Monday, December 24, 2012

For The Children

The rooster begins crowing at around 4am, and doesn’t stop.  The cows moo, all the time, some sounding totally pissed off, some sounding suspiciously like elephants.   New sounds, exotic bird songs fill my mind.  I begin to whistle along. 

The sun comes up hot and strong, bringing me out of bed to greet another day.  It is the wet season, and we often have early morning rain, heavy downpour exaggerated by the tin roof.  Usually by the time the sun comes out the dark clouds have passed, and by midmorning teatime, it is scorching.  This morning it is so clear I can see snow covered Mount Kenya.

I arrived here in Meru, Kenya more than a month ago and have been settling into this new place, new time, and new community.  It is December 2012, this week we celebrated the solstice, the Mayan prophesized time of great change is upon us … globally we are facing big challenges, big questions, and big changes.  Everywhere I go I see consciousness shifting, and everywhere I go there I am … along with my inner patterns and outer actions, part of the shift I am witnessing on a global level.  I feel it is a time of quickening, and that’s why I am here, living the question ‘how does change happen?’

We, a small intergenerational group of Americans, are here as part of Beyond Boundaries, a non-organization or ‘organizing principle’…. a dreaming of cross-cultural collaboration, co-creative learning, and bearing witness to good work being done ‘beyond boundaries’ of race, religion, age or gender.  We have traveled together before, in the world and in our home communities, responding to requests and invitations, and offering ourselves in service.

Our host is Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH); part of International Peace Initiatives (IPI) founded by Daktari (Dr.) Karambu, a local woman with a big heart and a big vision for her people and for women globally.  She started IPI as part of her Communications Doctoral thesis at University of Colorado.  She started by listening to her community; to the people she saw needing listening to, the impoverished women with HIV/AIDS.  They wanted income; she helped them to create their jewelry and handcraft workshop.  Their number one worry was ‘what will happen to our children when we die?”  KACH was born from this concern, and is now quickly growing to accommodate the children who need a safe place to live. 

Karambu has a vision to create a peace academy, an intentional community… a new culture of peace.  Karambu has a quiet presence, a stillness and depth that is apparent in the way she listens, leads and participates with her community.  Yesterday I saw her scrubbing windows, stirring onions over an open fire, and fetching materials for the hired labor.   In addition to running the organization, fundraising, hosting volunteers, and being ‘mama amani’ for the children’s home, she has become an active facilitator for the UN womens movement in Kenya and travels often to various regions to hold workshops for women and youth.

Karambu invited us after meeting Marlow Hotchkiss, one of our team, at the Findhorn Foundation.  She participated in a ‘Nature of Council’ course Marlow and his wife Leslie offered there.  In this experience she met something she saw would serve her community and vision, and now we are here.  We are at the mid-point of our project, building a peace hut, a round natural earthbag building for prayer, contemplation and council.  For the children… in the center of our worksite a prayer hangs on our orientation pole (helping us to keep levels, distances and direction). It says ‘Kwa Watoto Wetu’, ‘for the children’ in Swahili, and is covered with the drawings and the wishes of the Amani children.  

“Amani’ (Swahili for peace) is a small sanctuary, a beautiful compound full of energetic children and a friendly staff.  We arrived as their Christmas break began, many of the children returning ‘home’ from boarding schools, and we quickly learned the names of the 20 plus kids, and how to play with them.  It is always the quickest way to bridge culture… jump right into the body, to physical play, sports, song, art.  In the first days unknown children would shyly bring me crayon drawings and love letters, and in the following days I joined them to paint their portraits.  We began to fall in love.

They all have hard stories; most have HIV positive parents and/or lost their mother during birth.  Globally 536,000 women died in childbirth or pregnancy in 2005.  “Child mortality has plunged, longevity has increased, but childbirth remains almost as deadly as ever… lifetime risk of maternal death is one thousand times higher in a poor country than the west.” I am acutely aware of the global context of the local situation here through reading “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.   Most of these deaths could be prevented.  Facing this reality, the question  Kristof and WuDunn posed is: Why?  In brief, the answer in biology, lack of schooling, lack of rural health systems, and disregard for women.

It is clear that part of this great shift we are facing has to do with change in gender dynamics, and a change in the global situation of women.  It is a hot topic here, not broached lightly but constantly in the field… Karimi (one of our beautiful and joyful kitchen mamas) was wearing a t-shirt yesterday reading ‘NO to FGM’ (FGM = Female Genitalia Mutilation), the message on the back called for education for girls.   While things have been changing here, especially quickly in regard to FGM, it seems there are ideas about gender that desperately want to be changed.  After a weekend council training with local people and muzungus (foriegners) I came across a group of men and women discussing a moment they had witnessed in our council… a married woman (a muzungu) affectionately showed her appreciation and gratitude to another man..  and her husband was smiling!  They were excited, what would it be like to live in a culture free of jealousy?  Is it possible? 

