To go, or not to go ... Volunteering in Togo ...

The following post is re-blogged from my little cousin's blog. What you won't read in the post is the fact that she's given up all her worldly possessions to pursue her passion for adventure, her need to be free, and her resolve to make a difference.

Those are my words, not hers. I haven't seen my little cousin Katie in over 13 years; anything I say about her is based on nothing more than our occasional Facebook exchanges, sporadic emails, and innate familial gut-feel. 

This girl isn't a back-seat driver. She needs to be at the wheel. She needs to DO. Sitting back and wondering ''What if ...'' isn't what she does.

What she does is runs straight into the fire and shouts ''IMAGINE if I HADN'T!!!!''

You can read more about her adventures here


Volunteering in Togo

Posted on December 9, 2016 by katie1519

We couldn’t wait for the time to come and finally it’s here.  We had a quick stop over in Morocco exploring markets, crowded streets and what I can only describe as purely beautiful exotic chaos.  The owners of the apartment we rented onlyspoke Arabic which made for some interesting conversations using our hands, bodies and any prop we could get our hands on.  A genuinely caring older couple with loads to tell us.

Our stay was short in Casablanca and are arrival in Lomé felt overdue.  The 4am arrival wasn’t overly welcomed, but it’s all part of the travels.  We slept through our first day, but haven’t wasted a second since. The streets are dusty, except for when it rains of course in which case they just turn muddy – not sure which I dislike the least yet… Pretty much everywhere we go, I feel like I always encounter at least one person (if not much much more) who seemed stunned when they see me.  Some shout “yovo” an apparently non-offensive slang which translates to “white man”, kids usually get quite excited and love giving high-fives, and then there was that one toddler who have just looked and me and cried instantly.  I tried not to take it personally, but could I really be soo ugly as to scare a child??   Which also brings me to the numerous marriage proposals I’ve received in my very first week, and endless request to “be my friend”, or have my number – so take that you scaredy-cat kid, can’t be that ugly after all!

No but really, Lomé is nice.  The Togolese are generally very kind, shy and a little reserved, but once they get more comfortable they can also be quite curious.  Our current accommodation is basic, although very comfortable.  Honestly, as 2 volunteers, I think we are very welltreated and looked after and in comparison to some local accommodation, ours is really nothing to complain about.

We were lucky to find a great little organization called PDH.  They’ve been around a while (17 years now) and seem to have their hand anywhere they can help.  In just our first week we have completed hospital visits, personal home visits, work visits for a young girl trying to start a small business to support her mother dying of AIDS,  several school visits and endless projects and activities here at the center.  We are busy, the work can be very emotionally draining, but the rewards of laughter and joy make it all worth it.  It is mindboggling to see how many people in this country struggle with basic human requirements.  Mothers unable to support their young with just basic needs like food and water, forget schooling.  Children without mothers or fathers, who seem to just be raised by their surrounding communities and extended families. 

At PDH we have regular evenings where we cook food for the kids, I’ve never seen little ones so keen to get their hands on food, but not only does this little gesture make them so happy, they seem to never want to eat it at the centre, for all of them, their number one priority is taking the small bag of food home so they can share with their family.  Take a moment please, allow that to sink in….

PDH functions solely on donations, volunteers and the generosity of others.   It is why we helped them with the creation of a fundraising page for their upcoming Christmas event with the kids and the completion of the roof required on two of their classrooms at the centre.  I am taking this opportunity to reach out to anyone who follows my blog, in hopes that you may make a donation – no matter how big or small – even $5.00 can go a long way here.  Even simply sharing this information with friends and family helps PDH in unimaginable ways.  If you are keen to find out more about them their information is below.

Fundraising Page:

The Smorgasbord House

When moving to your new home in Qatar, it's unrealistic to expect it ‘’all’’.  You may have to forsake an amazing kitchen for a grand yard.  You may have to give up the extra bedroom to get a top-of-the-line gas cooking range.  You may have to forgo the compound of your choice for a stand-alone villa if you want to live within reasonable distance of your child’s school. You may well end up with your own version of a Lego block house ... and you might end up quite pleased ... even quite happy despite it all.

Read More

The Soft Place to Fall ...

A 35-year-old 5th grade teacher passed away at my daughter's school this week, leaving behind his wife and two small children.  

My 4th-grade Kiddo came home after learning of this news ... she told me what had been said and done in class to deal with the grieving process.  I asked her if she wanted to talk a bit and she said ''no, I'm okay, I think I can handle it, we talked a lot about it in school today''.  

She went up to bed, and when I went to tuck her in 15 minutes later she was crying.  She'd written a letter to ''God''.  She'd asked him why this had happened, how his family would cope, and she confessed her ''sins'' (about thinking this particular teacher was weird when she crossed him in the hallway because he had an earring).  She felt so guilty.  And she couldn't understand why he was gone.  She felt bad for his family.  She couldn't forgive herself for having judged him.  

