Friday, 21 November 2008

A new Celtic blessing

Winter has come to us in my current place
on our curved world,
and all is cloaked with snow,
changing all the surfaces of things.
I fear it, but I am also in awe
of its rampant beauty.

Weather is a blessing
in the midst of transient times.
It is impossible not to take weather seriously,
to avoid being pushed into awareness of the present moment,
whether that moment be drenched in sweat,
soaked in rain,
or chilled and frosty.

Weather brings me back from my daydreams,
my wanderings between what I have left behind and what is to come,
and leaves me in this very instant, shocked by the coldness of the air
in my lungs, the tingling of my hands, clad in my grandmother's scarlet

Weather reminds me that I am here, now. For now.
For another six weeks, and then I will
be in a dizzingly different climate.
But the weather holds
me in the present moment,
nearing the end of this task,
yet with my hands still so very full.

And with this thought of weather on my mind,
I was struck again by Celtic prayer, by
its rootedness to our geography...
Here is a prayer by J. Philip Newell,
a spiritual writer whose work I highly recommend.

The blessings of heaven,
the blessings of earth,
the blessings of sea and of sky.
On those we love this day and
on every human family
the gifts of heaven,
the gifts of earth,
the gifts of sea and of sky.

May they come to you.

Monday, 22 September 2008

bright spots and tumbling headlong

My teaching is coming along.
My father advised me to simply find the 'bright spots in the room' and teach to that small crowd, and let all the rest come along as best they can or wish to.
But I'm new at this and an idealist still, and I have to confess I want them all.
I want them all to be bright spots--illuminated, interested, engaged.
A room ablaze with light, as it were.
And that's a tall order.

The material for my afternoon class tomorrow is abstract and difficult, and I am seeking a way to bring them into it--closer to the frame... Like in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that portion near the beginning of the book where the children are staring at a picture of the oceans of Narnia, and it is such a Real picture that they stare harder and harder, and the picture begins to move, and then the children are swept into the picture itself.

That is the goal--how to make theoretical discussions of globalization so real that they start to swirl and flow, and we all tumble in headlong.

Such a consuming thing, to teach.

Friday, 12 September 2008

in search of self

The moon was luminescent last night,
a gleaming broken china plate,
and a wind was stirring
as my father showed me the grounds--
all the plants that must be uprooted or sheared
before winter comes.

This morning, before first light,
they were gone. And I awoke
to stillness. The television has
been disconnected, and I sat
at the table with coffee in my
hands, observing the trees post
their solemn watch around the
pond, and listened.

Things rise in silence.

This house is large for a hermit's cell,
it allows for restless pacing, or escape
from one's self, room by room, and is
full of artefacts of our lives. And I am
no hermit, nor monk--I am not
withdrawing from the world in order
to pray from the world, as Merton
once described the Trappists. Instead,
it is refuge, it is where I can come home
safe to myself. Home from the dizzying
effort of sharing this small store of wisdom
and experience that I have, trying to be
lucid, to be clear, to be reflective, to open
doors rather than hurling them shut.

I feel as transparent and as public in
little Houghton as I have felt anywhere--
it's like being on stage in some medieval
morality play--with the same cast of
archetypal characters. The students, we
are told, time and again, watch us. We
are watched. Will the audience think
me Judas if I never attend chapel?
Will the audience consider me a Pharisee,
a Roman, or Nicodemus, seeking truth
quietly in the night?

And I who am used to having
many selves,
(shuffled like cards for the hand that must be played)
many worlds,
can I be true to one?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Sea Voyage

It's been over a month now
in this place of berries and bears,
of shy wood ducks and tall rows of corn,
this North America I left more than ten
years ago, never intending to return for
more than visits.

The students are here now,
over one hundred of them
in my hands, and the
responsibility weighs
upon me. There are so many
ways to mean well yet go wrong.

I suppose that's true in all things in life.
But I feel, as always, unprepared for
this next journey in the long sea
voyage of my life.

As always, I lack a compass, or good maps,
I sail with the stars, and many are the mistakes
made in my attempts at celestial navigation. I go
east, to the beginning of the world and the end of
all things, and I do not doubt that I shall be welcomed
home, at the end of my portion of days.

