Diversity

The air was thick and sweet with the scent of spices. Hindi music played overhead as my eyes took in all the things I had not seen for so long – bumpy Bitter Gourd, Asian Pumpkin, Lychee, Potol, Phuchka shells, all bringing back memories of the curries my friends used to make or trips to the market during our days in Bangladesh. I soon realized, however, that my son was not having the same experience that I was. While I settled on a can of sweets and picked out dried red chilis to make our favorite beef curry, he was feeling most uncomfortable. He had figured out that he was the only white kid in the entire store and he was sure everyone was staring at him.

He may have been right. Either way, I didn’t try to talk him out of his feelings, nor did I rush to finish or send him outside of the store to wait on me. I let him sit in his discomfort. I let him experience, in a very small way, what it is like to be a minority.

Parents, the landscape of our country is changing. It is important that our kids not only know minorities and have friends who look and think differently than they do, we need to be intentional about getting our kids into spaces where they are the minority. True diversity is not having a friend or two of color. True diversity can only happen when we are so surrounded by others who are different from us, that we begin to feel, in some small way, what they feel. We must push ourselves deeper into this discomfort so we begin to experience in a teeny tiny way what those labeled as “other”, experience 24/7 in this country.

Only then, perhaps, we and our kids, will begin to understand the narrative that was first whispered, and now roars, past our ears.

The Thing About Silence

I always loved walking my kids home from school. Now that they are older and independent, I miss those sweet ten minutes of undivided attention where we would talk about their day as we walked the 3-1/2 blocks home. One day, we were walking behind another group of kids, and I couldn’t help but overhear one kid bullying another. Though this happened years ago, I remember their faces as if it were yesterday. His sweet round pudgy face, ringed with dark curls, eyes down on the road, while a younger boy with large brown eyes and similar dark curls was laughing loudly and calling him gay.

As we turned to walk down our alley, my inner conflict was roaring so loudly, I’m surprised my kids didn’t hear it. I’m a quiet person and don’t like to put myself into other people’s business. I most certainly do not like to tell someone that they are wrong.

BUT his eyes and his sweet little face!

AND my kids were watching and how did I want them to treat people?

AND I was convinced that God had created each person and loved them so deeply and that was all that mattered today.

So I turned around and marched up to the little taunter and we had a conversation loud enough for everyone around us to hear. I gently but firmly told him this was not okay. That God had made and loved each person so deeply that it doesn’t matter if this boy was gay or not. No one deserves to be treated this way.

There is a lot of hatred, bullying and racism being spoken loudly and publicly these days. Listen up big people, little people are listening more than you realize. What you say is important but don’t forget that your silence speaks volumes as well and right now, it shouts a message to those around you. Choosing to be silent when witnessing racism and bullying has the same effect as being overtly racist or a bully yourself. You communicate to your people, including your children, that your race is superior and that bullying others is okay. Silence makes you an ally of one side or the other. There is no happy medium with silence.

We choose life by choosing words that give dignity. We bring healing to a broken world when we choose words that give hope. Choose words, instead of silence, because our little ones are listening.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

The Power in Your Pocket

We don’t have to be wealthy to change the economy of our neighborhood.  A business degree isn’t necessary to lower the unemployment rate. If we have money in our pocket and buy things, we are job creators. That 1% at the top would like for us to believe that they are the job creators in this country and that to enable them to open up more jobs, they need more tax cuts and benefits. But think about it, even if they choose to expand and hire more workers instead of lining their pockets, it is not sustainable unless enough of us are purchasing those products. You can read more about this here. We hold incredible power in our hands.

Even if our budget is limited to the basic necessities of life, we can choose who we help create jobs for by choosing where we spend our money.

We can frequent your farmers market to ensure local farmers and bakers stay in business.

We can choose to eat at the taco truck or local diner to ensure that families in our home town can keep paying their bills.

We can meet our friends at a coffee shop run by a mom and pop nearby instead of lining the pockets of some CEO at the head of a large chain.

Hire the electrician who is just starting his own business.

Somebody’s got to cut our hair every now and then. Why not make sure it’s a local business owner?

Buy our bicycle directly from someone who actually cares about your neighborhood.

Order coffee beans from someone who knows the farmer who grew them.

Buy gifts from the quaint little shop in town where the owner loves to tell you stories of the people who crafted them.

We must stop waiting for someone at the top to make this country great, improve our neighborhood, make our lives better. It starts with us.