Christina, a bright young intern from Germany, is writing a paper for her Masters study on International Development, focusing on women’s empowerment. She surveyed local high school students on their views of gender and marriage and found that cultural ideas favoring men are strong in the next generation. One young man responded to the question, ‘should women be beaten by their husbands?’ with ‘if they do something wrong they should be beaten or even killed.’  A positive trend was noted: it seems the younger girls were more hopeful, looking for and believing in change. 

How does change happen?

We do not come with any ‘solutions’, band-aids or aid philosophy.  We come with a practice of listening, and a vision to create a sanctuary for listening… to one’s self, one’s community, and the world.  We are sharing the practice of council, both formally and through ‘living’; beginning our work each day with a simple circle of bodies holding hands, listening together before beginning a day of mixing mud and sand to create a round building, bag by bag.   As the council hut has grown, row by row, bags stacked like bricks, one of our co-workers ‘Dennis’ has repeated the mantra “we are learning”.  This is true, we are learning together.  Beyond the building technique, we are learning about working together, cooperation and co-creation.

Sam, our youngest, shared a Rilke quote in our circle today: Everything is gestation and then birthing. We are here, at this time of great turning, witnessing change.  We are being asked to participate, to share our practices, and contribute to this vision of healing, here.  We are faced with many questions, and our conversations are rich.  When do we trust the process, trust in the gestation and birth of a new culture, when do we intervene, speak up, take a stand. 

I am reminded of my dreams, a clear and lucid message telling me that I am, we are, the midwives of a new culture.   We must trust the process, trust the body knows how to give birth… and we ‘show up’ when there is crisis, when we are needed. 

I am reminded of the message of the Hopi Elders:

“…There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate…”

So, this holiday season, I celebrate.  I celebrate this time, this place, and these courageous people who are asking for change.  I celebrate the movement for a new culture, and for my own movement…

I give thanks.

For the children.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers

Beyond Boundaries ~ The Dreaming Continues

I begin in gratitude for the Grandmothers, 
for the Northern Cheyenne people,
For all those who made this work possible.

Since the first meeting, the Grandmothers have gathered in the homelands of the different Grandmothers to pray together and hold council, to listen to the people of the land and those who come, and to respond to the requests from the greater world.  This summer it was Grandmother Margaret’s turn, drawing the council and the eyes of the world to her community, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.  Grandmother Margaret reached out to Gigi Coyle, visionary of Beyond Boundaries, asking for support. Gigi first helped initiate and host a spacebridge council with the Grandmothers at Bioneers in 2007, and has continued to spread their message of hope.   
The Beyond Boundaries (BB) vision of service, co-creative learning, bearing witness to and supporting positive work in the world is another iteration of the same prayer.  More than two years after the BB pilgrimage a growing, intergenerational group continues to listen and respond to the larger global community working towards a regenerative future.   Gigi felt the call for support from Grandmother Margaret was an opportunity for a BB response. Although Gigi was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict she felt that other members of the BB team could support Grandmother Margaret. She also assisted in the raising of funds for the construction of tipis for the gathering.  BB timing and funding made it possible for one pilgrim, yours truly, to travel to Montana in service of the gathering.  I spent three weeks camping at Grandmother Margaret’s, working and witnessing a great gathering. 
Supporting the Council
I went to Grandmother Margaret’s in early July, to offer support in anyway I could.  A Beyond Boundarian, I came to serve and to learn through the work.  There was a lot of work to do!  Arriving just two and a half weeks before the gathering began, I quickly jumped in, helping to prepare the house for visitors, feed the volunteers, move tipi poles – anything that was needed.  Within a few days it became clear that organizational help was needed, and Grandmother Margaret asked me to be the liaison between her local core team of support from the reservation, the volunteers gathering around her home, and the Center for Sacred Studies (a California non-profit instrumental in initiating the Council and coordinating subsequent events).

As a witness and a participant, I saw first hand the bridge-building work of this gathering.  The world came to Lame Deer Montana, and Lame Deer did not know what was coming.  It was a dance of prayer and manifestation, trust and coordination, communication and flexibility, and constant change.  I became the list keeper, the go-to-gal (or as one person introduced me: ‘mobile mission control center’).  I worked closely with Grandmother Margaret’s assistant, helping to track the many details and keep communication smooth.  I became the bridge Grandmother asked me to become. I was able to be  a peacemaker and a witness.  I learned how to listen, to slow down and put down my to-do list long enough to remember that listening to an elder’s story is part of the prayer and healing.

