Archive for March, 2010

I was watching friends the other day.  In Arabic.  That was totally weird!  I really had no intention of watching Friends and I certainly didn’t intend to watch it in Arabic.  But it’s like you get “caught” in some web and can’t get out of it…it just captures you and you sit and listen to it not understanding it at all…yet understanding all of it despite the language barrier.

Here’s what really got me. The voice over in Arabic sounded SO MUCH like the real actors.  I mean, was it my imagination–could this be possible? So I decided to run an imperfect but convincing none-the-less experiment made possible with the wonders of today’s technology. I left the cable on the station with the friends program and then played a DVD on my computer of the friends TV program.  It would have been ideal if i had the same episode playing I know but it was close enough for me.  Dang if the voices weren’t almost the same.  Is there some kind of computer program they use to “Arabize” the voice track?  I don’t think so but it was so close to wonder about that especially Ross. He doesn’t speak Arabic does he? Maybe I should google that or check out Wikipedia.

Watching TV here is a strange experience.  There are all kinds of programs and movies I know that take on a whole new level of complication and sophistication in Arabic.  And then there’s the programming in Arabic.  If I turn the sound down and just watch the screen I think I can pretty much tell you what is going on.  Things are very dramatic in the programs they run–lots of passion ooze from the screen. Man loves woman.  Woman loves man.  Man and woman get together in some very intense relationships. Man betrays woman.  They fight.  They argue. And here it’s like one of those choose-your-own-adventures books—Man and woman kiss and make up OR Man leaves and woman cries.  Like I said predictable. At least the few stations I’ve seen in my channel surfing. So TV viewing here isn’t much different than the TV viewing you find in the states.

One station that baffles me (and now other people I’ve shown it to) is one in the “A’s”.  It’s actually channel 29 on my cable station but my remote is programmed to show me the channels by the letters in the alphabet.  It’s the Al Saha 2 station. I have tried googling that to learn more about the station but have yet to sort out my mystery since it’s all in Arabic.  Anyway, the first time I looked at that station all that ever happened was camels streamed across the screen one after another.  Big camels and little camels.  Some were two-humped camels but most were one-humped camels (like Bill and Moses).  Some were a light tan and others were a darker shade of brown. Occasionally the camels were decked out in fancy head and/or hump gear—sort of like beaded hats or saddles.  But not always. In one corner of the screen there’s a little icon of a phone that pops up. Then numbers linked to the different mobile service providers (for instance, mobinil) flash up in the same corner next to the phone icon.

My husband is an auctioneer and I thought maybe they were auctioning off camels. The station is somewhat reminiscent of livestock auctions you’ll see during late-night programming on US cable stations. (Hey, give me a break, my husband’s an auctioneer REMEMBER?) I’ve been told in the gulf-states they value their herds of camels so it makes sense right? One day I had some visitors over who speak better Arabic than me and I showed them the station to solicit their ideas. That evening we actually saw some different programming for a bit of the time.  Instead of camels streaming across the screen there were herds of camels driven by “shieky” looking men in pricey 4 x 4s.  A few of them stood out of sun roofs with megaphones.  But, mostly they just drove along on the sidelines of all these camels rushing across the dessert. But camels and more camels. That’s all it was.

A third kind of programming on that same channel seems to be the middle-eastern take on a rousing sing-a-long.  I just turned the station on as I’m writing this to see what was playing and sure enough we have the sing-a-long at this hour. There’s a group about 50 men in white ankle-length robes, thobes. They port ghutras on their heads which is a white, square-shaped cloth that is held in place by a chord called a iqal circled around their heads.  Most chords are black but some are made of a blue and white or red and white checkered colored material. The men are singing or chanting and there seems to be someone leading out in their get-together. Although to date I have no idea what this particular program is about nor what it has to do with the camels that stream across the screen but I am determined to figure it out before I leave.

This whole Arabic thing is really a challenge. It can be isolating to be unable to easily communicate. Every time I get into a taxi I always wonder if I’m going to end up where I hope to end up. I carry a map of the Maadi area with me in my purse but learned after a few taxi rides it doesn’t do me much good. They really aren’t very good at reading maps. I’ve learned the most basic words—“go straight”, “turn right”, “turn left”, “NO, OMG DON’T HIT THAT CAR!!!” I know that expanding my vocabulary and skills would help me a lot and at least make riding in a taxi a much less threatening experience.

