosquito net with the morning light. There do not seem to be many mosquitos and few cases of malaria, but I am told to use it anyway.

I head to the bathroom with a green plastic pail of hot water. I often forget that water is a resource. Engineers without Borders has been here to put in water reclamation tanks and wells. There is plenty of water in the rainy season; not enough in the dry. It is the transition now, before the long rains, which will last about 3 months, start.

A key has appeared in the bathroom door of this otherwise keyless convent since I walked in on a man yesterday. The bathroom is painted bright green on the bottom and bright yellow on the top, with bright green doors that are starting to peel because of the moisture. I stand in a small shower sink and splash and pour, pour and splash. This is the moment on every trip where I think about how glamorous people think my travel world is. They are not the ones pouring water from a bucket to bathe. I don’t mind it and never have. I pull a skirt over my head so as not to drag it in the water on the bathroom floor. I put on blue borrowed flipflops.

I am dressed and my day bag is packed with rulers and tape measures for measuring handwoven baskets. With files and a notebook. I have brought bright sparkly hair clips for girls, only to find that most have their hair shaved close to their heads, and this is not a good choice for a small gift.

Rwanda: The Road to Muramba

When I get in the car, or more often a 4x4, the vehicle of choice of international NGOs, I never know where it will take me.

All along the way, people walk next to the road. Many have no shoes. A boy carries a small black goat. A woman walks very straight with a basket on her head, filled with beans or sweet potatoes to be given as a gift to a friend during a visit. There are children in school uniforms with too big yellow or green plastic shoes on their way home from school. Women with plastic buckets or ceramic pots on their heads. Men with yellow plastic containers in their hands. Women with bright umbrellas for the sun or the rain.

The road goes from smooth and paved to asphalt with mudslides to rural dirt. Sometimes the car is close to the edge of a drop off. I stop looking down. Through the hills, bumpy. My friend says this is the part of the road that makes us dance in the car. The rain does not start until we arrive three hours later. I am glad that we were not on the road when it was slippery with mud.

It’s impossible not to think as we’re driving through this very small country of the genocide. They call it “the war.” “After the war this and such happened. We were in the other country, the Congo, for 6 years.” During the war, the majority Hutus tried to address “the Tutsi problem” by killing them all. And their families. And sympathizers. And the educated. One million dead. Everyone here was impacted. Women were raped to deliberately infect them with HIV/AIDS. Ministers began to carry clubs. The world turned upside down, and the unthinkable happened.

The country has done tremendous work to heal, but the vestiges, of course, are still here. There are ongoing weekly gacaca (gachacha) courts, in which people accept their actions and ask for forgiveness, or are condemned by witnesses to their actions and sent to prison.

It doesn’t feel as if anything happened here, but, of course, it did.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Rwanda: Arrival

Part of me cracks open like a ripe watermelon when I see we’re about to land in Africa. My heart opens up.

Off the plane, across the tarmac, through immigration. The immigration line is slow. Luggage porters in yellow vie for the job of carrying our bag. I generally avoid them, but maybe should use them and drop a bill in their waiting hands.

Although I have never before been to Rwanda, I am greeted by a warm African woman who welcomes me like a sister she has never met. There are bouquets of sweet smelling roses in cellophane, and I am enveloped and lavished with many kisses to each cheek, rather than the traditional three. We leave the terminal with our arms around each other. And stop for tea at a conference center before leaving Kigali.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Goodbye Amsterdam

It’s lovely having a pistachio ice cream cone outside in the winter, but now it’s time to say goodbye. What will I take away? A fair trade jangly bead bracelet. Memories of a really nice exhibit on Istanbul. A note to self that Canadian folkie Bruce Cockburn has really aged after seeing him play last night. But no hip boots.

