Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘birthday’

Orange Marmalade

Orange Marmalade

This was finished about a month ago and I hid it in the garage to give to Audrey on her birthday. Her birthday came and went and I forgot where I’d put it. All of a sudden I wondered why she hadn’t put the sculpture up somewhere in the house and realized she hadn’t seen it yet! I found it and gave it to her yesterday.

This is my best sculpture so far. It is from a slab of orange translucent alabaster. Since I do not have a tool to make holes in stone, it took some time using a small cone abrasive on the end of the angle grinder to make it happen. Many hours of shaping and sanding and grinding discovered this inside the rock.

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A Birthday Like No Other

A BIG birthday at the ROP
Posted on June 25, 2012 by Sean
From ROP Stories

Every June 16th Africa celebrates the International Day of the African Child, a day for people within the continent celebrate and honor children of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. Last year we were honored when the government ask us to host their celebration at the ROP Center.

This year, however, we wanted the day to be all about our children, and we wanted to do something extra special for them. You see, most of our boys don’t know the day they were born. In fact, many don’t even know with certainty which year they were born. Because of this we decided that we wanted to make June 16th the birthday for every child at the Center and start by celebrating it this year. Now we just needed to scrape together some money for the event. We tapped local businesses for donations but unfortunately none of them came through for us. But just a couple of weeks before (when panic was beginning to set in) our fantastic donor Line from Norway, and her organization Metamorfose, came through for our boys once again. She told us that she would pay for catering for all the boys and staff to enjoy as well as paying for the Kwetu Film Institute to bring us a GIANT movie screen to watch films on in the evening. Obviously we were thrilled now that it was all coming together. We didn’t tell the boys anything about a party. We only told them the day before that we were having some visitors coming the next day so they needed to be prepared.

Saturday arrived and Jenny and I arrived at the Center in the morning with crates of drinks. The boys started asking what was going on, but all the staff were tight-lipped. We gathered everyone in the dining hall and let them just sit and wait for several minutes before Elizabeth and Alex, two of our staff, came rushing in with buckets of water and began splashing all the boys (a Rwandan birthday tradition). They all took off running, wondering what the heck was going on.

Now that the boys knew something was up it was time to tell them the true reason we gathered them all together. Jenny and I reminded the boys about the Day of the African Child and informed them that it was now the official birthday of all the boys in the Center. We told them there would be dancing, singing, food and plenty of fun, all capped off with some films on a very big screen outside. As you can imagine they were all very excited.

So as the day went on we had dancing competitions, some boys read poems and sang songs they had written. We shared food, gave out all sorts of goodies like marbles and sweets, and waited for the sun to go down. When it was dark we showed two films; first a version of Cinderella that was in Kinyarwanda, their native language, followed by Africa United, a hugely popular kids movie about four struggling children trying to make their way from Rwanda to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. We ended the night with some Charlie Chaplin films, which are easy to understand and universally funny for anyone of any age and culture.

When it finally got dark Jenny broke out one last surprise for the boys. She had collected dozens of glow in the dark bracelets and had been saving them for an important occasion. This was the perfect time, but before we handed them out I had to show them how they worked and explain to them that they weren’t allowed to break them open or put them in their mouths. When I cracked the first one and it became luminous a wave of “wowwww” came from the group. They couldn’t wait to get their hands on them and were fascinated with this new novelty.

Finally it was finally time to show the films. Some boys sat on benches and chairs while the small boys laid out on the freshly cut grass.

Read entire story and see more photos at ROP Stories.

Birthday in Rwanda

From ROP Stories

A Birthday in Kigali
Posted on November 15, 2011 by Jonathon

It seems no matter how old you get your birthday is always a day you look forward to. Who among us doesn’t enjoy the extra attention and well wishes from friends and family? The fact that I share the same birthday as my Mother has certainly made the annual event more significant, as for as long as I can remember that day was always spent with Mom and it was something unique which I could claim as “mine” as a child and even into adulthood.