I have learned how to count from 0-10 in Arabic—and write it too although I have difficulty remembering which way to correctly orient “2”. But it’s coming.  And, who knows, maybe before I leave here I’ll actually be able to figure out what they’re saying on my mystery station 29!  That’s my goal anyway.

And, before we finish this missive, let’s learn some Arabic together:

٠ = zero           sifr

١ = one           wahid

٢ = two            ithman

٣ = three        thalatha

٤ = four          arba’a

٥ = five            khamsa

٦ = six              sitta

٧ = seven         sab’a

٨ = eight          thamaniya

٩ = nine           tis’a

١٠ = ten           ashra

Great!!  الممتاز (mumtez, excellent).


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It is said that a journey begins with the first step.  But I’m not so sure about that.

Many years ago I read a book to my children called “The Journey From Peppermint Street.” The main character a young boy named Siebren finds his life in a tiny seacoast village with his family boring and lonely. Things take a dramatic turn, however, when his mother permits him to take a journey with his grandfather to visit his great-aunt who lives in an old monastery in an isolated marsh far from their village. The story chronicles Siebren’s coming of age and powerfully illustrates the way a child makes sense of the adult world.

One of the most profound realizations Siebren has is that a journey truly doesn’t begin until you go past the farthest point that you already know. As Siebren walks beside his grandfather excitedly waiting to find that magical moment he is continually disappointed to discover whenever he turns another bend that he still knows where he is. He is almost halfway through his journey before he finally truly begins it.

I went to Africa in 1978 literally dropping from the sky into a world I had never even imagined. Yet, as strange and even freighting my new world and journey was, my larger Siebren journey had not yet really begun….

The six-seater Cessna broke through the clouds and I could see the ground below me—a patchwork masterpiece in greens and browns. As the plane descended, I watched palm trees wave in the wind.  I watched dug-out canoes skim across the lake and herds of cows graze along the road. I watched as women trudged along the paths that wove in and out of the patchwork, babies tied to their back and baskets balanced on their heads. The scenery below me absorbed me and its power over me gained in intensity the nearer we came to the ground. I had a literal sensation of two worlds colliding as the plane bounced on the grass strip and came to a jerky stop.

Women and children were standing along the edges of the airstrip. Young boys clad in shorts and T-shirts waved sticks in the air and jumped and chanted and shouted. The young girls huddled together, clapped their hands and danced in quick short steps that barely took their feet off the ground.  The pilot spoke to my husband in French. I couldn’t understand what they said and that, combined with the strange environment surrounding me, caused a wave of uneasiness to engulf me. I pulled three-year-old Heather closer to me and held two-year-old Danny tighter in my arms.

Later that evening, as I lay in my bed, I listened to the rhythmic sounds beating in distant villages and women singing a shrill, repetitive chant as they danced in the moonlight through the night. As I listened to the hypnotic, discordant music, my feelings of self-doubt overwhelmed me and I wondered what I was going to do here on this distant continent. How would I fit in knowing neither the language nor the culture? How would my family and I survive in this strange and foreign place?

My own doubts were those of a woman. And the images I remember are those of women and girls. Those images are indelibly burnt into my memory. One which continues to haunt me is of a pregnant mother with a baby slung about her waist. She is bent low over the ground as she carries a heavy load of logs strapped to her back. Sweat is beaded on her bow. A rope woven from elephant grass is tied around the load of wood and pressed across her forehead. Her hands are clasped together behind her neck pushing her forward in an attempt to counter-balance the weight of the wood that pulls her back and weighs her down. After years of carrying similar loads of wood, the flat weave of the rope is permanently pressed on her forehead and hands like a tattoo, a symbolic mark of the beast of burden that she has become.

The life and hard work of the women is a shared experience. They hoe and they harvest with a baby ever present on their backs. They call out to other women in neighboring fields as they work or as they forge ahead in great masses in their race to the market to be the first to sell their goods. They trade stories. They laugh together. They share one another’s griefs. The sun has yet to awaken as each journey begins their day. Thin pieces of cotton material are thrown over their bare shoulders to ward off the early morning chill and to try and protect sleeping babies carried tightly against their backs.

