Short Stories

Quill

The girl stands upon the bluff and looks down to the wood of a million dreams. The red-orange light of fall holds close just before the darkness of night and the coming bleakness of winter. The wind blows and she shutters. She has a girl’s mind, a boy’s heart and legs slightly too long for her stature. Her soft black hair is kept tucked inside a cloth on her head and her back has become hunched. Her boots are those of a man, but her feminine hands are gentle and kind. The quills that have formed along her spine are becoming sharper and more pronounced as the years pass.

She once stood tall with skin smooth as the newest petals of spring, but the enormous weight upon her makes her look twenty older than her years and the mysterious quills have made her something altogether different. The heavy cloak she now wears helps keep them hidden from sight.

She listens intently as the remaining leaves rustle in last season’s place within the darkened wood where a small trail marks the entry. Once a place of childhood adventure and endless intrigue, she remembers the summer sun as it filtered through the canopy and the blanket of moss creating a gentle cushion for her bare feet. As she walked, she would sing whispers to herself and believed that with each footstep her narrow feet released the subtle scents of the wood. She spent days sitting on the banks of the slow moving creek which offered a place of solitary tranquility to conjure up images of all the places she would someday go and the people she would meet along the way. Even the shadowy places within the wood held in them no fear, only adventure and respite from the sun.

But now a dark and sinister sadness inhabits the wood of limitless possibility. Always a bit different, he had once been more like them and she his closest ally. He taught her more of him than any of the others along with how to survive and live peacefully within the wood. He is the one she should trust above all and like her, has legs that are slightly long for his stature. For the girl, he always stood taller than the rest. But nine years had passed since the great sadness overtook him and he left them to roam about the wood in solitude. He is now more beast than man and the wood of a million dreams holds her most pernicious fears. With each isolated breath he extracts more of its former joy and the wood becomes darker and more desolate. His insidious grasp casting a great shadow of fear and uncertainty over all those who live at its edge.

The sorrowful darkness is all the others know and they cower in his wake. The girl is the only one who remembers a time when her skin was soft as spring petals and she knew not the sharpness of the quills along her back. The time when he stood taller than the rest.

She hears her mother calling, “Come inside, it’s almost dark.”

She starts back from the bluff toward the simple, bare house along the edge of the wood. Although he’s been silent since that desperate night last summer, they have taken once again to spending the nights underground. She gathers a few things from above before heading down to join her mother in the small hole below the floor that serves as sanctuary.

Once within, she looks to her mother who is preparing a sparse, but ample meal for them. Her mother now inhabits the hole throughout most of the day, coming out only to gather food and wash clothes.

She removes her boots and cloak and her mother motions for her to sit.

With muffled voice she says, “Eat, please.”

After dinner, they lay down to rest. As the girl drifts off to sleep she thinks about how the fear in her mother’s heart now outdistances all of the joy she has seen in her lifetime.

The night is dangerously still and the frogs aren’t singing their repetitive throaty songs. The girl only sleeps for a few moments at a time and is sharply aware of the quills along her back.

In the dead silence, she hears the low, gravely howl — the sound they all fear most. The howl is a distance away, which gives her some comfort, but she knows the inevitable pattern of his wander. Within minutes, she hears him approaching the humble house. He circles the house for minutes that drag on like hours. She glances over to see that her mother is still sleeping. He is now right outside the door to their shabby home, breathing in their remaining joy and out his limitless sadness. He begins to push on the door — at first a slight budge, then a horrific jolt. He is in the house now, standing just above their sanctuary. Her mother awakens and the girl motions to her to stay still. She lies motionless except for the dreadful tingling of her waxing quills and watches him through the knotted floor — the immense thievery of his each and every breath.

She notices how grotesque he has become. How he no longer walks upright like a man, but on all fours — more canine than human. He puts his nose down to the floor and she knows he is aware they are only a few inches below him. Then, he turns and goes back through the door he destroyed minutes before.

The girl knows he won’t be back on this night. For tonight he simply seeks to bludgeon what is left of their joy so that he might better tolerate the great depths of his own misery. As she holds her mother tight, she thinks how his patterns are changing and wonders if his hunger for control is growing stronger.

At morning’s first light, the girl and her mother come out from below the floor. The girl notices that the quills have doubled in length through the night. She puts on her boots and cloak and begins the task of fixing the shattered door while her mother looks outside with an empty stare.