Thus, when October 26, 2011 neared, I found myself contemplating what it might be like, how it may be a lonely day, nothing like birthdays back home. I wondered how I might celebrate this day being so far from home, so far from my friends and family. I began to feel a bit blue about the day. Naturally, being in Rwanda for almost 3 months brings with it at times its own longing for familiar places and faces. The birthday only exacerbated that longing.

That morning, I set off to the Centre for what I expected to be a usual day – conferring with Elisabeth and Jean D’Amour on things related to the boys, talking with some of the older boys about their upcoming national exams and helping them sort through some of their feelings and anxiety over reintegrating into society after the holiday season. Around lunchtime, Sean called me and asked me if I’d like to go to lunch at a local buffet we sometimes frequent in nearby Kanombe. I accepted and we set off down the long dirt road to the restaurant, completely unassuming.

We returned to the Center near 1:30pm and were informed that as the school year had ended, there was a small ceremony to celebrate in the dining hall. As Sean and I approached, I saw a large group of the boys lined up in standard fashion on their seats, all facing a row of chairs filled with the staff of the ROP. As I entered the building, Elisabeth and Louise (one of the caretakers) greeted me by dousing me in two large pitchers of water, to which the boys cheered and began to sing “Happy Birthday” – first in English, then in Kinyarwanda. They had managed to pull off the ultimate surprise party.

Celestin and Jean de Dieu, the director and supervisor at ROP, then began to speak. They spoke of how today was a special day for me, and thanked me for giving of my time and efforts to help the Center and the boys. From there, a group of 6 of the older boys, members of the ROP’s dance troupe, put on a choreographed dance for me – an impressive one at that!

I was then asked to speak – something which is not uncommon in Rwandan culture. Not being a very natural public speaker, I was immediately nervous. I tried to explain to the boys that back home a birthday is a very significant day, one which is usually spent surrounded by family and friends. I discussed how as my birthday neared, I was feeling a general sense of apathy as I was convinced the day would pass without much notice. I then explained to them that even in my short time here in Rwanda, the ROP family has indeed welcomed me into their own, and I felt loved and very grateful for their inviting spirit and generous hospitality. Indeed, in that moment, I realized how much I have grown to love the ROP family, of which I hope to be considered a part of.

I was then presented with a plate of biscuits and hard candies and invited to serve the staff of the Center. When I finished serving the staff, I was told that everything left on the plate was for me – it was my special day and I was to enjoy it. The expense of something so simple as biscuits and hard candy is something that the ROP can’t expend on everyone, and the gesture was a bit overwhelming. Candies were provided for each of the boys, as Louise and Elisabeth approached me with 3 simple candles on a plate, upon which I was to make the traditional birthday wish before blowing them out.

Read entire story at ROP Stories

If you’d like to find out more about the Rwandan Orphan’s Project, go to Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Whether it had been divine providence, coincidence or random luck, I’ll never know; but my faith in Buddha and the precepts were instantly restored. I attended the temple weekly and diligently started reciting my sutras. I even entertained the idea of becoming a nun, until a wonderfully romantic dream convinced me I’d never make it as a recluse.

Reverend Tsukiyama brought the application later that week, as well as some phone numbers of other families who had daughters in the program. Haha knew one or two and called them that evening. I walked into the kitchen as she was finishing her last call.
She hung up solemnly and said we’d talk about it in the morning.

“OK,” I replied, acting as if it didn’t concern me in the least. “I think I’ll call it a day. Goodnight Haha.”

I figured the sooner I went to bed, the earlier the sun would rise. I brushed my teeth, put on my nightclothes and snuggled in for the hopefully brief darkness, but the night crawled by like a sleepwalking sloth.

Sleep deprived and blurry eyed, I was waiting anxiously at the breakfast table when Haha, Chichi and Soba (grandmother) straggled into the kitchen.

“Well?” I exclaimed, almost lifting off my seat.

“Well what?” Haha replied.

“You know what!”

“Oh, that,” she said.

They sat and stared down at the table. Haha was the first to break. She glanced my way with a brilliant grin.