Baskets of goods, precariously balanced on their heads, sway ever so slightly as the women interact with the others in their group. Barefoot toddlers run to keep up with their mothers who confidently rush down the road walking sticks firmly in hand. Even the older mamas with their wooden pipes and their graying hair, carry heavy loads of produce to the market. As often as not, these women too have a small child tied to their back. This common bond of endless toil brings the women together to nurture one another in their shared struggle. It is their acknowledged lot in life and they accept if with courage because they recognize that there is no other way, no release.

Each passing year I spent in Africa helped me to better understand the shared existence of all women. The more I was touched by the lives of these women around me the more I began to realize my journey to find myself was intangibly intertwined in other women’s lives. With this realization, it was then, that my Siebran journey began.

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After nearly three weeks of doing this blogging thing I have come to the conclusion that blogging is almost as good as therapy to achieve personal growth!  Without a doubt it’s definitely cheaper.

I don’t know how other people find therapy but for me, it was a very empowering experience.  My recollections of my session with my therapist (a balding middle-aged man with those wire-rimmed glasses that I think look so “academic”) began as crisis intervention during a particularly tough period in my life.  We met weekly and our sessions consisted of me talking –a lot—and him interjecting these cryptic comments or probing questions.  After a year or so I decided he’d lost his perspective and wasn’t helping as much as he was when I first began seeing him.  Maybe the real issue what that after a year of pouring out my heart I’d run out of things to say. I know those of you who know me will challenge that assumption but as I think about it now—I am quite certain I just exhausted the topic we were there to discuss.

Maybe if I’d really understood the whole role of therapy better that wouldn’t have happened so quickly because now I realize it was all about ME.  Therapy is the ultimate in narcissistic behavior. And that’s where the blogging becomes an excellent alternative.  It’s all about me. It’s my take on the world. It’s what I decide is important. I love telling stories and enjoy writing and blogging is such an excellent forum to do both.  Unlike school where some rule-bound creative writing teacher is going to mark your paper with all these RED marks highlighting what you’ve done WRONG—I really don’t have to worry about what I write being scrutinized in that way.

For sure, there are some folks who give feedback on how to improve your writing (thanks folks I DO appreciate that) or a wonderful daughter who writes, “Mom, that last paragraph was a bit confusing…” (you were right on Heather it was). In general, however, it’s a forum in which I can write and do whatever I want and not worry about meeting some standard other than the one I set for myself.  I can put up those pictures of me and my sisters where we look kind of goofy, or share all kinds of “touchy feely” stories and topics that are so important to me. And if I don’t like something—well, that delete button is SO easy to use. And getting rid of a bad post is a considerably easier way of dealing with a problem in my life than working through it with a therapist. So, what it really comes down to is this:  is all this narcissism (and by default blogging) such a bad thing?

I saw an article on facebook the other day “Narcissism Epidemic Spreads Among College Students” that warns that narcissism is on the rise. They report it has increased significantly in the past 15 years and lead some to fear it is going to lead to risky business and poor political decisions. The upshot is these narcissistic behaviors generate a powerful sense of entitlement and fosters the expectation they need to be treated in a special way.

I’m not sure these experts really understand the whole thing about narcissism. What do they expect?  It’s all about the “ME” generation. Additionally, if there’s one thing I took away from all my therapy—if you don’t take care of YOU first there’s no way you’ll be able to take care of anyone else.  So, basically, this means narcissism is good for society. Right?

I don’t know how long I’ll be consumed by my blogging—which up until now has been an almost full-time occupation at least on the weekend and in the evenings. But I do know this. One of the neatest things about it has been the opportunity to share something with my daughter and collaborate on to make this a better place to meet online.  And when you look at it folks the ultimate in narcissism is having children and seeing your kids grow up into just the kind of people you hoped they would be!  Therefore, looking at “me” from that perspective—well, I’m about as good as it gets!

The Kids in Rome, Dec 1996

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We Are Sisters

Barbara's winning smile!

Growing up I always wanted a brother.  I particularly wanted an older brother.   Upon reflection I think that desire was somewhat prompted by the perceived need to have someone to take care of me—basically to have a body guard.  My family lived in a neighborhood that had some really mean boys who roamed the streets. Trouble followed them wherever they went.  Nothing seemed beyond their wicked imaginations and I truly was afraid of them all the time. Whether walking or riding the bus to school, riding our bikes around the neighborhood or just playing in my yard I was always on the lookout for the bullies who were always there to threaten me, my sisters and my friends.  I think my on-going fears these boys were going to do something to me were the primary reason a brother seemed so important.  But God in His wisdom gave me sisters.