I bring my heart of love and peace and that mission of prayer and alliance.  
I come here with much respect for the ancestors of this land. 
I come with my sisters on this mission of prayer.”
~Maria Alice Campos-Freire, from Brazil, during the opening of the Council.
The gathering itself was powerful.  With the theme ‘Gratitude Brings Freedom’ and two keynote speakers on the issue of historical trauma, there was a focus and opportunity for the story of the place and the Cheyenne people to come into the center.  One of the most touching parts for me was when the Cheyenne did show up, on mic, during the second day.  They said thank you.  They said there may be mixed response from the community but we see the power of your prayer and the importance of the work you are doing for the world.  Thank you for doing this work here.
"I'm here to apologize formally to the Northern Cheyenne."
~Alisha Custer, participant, descendent of General Custer

Reconciliation, apology and forgiveness rippled through the field, shaking people in their prayers, bringing forth tears, stories of pain and heartfelt apologies.  Eduardo Duran, keynote speaker, said "In any human interaction, if there's been a violation, in order to heal the complete system, the perpetrator and the victim, ideally there should be an apology."  He spoke of the power of intent, the power of giving something back, the power of returning to wounded places.  These acts can transform the energy of trauma.
There were special guests at the council: the animals.  Wild wolves have been absent from the area since the buffalo left, but since the reintroduction of buffalo, other animals, such as mountain lion and coyote, have returned.  Grandmother Margaret invited a pack from Wolf Connection, a wolf rescue and youth educational project: “Reclaiming an ancient bond for future generations”.  The other guests of honor, the horses, were part of a two-month pilgrimage of healing and remembrance, “The Ride Home”, retracing the journey of the Cheyenne people who escaped from relocation in Oklahoma, then ‘Indian Territory’, and traveled through harsh conditions in 1878-1879.  Fighting along the way and facing starvation and winter cold, many died.  It is a devastating war story and an inspiring story of the power of the human spirit.   As Suzy Landolphi, one of the riders said, “yes, there is historical trauma, and it is time to reclaim historical greatness.”
During the gathering I offered council the way we practice it as BB, or in the Ojai Foundation lineage.  Each day a different group showed up and topics varied with the days.  In an event with more than 500 people in attendance daily the smaller circle was a gift for all involved and such a confirmation that the healing that is done ‘center stage’ ripples into all of our lives.   One evening I co-created a ‘learning circle’ with Connie Buck, one of the key note speakers, a Human Development professor at Southwestern College in Santa Fe.  Experienced in cross-cultural work and a life long student of ‘what it means to be human’, I was drawn to her work in the area of historical trauma,  “It’s all of ours,” and to her simple message for healing, “Feel your feelings now.  Slow down.  Consume less.”
The field of healing was palpable.  Grandmothers, organizers, volunteers and participants… together we created a field of reconciliation and prayer.  As is the nature of council, when gathered around a central prayer, something greater can come through.  This is a hopeful picture, a picture of forgiveness and healing. 
Listening into the Future
Deeply moved and inspired by the Council, the prayer, the Gathering, the land and the people, I listened for possible future collaborations.  Part of the BB vision of cross-cultural collaborative work is ‘The Global Village Council House Initiative’. This project seeks to generate an interconnected global community of peacemakers through the co-creation of sacred shelters, using natural earth-bag technology and group circle processes.  Bridging race, culture, age, gender and nationality, this vision is part of a greater movement for diverse, interconnected regenerative world culture.  And from this listening this is what emerged….

Part of Grandmother Margaret’s vision for her community’s cultural reawakening is bringing elders and youth together. She has formed Council of Cheyenne Elders, calling on local Grandmothers and Grandfathers to participate in a spiritual education based on the wisdom of their ancestors and ways of their people. During the preparation for the gathering a beautiful arbor was built by volunteers and local youth, and blessed by the Grandmothers.  This arbor will serve as the center for the future T’sistsistas’s Sacred School, which was inaugurated during the gathering. Grandmother Margaret’s vision includes permanent natural buildings and cross-cultural collaboration, and when she heard of BB’s earth-bag council huts, she became excited.

We are in the process of creating a proposal for such a project for 2013.
Financial Report
Our estimated budget for this project was $1,000.  The actual direct costs were $454 for travel and $136 for food and contributions to Grandmother Margaret’s volunteer household.  With the 6% administration fee, the total cost was $626, remaining funds will go towards the upcoming BB council hut project with International Peace Initiatives in Kenya.  In addition, Center for Sacred Studies gave Siri $500 for her work, which she will pay forward towards future BB projects.  Thank you again to all those that gifted us to make this journey possible.
Thank you for this opportunity.  Thank you to the Cheyenne who welcomed me to their land, to the land itself for revealing such beauty, to the ancestors whose stories touched my heart.  Thank you to Grandmother Margaret, for seeing me and using me, and for the humor and vision.  Thank you to Center for Sacred Studies, for their example of prayer in action and the power of vision manifest.  Thank you to those of you reading this, for your part in this prayer.  Thank you to all those who support Beyond Boundaries, for the words, the listening, the collaboration, and the financial contributions that make this work possible.   Thank you for the possibility to be well used and thank you for collaborative learning - for a regenerative way of living on this planet.
I am blessed in connection with this web of light.