“I can! I can!” I jumped up and down and kissed them all. “You won’t be sorry! I’ll make you proud! Thank you. Thank you. I love you all!” I bowed so many times I thought I’d surely broken my back!

Chichi turned away and went outside without saying a word.

Haha and Soba were crying. “I’ll be all right. Don’t cry,” I said.

Chichi left for work without speaking to me.

That night Haha followed me to bed and sat on the side as I got under the covers.

“I’m sorry Hon, I didn’t mean to bring a cloud on your head.”

“What do you mean?”

“We weren’t crying because we were sad. Well, we are sad to see you go, but it’s more than that.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” I cautioned, feeling a bit uneasy.

She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “Soba and I are happier for you than you’ll ever know. We’re so proud of you.” She smiled and started crying again.

“Haha.” I put my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

She wiped her wet cheek on the sleeve of her silk kimono; the one Soba had given her back in the fifties. “Nothing’s wrong,” she sighed. “Everything’s right. You’re doing something Soba and I never had the chance to do.” Her eyes watered again. “I think we’re feeling a little sorry for ourselves. I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I did want to write and play music.” She paused, gently caressing the blanket with her callused fingers. “Who knows, I might have been pretty good at it too.”

“What stopped you?”

“It just wasn’t something women were ‘supposed to do’. Our duty was to home and family, but I can’t blame it all on that.” She looked away. “I was scared. I’d never lived apart from my family. I knew what to do at home. I’d seen it done all my life. It was safe. I did what was expected.”

I started feeling guilty. “If only we hadn’t come along,” I thought.

Seeming to have read my mind she quickly added, “It’s not your fault! I couldn’t imagine life without you. When you’re a mother you’ll know how much I love you. No, I don’t regret having children.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s hard sometimes and tiring as hell . . .”

“Haha!” I exclaimed. I’d never heard her swear before.

“There’s something special about each and every one of you.” She stopped, as if she’d just realized something profound. “I wish I wasn’t such a scared-y-cat.”

“Well?” I asked.

“Well what?”

“Why don’t you do something about it?”

She blushed. “It’s too late for that.”

“Too late?!” I exclaimed. “Remember that poem you wrote a couple years ago about the farm?” She nodded bashfully. “It was great! Everyone said so. Why don’t you start writing again?”

“I wish there was time, between chores and kids I barely get any sleep as is,” she said justifiably.

“Make time,” I insisted. “Basho and Yutaka are old enough to help out. You could practice your music too.”

“You’re so sweet.” She gave me a big hug. “I’ll think about it.”

“I love you Haha.”

“And I you.” Our necks were damp with tears. “I miss you already,” she cried.

I sat back smiling. “I’m only going to be two hours away.”

“I know.” She laughed.

“Chichi acts like I stuck a knife in his back,” I said sadly, looking at the floor. “It’s not like I’m going to Europe or something.”

Haha brushed the hair from my forehead. “He’ll come around. You are like the rising sun to him. He can’t imagine not having you here.”

“You don’t understand,” I said, feeling my cheeks getting wet once again. “He had me promise . . . I promised that I’d never leave Hamatombetsu.” I hid my shame behind my hands.

“Yuki,” Haha whispered. “Yuki. Look at me.”

I looked through blurry eyes.

“He never told me about that and you know why?” Haha asked. I shook my head. “Because he knows it was a foolish thing to ask a little girl to promise. How old were you . . . nine, ten?”

I stopped crying. “I was nine. It was on our way back from visiting Shogi in Sapporo.”

Haha shook her head. “He had no right to have you make such a promise.” Haha looked out the window. “He knows you can’t hold on to joy or try to put it in a chicken pen. You have to find your own way Musume, with your own heart.” She held my hand. “I’ll speak with him. He only wants your happiness.”

In less than a month I was informed of my acceptance, but it wasn’t until my crying Chichi and I got in his old beat up truck, waved goodbye and drove down the familiar, pot-marked dirt road, that it seemed real.

Haha had been right. Chichi came back to me the morning after they’d given me their blessing to go. He told me they would visit as often as they could. He helped me pack, gave me what little money they had and said he’d always be my “Number one fan.”