But some days I tire of the sea,
of always leaving the dry land behind,
of the terror of thunder and gale and storm,
of the threat of smugglers' lanterns,
and all the long uncertainties of the journey.

Some days I think this is a fool's errand,
this life lived in faulty service of a Lord
I scarcely understand.

But there are companions for the journey,
most days, and strange wonders, like
dolphins and phosphorescence in these
mysterious waters.

And though the water onboard is brackish,
and the water without all salt,
I have heard tell, that at the edge of the world,
where I sail with all the hope and courage I can
muster up, the water is sweet.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Pentecost at Saint James

Breath came into them
and they lived.

This phrase from Ezekiel 37 was written in many languages, set unobtrusively on the shelves in front of unadorned glorious sunlight yellow walls.

Over our heads, tissue ribbons of fire descend from the wires that stretch across our encircled chairs—red, gold, coral, bronze, lemon yellow.

In the front of the room, where we kneel to take communion, glowing crimson swathes of cloth descend from the ceiling to two white pedestals, pillars of fire.

Our skepticism about the good we seek to do
must not erode our compassion,
Geoffrey says, retired mime.

He enacts Ezekiel 37, first a frenzied urbanite, a puppet of meaningless frantic repetitive motion, then dead, then slowly returning to life, blown back into self awareness.

In the song, poet Kathy Galloway renders the Spirit female—
She comes with sister’s carefulness
strong to support and bind.
Her voice will speak for justice’ sake
and peace is in her mind.

She comes with power like the night
and glory like the day.
Her reign is in the heart of things—
O come to us and stay.

We daringly attempt an unrehearsed responsive reading of the scriptural Pentecost account,
with drums and shakers,
and a great babbling in many tongues.

I half expect the roof to fly off
and a white dove descend.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

If I were a hawfinch, where would I be?

Sunday was a momentous day for me. I finally screwed up my courage, unlocked my bicycle from the bike stand in George Square, near my office, and rode it up and down the hills of the city to my home near the sea. I have a bus phobia, as in, I fear being flattened by a doubledecker bus while careening along on my bicycle. Thus I'm so not into the riding on the main roads.

I read this lines and find this simply ridiculous. I was a motorbike riding fiend in Cambodia, and I can't ride a bicycle in Edinburgh. WHY? WHY? In my defense, my phobia is rooted in an actual near death-by-bus experience from when I was 10 and had insisted on my ability to ride a bicycle to school in Oxford... And they just swoop by you, missing you by inches, and... Agh. Can't do it.

Okay, so I got halfway home, buffeted by wind and breathless, and then the domes of the glasshouses of the Botanic Gardens rose up out of the city. I dismounted the bicycle, which had a Very flat tire by now, locked it up, rooted around in my bag for my binoculars--which British birders call Bins. Have you got your bins? Lovely.... And went in search of a hawfinch.

There's one in the photo below, from a few posts back. But I have yet to see one in the winged flesh. They are hard to see. They hang out quietly way up in the canopy of trees, munching on fruits like cherry which they crack with their fierce beaks. And I had heard, somewhere, that the Botanics in April were the best place in Edinburgh to see a hawfinch. Ergo the bins in the handbag.

Well. Well, the Botanics are strangely full of trees. All kinds. All heights. And shrubs, in fact. Flowers and bushes and even thickets. I got in amongst the wandering crowds--loads of children in prams, loads... And while everyone else eyed the lovely shrubbery, I wandered around like a lost child trying to see some birds.

There was, however, not a bird to be seen except for the occasional gull and crow. There was the sound of birds. I was surrounded by birdsong, more calls and whistles and shrieks and rattles than you can imagine. But not even a glimpse of the singers. After about thirty minutes I realized what an extraordinary thing it is to be simply focused on sound. The paper like curls of a tree's bark filled the world when I wandered one way, the rustle of bamboo when I wandered another. And the birds, louder and louder. I wandered in a daze, looking up into the canopy, aloft on a sea of sound, lost in the tops of the trees shaking against the dome of the atmosphere.

Finally, I wandered out into something more like a traditional English park. And then, in that odd way birds have of upsetting one's expectations entirely, there were birds everywhere. Blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, magpies, sparrows, dunnocks. All ordinary common birds to a birder, singing their hearts out, pulling me into another world entirely. And then, when I had given up on seeing new birds entirely and was just happily engaged in sorting out which bird makes which kind of noise--a small brown bird fluttered by, and landed on the trunk of a nearby tree. I looked idly in its direction and realized that I had never before seen such a bird.