Went on a walk today and thought about:
• spray painting my bike some bright color and putting a few fake flowers on the handlebars
• Anne Frank, but only for a minute when I went past her house
• homeless people
• the apple pie smell coming out of the bakery
• that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pink triangle info center for gay and lesbian travelers anywhere else
• that my feet would be happier walking in a new pair of travel shoes, preferably plum
• whether I’m more energized or tired from stopping on the way to where I’m going
• what I’m missing not having time or access to check everybody’s blogs
• needing to spent the night on a plane...again

Monday, February 12, 2007

Overcast In and Out

Another overcast, sometimes rainy, day in Amsterdam. Jet lag’s arms are around me; my energy is waning. I’m the only woman in the city without cool, hip boots. I thought about getting a pair, but backpacking them to Rwanda seems silly.

Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is off for exhibit elsewhere, and the Rijksmuseum exhibit is a fraction of its usual size while they remodel. I visited the Van Gogh museum only to realize that except for two or three paintings, I really don’t like Van Gogh, the crazy coot.

My image of Amsterdam in winter is of skaters on the canals. But the weather is temperate, and I can’t imagine them freezing. I amuse myself by walking, past restaurants and “coffee shops” (a ridiculous euphemism for grass bars and hash houses). Jumping out of the way of moving cars, bicycles and trolleys. Dreaming of living here for a few months sometime in the future, of buying flowers and bread and cheese on the corner, and bringing them home in the basket on my bike. Riding next to the canals, my scarf flapping behind me, and right up to my front door.

Tonight headed to the Melkweg (the starry Milky Way music venue). Tomorrow night on the plane to Kigali.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Took the day to play. Went to the museum. Took a few fun photos at the food automat and on the street. Took a tour by canal. It's not so hard to think about living an easy life on a houseboat and biking everywhere.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ah, Amsterdam

Before leaving, a co-worker handed me a card with this quote from Seneca:
Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.
Even after a night on the plane, I wanted to see Amsterdam. I wanted to walk the rainy streets, see ducks in the canal, and watch the Saturday shoppers buy closed tulips that will open during the week. So I did.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Last-Minute Accident

Unbelievable. On my way home from work at mid-day, my car is smacked in the passenger side. An uninsured driver in someone else's car pulled out of a side street, and boom. (For you locals, it happened on Willy St.) Thankfully, I'm not hurt, but the car is a mess, and we're dealing with the insurance company and the body shop before getting on the plane for Amsterdam later today. Stressed? Who me?

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Today this lovely message was in my inbox...
All is set for you. The women will be too excited to see you. Go prepared not only for business but ready to dance too when they will be entertaining you. You will like and love the people and the country.
And with this, I am preparing to go to Rwanda.

From Kigali, I'll head straight to a village called Muramba to visit basket makers and other artisans. Let me tell you a little about Muramba...

In this village, during the genocide in 1994, Hutus came with machetes to a Catholic school. They told the girls to divide themselves--Hutus on one side, Tutsis on the other. The girls refused. They said no. And they all were killed.

When the genocide was over, there were more than 3,000 orphans. About 2500 were orphaned by the war. And 500 by AIDS. The children were living by themselves in their parents' homes. And the parents were buried in front of the house with just a banana tree marking their graves. The country was one of orphans, widows, the disabled, and the young.

Muramba is in an undeveloped rural area. What was a community with no electricity or clean water, now has wells and alternative fuel sources thanks to Engineers Without Borders. They have an orphanage. An AIDS awareness programs. A honey business. The women have a small loan fund. Umamaliga borrowed money to purchase sweet potatoes to sell at the market. And in two months, she repaid her loan.

If you want to know more, click here.

I just finished a non-fiction book I liked very much--There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children by Melissa Fay Greene. It's about Haregewoin Teferra, an Ethiopian woman who takes in AIDS orphans.

So I'm packing and leaving and stopping at Amsterdam en route. Then on to Muramba and around the country to meet coffee farmers.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Completely Heterosexual?

One of four ministers who oversaw three weeks of intensive counseling for the Rev. Ted Haggard said the disgraced minister emerged convinced that he is "completely heterosexual."
The news today is driving me nuts. First there's the crazed astronaut who drove 900 miles with a diaper on to confront a rival (which Chani has written about). And then there's this minister who is convinced he is "completely heterosexual."