I wondered if my prayers had helped push my wish to the top of the karmic pile or the Bodhisattva’s had just taken a nap and knocked it off by accident. Then again, perhaps Sapporo wasn’t the land of honey and happiness after all. I looked back at my shrinking family and sobbing friend Kiri, who were waving in the distance. Through my bittersweet tears I realized that my ashita had become imadoki (today).

THE END

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Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Now I was being pulled, like an obsessive magnet, towards Sapporo’s alluring illusion of happiness. I was infected with a virulent virus known as TRISSES (The Rice Is Sweeter Somewhere Else Syndrome).
I wasn’t sure how to make my break – work, elope, runaway or hijack a bus? My teenage desire contradicted all financial logic. Our family had no savings account, wealthy relatives or hidden cash to save me from the purgatory in which I wallowed. My parents had no inkling of my nightly anguish and I wasn’t about to let them in on the secret. If they discovered my desire to go to Sapporo, their fears about “that depraved city of immorality” would descend upon me like a swarm of locusts. I had never forgotten the promise I’d made my father and neither had he.

When times were tough, I’d always been harangued into attending the local temple and praying for understanding and humility. After awhile I discovered that the prayers and priests divination’s often coincided with the will of my parents, teachers, and other illustrious icons of the community, but I figured I might as well give it one last try.

On a sunny Saturday in July, I decided to attend temple on a personal quest. I was turning eighteen in two weeks and could see the tiny grains of sand falling through the hourglass at the speed of light.
I wasn’t the kind of girl to stay home and play house or get married. Having grown up with six younger siblings, I was certain I’d rather be tortured and hanged then ever marry and have children! I didn’t mind if other women want to live that life, but it wasn’t my cup of tea or so I thought at the time.

I entertained the thought, rather briefly, about being a teacher. There were a few teachers I admired, respected and even fell in love with. Mr. Sato was my favorite. He had the nicest smile and always complimented my papers. Simple comments like, “Nice work.” would send Kiri and I into spasms of joy and late night talks about how one of us would make Mr. Sato our boyfriend. The fact that he was married, with children and twenty years our senior, seemed irrelevant at the time. Why should that matter when he was “so nice and cute”?
With somewhat more mature reflection, I doubted I could stand in front of thirty pairs of beady little eyes to impart any semblance of knowledge or words of wisdom. I’d surely wilt on the spot from fright.

Then the thought of working as a nurse embedded its tentacles in my skimming mind. That was something I knew absolutely nothing about. What could be so hard about that, I reasoned, handing doctors instruments, putting on bandages and saving people’s lives? I didn’t know about the ugly stuff, the pictures you don’t see on television – people throwing up on your newly washed uniform; exhausted interns screaming obscenities at your “incompetence”; wiping the bottom of a smelly old drunk dying from liver disease.

Haha (Mother) couldn’t believe how anxious I was to go to temple that day. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you so fired up.”

“Nothing special, I just want to recite sutras and pray for Buddha’s compassion.”

She looked me up and down, smiling with a look that said, “Yeah, sure.”

We arrived ten minutes early, dressed in our finest attire. I didn’t even mind wearing the totally embarrassing dress Haha had made for me to wear on special occasions. She had hand-stitched it from some strange fabric my aunt had given her. She gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday. You could see the pride she had felt when she handed me the package and bowed. Internally I had moaned. “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that old-fashioned fake-flower monstrosity!” But all she heard was my dutiful reply, “Thank you Haha. It’s beautiful.”

I rushed inside and sat on the mat. The rest of my bewildered family soon caught up and joined me, looking around nervously, ill at ease to be sitting so close to the altars.

Reverend Tsukiyama recited his ancient incantations, the followers paraded there off key voices with theatrical vengeance and everyone responded with stifled coughs and yawns. Silently, I plunged the depths of my imagination and begged the Ancestors and Buddha’s to reward me for all my good karma. “Please, please!” I begged. “Take me away from these endless fields of wheat, barley and chickens and deliver me to the Pure Land – Sapporo!”