“Don’t despair, Mother, we can dig the hole deeper and reinforce the door.”

Her mother nods almost without notice.

“Today I will find his tracks so we can understand this new pattern.”

With that, her mother quietly returns to the hole beneath the floor.

With the door repaired, the girl sets out wearing her boots and cloak, the past night’s fear still surging through her veins. The clouds are low and the light changing from fall’s clarity to winter’s haze.

As she walks toward the bluff, she remembers for a moment the days before the sadness came. She approaches the top of the bluff ands stops to look down upon the wood below. She hears the sound of the eagle far above her. He descends toward her and lands on a nearby rock. She remembers how he would watch over her from up high throughout the days passed with happiness in the wood of a million dreams. But, she hasn’t seen him since the sadness came.

She notices that he now has a grayer wisdom about him.

She looks to him and says, “Why have you come now, after so much time has passed?”

The eagle is silent.

She continues, “I thought you had gone away, do you know about the great sadness that now lives in the wood?”

She wants to go on, but stops herself.

Then the eagle speaks in a way she can understand.

“I have come to warn you about what I have seen,” he says, “he is no longer anything that you can remember or even imagine.”

She becomes aware of her quills once more.

“He no longer walks or lives as a man and he is no longer content to wander with his sadness in solitude,” he says.

She listens and thinks of the night before and her mother sitting within the hole under the floor.

The eagle continues, “His sadness has turned into an incurable anger and I have seen the cruelty with which he now acts. You must take your mother, tell the others and leave the edge of the wood. It is no longer safe here.”

“But this is our home, why must we leave?” she asks.

“His cruelty is too great and I fear for you all now, you must go,” he replies.

The girl feels her quills lengthening once more. But this time, she feels herself flood with an anger she has never before felt and she begins to feel her memories fading.

The eagle says, “Now go, don’t wait.”

He looks at her kindly and returns to his place in the sky above the wood.

As the girl walks down from the bluff toward the edge of the wood, her feet feel heavier in her boots and her back drags lower — the anger and hatred growing with every step. She tries to remember the past, but can only feel fear and sadness now. The quills beneath her cloak beginning to hurt her more and more with each step. She returns home to find her mother still waiting in the hole beneath the floor.

“He wants more now, he has become angry and wants others to feel what he feels,” the girl explains, “we must leave this place.”

Her mother nods in silent agreement and says, “Rest now, we shall leave in the morning.”

They both secure their places in the hole beneath the floor for the night. On this night there is no moon and the mist from the day has changed to a drenching rain. She keeps her boots on to sleep, unsure of what the night might bring.

Then, she hears the howl in the distance. She remembers the words of the eagle upon the bluff, “he is no longer content to wander with his sadness in solitude…” She feels her anger growing and the painful quills starting to become her. She then opens the lock to the hole beneath the floor and stands in the room with her boots planted while her mother sleeps.

The girl hears nothing but her own breathing. As she stands in the room, her back is straight and the quills stand beneath her cloak are almost as long as she is tall. Then, the door crashes in sync with an enormous clap of thunder. She sees the rain outside blowing with an unearthly force and her anger grows stronger.

He is there, just outside the door, peering in at her. Each breath he takes a misty fog of sadness, anger and insufferable cruelty.

In an instant, she feels a force unseen cast itself upon her as she collapses to the floor. He is still outside the door and water begins to pour into the house. She looks up, but nothing is there. It feels like she is shrinking under the pressure and the roof of the house seems as tall as the forest. She is no longer herself, there is something else inhabiting her now.

With each breath, she retreats further into herself and the force takes over. In her retreat, she looks out the door once more to see him calmly watching with an insidious smile — a subtle welcome to join in his madness. She feels her body being pulled by something from beyond her toward the hole where her mother still sleeps. The force pulls her close to her mother as she tries to scream from her retreat, but her lips don’t move. She knows that the force wants to take her mother from her by her own hand. She draws closer and closer to her mother and the force places her hands upon her mother’s throat and her mouth just behind her mother’s ear. She tries once more to scream and wake her mother. At that moment, the girl feels herself rushing back from beyond.

“Mother! He’s here!”