I was the middle of three girls—three years younger than Barbara and two years older than Charmaine.  If you were to see us together you’d never guess we were related—at least not as sisters. Barb has dark hair and deep brown eyes, stands nearly a head taller than me and has a darker complexion that has saved her over the years from the torrid sunburns that cursed me.  In contrast, I had paper white hair and blue eyes.  And the cursed fair skin. Charmaine was somewhat of a morph between us with medium brown hair and blue eyes.  Unfortunately for her she got the fair skin too. Folks would always be asking us which one was adopted or at the very least which one dyed her hair.  But DNA and genes are little rascals that love to play tricks on families like this and despite all the questions and doubts about our familial ties we truly were sisters.

Genes may play some tricks but they don’t lie. Barb inherited daddy’s cleft in the chin which made them both very proud. I was always being told I looked like my maternal grandmother which bothered me a great deal.  I would look at her with all her wrinkles and then look at myself in a mirror deeply troubled and wonder why people thought we looked alike. As I get older I see my grandmother staring at me in the mirror these days and have no more doubts about those wrinkles that haunted me as s a child. I’m not sure who Charmaine looked like when she was younger but she definitely had personality traits that reminded me of my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother. I think she kind of looks like our grandmother too  now that she’s older.

Charmaine and Diane

Over the years my longing for a brother gradually faded away.  I’m not sure exactly what did it but by the time I was the mother of three sons if any doubt remained I know watching them interact with one another would have squelched any desires that remained.  Deny it as much as you might like there are clear differences in the ways boys and girls interact.  When my oldest boy, Danny was just a toddler, I gave him a doll to play with and his older sister, Heather, a truck.  I gave them these toys in an effort  to make my kids gender-sensitive.  That was the theory anyway.

Heather played with the truck just fine.  She enjoyed building roads and paths in the sand box we built for them and sanely drove her little truck around.  Danny loved to play with his doll.  He’d spend a considerable amount of time playing with it actually. But not exactly in the way I had planned.  He’d plop it into the back of Heather’s truck and push the truck along in wild rides through the sand box that inevitably ended up in a head on collision with one of his hand-made barriers or some other horrid accident he’d devise.  I don’t know how many times we performed emergency procedures on that poor doll but I eventually came to the conclusion that my efforts to gender-sensitize my son was clearly not accomplishing quite what I wanted.  So, by time Ted and Jonny came along I had pretty much given up on my efforts to make my boys act more like their sister.

Over the years I haven’t been able to spend as much time with my sisters as I would have liked, Living in Africa for nearly a decade put a real crimp in getting in quality “sista-time.”  Not surprisingly our life experiences have significantly impacted who we’ve become which in turn has influenced how our relationships with one another have evolved.  Circumstances in life have also played a major role in defining our interaction—decisions we each made about where we lived, the jobs we had, the things we committed our lives to.  But, the thing that hasn’t changed is that we are sisters.


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Bill and Moses

bill and moses

I’ve been married twice in my life.  My first husband had the misfortune (well some would argue he was fortunate given the outcome) of being bitten by a hippo.  It’s a long story and maybe I’ll tell it some time but the point is it’s a pretty unusual thing to have your husband attacked by a wild animal. Not too many people have an experience like that you have to admit.

I was married to Bill for several years when he casually mentioned to me he’d had a close encounter with a lion.  WHAT?  He got my attention.  When he was in college he was invited by the program sponsored by the Kennedy administration to encourage children to be more physically active.  He and his future wife, Pat who was an olympic gymnastic hopeful, were sponsored by a leading trampoline manufacturer to tour the US and put on a shows at schools.

Apparently Bill got it in his head their show needed some sprucing up.  He’d heard there was a bear cub available at the Minneapolis Zoo so he decided to check it out.  When he got there it was decidedly not a cub so he figured maybe it was best if they kept the show just to the two of them.  Sensing Bill’s disappointment I guess the director told him…“Well, we have this lion…” And the rest is history…and yes, lightening CAN strike twice!

I can’t imagine WHAT would have prompted him to follow that director to the lion’s cage.  And even more baffling is what would prompt him to go INTO the cage. But, he did.  From what he tells me the lion seemed pretty disinterested in him—at first.  And, then, as he was checking him out (the lion checking BILL out that is…) he decided his hand looked mighty good and took a chomp at it.