“Get up child,” Haha whispered. “Service is over.”

The priests were shuffling down the corridor towards the hall entrance.

“Over?” I said in shock. “It can’t be! Nothing happened!”

“What are you talking about?” She felt my head. “You feeling OK Musume (daughter)?”

“I’m fine,” I mumbled, as we formally bowed and headed out. Haha kept eyeing me like a suspicious inspector.

What went wrong? I’d done everything! I helped take care of my brothers and sisters, seldom argued with my parents and never even thought about sex or drugs – well, not about taking drugs anyway. I said my nightly prayers and didn’t even hit Sashi Mutsui when she called me a “stupid little pig”.

I was a good girl. Why was I being singled out for punishment? Who were these dead priests and Bodhisattvas anyway . . . the farmers of suffering . . . the divine bean keepers? “This one’s good. That one’s bad. You deserve pleasure. You deserve pain. And you, Yuki, you have to live in Hamatombetsu until you shrivel up and die!”

I swore I’d never set foot on temple grounds again. “You call this a temple?” I admonished, looking at the empty space between the high, engraved ceiling and polished floor. “If I’m going to be stuck here the rest of my life, I might as well jump into the funeral pyre now and let my ashes blow away with the wind!”

As we reached the entrance, Reverend Tsukiyama motioned our family aside. The Reverend was somewhat of a village icon. In his forty years of service he had initiated, married and/or buried almost everyone in town. He’d known me since I was a wailing little bundle of flesh. He was a creaky, robust, silver-haired representative of communal devotion and tradition. Seeing his face reminded me of the day he caught Kiri and I orange-handed, sort of speak, on these very grounds.

We had snuck into the temple courtyard one day after school, like teenage fruit-stealing ninjas and devoured some delicious temple persimmons. They had been hanging invitingly on the lowest branch when we’d first eyed them after service the previous week. We had gleefully conspired then and their to stop by, when we thought the reverend was out making house calls and help ourselves to one of our favorite treats. Everything had gone according to plan, until we’d turned to leave and Reverend Tsukiyama entered the courtyard.
What could we say? We had orange persimmon juice all over our hands and faces. At first, it looked like he was about to laugh, but then his face turned very stern and he admonished us severely, naming every hideous realm of suffering we would end up in if we continued our lives of crime. We hadn’t known that after we’d gone running home that it had taken every ounce of control he had to not break out laughing when he’d discovered our shocked, setting-sun colored faces.

“Yuki,” the Reverend whispered. “Have you thought about your future?”

“What?” I said, still in a belligerent, melancholy daze.

“Your future. Have you thought about your future?”

“My future? It’s all I think about.”

“Well,” he chuckled mischievously. “If you don’t want to be a teacher or politician, I heard about a hospital in Sapporo that trains young girls to be nurses” his eyes sparkled, “and it doesn’t cost a single yen.”

I was stunned. He smiled a rapturous grin, then put on his stern, fatherly face. “Of course, it’s not entirely free. There is a catch.” My eyes were as big as saucers. “Once you finish their two-year program you have to work at their hospital for another two years. They provide room and board.”

I felt like I’d just been hit in the head with a large rock. “I thought you knew about this,” he said. “I’ve been telling all the girls about it.” My mouth hung open like a hungry carp.

I managed a few syllables, “No. I never . . .”

“If your parents don’t mind,” he continued, “I’d be glad to stop by later this week with the application and phone num . . .”

My shouting drowned out the good reverend before he finished his sentence.

“Yes, yes, yes! How do I apply? When does it start?”

He didn’t have time to answer. I turned to Haha and Chichi and pleaded shamelessly, “Please, please say yes!” I was jumping up and down like a kid who wanted a sweetened dumpling.

They hesitated, then Haha anxiously asked, “You want to be a nurse?”

“Yes!” I shouted. “With all my heart.”

“You never mentioned this before.”

“I thought it was impossible.”