Let’s be thoughtful…be purposeful…spend with intent…love our neighborhood well.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

 

Turning Strangers into Family

Bangladeshi BBQ MealToday is Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice. Muslims around the world gather in memory of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

I remember being a young exhausted mother of a wall-climbing toddler, with a second child on the way. We had just moved into a new apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh and barely had our boxes unpacked. The morning of Eid, our toddler had us up bright and early, as usual. It wasn’t long before we heard a knock on the door. Much to our surprise, seven gentlemen from seven other homes in our apartment building, were standing there, eager to invite us to each of their homes to celebrate the holiday with them.

We were humbled and honored to be their guests. And we did, indeed, visit every one of their seven homes that day. Each family shared their finest feast food with us. We were welcomed to their table, even though we were different. Foreigners of a different faith. Speakers of a different language. Welcomed as family.

I’m sitting here today with a lump in my throat that will not go away. I get goosebumps on my arms as I remember their kindness, their generosity, their welcome. I cannot help but contrast it to how my country is treating those who are foreign, those who are different.

When we lived in a Muslim country, we never spent a holiday by ourselves. We were always treated as family. Here in our “Christian” country, many immigrants never see the inside of an American home. Here we too often treat them as the “less than” and automatically assume they have broken laws to be here. Our “Christian” nation is in a frenzy, trying to rid ourself of those we believe do not belong here, stooping to unspeakable violence and indecency.  Last week in Mississippi alone, nearly 700 people were rounded up by ICE, leaving many children without parents to come home to on their first day of school.

Most of us agree that the system is broken. But any system, broken or not, can only go so far to make or break a country because a country is made up of individuals. As individuals, we can open our doors wide.  We can practice hospitality and turn strangers into family.  My Muslim friends taught me that family is any human being who is near you. So let’s keep an eye out for our family. Let’s make sure they are safe and that they know we see and value their humanity. We don’t have to wait for the system to change to become the change that our country desperately needs right now.

Eid Mubarak. Happy Festival!

 

Sunlight on Bullet Casings

The sky above is soft, giving the illusion of peace and safety as pink fluffy clouds float by, waiting for the sun to rise and fill the space with heat and light that will bounce off the metal roof and the golden bullet casings scattered outside the window and across the street. She looks at her daughter, finally sleeping in the pre-dawn quiet, and she wonders how many mornings they have left…if they stay. She is tired, so very tired, of the struggle just to survive. She thinks of her neighbors to the north and she ponders going to them for help. Her thoughts drift to the mothers in that country who are, even now, slowly getting up to make coffee, cooking their children breakfast before sending them off to school. She wonders if they have ever seen the morning sun reflecting off of bullet casings. She wonders if they even know what their country has done to their neighbors to the south over the past several centuries.

She knows. She has heard the stories, lost more relatives than she can count, seen the economy of her country totter and flail. She know the desperation of hunger, the weight of constantly having to look over her shoulder. When she looks in the mirror, she sees the lines of a woman twice her age. She looks at her sleeping daughter  and dreams of watching her grow up with a belly always full, a daughter who skips to a big yellow school bus with a backpack full of supplies to learn in a safe environment.

Should she go? She has heard the stories of those who have gone before. Some have starved on the way and never made it. Some have made it there, only to have their children taken away from them. She has heard of the deaths, the rapes, the torture. She looks again at her daughter. If she stays, she knows those things will happen here. But if she goes, maybe, just maybe she will be the lucky one to make it through. She reaches out in faith for her backpack, hand hovering in the air as the sun peaks up over the horizon, its light bouncing off of the bullet casings outside of her window.

This story was written to give voice to parents south of our borders who are facing an incredible struggle to survive. I was recently made more aware of our country’s involvement with our southern neighbors and it got me thinking. We have invaded them again and again over the years, sometimes under the guise of helping, but always with our own interests in mind. We have toppled government after government. Imagine the trickle down effect of that. We can only imagine because we have been at the top for so long. Please take a moment to read the brief summary below of our involvement South of the border.