Fortunately, Bill had the sense to check in with the director before moving forward with his plan which was to bop it on the nose (hmmm I wonder if that’s why Oskar began to call him “Boppa” when he was just a little tyke?).  The director sensing what Bill was going to do warned him and told him to “just slide your hand out.” Not quite that easy to do with a lion’s jaw closed on your hand but he must have been able to finesse it because he still has two of them today.

So, given my first husband’s unfortunate encounter with the hippo and Bill’s equally unpleasant one with a lion, it was with a bit of trepidation I urged him to take a camel ride.  But he did and he came back without any exciting tales.  As for me, no way was I heading to Giza again.    I wasn’t going to risk running into Hassan  (driving-in-cairo)!

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I never knew her name.  At the time there were far more important things to worry about than what she was called. But over the years I’ve wondered who she was and what ever happened after I reluctantly left her at the hospital late that night.

I did hear several days later that she lost her baby and had to have an emergency hysterectomy. Other than those two facts her story has become a somewhat sad and very distant memory.  My last image is of  her sitting alone on that hospital bench in the darkened corridor softly moaning in pain as she clutched her swollen abdomen in her arms waiting for a doctor.  That is what I remember and that memory haunts me even today.

Having a baby in a country where pre-natal maternal health care doesn’t exist is a scary situation.  UN statistics from developing countries around the world estimate that at least one woman dies every minute of every day having a baby.  The most dangerous place to get pregnant is in Sub-Saharan Africa where the number of women who die in childbirth each year is staggering.  Many of them are just young girls who should be starting their lives and not ending them.  To the young girl laboring that night alone in her world of pain waiting for something to happen for someone to come—those statistics were more than just numbers.  They were about her and her life and the life of her baby.

Just down the road from our mission was a Catholic mission run by a dedicated group of Italian missionaries.  There was Giovanni who (when he wasn’t wearing his vestments performing the mass) could be seen in a well worn and somewhat dirty pair of blue jeans and T-shirt.  Equally at ease in his double role as priest and handyman Giovanni kept the mission running smoothly and expanding its work.  Gianni, another priest, helped him with these things but he was more of a scholar and less of a handyman.  Gianni was more politically motivated than Giovanni and the mastermind behind many of the things they did.  For instance, take the co-operative to get better prices for the local produce the farmers grew or the furniture shop to teach skills to boys who never had the chance to go to school. It was Gianni who pioneered these things.

And then there was Conchetta.  It was the work of Conchetta that brought them the most pride.  Conchetta dedicated her life to the mission’s work and shared the simple home there with Giovanni and Gianni.  In their efforts to improve health care in the area they started a dispensary and baby well clinic. It was Conchetta who passed out the medicines, cleaned their infected sores, and administered immunizations to the babies.  And it was Conchetta who hovered over the poor ill souls who were carried on makeshift litters to her for help.  But, too often their trips over the mountains to seek help came too late to do anything.  Too often Conchetta’s tears were the only thing she had to give, the only comfort she could offer to ease their suffering. And too often it was the young mothers who after days of laboring in their remote villages who were hurriedly brought to her in the hopes Conchetta could do something.

There were no hospitals nearby so after they built the maternity the news there was a place that could help women struggling in labor spread quickly through the villages.  The number of women brought to the maternity steadily increased over the years but not all who needed help came. Those who did come were sternly lectured before they left with their newborn babies. Conchetta told them if they got pregnant again they must come to her when it was time to have the baby so they wouldn’t have problems.  Many came back.  But there were still too many cases where the mothers waited too long and the babies were partially born or dead before they came to Conchetta.  And that night for that mother enduring her agonizing trip over the mountains carried on the shoulders of the young men from her village—that night the only thing that mattered was that maybe Conchetta could perform a miracle.

When cases were really bad and Conchetta knew there was nothing she could do to help it was Giovanni or Gianni who made the difficult drive to the nearest hospital and doctor. It was always a race to save the life of the mother and her baby.  It was a race they lost far too often. The hospital was over an hour away but it seemed like an eternity each time they made it.  Sometimes when their ancient land rover wasn’t working or they were out of town or they were already in the race against death with somebody else—their night watchman hurried to our mission to seek out a car and a driver.  More often than not these requests happened in the middle of the night.