Chichi turned stoically towards my black-robed savior and stated calmly, “We’ll think about it Reverend. It’s most kind of you to consider Yuki worthy of such a program. You know you are always welcome in our home.”

“They’d think about it?!” I screamed in my head. The answer to my prayers had just been delivered like a divine telegram and all they could say was, “they’d think about it!” I took a deep breath, put on my best face and managed a feeble semblance of control. At least they were considering it. In my vocabulary, that was as good as a yes!

At that moment my little girls promise to my Chichi to never leave our village had been washed away in a flood of excitement, but he hadn’t forgotten. Caught up in the moment, I didn’t allow myself to see the pain and sense of betrayal that was boiling under my father’s skin.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

PART 1

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Birthday in Rwanda

Volunteering for three weeks with a medical team and trauma specialists to provide care to children orphaned by the 1994 genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, is not a young man’s usual birthday wish on their fourteenth birthday, yet that is what Shona Blumeneau, a teenager from Santa Cruz, California experienced at ROP Center for Street Children. “It was really cool and different,” he says with a warm grin. “The people are very kind.”

Some estimates put the number of orphans in Rwanda at over a million. There have been vast improvements since the nineties, but thousands of kids are still living on the streets and many of the orphanages and youth centers that have taken in survivors (also referred to as “street rebels”) are struggling to provide basic needs, let alone education and vocational training for the children in their care.

Shona and his family held yard sales, received donations from relatives and friends across the country and had a local musician put on a piano concert to raise funds for their journey. “I worked as a referee and as a coach at a summer soccer camp,” Shona recalls. He saved half of any money he got for his birthday or holidays and put it away for his airfare to Rwanda. He says could have stayed home with friends, “but I really wanted to see Africa and make a difference.”

When he arrived in Africa and started working at ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Shona found that “half the time the kids accepted me and tried to bring me into their culture and the rest of the time they wanted me to get them things or bring them home to The States.” He said they all assumed he was rich because he was from America and comparatively speaking, he is. The average daily wage in Rwanda is about one US dollar per day. “It would be hard to grow up in an orphanage and not have a family to support you,” he reflects. Every morning they returned the boys and girls would approach, grab his hands and ask if he remembered their name. They wanted to be seen, heard and reassured that they would not be forgotten. “It was awkward when I said ‘No’,” says Shona, “but I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.”

The team Shona traveled with came from throughout the U.S. and included two nurses, a psychologist, family therapist, nurse practitioner, dentist, minister, two teachers, journalist, photographer and a quilting instructor. They worked with six translators, from early morning until evening, with hundreds of children at ROP for almost three weeks. Shona assisted the nurse practitioner and dentist to give these children the first check-up they’d ever had in their lives. “At first I took pictures and then I started taking their height and weight and testing their eyes with a wall chart,” Shona proclaims. “Whitney (the nurse practitioner) taught me how to look in ears and what to look for and Jim (the dentist) showed me how to record information about teeth and gums.”

Most of the children at ROP are in their teens and adopted the young American as their brother or “inshuti” (friend in Kinyarwanda). “Everyone has a story,” says Shona, “about how their life has been since the genocide. There was one kid whose parents and siblings were killed, except for a baby sister. They were stuck on the street, taking care of the sister and eating rotten food until the director of the orphanage found them and brought them to ROP.”

His time at the orphanage was not all work and no play. “Sometimes I was just chilling with them talking, trying to communicate and understand each other. A lot of them are learning English and I picked up a few words of Kinyarwanda.” Shona’s family also brought four suitcases of donated soccer uniforms they had been collecting from parents and kids back home and provided enough outfits and balls for four teams. Shona, who has played soccer since he was four years old, would make foray’s to play with his adopted brothers and sisters on the mud and rock strewn field behind the orphanage and come back after twenty minutes dripping with sweat. “Those guys are really good!” he’d exclaim, trying to catch his breath, as he collapsed on one of the thin wooden benches used by students during class.

