Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moments like this

Blurry, the park across the street melts in my view and slips down in huge heavy tears onto my t-shirt. Five minutes before, I was posing for photos, thumbs up, with my boy. Our last breakfast at a cheesy local diner, I sipped a giant diet Coke and looked around at what would be his new neighborhood. I was bursting with joy and pride. I poked and tickled him and felt the vicariousness of his new exciting life.

Soft, now my knees like marshmallows, the sidewalk so hard below me, I know I will drop, crashing like the 23 story building looming behind me. I sway in the earthquake of emotion.

Strong, the bond as he holds me, his mom, towering over my weakness. Child becomes parent, small becomes big, life shifts irrevocably. I give in to the abyss of sadness that bubbles up. I’m really losing my baby.

Common, this rituals plays itself out in dorm rooms and concrete school hallways across the continent today. But mine is different, I convince myself, mine is special, mine is my whole life that has led up to this moment! No one can possibly understand. No mother has felt this crushing pride of loss.

Buried, deep in the smell of his cotton t-shirt, I cannot face the world or the truth. I have grown up with this man, this boy, this child of mine.

Floating above myself now, I see us in the airport in Ghana, 1998. My little guy and I, after a year of volunteering, are headed home to Canada for Christmas. He is 6 years old. We are so excited and anxious to get home to the family, it’s palpable. Only, as we stand at the immigration desk, there is hesitation and the officer is upset. Something is wrong. He calls a superior and ushers us aside. My boy looks up at me with those huge innocent eyes. He whispers,

“Mom? What’s wrong?”

I shrug and squeeze his hand as they lead us into a small windowless room. We have apparently overstayed our visa and there is a massive fine to pay. We are in trouble. I don’t have the money, I am at a loss as to how this happened, as our passports are held with the NGO I am working for. We are not going to make our plane. As the minutes tick by and we sit alone and silent in the pitiful room, my heart sinks. Tears stream down my face. My boy jumps up from the chair and leaps forward. He touches my cheeks gently, wiping my tears

“Mom, don’t cry. Everything is going to be ok. It will work out. We’ll be ok. Ok?”

And it was. I squeezed him so close. My heart nearly burst.
Something was arranged and we made our plane, running, hand in hand down the runway, out of breath, we boarded the plane. Everyone was annoyed at the delay. We looked at each other with a knowing… it is the bond. We’d been through another of life’s experiences together.

Spinning, I’m jolted back to now - the world around us circles, and the moment threatens to pass. Time taps my shoulder, we will have to leave. My tears will have to be dammed.

He pulls away,

“C’mon Mom, you’re gonna make me cry.”

Which only make my tears come harder. And I’ve done it. He breaks. His strong face, cracks and our bond is exposed. Emotion all over his face. It’s sealed forever.

Our song plays in my head, the guitar he strums to me in the kitchen on Saturday afternoons back home, Bon Iver:

“I am my mother's only one,

It's enough…

I wear my garment so it shows.

Now you know.

Only love is all maroon,

Gluey feathers on a flume

Sky is womb and she's the moon.

I am my mother on the wall, with us all

I move in water, shore to shore;

Nothing's more.

Only love is all maroon

Gluey feathers on a flume

Sky is womb and she's the moon…

Gazing, incredulous, from behind he grows smaller as he skips away into the huge building that eats him up. The car carries me limp, further and further way. In the distance, the song still serenades me. My boy has grown up and the world has him now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Amadou and Mariam - Putting West Africa on the Map

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pow wow - Poverty amidst prosperity in Canada

I have spent the past few years highlighting issues of poverty in Ghana through this blog. Many times I get feedback that asks me to look at poverty where I come from.

The sad fact that many North Americans don't want to face, is that we have some populations who live in 'developing world' conditions right in our backyard.

On this summer's holiday back home in Canada, we ventured out to a pow wow. First Nations people across North America celebrate their annual festival - called a pow wow - in the spring and summer months. Pow wows consist of dancing, drumming and traditional outfit contests. There is singing, dancing, smudging, and sales of food, clothes, jewelery etc.

We had a great time. But we also visited the reservation that hosted the pow wow. And we were shocked, disappointed and amazed at the way people are living in 2011 in a country like Canada.

The following statistics from the Public Service Alliance of Canada speak volumes:

*One in four First Nations children live in poverty.

* First Nations people suffer from Third World diseases such as tuberculosis at eight to 10 times the rate of Canadians in general.

* More than half of First Nations people are not employed.

* One Aboriginal child in eight is disabled, double the rate of all children in Canada.

* Among First Nations children, 43 per cent lack basic dental care.

* Aboriginal children are drastically over-represented in the child welfare system

* High school graduation rates for First Nations youth are half the Canadian rate.

* First Nations youth commit suicide at five to eight times the Canadian rate. The suicide rate for Inuit youth is six times as high as in the rest of the country.
* Diabetes among First Nations people is at least three times the national average.

* Recent Census data shows that 23 per cent of Aboriginal people live in houses in need of major repairs, compared to just 7 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.

* Overcrowding among First Nations families is double the rate of that for all Canadian families. A recent government study found that more than half of Inuit families live in overcrowded conditions. Some three-bedroom homes are known to house as many as 20 people.

* More than 100 First Nations communities are under boil water advisories right now, meaning they have little or no access to clean water for drinking and sanitation.

* More than half of First Nations and Inuit people are under 25 years of age. This is the fastest growing population in Canada If poverty is not addressed today, it will continue to negatively impact First Nations families for generations to come.

Ghana and Africa as a whole has become the target trendy destination for eco-tourism and voluntourism as well as paid volunteering. Why do we not look inward at communities in North America that lack education, potable water, sanitation, access to health care in their communities?!

The First Nations of North America are the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Maybe it's not cool to meet up with friends and say you volunteered for two months on a reservation....

Maybe the photos you bring back will not be as exotic as those from Africa. You will not have paid over $3000 for your trip and flown across the globe. But is it any less important?

Ignorance of native issues in Canada is rife. As a city girl, I had no idea how much land across Canada belongs to our aboriginal groups, no idea what their culture was or how it has been eroded. No clue about the poverty that characterizes most reservations. The first time I ever visited a reservation I was already in my late 30's. I'd already lived in Africa for years. And this place was less than a two hour drive from my suburban home... Is our ignorance an excuse? Where is the media coverage? Where is the education on the sordid history of the clash between the aboriginal groups and the colonizers that led to the state of affairs today? How can we all turn a blind eye to the dysfunctional relations that have allowed part of a modern society to slip down through the cracks into the silent abyss?

I would venture to say that it is incredulous that westerners feel the superiority to come to Africa offering help of various kinds, when they have not even looked at the gaping wounds in their own societies. After all - CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME!

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