Saturday, July 31, 2010


I haven’t been faithful to the FOOD NOT BOMBS group this summer. I have lots of reasons, but I haven’t been downtown to feed the hungry more than a couple of times in the last 8 or 10 weeks. There HAS been a lot going on. Heath problems, playing in church on Sunday mornings, going to visit my folks in NC, being out of town for work and pleasure. Still, it leaves me feeling a little guilty.

I have written about FNB
before, but it’s been a while. It is a group of the most wonderful selfless people who meet on Sunday afternoons at 1:00 in Finlay Park in downtown Columbia, SC to feed people who come for a meal. Simply, people who have - feed people who need.

It is not always fun exactly, but it is fulfilling. There are many fantastic moments and images in my mind as I leave with my empty pot to drive back to Lexington. One of the greatest feelings is that it is a kind of giving with no middleman. From my pasta pot or salad bowl to the plate of someone who is hungry. Simple. Effective.

While I have only been involved for a couple of years, there is a pattern of summer months being a little harder. And while I haven’t been in three weeks, I am on the list serve and it seems that the pattern is still the same. People get grouchy in the heat, gratitude is not in the forefront, it gets a little pushy, and emotions run a little higher. Someone on the list serve posted some important observations and asked a valuable question. There were some well-reasoned answers as well. I didn’t ask permission to use their words so I won’t write who said what. But it is so clear that this is an organization of good people who care. I am humbled to be a small part of it.

How is our energy level as a group? 
 I thought I was detecting some burnout last week. Was it the heat? Or was it the endless weeks of hard work and sometimes wondering if the beneficiaries really appreciated it? Does it ever bother you that among our grateful and needy population of clients there are scam artists, folks who would take everything for themselves if we let them, people with homes and a full pantry? 
I found myself dwelling a bit on the negatives this week… 
Some of our clients will complain about any given portion and really do not care about the hundred people behind them
- Sometimes it seems no matter what we do or what we bring, it isn't enough
- The scarcity mentality seems to make it almost impossible for folks to stand in line, there is so much fear that "they won't get their share" that they intensely swarm any given open box (and the person holding it)… 
It is easy to understand how one's emotional bank account could become overdrawn in such an environment… 
So, I think about quitting, or maybe just a couple of weeks off...but then I think about the ones we are helping. The grateful ones, the nice ones, the ones who look forward to seeing us each Sunday...not just for the food either. They look forward to the interaction, the familiar face, the knowing that someone cares enough to do this, all this goes toward creating an emotional and spiritual benefit for that person as well. It must help knowing that there are others out there who will see one as a human being and look past the homelessness and the wounds, self-inflicted though they may be. 
So, how do other FNB'ers "sharpen the saw"? How do you keep your energy level and commitment up? Please share your personal secrets for showing up every week. 

Thanks for sharing some real concerns and issues. In answer to some questions and how I stay focused and willing and keep my emotional bank account full. Yes the heat increases everyone's irritability! And yes, like you said there are people who will scam, grab and generally be less than pleasant to others. On the other hand there are the folks who say thank you, bless you, and how are you? That's what I focus on.

I feel gratitude that I am able to help and that every once in a while the help is acknowledged. I am sharing food because I want to and am able to. 
 It makes me sad when folks are mean to each other, I don't like the tension. I was pleased that the line worked last week even without the tickets. 
By all means take a break when you want/need to.

The miracle of FNB is that we do have enough. The additional food from the other Food Lion, your peanut butter crackers, it all helps. I cringe when I see a server bring just a few boxes of chicken because I am very uncomfortable when I don't have enough to go around. But that is my issue. Other people are better at saying, "this is all there is, one a piece."

FNB works because it is a very fluid process. People can join us at any time, and can stay for as long as they want, and several people have served in the past, taken a break and then come back. 

I view FNB and the picnic as my chance to see love in action. When I share food I am sharing love and that keeps me coming back. 
 I'm looking forward to seeing what others say and to seeing everyone Sunday.

