Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Home But Not Home

I am home but not home.

My mind wonders to the noisy streets of Gbarnga and Voinjama
the muddy and bumpy roads to Foya and Bellefini.
I find myself sitting
in the Peace Huts in Kalahuan and Gbattilla
listening to stories
of suffering and hope.

I look out my Minneapolis window
I expect to see lush green wild terrain
red and yellow flowers
mountains in the distance.
I only see manicured lawns
bare trees and flat, flat land.

I walk but do not hear "Hello, white man."
I hear nothing not even "Hello."
I look for dark faces but
mostly pale white faces pass me
only occasionally does a rich deep dark
skinned human being come my way.

Yes, I am home but not home.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Trip Home

Cars quitely cruise through the streets of Chicago and for the first time I recognize the peacefulness of Chicago.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Movement, Healing, and Story

Musicals intrigue and often amuse me a scene unfolds a group of people talk to one another and go about their business when suddenly everyone spontaneously burst into song and dance.

In teaching storytelling I feel the most healing aspect of storytelling comes about in the creation of story and secondarily in the hearing or telling of story. In three workshops in Liberia I presented a method in which the participants create a story using their body energy to create two characters. The first character arises out of a process in which the participant identifies an area of discomfort or distress in their body and the second character is a counter character to the first. Both characters arise out of the awareness of the body’s emotional and physical energy and given expression with movement. The participants complete the process by writing and/or imagining a story in which the two characters meet and come to terms with each other and the participants then tell the story. I developed this method to work with individuals who were suffering from physical illness and for those with physical symptoms associated with various forms of trauma.

What I noticed in contrast to my usual American participants was that the African participant’s movement looked more like dance than a gesture such as a hand wave. So I had the participants as a group rhythmically do the movement of both of their characters individually and then slowly combine together the movements of both characters. And this was the point that I realized that musicals are for real and not just made up for screen and stage. The participants were encouraged to make a sound with their movement. Their sounds blended into a wonderful rhythmic beat and the movement and the beat combined into a celebrative community dance. In one group a call and response wrap type song burst out. This spontaneous combustion of sound, song, dance and movement lasted for about a half an hour.

At the end the participants reported a sense of healing, well being, and a different understanding of their physical discomfort. Most understood that the distress in their body was associated with trauma suffered during the Liberian Civil war. In the story the participants created a bridge between characters to help heal their trauma and in the movement and dance they reinforced that bridge. What I also realized was that the story and initial movement was an expression of individual inner healing and the dancing was a movement towards community and cultural healing. In African culture story and dance often go hand-and-hand. Simply the process encouraged movement from isolation to relationship with self, with community, and with culture.

So yes spontaneous outbursts of group songs and dance do happen not only in musicals but also in real life when people live in a culture that understands the connection between the individual and community, between dance, story and song, and between healing and celebration.

Two Works In Progress

Gazing Over the Atlantic

I have frequently sat
on the shore, gazing
across the Atlantic Ocean
self-assured, North to my left
America at my back
sunrise before me
imagining Europe and Africa
far away

Today, I quietly sat
on the shore, gazing
across the Atlantic Ocean
disoriented, North to my right
Africa at my back
sunset before me
imagining North and South America
far away

An Ode to Generators

The roar of the generator
disturbs my thoughts
an ever present
ceaseless drone
a constant unwanted
annoying companion.
Until darkness
steals light
from every corner.

A flipped switch
light fills the dark
empty spaces.
The roar of the generator
disturbs my thoughts
a ceaseless drone.
an annoying presence
but tonight a
welcomed companion.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I Come and Go

Minneapolis, Chicago, Brussells, Monrovia, Gbarnga, Belefenai, ZorZor, Voinjama, Kolahun, Foya, Massabolahn, Zorzor, Gbarnga, Bellefini, Gbartalla, Monrovia, Brussells, Chicago, Minneapolis

In Liberia a common phrase is “I come and go.” Since being here I have come not only to like the phrase but to use it. Let me explain. Three to four hours a day bouncing over dirt roads and cruising through deep mud puddles jumbles my mind to the point that some days I forget if I am coming or going. So the phrase “I come and go” personally expresses quite well the rigors of travel in Liberia and my confused mind.

In the thesaurus “go” is to depart and “come” is to arrive. So the phrase “I come and go” means something like “I arrive and I depart.” The statement seems very hopeful. We are already envisioning our arrival even before we depart. This optimistic perspective seems very useful in a land were traveling is minimally an extreme sport and at times even dangerous.

There are very few paved roads in Liberia and many major routes our simply wide dirt trails dotted with small mud hut villages through the bush. My own experience of traveling through seven foot mud holes, seeing trucks full of people stuck for two, three or more days and the tales of my colleagues taking two or three days just to travel 70 miles helps me to understand why for many Liberians even before education and health care roads are seen as their number one priority.

The access to education and health care would be dramatically improved with better roads. The ability to easily come and go to the local community markets would improve the economic conditions of individuals while supporting the local market economy. New roads will not solve the problems of Liberia but the roads would be a start. In a conversation with a government official involved in the Community Development Action Committee the suggestion was made that in Liberia there was a need for a Roads for Humanity Project. He agreed. In the mean time the hope implied in the statement “I come and I go” or “I arrive and I depart” will need to suffice until the national will, energy, and resources become focused on building roads.

It's Not easy Being a Stranger

One of my students in Africa said, “It is not easy to be a stranger.”

Within a few days of arriving in Liberia I realized how true this statement is. Though I would not have had the words until I heard her say these words.

I found myself wanting to go home. I was feeling very sick.

“Why did I come here?” I lamented.

And from the depths of my inner child I kept repeating, “I think I’m dieing. I want to go home.”

Maybe I ate bad food, drank tainted water, or a mosquito bit me and infected me with malaria. I didn’t know and I didn’t care.

I just kept repeating, “I am dieing and I want to go home and be in my own bed.”

My bout with illness soon passed, so to speak, and the death laments faded but part of me still longed to be home.

In the next few days I heard many times, “Hello, how are you?”

People wanted to know how I felt and if I would be okay. At first still feeing sorry for myself, I gave a short curt courteous response, “I am fine. Thanks for asking.”

However, as people continued to ask about my health I realized these people were truly concerned. They were not just being polite. Once I allowed myself to be touched by their concern I felt a little less a stranger. No, it is not easy to be a stranger but it is not so hard to begin to feel at home when so many people care.