Her mother wakes and the girl pushes her away into the safe shadow of the hole. She then rushes outside where he is waiting in the cold, pouring rain — the shadow of a cruel smile upon his twisted face. She stands up straight and throws her cloak onto the ground. She stands tall with the razor sharp quills standing straight upon her back.

She beckons him to challenge her.

“You want us to feel your sadness!”

She turns to the side and charges towards him. As she steps back, she sees that one of her quills has lodged in the side of his face. He winces and begins to step away. She charges again, this time lodging a dozen quills in his neck. He is now on the ground, the smile has gone.

She senses his fear.

She then places her heavy boot upon his neck as the rain pours down upon them, realizing that she has the power to kill him with one more blow. As she stands above him, she looks down into his eyes and sees for once his overwhelming fear and profound sadness. That he is broken, his cruelty merely a mask for his own weakness. In that instant, she realizes that mercy is her only salvation and that by standing tall she can turn the tide and cast her own fear away.

She whispers, “Who have you become?”

He looks up at her in agony and says nothing.

She removes her boot from his throat and he gets up slowly from the heaviness of the mud and tremendous weight of his own immense sadness. He turns to walk away, then looks back. They stand motionless in the pouring rain for what seems like an eternity. She sees tears forming in his eyes and, in them, her own reflection. She wishes to return to the time when the wood held within it such promise.

“I fear no more,” she says softly.

She sees a tiny glimpse of the the man he is beyond the beast. He reluctantly breaks their gaze and begins to walk slowly away from the edge of the wood. She remains standing upright in the pouring rain. The memories of the time when he once stood taller than the rest come rushing back. Just as he begins to fade from sight, the rain turns to snow and a soft blanket of winter’s first covers the wood of a million dreams. With her quills exposed, she stands by her mother’s side with peace in her eyes.

For many years to come, the girl inhabited the wood of a million dreams. She spent hours each day writing about who she may one day become — with her pain as her instrument and the forest her ink. She would daydream with her guardian eagle and used her quills to scribe thoughts and dreams upon the trees until no quills remained. She sometimes thought about the sadness of the past, but mostly the joy of the present and the promise of the future. When the final word was scribed from the last remaining quill, a light began to cast down through the canopy, creating shadows that danced more vibrantly than ever before.

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General

Brown-Eyed Girl

Dear Brown-Eyed Girl,

I lay there on the table with the bright lights shining overhead. There is a chill in my veins and the subtle beginnings of tears forming in my eyes. Your father stands silently beside me, his hand placed gently on my forehead. He is wearing a look of overwhelming joy with a faint dusting of fear.

Although my body is asleep, my mind is alive. I think to myself – who is this child?

Moments later I hear you and, by the grace of God, the sounds are strong. Images begin racing through me – a newborn baby, young girl, a teenager, a woman. A daughter we have in you. A daughter with a small, graceful neck and the frailest shoulders. Continue reading

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Poetry

She

Feet cast into blackened stone

Tide worn roots rise above dark still water

Gold threads sway on cerulean winds

Bones bend beneath faded kingdom

Braided onyx interlace with steel

Reptilian glare upon deep howling heart

Birds carry mimics in morning air

Pirate vines ensnare with accented tongue

Rivers of sweat drench sienna soil

Souls dense from ancient rains melt into song

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General

Iterating to the Moon

When we are young, we mistakenly believe that once an adult, we should and will have it all figured out. As if the grown-ups have known all along what they wanted to be when they grew up and they act upon this knowledge with grace and conviction.

Some do, I suppose, but turns out most don’t. In my case, it took 10 years and what feels like a trip to the moon and back to see what I believed should have been so clear all along. For a long time I lamented not having more clarity from the get go and resented the side tracks I made to get right tracked again. But not anymore, I now see it as case of simple iteration.

I recently made a trip to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to show my two kids where my childhood dreams were born and hopefully light a spark in them, like the one that was lit in me by my late grandfather. I hoped they would be as mesmerized by science holding hands with adventure and how together they do a dangerous dance beyond the boundaries of our atmosphere.

Mercury…Gemini…Apollo 7…10…11…13…Shuttles…Stations…Mars…all of these experiments designed to advance the greater mission. Each one proving some hypotheses and disproving others. Some were viewed as successes, some successful failures, but all tested boundaries and broke through barriers. Each and every one iterations on the next…innovation perfected.