On the nights when their messenger urgently pounded on our door to get help I seldom got back to sleep.  I would stand at the window watching the lights of our car as it disappeared into the darkness.  I’d watch the lights as they bobbed up and down as the car bounced over the badly rutted tracks connecting our mission to their mission and their mission to the distant hospital on the other side of the rain forest. I would pray that maybe this time the odds would be in our favor; that maybe this time the race would be won. Usually I returned to bed after my husband left to think about my own labors. I recalled the sterile hospital rooms and the nurses and the doctors.  And I remembered the shots and epidurals that eased the pain and made the task a bit easier, more bearable.

But my memories of having a baby were a world and centuries apart from the memories these women had.   Most of them had their babies in small huts in their villages scattered across the surrounding mountains or low lying valleys.  For the few women that did go to a hospital or see a doctor—even then there were no sterile rooms to lie in waiting for the baby to come.  Seldom did they get shots or epidurals to ease their pain.  And in most cases the care and encouragement they got came in the form of another woman waiting to have her own baby.

I had seen them during my visits to the hospital.  They sat on the grass outside the buildings huddled together in small groups.  The women who were farther along in their labor rocked in rhythm to their spasms of pain. They were focused on finishing up this job so they could get back to their families and the work they normally did day in and day out. Sometimes when the delivery of the baby was close you would see one woman sitting behind the other, their arms linked together, legs stretched out beside one another.  The woman in the back braced her partner and gave  her something to push against to help deliver the baby. I often saw the woman sitting in back of the laboring mother lean her head close to laboring woman’s ear.  She softly whispered words of strength and encouragement.  For this was the solitary world of women and together they shared in this labor that only a woman could do and only a woman could understand.

One night when all the men on the mission compound were gone to an overnight meeting the Catholic’s messenger showed up at my door with the dreaded request.  It fell to me that night to make the journey none of us ever wanted to make.  There was nothing I liked about this midnight death race over pot-filled muddy roads rushing through the shroud of darkness in a desperate attempt to save a mother’s life.

This time the mother had been in labor for three days when they brought her to Conchetta.  One of the baby’s arms and a leg were partially delivered.  The mother was delirious with pain and Conchetta cried as she held her close and mournfully told her in her beautiful mix of Italian, Kinandi and Swahili she had to go to the hospital her baby had died. Conchetta urged me to drive as quickly as I could that time was of essence.  But her last words to me as she leaned into my car window and cautioned “her uterus could rupture if the bumps are too hard” played over in my mind as I drove increasing my fear that was my uninvited companion in the car with me that night.

An old lady they sent to help huddled next to her in the back seat.  One of her arms stretched around the young girl’s shoulders and the other reached across her abdomen in an effort to hold her steady on the seat and keep her focused on making it to the hospital.  I could hear the young mother moan in pain each time the car jarred over a bump or I braked to avoid a pothole.  But mostly the three of us rode in silence reluctant allies on this loathsome journey together in a race no woman ever wants to make.

When we finally arrived at the hospital no one was there.  I pounded on a locked door and eventually a nurse dressed in a blood splattered lab coat opened the door just a crack.  She ordered the mother to take a seat on the bench and told us the doctor would get to her when he was finished taking care of another emergency.   The wait was interminable.  The only sounds of her moaning in pain and crying in grief echoed eerily in the empty space.   Eventually I was forced to leave her so I could go home and relieve the neighbor who was watching my own children sleeping in their beds. Conchetta sent me a message a few days later thanking me for my help and telling me about the hysterectomy.

Every mother knows that losing a baby is heart wrenching.   But in a place like this having children was one of the few ways a woman has any value.  In a place like this having children to take care of you as you grow old is one of the few ways a woman can leverage any kind of long-term security in her life.  In a place like this I knew the chances her husband would keep her after a hysterectomy were very unlikely and envisioned her plight if he rejected her.  So, in a place like this losing her ability to have another baby was like a death sentence.

Three years later I made my own journey to the hospital with a baby on the way.  Even though my journey wasn’t a race against death, I too moaned in pain as the car jerked and shuddered from the never-ending bumps and potholes in the road.  And I too held myself tight as I struggled to stay on the seat and focused on making it to the hospital.  But, unlike that young mother who lost her baby, when I held my beautiful son in my arms, when I marveled at his dimples and when I kissed his soft forehead—I thanked God that my journey ended with my miracle.