This is, by the way, one of the reasons I bird. How often does one spot a new mammal? But in the avian world, entirely new creatures are there for the seeing, day after day, region after region....

It was a lovely bird. It sat, perfectly still, as people strolled within arm's length of it. It was shaped like a teardrop, with a forked brown tail. Its belly and chin were white, its beak was hooked, its feet were pink and had a long long hindclaw. Its back was brown, but it redefined brown. Through my binoculars its feathers were an intricate mosaic of brown and black triangles and chevrons. Its eyes were bright black peppercorns. And finally, it moved. It tilted its head from side to side, then hopped, laterally, to another portion of trunk, and began to creep upwards, gently probing the edges of the bark for insects.

It was, in fact, a treecreeper. A beautiful brown bird that creeps up trees. It was perfect.

I did not see what I set out to see. But something found me. Praise be.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Mine own romantic town

They're not my words. They belong to Sir Walter Scott, and they are about the castle in Edinburgh. Yesterday was Historic Scotland's public day, which means that the castle was free to the public. So I went, for the first time, up into the place I have gazed upon so fondly and so long.

It was fabulous. But I prefer Sir Scott's words to my own, and so here is his stanza:

Such dusky grandeur clothed the height
Where the huge castle holds its state
And all the steep slope down
Whose ridgy back heaves to the sky
Piled deep and massy, close and high
Mine own romantic town.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

an odd dreaming of birds and snakes

I’ve started dreaming about birds. They are always
different in my dreams than they are in life— larger, stranger.
One night it was a scarlet avocet,
black as night, with crimson Chinese characters
inked upon its back. One night it was hawfinches,
larger than hawks, their beaks thick as rods of steel
and their heads dimpled like the top of an apple.
Sometimes they are indistinguishable but large as elephants,
in pine forests that tower against the sky.

Maybe these landscapes are so large because
my life feels small just now, constrained,
my life lived within offices and in chairs in front
of monitors, with only my mind active, and yet
even that chained to the form of academic writing.
Natalie Goldberg once urged writers to think of
structure as a necessary skeleton, or like the skin
of a snake, that could be stuffed full with whatever
you liked, but had to be recognizable as a snake.
I haven’t done very well accepting that I need to
build a snake right now and have been wrestling
around with the form, frustrated. Perhaps it is a
useful metaphor to embrace. Perhaps I need to see
this week as making its spine, one weird vertebrae
at a time, laying them into their lovely interlocking
pattern. Maybe the birds are my desire to escape,
but it is a blessing to be on this journey towards
a PhD at all. Perhaps I had best be on my guard,
to guard this feeble little serpent of a project from
the fey eye of the eagle circling in the currents far

A Late Reflection on the Death of Jesus

This reflection by Marty Wroe was good to sit with and meditate with on Good Friday, and I wanted to share it, even now, Easter long past.

After Jesus drank the wine, he said,
Everything is done! He bowed his head
and died.
John 19.30

That’s all, folks!
Show’s over.

Let’s go home, nothing left to see,
Jesus has left the building.

Has left us all.
Has gone.

Who’d have thought it would come to this?

History colliding with mystery.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word
is now sentenced.
Full stop.
Close quotes.
New paragraph.

Whatever ‘everything’ is…
‘Everything’ is now complete.

Things seen, things unseen.
And things in between.

Everything that was started has finished.
Every beginning has found its loose end,
all thoughts been taken to their logical conclusion.
And any others.
At this moment, on this day,
we have seen it all.
A God bows his head respectfully
and dies.

Everything dies.
Life dies.
Death dies.

Everything is done.
Except love.

Only love is not done.
Only love will not die.
Everything is finished except love.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

At some point everything will be done.
Except love.

Love is never done.