It is likely the experience lit a spark or two for the kids, only time will tell how significant. But as an adult, I took away something different this time. Along with the coolness of science, engineering and adventuring our way to a new future, I hoped they walked away with one simple truth.

Clarity of mission is essential, perfect execution is optional. With that, you can iterate yourself all the way to the moon.

Today’s post was inspired by good friend, kindred spirit, and fellow seeker, Clark Kellogg.

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Poetry

Places

There are those high places
Spaces that pierce the clouds
Where the storms in a moment might sweep
But glory looms in your wake
Risk it you may
Fear it you might
Whatever you do, do with all of you
Don’t look back at the steps you leave
Only drown in the majesty
And fall drunk with delight

Visit you must
Must you visit me?
Only if true
Only if free

There are those low places
Spaces that sink far beneath the seas
Where the light is low and the shadows play
These haunts proclaim you to stay
Play with me
Why won’t you remain?
If you should swim in these places
Beware of doubts that creep
They will demand that you give in
To own you they seek to be

Visit you must
Must you visit me?
Only if true
Only if free

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General

I Write…

…because I am a junkyard poet living in a man’s world.

I write…

…because I was brought up believing that only the practical matters so a pragmatist I became.

I write…

…because I have dueled in the hollows with the dogs of despair. They may nip at my heels, but writing keeps me one step ahead of them.

I write…

…to remain awake and help others to do the same.

I write…

…because I have a gypsy heart.

I write…

…because I was told once by someone who mattered that principles don’t and arguing them would get me nowhere. Wrong – they get you everywhere, I have them and they matter most.

I write…

…to swim around in the depths of my soul and look around a bit. When I return to the surface, I write about what I saw – some of it pretty, some of it no-so-pretty, all of it real.

I write…

…to leave the past behind and leap towards the future. A tomorrow that is richer, brighter and more meaningful than yesterday.

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Uncategorized

Massive Ass

Frame of Brain

I read a ridiculous article recently relating big asses to big brains – something to do with a higher level of Omega-3s and major brain development. As I peer down at my upper thighs, I can literally see my brain expanding. Pass the Oreos folks; science says it makes me smart.

As I think about it, it kind of makes sense. If I had been cast in the 70’s series Three’s Company, it would have been as Janet. In Charlie’s Angels, I would have been, you guessed it, Sabrina. In this life, I am cast as the smart, practical type.

Despite my Southern upbringing, I never saw myself as nor wanted to be a bombshell. When I was 17, I had a roommate who was the ultimate bombshell-type and I remember clearly the influence she had on my definition of style and more importantly, my definition of beauty. I would borrow her pink, fuzzy sweaters and extra-thick makeup, but thank God I never bleached the brown out of my hair like she did. That year for Halloween, or the day all women think they get a free pass for their inner tramp, I donned some of her bombshell gear and went out as a sexy devil. I can say that I honestly never felt more ridiculous.

More than a wee bit tomboyish, I know more about the atmospheric makeup of Neptune than I do about applying makeup. I would rather walk around barefooted than walk in the latest women’s high-heeled footwear. I prefer a well-organized backpack to a designer handbag and find more of myself along a rugged trail than I do on the freshly toweled lounge chair of a five-star resort.

Always the smart, practical type, I do love science. Speaking scientifically, of course, let’s focus in a bit because it is not my ass and its mass, which are truly the subject at hand here.

Mass is defined as the characteristic of the total energy and momentum of an object or system that is the same in all frames of reference. Let’s think of a frame of reference as a position or point in time. Let’s take me as an example – I am a 42-year old wife and mother of two (+ a puppy). For the sake of discussion, let’s also assume I am the object and that this is my system at a precise moment in time. Then, let’s say the time period began on or about when I was born in 1972.

You see, age and current life stage is not who I am, it is only where I am currently located. The mass in this example is the true me – the practical, barefooted, non-bombshell, Neptune-loving me. The true me, just like the true you, grows and evolves, but never changes at its core. The current frame of reference is 2014, middle-aged mother of two. Depending on the frame of reference, a mass can be influenced by a pageant queen roommate or get forgotten amidst the chaos of life.

