Monthly Archives: March 2012

Who Cares About Africa

“Nobody cares about Africa,” he told me after I mentioned that I had grown up in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Not the response I expected to hear from a guy a couple years older than I who rolled his own cigarettes and looked like he would have been right at home in the 70s. I waited for him to add “but I care,” or “I wish more people did care,” but he didn’t.

“Why would you what to go to Africa” my friend’s grandpa asked me. “Only black people live there.” I waiting hoping for a sign that he was joking, but there was none. This sweet old man, who went to church all his life, seemed quite serious and a little worried that I was going to waste my life caring about people who didn’t matter.

I never know how to respond to these statements. How could you not care about the people who live in Africa? Then I think about the genocide that has taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. No one seems to care about that.

It has been estimated that 5.4 million civilians have died in DRC since 1996. The violence in Congo has resulted in it being named the bloodiest conflict since World War II. Yet, the world is strangely silent and has been for years. It has been estimated that nearly 2 million women have been raped during what is known as the Great African War. While this deadly war officially ended in July of 2003, the violence has not completely gone away. Unstableness continues. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, and many survivors are left scared and traumatized. This is the holocaust of my generation, and hardly anyone seems to know that it exists, why? Is it true; do people really not care about Africa?

I grew up with kids who were later killed with machetes. Not soldiers in uniforms but children. We used to play soccer together, jump rope, and ride handmade wooden bikes. Yes, I care about Africa. I care about the people I grew up with. I care about the women who were raped. I care about the parents who lost their children and the children who lost their parents. I care about this silent genocide, and I believe that if more people only knew what was going on more people would care as well.

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Pale Bare Feet

It’s finally warm! Right now I’m sitting outside on the porch with two cats playing next to me and the gorgeous spring sun shining down on my pale bare feet. It’s 5 o’clock in the evening and the thermometer says 79 degrees. Not bad for March.

I love spring because I love rain, and I also love the hope of a new beginning. I think the new year should start in March not January because March is when the world comes alive again. There is hope after the mushy snow melts and seedlings start pushing their way to the surface. There is hope when the chill in the air gives way to some good old Vitamin D. The world finally feels at peace. The struggle against surviving winter is over, and it feels good to just be outside and soak in the new life.

I guess this is the part where I should start writing about something inspirational, or thought provoking, but on this gorgeous spring day the only words of wisdom I have are- stop and smell the roses. Not an original thought, I know, but it’s an important one that we often hear, but fail to practice. I saw a list this week of the top 5 things people said on their death beds. I found the list quite interesting. People said, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself,” “I wish I didn’t work so hard,” “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings,” “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” and “I wish I had let myself be happier.”

Sometimes I think it takes being faced with death to see what really matters in life. It is easy to become so busy planning for the next stage and wanting to be where you are not that the pleasures of today get missed. Yesterday is over. Whether good or bad, it’s gone and no amount of reminiscing will bring it back. It is good to remember the past, but do not miss out on the pleasure of what is here right now by trying to relive something that is over. As far as tomorrow goes, maybe life will be better once you’re married, or once you get that dream job, or once you have kids, or once your kids pass the terrible twos stage, or once they make it through college (you get the idea). Maybe things will be better then, but don’t miss the moments of today, that make life what it is, by always wishing for tomorrow. I say this just as much to myself as to anyone else because it is such an easy trap to fall into. The art of being content is not an easy thing to attain, but it is a worthwhile pursuit that we should all practice more.

We DO have today and when you take the time to stop and savor it, today is a beautiful thing. So smell some roses and make some memories. Don’t take life too seriously. It is good to laugh a little everyday, and it is good to soak in some good ol’ spring sunshine.

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When Words Aren’t Enough

I didn’t cry until I walked into the emergency room. The entire drive to Carbondale I kept thinking this had to be a mistake. But, as I got closer to the hospital, I knew I just did not want to face the truth. Alice was too young and too full of potential be gone. I wasn’t ready to give her up, but not wanting something to be true does not change what happened.

I had just been thinking about her on Sunday morning before we got the call that she had passed away. She was about to graduate in May with her doctorate degree in addiction and substance abuse counseling. I was thinking about how we would celebrate all those long hours and hard work. My mom had just talked to her on Thursday. Alice was going to come down for the weekend when my sister came home in March for spring break. Everything was so normal the way it should be. Just like in January when she came down and we spent the weekend making samosas and drinking chai.

Alice texted her neighbor and very good friend on Sunday morning asking her to pick up some bread and flu medicine while she was out saying she felt a little dizzy and thought she might be coming down with something. When her friend came to drop off the medicine, Alice was unresponsive. The ambulance came. They did everything they could, but she was already gone. An autopsy reveled the cause of death to be due to a cerebral hemorrhage.

It’s hard to say good bye to someone you’ve known since you were eleven. Alice was not only a good friend, she became a part of our family spending many holidays with us and countless memorable weekends. When we lived in Chicago, I remember driving into the city with my dad to pick Alice up for a dental appointment. On the way to take her to the dentist, I lost a tooth; and it was bleeding so bad we had to swing into Burger King to grab some napkins.

We met Alice soon after she came from Kenya to study in America and when she transferred to Southern Illinois University to work on a second Masters degree and then a PhD, the relationship continued to grow closer every year. Alice was my friend and an adopted aunt, but she was also so much more than that.

When I think of Alice it is so hard to describer her. She had so many good qualities. I don’t know a single person who didn’t like her. She was so sweet and easy going and made friends very easily. What breaks my heart is the thought of all her unfilled dreams of working with women in Kenya. She loved her country, but while she was here she brought a lot of joy to this country, and I’m grateful for that.

Her death is a shock I am still trying very hard to cope with. There aren’t enough words so say how much she meant not only to me but to all the other people whose lives she touched. I know she is in a better place, and it seems that she passed on peacefully but she left such a hole.

I’m going to miss watching random movies together on Sunday afternoons. I’m going to miss making chapatis together and talking about everything from her doctorate thesis to the quirks of American culture. Alice was always willing to try something new, and she looked eternally 32 although she would have turned 41 the Saturday before her funeral.

Words seem so flat right now especially compared to the life that Alice always brought with her. She was amazing. She had so many dreams. Ask anyone who knew her, and they will tell you the same thing. Alice was a jewel.

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