Thursday, 3 April 2008


Here is a picture of a place that will probably closely resemble the village where I'm bound come July and then in January 2009 for a year--though I'm hoping for a little more vegetation, perhaps foolishly... Here are the website photos of my church--Saint James--and our Easter prettiness. I made those butterflies; the children made them more beautiful. I am an Origami Queen.
And here is my friend Ruth's photo of our fair city in the snow--it's Dickensian, and also o so atmospheric.
I leave now in three months and my heart and mind tracks between these alternating landscapes--landmined village, wintery city, church community... Juxtapositions, it is.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

bird joke, aka Lisa tries to display her jolly side

Which bird is always out of breath?

A puffin’

Monday, 31 March 2008

good moment bad moment

This is how my vicar always addresses his emails to us: Dears. I like it. I'm adopting it.

I have had terribly good intentions these past few weeks, wanting to write about Easter at my church and the week I spent in New York with my mum and my brother, mourning my grandmother. But I haven't managed a word.

So I begin now, without finesse, at six in the evening on a Monday night, hours away from laying down the work of the day. When I was back in the US of A for a week, there were some good moments and some bad moments.

Here are some good moments--above all the snow that lays down and stays down for the cold winter months in western New York, the birds are visible--
visible on the ground,
on the cold waters,
in the leafless trees.

More birds than you could ever wish for and some in shocking colors--
the crimson flash of a cardinal
the cornflower blue of the mocking jays--
and Canada geese strewn across the landscape--
scattered amongst the corn stubble poking through the snow, pecking for scraps,
flying overhead, gathered in conference on the shores of the rivers...

Here is a bad moment. My grandmother died a week before we could make our way back to her side, so when we arrived she had already been buried, in a blue dress the color of the sky.
She was just gone.
There was no body,
no coffin,
no gravestone even,
as my mother thought it was probably yet to be carved
and did not want to go to the cemetary until it was ready.
Just her absence, with us as we planned her memorial service.
Although to be fair, it was mainly my mother who planned it, just as it has been mainly my mother who has carried my grandmother through these last years of her very long life.

We created a montage of photos from every era of my grandmother's life,
and my mother wanted to blow up a few photos
to put at the front of the church for the memorial service.
So we drove to Walmart, this being the only remotely nearby place
that could scan and blow up photographs on the spot.

We went into the Walmart, perhaps you have as well--
bright soulless fluorescent lights, tinny electronic music
of once loved songs, aisles piled high with things
at cut-rate prices--we were beguiled by the travel size aisle--
I forsook my No Walmart Purchasing principles for the
sunscreen tube that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand...
And then we found our way to the photo processing center,
an island in the middle of the large store.
The machines faced you to do your own scanning and ordering,
then women inside the island brought you your orders. Ostensibly.

We scanned the photos of my grandmother, one of her quite recent, grinning madly, her hair as white as snow, the other quite old, at least twenty years old, when her hair was still dark brown. Then we waited,
and then the woman came over to us,
bearing the photos in her hands,
and said we couldn't have one of them.
Because we'd scanned a photograph done by a professional company--she had seen the signature on the corner--and it was against the law.
This moment, under those soul-stripping white lights in an island in the middle of a store I hate,
was the bad moment.
Because not only was this woman saying we couldn't have the photo we had made,
she was holding it in front of us,
flaunting it, this perfect photograph,
and in the absence of my actual grandmother,
this photograph suddenly became her, signified her,
and we could not have her, we were not permitted to touch her,
to take her away and care for her.
It's just that it's such a good photo, my mother said, nearly in tears.
I'm sorry, the not-sorry-at-all woman said, waving around my grandmother.
I could lose my job.
We want it for a funeral, my brother said.
It's against the law, the woman said.
Look, I said, not very nicely,
what if we just take it for a day and bring it back to you AFTER the funeral? How would THAT be?
I could be fined $10,000, the woman said.
She would not be shamed.
She stood with that beautiful photograph of my smiling grandmother
clutched in her hands
safely behind the scanner,
safely out of our dangerous reach.
There was nothing, save violence,
to be done, so we took my mother's hands
and said, Come away, come away,
and left the photograph, the icon,
my dear sweet grandmother,
just over the counter,
just beyond our grasp,
in the most terrible store in the world.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

one Sunday while birding

Nature was my church today. I am so tired I can hardly lift my arms. I carried a friend's laser printer over to the office and then went birding for four hours, which involves holding binoculars up around the level of one's face, as you doubtless all know... Hence the arm-weariness. I reached my one hundredth bird sighting today on my European list. There were three finches, linnets, pecking for worms on a lawn. I am excited about this.