I sat cross-legged on her bed, listening to this child of mine expressing the guilt that all of us have felt at one point in our lives for judging someone without reason.  And I felt such pain knowing that she would never get to set this right with him.  I listened, and I told her it was ok.  He was up there somewhere in Heaven with her Pepere, and they were laughing and reminiscing about what an awesome kid she was.

And she said ''no, Maman, he didn't know who I was.  I was just another kid in the hall.  Just another kid who thought he was weird. But now, NOW, I wish he'd been my teacher Maman.   Because the 5th graders said he was awesome.  Why was I so mean in my head, Maman? He was just a good person and a good teacher, and now his family don't have him anymore.  His babies won't ever be able to love him the same way again.  Why Maman?"

And of course, I had no answer for her.  All I could do was listen and hug her.  I asked her if she wanted me to get her Papa to talk about it.  She said yes.  I went and explained to him what was going on.  I asked him to come talk to her.  He came, but he didn't talk to her.  He said ''Grab your blanket, you'll sleep with us tonight.''  So she did.

We lay there in bed, the three of us.  Last night.  And she whispered to me ''Thank you, Maman.''  And I asked ''Why?''  And she said '' You always listen to me, and you're always there for me.''  And I hugged her.  

And we fell asleep.

And I felt ok.  Because even though my child was in pain, we'd delivered on our promise to always keep her safe.  No matter what, we've promised ourselves we'll always be her soft place to fall.


MomME ...

There was a point in time, a fairly significant point in time, when I thought the dream was forever.

We had six kids.  Three boys, three girls.  All about a year apart.  They all had curls, rosy cheeks and boundless energy.  They were gigglers, and putting them to bed was a 2-hour affair.

We had a house in Northern New Brunswick, set on 42 acres of land.  There was a huge garden, a horse pasture and stables.  

We had a swimming pool, and in the summer we'd spend afternoons splashing around as water babies do, and evenings sitting by the fire pit roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.

In the fall, the maple trees in the front yard shed flaming leaves, and no sooner would my husband scoop them into a pile than the kids would dive into them, scattering them to the wind, imprinting their unique Picasso impressions in my heart.  

There was a trail that led into the woods behind the house.  If you followed it far enough, it led you to a lake that expanded steadily each year under the constraints of a high-rise beaver dam.  In the winter, we would walk down the beaver dam trail to chop down a tree that would infuse the house with the bright smell of pine and serve as shelter for the gazillion gifts that would magically appear on Christmas morning.  

It was the stuff dreams are made of.

It was all a DREAM.  

I had the house, and the 42 acres, and the swimming pool, and the beaver dam.

But the kids never came.  

Try as we might, the kids never came.

Thankfully.  Because they likely wouldn't have survived the dream that morphed into a nightmare.

The visions of children diving joyfully into piles of leaves morphed into the sight of my ex stumbling up the driveway stoned out of his skull.  

The sound of children giggling was replaced by his drunken ravings.

The image of family time by the pool was reframed with drug-and-drink-infused impromptu and inopportune pool parties.  Waking up to random strangers sleeping on my living room sofa the next morning.

There was a point in time, a fairly significant point in time, where I thought the nightmare was real.

And then it ended.  Almost 12 years ago.  

And I woke up here.  With Smilin' Vic.  With Kiddo.  Somehow, miraculously, with Kiddo.

The 42 acres, the house and the dreams went to the ex in the divorce settlement.  I got a cash payout and kept my car and the payments that came with it.  And my dignity.  And self-respect.  And renewed appreciation for unanswered prayers.  Because God only knows what would have become of those 6 curly-haired kids had they ever come to be.

I didn't get the six kids I'd dreamt of.  I got one.  That's what the stars blessed me with.  But as I tell her:  ''God told me since I could only have one, he'd give me the very, very, very best one.  The most special one.  So he gave me you.''

This wasn't the dream I pictured when I bought my first house at the age of 24.  

Of me remarried.  Of me living on a compound in the ME, with a back yard the size of most people's living room.  Of me, mother of 'one'.

Yet somehow I'm living the dream.  As much as I miss having the beaver dam and the changing leaves and the wooded pine trails and the beaver dams.  Without these two, without Smilin' Vic and Kiddo, my life would mean nothing.  

I've realised everything I wished for wasn't everything I needed.  I've realised I spent years trapped in a web of ''what I wish'' and ''what I hope" and ''what I dream of'' and ''what could be''.

And today, I'm realising ''what I've been given'' and ''what choices I made'' and ''what I have''.  I'm realising that life surprises you, and that sometimes if you give them the chance to do their thing, the stars all align.

I dreamt of having six children.  I was told I was barren.  And yet I had one.  I had ''THE ONE''.  I had Kiddo.  I'm the luckiest mom ever.

Hats off to all moms tonight.  

Hats off to all moms in the Middle East: ''MomME's''.  

We all come with a past.  

We all come with a dream.

Sometimes our dream, the one that's so great we can't even imagine it, actually comes true.

Happy Mother's Day.