I hope that I am only halfway through my journey, and albeit slight, this is the wisdom that I have collected so far. Don’t forget that the frame is not who you are, it is only your temporary position and will inevitably shift forward. Mass, your energy and momentum, is what matters most. Not the mass of your ass, but your total mass. Be true to your mass – feed it, put it in environments that bring out its flawed beauty and try your best not to let other (m)asses mask you, limit you or convince you that you are someone you are not.

When I reach the end of my journey and my frame has taken its last position, I hope to do so with my mass and my ass intact.

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Short Stories

Red Shoes on a Ukulele

1st Ave

Walking up E 52nd Street, I have a pair of buy-one-get-one-half off shoes in my bag that are red patent leather and mostly impractical. I bought this bag on a street corner. It’s a knock off with one strap that’s shorter than the other and the tag fell off yesterday, leaving an ugly glue spot. The spot is already starting to collect dirt, grime and stray hairs, but I don’t care; I still carry it. Next to the red shoes is a biography of Gandhi; I have read the first chapter only, six times. In the bag is also a tattered paperback of “The Poisonwood Bible”. I feel stiff from sleeping on a rollaway couch bed, but the loose falsetto and ukulele of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole are pouring across my ear buds.

I have never been to Maui, but I love the ukulele.

I pass under a scaffold littered with wild postings into a poorly ventilated urban tunnel. It goes dark for a moment and the smell of stale water wafts and quickly disappears. I re-enter the light and would you look at that? H&M has sensible fall basics on sale – two V-neck tees for 10 dollars each. I whisper to myself, “Get ‘em while they are hot.” Or cool, really.

I barely catch the Midtown 49/50 crosstown at E 50th Street and 2nd Avenue. As we pull away, I find a seat along the left side of the bus facing the bus shelter. I look out the window and see Nicolas Cage. Actually a picture of Nicolas Cage; looks like he is in a new summer movie called “Gone in Sixty Seconds”. I loved him in “Valley Girl”. Especially when he spots Julie for the first time while “Eyes of a Stranger” plays in the background. Oh, and then there is that beach scene.

As I settle into my seat, I decide that someday I will go to Maui because the sound of the ukulele is like honey on a stick and it makes me smile. I won’t get comfortable since I am only going one stop; I suppose I could have just walked.

Then I notice a woman sitting on the other side of the bus, just behind the door. I don’t remember seeing her when I boarded. She is Latina, probably Puerto Rican, with brown hair blunt-cut to the shoulders with recent highlights. As she adjusts her bag and fidgets, I notice she is wearing a long sweater in the middle of summer. I can see the stockings she wears underneath – black net and stretched like they are too small for her thick legs. Her black stiletto booties are neither designer nor made for walking. In sharp contrast, I see a box of broken crayons and wet naps inside her bag – perhaps a young mother doing what she has to do to get by. She is wearing day-old mascara and stares straight ahead with an empty expression. Appearing short on years and long on heartache, she gives me a feeling of profound loneliness.

I wonder where she is going, but mostly I wonder how she got here.

Damn, I love the ukulele.

Another woman is sitting right next to me now; I also don’t remember her being there before. She turns, looks straight at me and smiles. I smile back.

I pull out my ear buds and without thinking I ask, “What’s your name?”

“Shadi,” she replies.

“Is that Per…?”

She seems to read my mind, “It is Persian for ‘joy’.”

I tell her mine and turn to face her more directly.

“Do you know where you are headed?” she asks.

At first I am caught off guard by her directness, but feel completely at ease. “Right now I am getting off at the next stop,” I replied. But that really wasn’t what she was asking. She is young with short, smooth black hair pulled back from her face with a thin, silk headband. Her eyes are like smooth caramel and when I look at her, I sense a warm wisdom.

“Why do you ask?” I say.

She smiles and replies, “Because I have spent most of my life in the Valley of Knowledge and I think perhaps I have something to offer you and you to me.”

“What is the Valley of Knowledge?” I ask.

She explains that it is the third of the Seven Valleys, after the Valley of Search and the Valley of Love. She goes on to explain all the Valleys of the Baha’i and I listen intently to this unexpected spiritual explanation.

“Perhaps I inhabit the Valley of Search and have been there for quite sometime. Actually, as long as I can remember.”

“I know,” she says.

I look over at the woman sitting at the front of the bus and wonder which Valley she inhabits.