But I went birding with a Real Birder a few weeks ago, and that made me realize a few things. I am too focused on seeing new things, for one thing--my only record of birding expeditions have been these lists where I record each new sighting. Mike was like, don't you take field notes? and I was like, huh? He has this wee notebook in which he writes down everything he sees, and notes where, and how many of them there were, and sometimes he sketches them. So you have this record of everything that was in a place, all mixed together. And--this was particularly mind boggling--he made me leave the Collins guide in the CAR. We'd refer to it later, he said, and wandered off. It turns out that you're not supposed to waste time birding referring to the bird book and staring fruitlessly between the page and the feathered creature. You're supposed to just look really hard and--of course--take field notes. You identify it later. In the moment, on the strand, in the dunes, in the thicket, you just look. You look so hard that you can remember it later. And you write it down.

That takes a particular kind of attention, a particular kind of gaze. I bought myself a field notes book today, in honor of Mike, and went out to the sea alone, and wandered around for four hours in ever changing weather, and watched birds, and took field notes. Here are some random and lovely sightings:

The high high sea was making all the sea birds reckless and crazy. Ten long-tailed ducks, Arctic ducks, were honking and flying about in a group of males, and then landing like bouncing water skiers then diving, then coming up and flying by again. They are white ducks with domed heads and chocolate and black and pink patches of color. Two long curling pintail feathers fan over their backs. Spectacular ducks.

A kestrel was struggling fiercely to stay in one precise hovering spot in a strong wind, waiting for the mice to show themselves below.

A sea gull flapping by suddenly shook its body like a dog coming out of a pool, a sudden silly shimmy.

The ponds were full of hundreds of waders and ducks. Oystercatchers huddled in a tight black and white mass with their red beaks poking out of the chiascuro. Teal scooped for food--the males have brown heads with green patches rimmed with yellow. The females are clad in a boring variegated brown but have a bright green speculum on the side of their wing. Four enormous shelducks, which are actually related to geese, towered above the smaller birds.

A flock of goldeneye on the river Esk were diving and diving, some of the males doing this display they do where they tilt their heads all the way back and then pump their necks up and down. It's ridiculous and delightful. The males' heads appear jet black, but in the light they shimmer jet green or metallic purple.

After a sudden squall, a full double rainbow spanned the sky, their ends planted in the waders' pond and in the restless sea.

That's it. Those are my sightings, and the sea itself was like the sea in my dreams, full and restless and steely grey. Things to dream upon, things to sustain me for the week ahead.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008


My friend Erin left this morning for Namibia, after a long and loving goodbye party last night that started at a bar and ended up hours later at my house with whiskey (which I avoided) and pizza (which I didn't) and people in my kitchen and bedroom hanging out until I forced them all out onto the cold foggy streets of Edinburgh at midnight so I could go to bed and watch the room spin. Spinning rooms is the reason I rarely drink red wine anymore. Then our friend Nathan came over for breakfast and more farewells and there were suitcases to pick up and hem and haw over and eggs to be eaten and then the real farewell and then the inevitable sad little text messages from the woman with long hours moping in an airport in London on her hands, before the journey really begins, the journey you don't come back from, or you return from strangely changed, the attempt to enter and understand another world.

My friend Erin left this morning, and when I came home late this afternoon I walked into a house shrouded in silence, blanketed in quiet. Quiet like the tendrils of the fog, lying over everything. It's been so frantic, so much worry and concern and love these past few months--for before Erin there was Laura, who is in Africa now too--so many outings and talks and meals and quarrels.

The quiet is palpable. I can reach out my hand and touch it. I can feel my heart beating. I can hear the wind in the garden, roaring and ceasing, roaring and ceasing. The alarm clock is ticking like my grandfather's beautiful old clock that hung on the wall in Kijabe, with the iron hands, so loudly I want to bury it deep.

I have so much to do and yet I have stopped dead, paralyzed by all this stillness. By the cessation of life swirling around me, lives heard through the thin wall between the two bedrooms, tugging me along, and me tugging them too.
It's so quiet.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Sending the Beast Away

The wild beast of procrastination,
of dread,
has me by the neck and is tugging at me,
trying to take me out of the white house with
the red windows into the woods,
where I will be scratched and bruised,
where I will be lost in the darkness between the trees.