  • 1846 US went to war with Mexico over land issues and took 1/3 of Mexico’s land, including most of present day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
  • 1903 US helps engineer Panama’s independence from Columbia and gains, in return, exclusive possession of the Panama Canal. The US kept possession until 1999.
  • 1809-1903 US helps Cuba gain independence from Spain, continues to occupy Cuba and refuses to pull troops until it gets something in return – long story short, the perfect spot for a Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay.
  • 1914 US invades Vera Cruz, Mexico, hoping to help take down Mexico’s leader.
  • 1954 CIA backs a coup to take down the Guatemalan president.
  • 1961 CIA launches full scale invasion of Cuba, in hopes to topple Castro from power.
  • 1964 US backs coup that takes down Brazilian president
  • 1965 US sends troops to the Dominican Republic in hopes of preventing a communist dictator from taking over.
  • 1973 US backs military coup in Chile to overthrow the democratically elected president. He is replaced by a brutal dictator.
  • 1970s US plays a significant role in Operation Condor, and intelligence operation that resulted in an estimated 60,000 deaths.
  • 1980s Regan fears communism and interferes in both Nicaragua and El Salvador. The US backs forces against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and sends $3Bn to El Salvador who is fighting left-winged guerillas, The US also invades Grenada to take down a communist ruler.
  • 1989 US invades Panama and takes down the dictator.
  • 1994 US leads invasion of Haiti to restore the former president to power.
  • 2002 US backs coup in Venezuela.
  • 2009 US backs coup to overthrow Honduran president.

While I am sure that there are more details that could be added to this list, I hope it can spark a chain reaction in your brain. Imagine that each state of the US were its own country and that for the last 150 years, Canada had been either invading various “countries” or backing coups, always manipulating outcomes to grow it’s own wealth and protect its interests. Imagine what our economy and infrastructure would be like. Imagine what our family dynamics might be. Imagine, if you will, waking up to sunlight on bullet casings and deciding you have had enough. Would you look at the opportunities and the security of your northern neighbor and want that for your children?

What would you do if you woke up in those shoes?

 

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

 

Parallel Threads

It was a journey into the sacred. Each step of our pilgrimage of stories led us deeper into the heart and soul of this amazing country.

The constant tension of of beauty and ugliness called something to life within us as we heard story after story with parallel threads of utter pain and glorious triumph. As we walked past piles of raw and putrid garbage, we were also aware of artistically painted, brightly colored rickshaws passing us on a road filled with beautiful people wrapped in colors that brought the city to life on a breezy evening.

We walked in paradox. Endless honking and exhaust from four-lane roads somehow transformed into ten-lane roads contrasted with palm trees, bougainvilleas and dahlias taller than I. A weather-worn 15th Century palace with crumbling buildings surrounded by teenagers taking selfies on smart phones.

A patriarchal society where women are rising up in the best of ways, stitching together a future of hope for the next generation, while young girls learn CPR and basic rescue skills. Discarded women who became leaders and work together to change entire communities. Worn and torn saris stitched into quilts of love by hands that were once held immovable by forces too strong to resist.

A national forest given up to become a refugee camp, swelling at the seams to hold a million of the world’s most unwanted people. Hungry hands reach out to me while vibrant green rice fields stretch from the road, as far as the eye can see. Endless crowds of people and obvious poverty overshadowed by unbelievable generosity. As outsiders, foreigners, we were welcomed and treated as family. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, all treating us as equals with enthusiastic hospitality. Muslims called out to us wishing peace upon us and sharing their food with us. A Hindu friend wrapped me in her arms and asked about my family. Buddhist hands served us tea. Beautiful diversity, woven together with the warmth of Bengal.

How is it that one of the most impoverished nations on earth can be so generous and welcoming of those who are different, while one of the wealthiest nations on earth is building walls and has collectively forgotten simple kindnesses? A famous prophet once said that if you want to be great, you have to become the least and serve others. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which nation displays this type of greatness.

I took my friends to Bangladesh to learn and collect stories. Perhaps one day people from Bangladesh will be able to come here to learn and collect stories of greatness. Perhaps someone will write a story of how the nation that grew powerful on the backs of slaves finally became great by serving others. Perhaps there will be a story about the descendants of immigrants who welcomed other immigrants and together transformed the struggling economy into something vibrant and thriving. I dream that someday a stranger will come, be welcomed and write a story about the land that built hope instead of walls and finally figured out that love is the strongest force of all. I hope that someday my nation will display some of the greatness that I discovered in Bangladesh.

 

Unconquered

She stands where the water kisses the sky. No longer afraid of the waves that roll over her bare toes or the sand constantly shape-sifting under her feet, she is drawn to the perpetual motion of the sea. An ancient whisper calls her, tugs her further on, lifting her hair as it dances round her shoulders. She listens, her whole body breathing in the movement of air, water, and the gentle kiss of sunset.