I turn back to the woman beside me, “Have you ever been to Maui?”

“No,” and she explains that since leaving Iran, her time has been dedicated to study and that she has never been to an island.

“Do you like the sound of the ukulele?” I ask.

She replies that she doesn’t know the sound, so I hit play and motion for her to listen to my ear buds.

She says, “I can already hear it. It is magical.” In that moment, the sounds of Maui begin to fill the bus. I open my bag, take out the red patent leather shoes, put them on my feet and toss aside my practical walking shoes.

At once we stand and begin to dance through the aisle of the bus. We dance together, but mostly with ourselves in our own unique ways. I begin to imagine us in Maui as we each move our arms about slowly and glide along the floor – turning and swaying from the front of the bus to the back. We invite the woman sitting in the front to join us. At first she resists, then relents with our gentle coaxing. She dances nervously at first, but soon begins to sway with confidence – her thick legs moving smoothly and gracefully through the bus. She slowly begins to smile. The sound of the ukulele gets louder and the tempo speeds up. Faster and faster, we all move our shoulders up and down in sync; up the aisle, down the aisle. Now the ukulele is joined by a disco beat – somewhat like Maui meets Donna Summer and it is 1980. We dance faster and faster, our arms outstretched.

The bus and the music stop suddenly; this is where I get off. 1st Avenue.

I look down at the red shoes and when I look up, both women are gone and I am standing alone with my arms outstretched. The subtle taste of coconut upon my lips.

I get off the bus and stand on the corner at E 50th Street, pausing for a moment to set my mind to the sound of the ukulele.

Then start walking with my red shoes on.

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Travel Essays

Out of Genocide

Jenocide

As expected, Africa once again challenged my perceptions and highlighted both our Western cultures and my own individual shortcomings. Actually, it is more akin to complete ignorance, if we can be frank here. She has an unwavering knack for that.

When I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, I came bearing twenty year old memories of an unspeakable genocide against the Tutsi minority, international apathy and my recall of a searing conversation, which temporarily sealed my fate as a middle-class American white girl. I carried with me baggage in the form of unfounded fears and judgmental notions of just what kind of people could be capable of such an violent history. I will admit I fully expected to see people walking around with bloodstained machetes in the streets. I had no idea of just how affected I would be by my short, but profound visit to this small land in the heart of East Africa.

Rwanda is a phoenix catapulting from the ashes by learning from its violent past. Beyond the tremendous economic and social progress made since the dreadful 100 days that marked the pinnacle of the violence, Rwanda helped me to understand just how easily unspeakable hatred can be ignited and inspired a faint dusting of compassion for some of the perpetrators. But, perhaps more significantly, I wonder why had I never heard one word about this success story?

In June 1994, this country stood in tatters, after almost complete destruction of its society, economy and infrastructure. In this home to 7MM people, Tutsi blood ran through the streets of her cities and villages and not one corner of this small nation was spared. And, to think such violence began so benignly. As most stories go on this continent, colonial roots are once again to blame for sowing the seeds of this “final solution”.  By grouping the population of Rwanda into Tutsi, Hutu or Twa, issuing of national ID cards according to these groupings and supporting the notion of Tutsi superiority, a land which had never before seen division was being keenly separated along ethnic lines. As colonial rule ended, the pressure cooker created by these actions inspired a backlash that would play out over forty years, but would ultimately end in the 100 days of intense and unspeakable violence we now call the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. A murderous campaign in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus died at the hands of Hutu extremists and 1MM others were displaced. That is almost 2MM of a total population of 7MM.

What do you think our country be like if the residents of every 4th house on each street from Boston to San Francisco were brutally murdered or vanished into Canada or Mexico? All gone within 100 days, while the rest of the world did – NOTHING.

And what about the residents of the other 3 houses on each street? They may have survived the torture, hacking by machete, clubbing, among others, but they watched the blood flow and live with such traumatic memories. Some were maimed, some orphaned and some raped with the weapon of HIV/AIDS and left to die a slow death. Some weren’t even born yet. Some are one of the more than 200,000 perpetrators themselves inspired by and who acted upon the racial propaganda that filled the airwaves before the massacring began. They explain it as though a “demon” had possessed them. But, what I saw were a people unwaveringly and unexpectedly united, and the result is miraculous.