The wild beast has hold of me,
hear her growl, throaty and low.
Her red tongue laps hot against my neck.
The wild beast has hold of me.
She has had me for days.
I am prey.

And where is the sword of determination,
the grappling hooks of will?
First there was a multitude of worries and wonderings,
then there was illness, and now, such news I have
received, such tidings! A new home offered, and new funds for
the learning, and perhaps even more happiness for the taking.

It is no wonder that I let her in the door,
that I opened to her soft knock,
that I am now held fast.

But I must break free.
I must brace myself against the door,
must struggle and cry out,
must sit down and write,
bidding the beast of fur and fang and dread and fear,
Be gone.
Be gone now.

Time now for sacrifice,
time now to be poured out like water upon stone,
time now to face the ever empty, ever awful page.
Time to stand free and send the beast away.

Friday, 15 February 2008

this thing we sing

There's this song we sing at St. James, when children are baptized, and it's playing in my head this dark afternoon in Edinburgh. It goes like this:

God to enfold you,
Christ to uphold you,
Spirit to keep you in heaven's sight;
so may God grace you, heal and embrace you,
Lead you through darkness into the light.

That seems like a good prayer for the day.
We're meditating on freedom and its opposite, the things that hold us fast, that bind us, this Lenten season at my church. We decorated the church for it by wrapping the walls with cloth like parcels in India, then stringing and tying them up. My friend Erin and I made the front altar table into a cross between Lazarus' burial slab, covered with shrouds, and the mast on a sailing ship. Happily, everyone else liked it.

And last Sunday, in lieu of a homily, we all sat in silence and made these tiny books, in which we wrote the people, and the places, and the things in the world that we feel are bound and captive, for which we long for freedom, and then we encircled them with string in good Celtic fashion, and tucked them into the string-wrapped walls, where they surround us, as prayers, for the rest of Lent.

Everything I've written on here lately seems to be sad or angry, so never mind the contents of my little book. Let me say instead, Praise be for a community of people willing to hold sorrow in their hearts, willing to wrap walls with string and struggle with the staple gun, and make little books of prayers. This one guy was there on our art day who I didn't recognize. Turns out he doesn't go to church at all. He's friends with a couple in our church and his daughter heard about the art day and was insanely excited and he said he'd come with her, to see this place that his friends spoke of so often and so warmly. So this random lovely man held up reams of cloth and wrapped things in twine with perfect strangers and took his daughter home when she got too tired for words and stopped liking her companions, and it doesn't matter whether he ever comes back, it matters that he felt able to come. I am deeply and dearly grateful for my church.

This is a vampire bat head I made for my friend Nathan's birthday party, which is tonight, while feeling ill the last couple of days. It was supposed to be a crocodile, and there was this website with very clear instructions, and I didn't have a rectangular box but rather a square one, so I got crazy. The first one is a 'card' for him, since he's mad about the vampire bat head. Yeah, no kidding--I CLEARLY need some children.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

remembering the ordinary people

These are all pictures taken off the Associated Press. I chose them because they remind me of what most of Kenya is composed off--millions of ordinary people, trying to live. Lots of them small. I think they are good to see with, to think with, as we continue to remember the situation in Kenya and pray for peace and reconciliation. We redecorated my church for Lent on Sunday, and lots of the children were there. Some were helping paint. Some were playing with great enthusiasm and abandon around and occasionally right in the midst of what the rest of us were up to. Our theme for Lent is the freedom to be, acknowledging that which binds us and holds back from our freedom in Christ. This sort of conflicted with telling the children to stop messing about... For our art theme, we decorated the church with all kinds of rope and twine and cloth, like wrapped parcels. My friend Erin and I did the altar table at the front, which looks like a shroud on a slab, maybe the tomb of Lazarus, maybe Christ himself.
At any rate, on several occasions children came up to me and said why are we wrapping things up with string? what does it mean? and I tried to explain that some things tie us up or keep us from being free and they nodded wisely and ran away. And I assumed that it didn't mean that much to them, the idea of being constrained, or bound, or tied.
But it would mean a lot to children sitting in IDP camps, waiting to go home, or to go elsewhere, or for the next meal, hoping that nothing bad happens in the camp itself. Such camps are the epitome of constraint, of a lack of freedom.
Children have been staying home from school, and the leaders from both sides have asked them to go back. So here some of them go. Let us not forget for a moment, as Tagore once wrote. Let us remember in our dreams and in our waking hours.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Last words

This was on a friend's facebook page from Kenya, the text of a letter that was printed in the letters to the editor in the Nation newspaper last week. It is a hard read, but I have decided to put it up here, to honor this man, whose identity is, as he says, irrelevant. His words, his life, his death, are not.