For too long she has lived in the darkness, cowering under a blanket of shame that they gave her. Tears her truest language, despair her closest friend. When she cried out, they shushed her and she almost became accustomed to having no voice. Almost.

They almost had her. Almost convinced her that an existence of inferiority, voicelessness and powerlessness was normal. Almost.

But the ancient whisper would not let them have her. It crept relentlessly from the womb of her truest mother, the earth. Like an umbilical cord, it fed her and nourished her and grew her until she could open her eyes and see for herself, her truest self. As she drank from the waters that both healed her and reflected her truth back to herself, she laughed for the first time. For she saw her self as she truly was.

Enough

Powerful

Beautiful

Strong

Brave

Wise

Unconquered

Stunned and afraid, they came running after her with the blanket of shame, desperate to cover her up again. But she refused and left them standing there, left them awkwardly holding their blanket of shame.

She stands where the water kisses the sky. She tilts her head as the wind calls her name and she realizes with deep gratitude that she is not alone. As the names of her sisters are called out, she turn to find them and together they move and change the world.

She is me. She is you. She is us.

 

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

World Fair Trade Day 2019

Today is a day to celebrate!
We celebrate innovations that empower women.
Pebble is giving over 12,000 women in Bangladesh a powerful voice in their communities. Not only are they able to provide for their families, they now help to make decisions and plan for the future.


We celebrate innovations that create economic opportunities.

Pebble is working hard to create equal and fair earning opportunities in areas of Bangladesh where traditional jobs are only available for men. Pebble guarantees these women are paid well above minimum wage.


We celebrate innovations that save the planet.

. Pebble is concerned about the environment and works in areas where natural forests and animals are endangered. By giving the women of these communities an alternative job, the natural habitat of the Bengal Tiger, among others, is now protected.

Pebble toys are handmade, without the use of electricity. The centers are within walking distance of their homes. We order in large quantities and have the toys shipped to us via sea, to keep the carbon footprint at a minimum.


We celebrate innovations in product development.

Jasmine, pictured in green and black below, is one of Pebble’s designers. The founder of Pebble can send her a picture of a new product, and Jasmine is able to quickly create a knit or crochet version of the item and then teaches others how to do the same.

Pebble is only one of many product lines that are changing the world. The Fair Trade Movement has made it incredibly easy for us as consumers, to daily impact the lives of families around the world, by making mindful purchases. You do not need to travel far to make the world a better place.

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

The People Nobody Wants

I have been following the story of the Rohingya Refugees for quite some time now and have been moved to blog about them here several times before. My dream of one day visiting their refugee camps had finally become a reality. I woke eagerly on Day 3 of my sickness, sure that this would be a better day. I texted my friend, who is a nurse in one of the medical clinics inside the camp, and she confirmed my suspicion that the antibiotics were intensifying my nausea. I put off taking my final pill, in hopes that I could feel more normal for the day ahead. I was able to eat breakfast with my team and we set out for the camp. The road leading out of town was the size of a narrow one-way street, huge holes gaped out of the edges in places, as if a ravenous monster had taken bites of it during the night. We left the town behind and soon the road gave way to lovely views of the ocean on one side and rolling hills on the other. After nearly an hour of driving, we met a sweet Canadian couple who gave us drinks of cold water before catching CNGs (similar to Baby Taxis or Auto Rickshaws) to take us the rest of the way into the camp. As we jostled along the dusty and bumpy brick road, we learn that the road had only been built a few months prior. Before that, it had just been a dirt path, which fast turned to mud during the monsoon. Nearly one million people are crammed into this tiny space that was once a national forest. Now the trees are gone and thousands of tiny huts cluster together on any acreage deemed safe enough for building. I was struck by the organization, the number of blue latrines that dotted the hillsides, and water pumps everywhere.

We passed many NGO centers, women-friendly spaces and even a playing field where kids played soccer together. Many refugees are hired to work at building roads and reinforcing dirt hillsides with intricately laced bamboo in an effort to keep the hills from eroding and turning to mud during the monsoon. Little children greeted us in English as we drove by while Burka-clad women looked on.