I don’t have any dramatic photos to share of the people of Rwanda sobbing, broken and beaten; I’ll let the AP handle that. But I will tell you that it is the past and, while it must always be remembered, what I saw is a country united and running swiftly towards a prosperous future. “Tutsi” and “Hutu” don’t exist anymore, they are one identity now – Rwandans. Working together towards a shared future. Kigali is a shining capitol with not one piece of trash on its streets adorned with formal gardens, coffee shops and elegant restaurants. Smooth roads meander through an emerald green countryside boasting 1000 beautifully terraced hills, which are dotted with houses bearing new metal roofs, never to be burned again. Conservation of natural resources is paramount and plastic bags are now banned. Active teaching of the genocide and what led to it is taking place in Rwandan classrooms.

These observations are so very surface level and are only a few small examples of the fruits of a vision set forth by this small, vibrant country. During this 20th anniversary of the genocide, my message of progress may not be as dramatic and “newsworthy” as the traditional western media’s images of brutality and poverty, but I hope it helps tell a new story of Rwanda. I also hope that it inspires you to learn more about this beautiful place, its people and what it has to offer. And, if I am lucky, you will seek to learn more about what leads to genocide and view your own past, present and future a little bit differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travel Essays

Critically Observe

I wake to the sound of a nearby imam singing the early morning prayer. As I pull back the mosquito net, a moth flies past my face and I suddenly realize I am as far from home as I have ever been. A rooster crows.

We leave the lodge in the early morning light and I can barely see. We turn off the main road, down an escarpment and are now in Queen Elizabeth National Park, on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I feel like I’m dreaming.

So it is.

I look out the window of the van to my right and see the sun peeking above the horizon. I am now on the floor of the Eastern Great Rift Valley and iconic acacia trees lie frozen in silhouette against a mahogany and coral hued sky. I am in a place teeming with life both past and present.

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Miles away from my concrete home, I am in the wild.

Our guide Martin says to look closely, there is a single elephant just off to the right. I squint to see, but the morning light is a thick haze and it all looks the same to me. Thicket, bush, grass – hues of brown, green and yellow all running together to my unseeing eyes. We continue west in the direction of the glacial Mt. Rwenzori. As we move slowly on, we pass a man on a bicycle heavily laden with enormous bunches of green bananas.

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I think, where could he be taking these bananas so deep into the bush?

Martin points to three Egyptian geese in the tall grass.

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I see nothing.

Then, we come upon an area dense with trees and Martin says to look closely to see the velvet monkeys and baboons. I strain to see what he sees, but I only see traces. Why can’t I perceive what he does? I strain again and purposely try to quiet my racing mind. Then he says, “you must look, but then critically observe.”

Look, then critically observe. Then I remember that this is the wild – not at all my territory so it seems. My eye is untrained to see in such a setting. I look again, then critically observe with the utmost intent and concentration. Something only possible in this moment free from the daily distractions of Western life.

Then I begin to see, they are all there.

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I had to use my senses, not my intellect. Once I did, what was here all along came into focus. It was as if a veil had been removed from my eyes.

And I could see.

A warthog far in the distance among the grass.

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Hippos waiting just below the surface.

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A child in a fishing village on the shore of Lake George, to whom the man on the bicycle is bringing those bananas.

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A monitor scurrying along the banks of the Kazinga Channel.

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And a green mamba easing into the water.

Now on a boat, my head rests upon my hand and my eyes scan the banks of this shallow channel that links the two lakes of Queen Elizabeth National Park. I look, critically observe and turn my head slightly to the right.

And there they are.

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A bachelor herd of adult African elephants in silhouette against the afternoon sky and not-so-distant shore of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I watch them without moving, completely in their wild, and the beauty overtakes me.

We linger for a while longer and watch teams of local fishermen depart for their overnight shift, their nets ready to receive their bounty. I wonder if one of them is related to the baby girl or the man bearing bananas we passed on the bicycle.

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As we ride back up the escarpment and rise out of the valley, I look out the window from where we had just come, but this time my eyes serve me well in this exotic land. As the sun sets over the teeming valley, I think of my father.

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I am so far from a life I know, but I am not alone. I take one last look, critically observe and feel him dancing on the blowing winds of East Africa. Completely and utterly in the wild.

 

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