If I am expecting to be thanked or appreciated I am opening myself up to disappointment and resentment. When I serve without expectations, I can stay calm and thankful. 

I have many people that I look forward to seeing. 
 MOST of theses people are the ones that have come to eat… I intend to continue to come because I am on a long process (journey) of getting to know people. 
This is something that I always look forward too
BUT, this is not a Disney Land…
It is always complex, always changing...pretty much matches the VERY COMPLEX people that eat and also those that bring food. 
I really would not trade it in for anything in the world.

That was honest and great! Sometimes you need to take a break. Keep in 
mind that things are seldom as they seem. FNB is not just to feed homeless 
people, but to feed hungry people. If Governor Sanford wants to walk over 
and get a plate then we are there for him… There for the grace of God go I. We are feeding 
their souls and vice versa. It’s more about the compassion than the food. I
get more out of it than I give.

What a blessing to share the ideals of these people. FOOD NOT BOMBS, Sundays at 1:00 in Finlay Park, Columbia, SC. Be there or be square.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aloha, Y'all!

ALOHA, y’all. We are back from a lengthy stay in Hawaii – but no matter how long we stay, it is never quite long enough. It was a working vacation, although thinking up with very brilliant teachers (who happen to be friends) in paradise, hardly qualifies as work. I told our friends our first day of working there that I learn as much or more as I bring to them. And it is so true. The money we made working with the phenomenal teachers at Innovations School we spent taking in the Big Island. Every penny. It was so worth it.

There is something quite different about Hawaii. If you have been there and gotten away from Honolulu and Waikiki Beach – then you know what I mean. There is a gentleness of spirit, true caring, a genuine sincerity and sweetness of the people. Heidi and I have worked closely with teachers there. It is clear. The people look you in the eye. They take you under their wings. And they give and give and give. There are teachers we met when we went to the islands 12 or 13 years ago. When we see them at conferences they give us a box of magnificent chocolates. The presents they gave us on our last day working there this year were incredible. Since I keep my lesson plans and classroom record keeping on a clipboard, the principal gave me hers. Students of Innovations School make it from different Hawaiian woods including koa and coconut tree and milo. It is stunning. It is a gift I will use for a lifetime.

There is a relaxed, laid back spirit there as well. It permeates the islands and daily life. We took a highway to our favorite beach several times. In some places the speed limit on the four lane divided highway is 35 mph. You wonder, Is there construction ahead? Is the road winding? Bumpy? Nope. It would drive many city people from the continental US nuts. They just drive slower. There are no roads over 55 mph. I saw a bumper sticker on a tiny little car that read“Slow Down! This ain’t the mainland!” That’s a metaphor for Hawaii. If you go there – you s-l-o-w down. And it feels right.

One of the most significant parts of our trips is hanging around with sea turtles or honu. We have incredible encounters every year. In Hawaii, the ocean and beaches belong to the people. To everyone. Even the fine beaches at the expensive hotels are required to allow beach access. That is how it should be. Turtles hoist themselves up on the beaches to relax and rest for hours before going back into the ocean to munch mostly on algae that grows on coral or seaweed that floats by. These animals are revered by Hawaiians and only the tourists ever get too close or touch them.

This is our fourth time working with teachers in Hawaii. The first time we went Devin was 5 ½ and Colin was almost 4 years old. In some ways our visits to Hawaii mark our growth, our age, how far we have all come. When we first went I remember staying in Hilo (on the Big Island). Devin was a fine swimmer and a confident risk taker for a five year old. We found a map to some reefs down the road from our hotel. I rented a mask/fins/snorkel combo and Devin had his own mask and fins. His were toys really. The fins were the belt-buckle type made of hard plastic and were not much bigger than his feet. His mask has half full of water every time he came up. But he was so game! We swam in about 20 feet of water and dove down to see amazing fish. He would burst through the surface and describe all of the incredible things he had seen including much I had not seen. He’d empty his mask and dive again, his nut-brown legs scissor-kicking downward.