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Dale: Simply A Friend

I received a really special gift via the internet today from my friend Dale. I tried to contact him several months ago without success.  So, when he never wrote back I feared for the worst. I thought maybe he was very ill or had even died. He’s on a wait list for a heart transplant so my concerns about his health and worry that something might had happened to him weren’t without merit.  When I heard from him today I really felt like Lazarus had risen from the dead. I know that my delight upon getting his cryptic message could not have been greater had he been mummified and walked out of a crypt to come greet me.

Dale and I—we go back a long way. About two years after my divorce I was spending Christmas with my children at my parent’s place. I was surfing the net when I found him out there in cyberspace. I knew the moment I saw his IM that I was destined to be his friend—at least his friend for a day anyway.

The year before I spent Christmas alone with my parents since my kids were celebrating the holidays with their father and grandparents in Canada. That Christmas was a tough one for me. After two and a half decades of being a mother it was my first Christmas without one of my children around to share it with me. I can still remember the telephone call I made on Christmas afternoon to talk to each of them. My pain and sense of loss grew as I listened to their laughter and the sounds of their Christmas celebration in the background.  As I’d talk to first one and then another my sense of isolation and separation was almost unbearable, overwhelming. I don’t think I have ever felt so alone  and abandoned in all my life.

So, when I saw the IM from Dale that Christmas afternoon a year later asking for someone to chat with him because he was spending his first Christmas alone after his divorce—I truly felt his pain. I determined I would give him a special gift from Santa in the form of a chat.  I don’t remember what we talked about that afternoon—but I do recall that I knew within the first few minutes into our conversation that he was a good, decent person. And I also remember that his two sons, David and Jeff, were a big part of our conversation as we shared stories of our children–the link that had brought us together that Christmas afternoon. Knowing him like I do now I suppose we also talked about motorcycles, drawing and technology—all things he’s really into—and very good at as well.

I remember that when we ended our chat he thanked me for sharing Christmas with him and making it a little less lonely. At the time I figured our brief encounter would be like the proverbial two ships passing in the night. I thought our afternoon’s chat would be a one time conversation. But over the next few days one or the other of us would see the other online and eventually our on-and-off-again chats became a regular thing.  Just like that our online friendship was born.

As the weeks rolled into months and then the months grew into years my friendship with Dale blossomed and grew as well.  I learned all about his work at Aetna in one of those geeky kinds of jobs. I heard all the details of his troubled marriage, the eventual divorce from his ex wife Sue and his struggle to cope with her remarriage. We talked about the impact all of this had on his sons.  And he listened to similar stories I’d share with him about my job, my bumpy marriage and then the eventual divorce and remarriage of my ex-husband Bob.

I’m not sure that we were surprised at the people we met the first time we had a face-to-face conversation.  We’d been chatting for years by that time. So, I don’t think it really mattered to either of us that he was balding a little or that I was far from a twiggy.  For what really mattered is we were two lonely people who needed and found a friend in each other.  By the time Dale and I met in person I had learned over and over time and again with all the other folks who I met and befriended online that there was a world of people out there who were in desperate need of friendship and someone to talk with. I had learned that for all the lonely people out there so few were able to find anyone who would be a true and lasting friend. Maybe it was out of fear or maybe it was out of selfishness.  It really didn’t matter I guess because the impact was the same. And knowing this made the friendship that we had forged all the more special.  So, by the time we met the thing that really mattered wasn’t about what we looked like on the outside but what we looked like on the inside.  By the time Dale and I met I knew that he was very special and that how he looked on the inside was very good.

Dale drew me a beautiful pink rose for my birthday one year. I still have it.  In fact it’s one of the few things I brought with me to Cairo. I know it won’t ever bring me a fortune from a Sotheby’s auction someday. Yet, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Little Prince’s rose my rose is very special.  And even if I could get a fortune for it I would never part with it.  It’s far too valuable to me; a priceless treasure I cherish.  For you see that rose represents something that money can never buy. It represents something that even illness or death can ever take away. It represents a Christmas gift we gave to one other.  It’s the greatest gift there is—simply being a friend.

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…”

“They don’t find it,” I answered.

“And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”

“Of course,” I answered.

And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

Dale's rose

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