The words “life-changing” are often thrown around loosely in our society. To Shona Blumeneau, the words are real. “This trip has changed my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever whine about anything again.” His perspective on the privilege he enjoys in America was matched by his new found appreciation and understanding of Rwanda. “Even though there is poverty, it isn’t as bad as people describe it. Most of Africa is poor, but there is also a lot of development and hope. The kids really want to learn everything they can. I have a lot of respect for them.”

When asked if he would like to return to Rwanda, Shona, who is now a high school senior, said quickly, “Absolutely! I learned that even though I’m in another country, I still like working with kids and I can do that anywhere, even if I don’t speak their language. I think I would like to work in the medical field and I love traveling.”

You can bet your last dollar that this determined young teen from the United States will indeed make his way back to Africa, where the orphaned children of The ROP Center for Street Children will hold his hand, look him in the eye and ask, “Do you remember me?”

How Old Are You?

It happened right before my eyes and I didn’t see it. How could I have missed it? How could I be so blind? My son, Brendon, had grown from a little boy into a man. It was his eighteenth birthday and we were flying to London, England; the land of Dickens and Shakespeare; the place he’d wanted to visit since junior high school.

It wasn’t their famous authors or history that he was interested in, it was the pull of a large, exciting, cosmopolitan city filled with nightlife, plays, clubs, art and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

This was our trip; a father and son fulfilling a childhood dream, spending time together without any of his brothers, sisters or other parents. The journey ended up being more than a travel adventure. For me, it was a wake up call and reminder of life’s limits; of values and validation; of remembering what’s important and letting go of what isn’t.

Brendon ended up making a lot of decisions, deciding what to do, where to go and how to get there. He read the fine print on the train or bus schedules; the print I couldn’t read; the words that were a blur of small letters to my aging eyes.

“You need some new glasses,” he said. Imagine, my son telling ME what I need!

“It’s this way,” he’d say, referring to the right direction to visit a certain district or tour.

“No. No. It’s over here,” I’d insist.

Nine out of ten times he was right. Imagine, my son, the little boy I’d carried in my arms and on my back, telling ME which way to go! My son, walking longer and farther day by day, finding his way to a late night club by himself; not wanting me to come with him. Imagine that!

Not only did his independence and energy make me feel old, but it also instilled a new found respect and appreciation for who he is and how he lives in the world. He was kind and considerate to all those we met and responsible enough to have the courage to ask for help when needed. I was proud to be his father.

Being with my son outside the U.S also opened my eyes to the advantages and disadvantages of living in America. Though it’s still difficult and not everyone in The States is feeling financially stable, it was still a lot cheaper for food, rent, utilities and gas here, than it was in England. Petro in Great Britain costs the equivalent of five to six dollars per gallon (as it does throughout most of Europe) and groceries run about fifteen percent more. In general, there’s more space in America than in England. Houses and apartments are like little gingerbread boxes there and the toilets (rarely referred to as bathrooms) are just big enough to squeeze into and close the door.

On the other hand, the English seem to feel much more connected with a larger community, not as isolated as our country can be. Their coverage of the news was more diverse, including all the worlds’ peoples and countries, not just there own.

The Brits’ live IN history, surrounded by centuries of monuments, castles, museums and ruins. Their past seems more alive at times than the present, whereas we in the U.S. tend to view anything over two days old as ancient or irrelevant.

Best of all, the English seemed friendlier than I had remembered when I visited twenty-odd years before this trip. Everywhere we traveled, whether it was in the beautiful green countryside, small Elizabethan villages or in London, with its numerous historical sites and exhibits; people would say, “Lovely.” Giving us change for a purchase the clerk would say, “Lovely.” Opening a door for someone entering or leaving a building resulted in another “Lovely. Thank you.” When responding to a statement about an object, person or event, we’d hear another “Lovely, isn’t it?”

Much to Brendon’s embarrassment, lovely became my favorite word. I started repeating it, with the best British accent I could muster, day in and day out. For me, it implied an appreciation and acceptance of the momentary human interaction, an acknowledgment of the beauty and joy available at our fingertips. When people asked about our trip, it’s easy to sum up my love of Brendon and our time in England together in one simple word “Lovely”.

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