That summer Colin really learned to swim in Hawaii. He took his first confident jumps into a hotel swimming pool and gamely swam to the side to climb out and do it again. Over and over. He was so proud of himself. We were proud of him too.

This time both boys went scuba diving. Both of them as brown as the Hawaiian soil despite our insistence that they wear sunscreen. The pictures Devin took are breathtaking.

A couple years after going to Hawaii the first time, Devin wrote this poem from his memories.

I see weathered shells with barnacles and shells with tiny and rough sand. I see shrimps in the hole of shells.

I see thrashing waves above the tangerine sun and me. Little fish surround me with their beady eyes watching me.

The dark blue is in front of me. I reminisce the times I saw jellyfish, their tentacles like fluorescent branches.

I herald a couple times from the crashing waves above me. I remember the sandy beach. No bother I can always go there.

I feel I am in a dream. The water feels like silk to me. I pop my head up to feel the fresh air on my face.

I dunk again. I am farther this time. Finally I see a jellyfish. I see it going in and out, in and out. I swim away.

I go to the bottom to find a small brown crab. I admire the texture. It is rough and bumpy. I let it go.

I love the sea. Devin O’Keefe, grade 2

Over the years we have been returning to Hawaii the boys have grown to young men. They venture out on hikes by themselves or together when we are teaching. This year they surprised us by showing up at school at lunchtime, walking the 6 miles from the condo – mostly uphill. Devin reminded me constantly of the directions and chuckled at me when I missed a turn. Colin listened to his iPod when we had the radio on in the car. Before this year Devin commandeered our point-and-shoot camera and took 90% of our pictures. This year he had his own camera and captured the islands and our family like none of us could.

There are taste treats in Hawaii like no place else. The pineapple there is a dark rich yellow-orange and tastes as sweet as anything you have ever eaten. The ripe mangos from the tree in the schoolyard are so juicy that one from anywhere else is just not the same. If you are a coffee drinker and have not had 100% Kona coffee, you are missing a treat. It is the standard by which all others are judged. This time when we were eating out at a little coffee shop for lunch, both boys had coffee. There was a LOT of sugar and cream to be sure, but they acted as if they drank coffee all the time – very nonchalant. Heidi and I looked at each other and smiled. Another act of growing up. Right before our eyes. Somehow I don’t think they’ll make it a habit now that we are home, but when you are in Hawaii…

Every year when we return, we don’t know if we’ll be asked back again. We hope to have our colleagues from Innovations come to see us again here in SC. It just isn’t the same meeting at a conference. While Hawaii is a part of the United States, it is also something very separate, very special. In some ways, it is the very best of the US.

Mahalo Hawaii!

I was cleaning up my desktop and came upon this little piece by Mother Teresa. She is my hero. Her words are simple but oh so true. I posted this before, but it helps to be reminded of simple truths.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.

Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.

Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, there may be jealousy.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

- Mother Teresa -

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rwanda: The Genocide Memorial

The following few posts are from my Rwanda blog. They were written at the end of June in 2007, just a couple days after arriving in Rwanda. These are about going to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial Centre with my new friends. It was a hard experience, but one I wouldn't trade for anything.

This is another post that is not for young ones.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial

The map of Africa at the memorial that shows Rwanda

Sunday 6/30/07 11:50 PM

Tim (Immaculee’s friend and agent) talked us into going swimming after dinner. Hilarious. He is such a salesman. The water was cold and we laughed until our faces hurt. Everyone came back, at least part way, from an emotionally wrenching day. I didn’t know what to expect from theGenocide Memorial. Thousands of innocent Rwandans in a mass grave. I took some pictures, just a little video but nothing will be able to describe the power, the sadness. Most of the visitors were Europeans, a few Rwandans, a few Americans besides us. One of the drivers was there in the room with the photographs staring at a picture of his own family.