I write this letter as my final mortal action upon this earth.
I have determined to collect email addresses of the prominent people that I know and my friends and send it to them from an anonymous email address for two reasons. First, to spare them the distress of know before-hand what I am doing, therefore saving them from culpability, and second, because my identity is now and in future irrelevant - it could be any of those men around the country who feel like I do.

As you might guess from my style of writing, I am a well-educated man... I am a graduate of NAIROBI AND STRATHMORE UNIVERSITIES. I have been privileged to be educated around the world. I have worked in Berlin, Stockholm, London, New York and many other places. I speak six languages fluently.

Even with these achievements, I have no more reason to live. If you will want to look for me as you read this, go to City Mortuary where I have determined to fester among the anonymous people there. I will explain why in this letter, and like Pavlov, I shall retire.

This is my protest. Mr. Kibaki, I indict you.
You stole the election that I stood for six hours to participate in. By your actions, my life irrevocably changed. History will now forget the great achievement and legacy that you were poised to make and it shall remember that for your self righteousness, people lost lives, property, and most of all, hope.

On the blood of my people, I indict you. Mr. Odinga, my chosen president, on the blood and tears of my people, I indict you.

Because of your bitterness, justified though it is, my life irrevocably changes. My greatest achievements, my family, died in your name. My son, my heir, named after my great ancestors, went up in smoke before he could say my name, or his great name, Koitalet. My twin daughters, Wanjiru and Sanaipei, were found by my burnt house in Eldoret, having bled out of their wounds. My wife died with the seed of six men inside her, demented and finally catatonic.

This happened in your name, Sir. Because you have to get justice. Because my wife was from the wrong community. Because you must get what is yours. You will read this and feel nothing. You will rationalise it as accepted collateral damage. Some must die in the pursuit of justice, isn’t it?

Kenyans, on the blood of my children, I indict you all. You lost the ball. You forgot that our ethnicity is something we joke about, as we go about our business. You forgot that we do not fight, we mediate. You forgot that we are a great people, built on the back of great people. You forgot its just elections.

On the blood of my children,
on the tears of my dead wife,
on the tears of our mothers,
on the tears in the sheets of those people who are sleeping in the rain,
I indict you.


Monday, 28 January 2008

on where love has gone

Things aren't good in Kenya.
I honestly have no words for it,
just a heavy heart that sort of aches more than prays.

I'm so far away from it all here.

I went to church on Sunday perilously hung over, as I had promised to bring a friend. And during the service I was irritated with this older woman who was sitting on Joe's right with a cane with a plastic glitter filled head, who was kind of rude and overly loud and chatty during the service--just a bit off centre... And seated on my left was a woman I've realized has some serious troubles, I think she's homeless and lives in a shelter, and she comes nearly every Sunday but is jittery and has to go outside to smoke every twenty minutes or so and has this terrible permanent black crusted burn on her fingers where I guess she lets the cigarettes burn down too low. She is usually quite out of it and startles like a deer when you say hello to her--but she is also friendly and always says a sweetly eager hello back, after she gets over the shock. So she and I said hello and then she got up her nerve to ask me where we were in the liturgy booklet and I realized that she had trouble reading numbers and maybe reading altogether, so I started helping her find her place in the liturgy booklet. And then afterwards, after we finished singing Siyahamba, the annoying older woman just marched straight up to Aileen, who had just gotten up her nerve to exchange names for the first time in a year and a half of nodding acquaintance... And the woman started gently checking in with her about her life, and then gave her this huge cuddle, just seized Aileen's head and pressed it into her enormous old lady bosum, then released her, looked closely at her and said, Need another cuddle? and grabbed her again, three times in all, and Aileen was just smiling and nearly crying, and I realized that this annoying off-kiltre old woman was the first person in the church that I've ever seen touch Aileen.