The implication here of "completely heterosexual" is "completely normal." In my little corner of the world, "completely heterosexual" doesn't exist. I believe everyone is somewhere along the bi continuum. It's a big gray line, and we all fall somewhere on it. You can agree or disagree, it doesn't matter to me, and it's unlikely to change my mind. Because just like he's sure "completely heterosexual" means "completely normal," I'm sure what I think is true too. I'd tell anyone who thought they were "completely gay" the same thing, but probably with a lot more compassion and understanding.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Office Temptations

Sanjay's post today about office pranks reminded me that I've been sorely tempted to do this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

These are from one of those endlessly circling emails, so sorry I can't point you to a site.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

An Honored Guest

I’ve never really thought of them as a whole before. All the times I’ve been an honored guest.

A co-worker just returned from Cameroon and Ghana. “Did you enjoy the dancing?” I asked. “What dancing?” “You know, the dancing at the center when you arrived. They weren’t out there with drums?” “No.” “Oh.”

In Cameroon, when I walked through an archway of flowers, this group was drumming and dancing, and I remember standing there and smiling. I loved the music, and at the same time I felt awkward to be the recipient of such attention.

I've been blessed with dances of welcome by Kenyan women, just back from a funeral of a friend who had died of AIDS. I've been honored by an entire school full of children, hundreds of them, in blue school uniforms coming out to sing me songs. I've had garlands of flowers strung around my neck in India and Bangladesh. I've met the first lady of East Timor and had a traditional tais (textile) placed on my shoulders.

When I entered a handmade paper center in Nepal last fall, a hundred artisans were lined up, each one with flowers to give to me. My arms were full and they spilled over. Abundance. And when I visited the school, the children gave me flowers as well.

I have been served fresh mangos and delicate fried leaves and meals that were spicy to my palate. I have been given the one spoon in the house to use to eat. I have been given gifts beyond measure.

We hold our things so close. As if there is a shortage. And people who to us have very little, share what they have. This is profound lesson. This is what it is to be generous.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Road to Rwanda

The marido and I will be in Amsterdam next weekend.

I was raised in a sheltered Dutch American community. Calvinist. I went to Christian school, where all the kids had names like DeVries and Vanderberg and Jabaay. I went to church with them twice on Sunday and for catechism, Calvinettes (really!), and Sunday school. There were all sorts of rules that didn’t make sense. We couldn’t swim in our pool on Sunday. We could take out the mitts and ball, but not the bat. We couldn’t ride our bikes. We never ever went to restaurants or stores on Sunday. And around our grandparents, we weren’t to play cards. I went to Christian school through elementary school, high school, and even college, where I took two years of the ever-so-not-useful language Dutch. (Which today I can only speak only about 5 words - hello, goodbye, and I don’t know, which is a useful phrase.) We went to dances called “parties with music” because we weren’t allowed to dance. I was the good girl.

Members of my extended family went to the Netherlands to gather family genealogy. To Friesland, to a town where all the Vennemas and Walstras and Van Blah Blah’s were from. And practically everyone I knew in my childhood, except for a handful of neighbors, were Dutch American.

Adults worried about their kids going to college, even the Calvinist college, because they would “go astray.” I got a good liberal arts education there which did exactly what it was supposed to do–It taught me to think for myself.

In this environment, I’ve often wondered why even as a small child, I would think, “It’s better than living under a horse cart in India.” What did I know about India? Nothing. Except there were probably missionaries that went there. But I didn’t want to be a missionary. But I wanted to go. So, in my young mind, when I wasn’t thinking about being a stock car driver, I decided to be an international journalist. I’d go to India. I’d go to war zones. And I’d be good at it.

Rwanda? I won’t cry. I never do. I’ll visit basket makers and coffee farmers. I’ll talk to people about their lives. I can’t work if I cry. People say, “You must cry everywhere you go.” But I don’t. Because I don’t think I can work to make things better in my small way if I’m absorbed in my own emotion.

So, on the horizon, a woman who grew up very differently than who she was raised to be, will go to Amsterdam and then Rwanda.