Outside, large cement slabs – maybe ten yards by twenty yards, covering hundreds (thousands) of bodies each. A large black wall, not marble or obsidian, concrete. Black, stark, simple. Hundreds of names on small plaques were attached to the wall. So many of the ones buried there remain unidentified. A perpetual flame. Simple. There are several mass graves across Rwanda. Official graves. They are still finding bodies. There were some flowers. The black painted wall. A perpetual flame. Many names.

Inside a man told us in a very quiet voice a little about the genocide. He must have said the same things many times. He was reverent. When we entered the memorial we saw an enlarged photo of an unnamed Rwandan child. DSC02674A boy. Maybe ten years old. It was ripped and scratched. Stained with blood. He was just a child. It was found in the pocket of an unidentified victim. His eyes were looking into the lens of the camera. Into our eyes. Just a child.

The guide left us there. As we walked through the maze of stone walls and rough cement or brick floors there were pictures showing the history of Rwanda from the early days before it was a colony throughout its history. Photos of leaders, ordinary people, military. Pictures showing the persecution of the Tutsis. The text was in Kinyrwanda, French and English. It was detailed, honest, brutal. The farther we went the quieter everyone became. We cried softly as we saw the horror of everyday people, simple good people, killed by their neighbors, coerced by their government, betrayed by their friends, their religious leaders. There were videos of survivors telling stories of what happened to their families. To horrific to write now. Rape, physical torture, families made to watch their loved ones brutalized, killed. We cried. Occasionally we stopped to reflect, to talk softly, to pray, to cry.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rwanda, 6/30/07

I hope that you don't this is a cop out (my reposting from my old blog). I think there may be some new friends who haven't read about that important event in my life. I will post some new things from time to time, but I'd like to put some of this out there again. For one thing, it reminds me. I had studied Rwanda, watched the film - "Hotel Rwanda" - read several fantastic books, read all over the internet about the people, the genocide, heard from new friends about Immaculee and her story, heard her voice on line, read her book Left to Tell (twice). None of that even remotely prepared me for the power of that group of people at that time and place. So, this is for me as much as it is for my new friends. Check out the links. I think most of them are still active.

If you don't know about Rwanda... you should. This is sad. It is sad because it is so real. It is still happening in the Democratic of Congo, in Sudan. But you've got to believe that goodness is stronger than hate.

If you follow the links you may cry. After all this time - I do. This is a set of posts for grown-ups, not little ones.

Des Milles Collines - Hotel Rwanda (movie trailer)

Sunday 6/30/07 7:50 AM

Last night before we went to sleep we went to the hotel formerly known as Hotel Rwanda (tribute to Paul Rusesabagina) for drinks. We were all bone weary. The airport was tiny and the customs procedures were very slow. We’d all been awake for two days. Eighty degrees, sticky, humid, diesel fumes, body odor, heavy bags to lug from the conveyor to customs to a disorganized but extremely kind and well meaning group to “collect” us and take us to the hotel.

The moon was full, burnt orange as we touched down. Immaculee’s brother Aimable (uh mob blay) met us with some of his friends, relatives and possibly coworkers. He’s a vet. At least two cousins came. One, Gonza, is a catholic priest (Jesuit). Much love all around at our arrival. We must look like typical American tourists with our huge, over stuffed bags.

Cindy, her step-son Brandon and I went in a Toyota SUV with a driver named Wycliff Kalega (They call me Wycliff). He is our interpreter and driver while we are here (at least in Kigali). Soft spoken, expressive smile, rarely speaks, two young children (one is two yeeahs the uttah is seven munts). It’s a funny feeling to have a drivuh. His work as long (as we are here) is to drive us wherever we want to go. His English is basic and I think he understands more than he can express. He has a light spirit.

At the hotel last evening we were all a little dimmed by lack of sleep. Beer, wine, coffee, African tea. We sat around a lovely swimming pool. The moonlight was pale and huge. We laughed. This is an amazing group in as much as we are from the other side of the world and the Rwandans gathered there accepted and trusted us. Of course we came with Immaculee. She is loved. We talked about… just stuff. It was sort of a getting-to-know-you session. It was lite. The laughter was easy. We were all a little drunk from exhaustion.