So thank God for her, for both of them, and that we're all there, somehow, together, in our untidy ark of a church... No matter what state we're in. Lost, drunk, or over loud. At least we're there. Next week is art week, when we transfigure the space for Lent and I'm going to roll up my sleeves and paint all afternoon in celebration of how the church's beautiful worship space is our collective effort. Not the love we have, such as we have, or the grace. Those are gifts from God. But the paint brushes at least remain in our hands.

Maybe this is where the confusion comes in for me about things in Kenya. Where has all the love gone? and the grace? This is a nation with millions of Christians. Where are all the Christian Kikuyus, the Christian Louo, the Christian Kalenjen? Why are they not standing in front of their neighbor's homes saying No, no matter where those people were born. When did it become okay to kill someone else's family because of their ethnicity? This is not acceptable. No matter how angry you are, no matter how much injustice you've suffered under a corrupt regime for long hard years, while the elite eat of the fat of the land. It is not acceptable to kill and to terrorize each other. And I don't see how anyone can, for even one enraged second, think that it is. And my lack of understanding of how ordinary people can keep doing this to each other overwhelms me, so much so that I hardly know what to say to God.

Shall I say, remind them of what love means? Of what compassion feels like? Make them feel ashamed? Write on the sand in front of them, say, let the one without sin cast the first stone, and watch their machetes and torches and stones fall one by one to the sun-baked earth. Remind them. Remind them. Bring them back from the violence and the anger that engulfs them. Extinguish the fires, every fire, in hearts and hands and minds. Let them see people before them and not enemies. Quell the need for revenge and may only sorrow remain. Only sorrow, like a rain to wash the earth free of its blood. Only sorrow, to wash our bloody hands clean.

That is what I shall say. Let it be so.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Regarding Thought Provoking Spam

I missed my self imposed deadline for the goat meat eating brother. However, I did receive some interesting Spam mail today, and I quote:

My name is Mamoon Abd Ali a citizen of Iraq ,It's my pleasure to contact you for a business venture which I intend to establish in your country,Though I have not met with you before but I believe one has to risk, confiding in someone to succeed some times in life.There is this huge amount of funds which my FATHER kept in Europe before his untimely death.

I thought this was rather nicely put... Though he has not met us before, he believes one has to risk, confiding in someone to succeed sometimes in life.

That actually sounds rather reasonable to me. Well, perhaps rather that one must sometimes trust to survive. In the dark early one morning in southern Thailand I got in an unmarked pickup truck with this strange guy who said he'd take me to where the backpackers caught the ferry out to Koh Tao, and I did wonder, as I did so, if I would pay for such reckless trust. But he was as good as his word.

I met with my advisors this morning. They said that right now I need to write about what I know, and we'll sort out the daunting theoretical framing later.

And I wonder whether perhaps it isn't recklessness that I need to write this PhD, climbing into an unmarked truck in the dark, trusting that if I say what I can, what I must, the world will receive it, and I will not be harmed. Perhaps.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

I promise my brother, who is eating too much goat, to write on Saturday

I promise my brother, who is eating too much goat,
and dreaming of our Vietnamese noodle shop,
bowls of steaming soup brimming over with flat rice noodles,
and rare beef, and anise and garlic, and fermented bean paste
and chili--clearly this food features in my dreams as well,
to write a thoughtful and measured post on Saturday.

I went to Israel for Christmas.
I was actually in Bethlehem Christmas morning.
In writing that sounds much more Biblical than the reality
of the present moment, which involves a big wall and
checkpoints and economic depression and angry Christian
caretakers getting into a broom fight over someone sweeping
someone's else corner in the Church of the Nativity.

Then again. Christmas, from the first, was a time of oppression,
and anger, a time of pain and and jealous kings, massacre and flight.
An unexpected time and place for good news, just like so many troubled
corners of our world today, particularly my dear childhood home of Kenya.
But good news can come unexpectedly, in a moment, in a flash, to the most
downtrodden unhappy out-of-the-way place.
Pray God it comes to us again, here now,
in all the dark places of the world that need the season of Epiphany--
stars and revelations and journeying hard and long to find the one
who can save the world.