It was nearly noon by the time we arrived at the clinic.The heat inside of the tiny metal structure struck me with shocking force, though it was still supposedly the cool season. A tiny pharmacy was located inside along with a waiting room lined with benches, and 4 exam rooms. More benches lined the front of the clinic, to hold the overflow of patient who still had hopes of being seen that day. After finding my friend and being introduced to some of the staff, I was able to be part of one of the exams. An American midwife gently looked into the ears of a two-year-old boy who had an ear infection. He lay asleep in his mother’s lap, made small by her protruding belly which spoke of a sibling soon to be born. Soon the mom was on the exam table, cradling her boy as best she could while lifting up her burka so the midwife could check on her baby. As I perched on my stool in front of the window, I could soon recognize the swooshing song of the baby’s heartbeat. I wondered if I was feeling faint faint from the excitement of it all, or if my traveler’s belly was threatening to do me in again.

I swapped places with one of my team mates and sat outside to try to catch a breeze, but my body just wasn’t having it. They took me to the one empty exam room and I stretched out on the table, rolling up my scarf as a pillow. Nurses fluttered in and out to get supplies while the sounds of crying babies, mothers chatting in one corner of the building, men in the other, all melded together. Sounds and smells collided and bounced off the walls of this tiny life-saving structure that had been carried in piece by piece and put together out of love. I lay, unable to do anything else, on the bed used to diagnose and heal their pain, this pale foreigner, stripped of her strength and left only with an inner kernel of humanity, nothing to give but exhausted love, in much need of rest and healing herself. A tiny speck in a camp of a million refugees, a people no one wants. It was there that I recognized the humanity of suffering and need

The sacred truth revealed that day is with me still. To be human is to be equal. Ethnicity, citizenship, religion, wealth or lack thereof, mean absolutely nothing in the big picture. These categories are lines that we have drawn in the sand, lines that distract us and cause us to miss out on all that life could be if we just remembered this sacred truth. May we actively remember.

To be human is to be equal.

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

Unexpected Kindness

Misery violently took over my night, pushed sleep aside and sent me rushing to the bathroom. The initial relief was short lived and I soon found myself fumbling in the darkness, desperate for the antibiotics the Traveler’s Clinic had sent with me. I gulped down the first giant tablet, determined to be ready for travel by morning. We had a full day planned, including a visit to a hostel for young girls, shopping and then dinner at a friend’s house before returning to our guest house in Dhaka. Yet, morning still found me pasted to my bed, stomach swirling in unreasonable circles. Relief that no one else had caught the same bug and the reality of our next day’s flight out of Dhaka propelled me out of bed, grateful for friends to help me pack up. This was not the way I wanted to say goodbye to Mymensingh, one of my favorite cities on earth, eyes squinted tightly shut to block out the light and hands grasping a plastic bag just in case. As we left the city behind and headed towards Dhaka, we canceled all other plans for the day and I laid back in my seat and willed myself to survive the journey.

It was awful, I’m not gonna lie. Many roads in this densely populated nation feel like a loop in Mario Cart, only there are a million other drivers racing down the same road and the precipices are real. Our driver, Ramjan, who had been nothing but a gentleman since we left Dhaka, was now doing his best to maneuver his way home. It wasn’t long before I found myself squatting on the side of the road, upheaving the remains of my stomach. Ramjan hovered beside me, full of concern, telling my friend to hold my hand and pull my hair back. He even took a long look at my vomit to try to figure out what I had eaten that was causing my insides to have such a mutiny. When I was finished, he motioned for me to hold out my hands so he could pour water into them. He showed me how to rinse out my mouth and wash my face. As I squatted in the dirt by the side of the road and cupped my hands to accept his gift of water, I felt the Divine tapping me on the shoulder and I knew I was taking in a holy sacrament. I saw my Creator mirrored so beautifully in the face of our Muslim driver who shared his water with this tired and sick American woman. Something inside came unglued and it’s a wonder I made it back into the van instead of catapulting down the embankment.

Here is the painful truth – if Ramjan were in my country, he would most likely be arrested or put on a watch list simply based on his appearance and yet he welcomed me,  the stranger. He played the role of protector and host. He was the one who gently taught the first time visitors in our group how to eat with their fingers. In a country where clean drinking water is a commodity, he shared his with me. Dang, he didn’t even avert his eyes from my vomit! It’s the Ramjans that make the world a better, kinder place. In my home country, we tend to judge people like him because of the way they look or the religion they follow. Instead of sharing our water, we build higher walls so those still desperate to come must cross in the desert south of the border, some dying of thirst on the way. We deny place to those who have lost everything because we are afraid they will take something from us. Yet, no matter how high or long we build our walls, how many refugees and asylum seekers we turn away under the pretext of our own safety, we are the ones who lose the most. By diminishing the created, we push away the Creator and Christ is turned away once again.

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography and Liga Mullins.