Hotel Rwanda

The power of being in Hotel Rwanda (music video) - now Des Mille Collines - was huge. No one really spoke about it – but it was there for me. Just imagining the Interahamwe outside with machetes raised, searching for others to kill. The Tutsis and their sympathizers hiding inside waiting, probably expecting to be murdered at the hands of their countrymen.Imagine the bravery of those who did the right thing in the face of all the madness and the relief as the madness seemed to pass, and the grief to find what was left of Rwanda. All of this happened just thirteen years ago. Thirteen years.

Today Ganza will say mass for our group. It will be casual. I haven’t been to mass in a very long time. One thing that has already been happening on this trip is an openness, an awareness of God and manifestations of God. It is a wide view/interpretation/compass now.

The Veranda

Sunrise from the veranda

I was on the patio earlier this morning by myself. The sun was blazing – not really hot but clear. Different songbirds flocking around the tall palms. Large butterflies a lot like our black swallowtails. A tall waiter brought me the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Super strong, very black and hot. Last evening when we got to the hotel where we are staying (The Serena) we were served tall slender glasses of passion juice (I think). Cool, syrupy, tangy. Delicious. Maybe it’s because it’s because I’m here in this special place. But the sunshine, the beautiful birds and butterflies, the fruit, the coffee all seem so rich, so extra, so… God.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I wrote this on my way to Rwanda. I was so weary that I couldn't sleep. I was getting used to keeping up with a writer's notebook and watching the people around me - anxious in anticipation for what I was about to experience. This was originally published on Sunday, September 2nd 2007.

Beautiful People

Rwandan children in Ntarama

Heidi. I am so weary from lack of sleep. It’s Saturday 5:00 PM. No sleep since Thursday night/Friday morning. I guess it’s 11:00 AM your time. Every time I look at my watch I think of you. I wonder what you are doing – what you might be dreaming of. We are still on the plane but we must be getting close by now.

In the airport in Belgium I know that you would have enjoyed watching all the people. Seeing thousands of faces (Charlotte, New York City, Brussels) always makes me marvel at how wonderfully unique we are. No two people are alike. Incredible. God. When I look into all of these beautiful faces I miss your face. Sometimes I’ll see someone from behind with hair that looks like yours or who walks like you or I’ll hear a snatch of laughter that sounds like you. Then you come swimming back to me. And I am grateful. Seated at the gate in Brussels we were with everyone going to Rwanda. Beautiful people. Exotic to me. So many have a look similar to Immaculee. Dark, beautiful smiles. I know that you would recognize their beauty. The God in them.

On the plane a little one has had a hard flight. She has cried a lot and whined a lot. Some of the grown ups around her can hardly stand it. You can see it on their faces. Her beautiful mom just hugs her and sings to her and rocks her. And it makes me think of you because you would recognize the beauty in the mom’s kindness, in their love for each other. You hear music in babies’ cries. The God in them.

A Rwandan child with lovely elaborate braids is asleep on the fold down table. Peaceful. Serene. Two Belgian guys are walking down the aisle. Older guys. One stops for a moment and takes in the breathtaking beauty of this innocent little scene. One nudges the other drawing his attention. They both stare at her. Just for a few seconds and then move on. You would have appreciated that little moment. That Godness.

In the airport all announcements were in French, English and some other language (German?). The people who work there are so adept at subtly seeking your language before talking to you. I think French is the default language but they switch over so fast. Incredible to me. Cindy got me a bottle of water so when we got coffee, I bought. $4.00 for water. $4.00 for coffee.

I think of you when I read words put together well or when I hear laughter, when I hear a baby cry or see an old man’s wrinkled smile. Because you would appreciate these things too. I see the world partly through your eyes. And my life is better because of it.