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Posts tagged ‘teenager’

Whatever It Takes

Love Feld by Virginia Alanís.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61eBvpsjijLA high school sweetheart, who becomes as possessive as hell, a patriarchal Mexican father, and a prejudiced school counselor, can’t stop Laura Cano from following her dream to be a lawyer and gain independence. She also learns when, and how, to connect with family, and to appreciate all those who help her along the way. Love Field, by Virginia Alanís, gives readers’ insight into growing up in a Mexican-American family in Texas, and if it isn’t told from her personal experience, reads like it is. Her parents, sisters, and grandmother, all sound familiar, comforting, and often controlling.

At age 17, Laura is looking forward to graduating from high school, and applying to college. Since she was young, she thought about being a lawyer to help others. Especially after she witnessed a tragic event from a next door neighbor’s abusive husband when she was a child. Lucky to get a job at a law office, with Vanessa Hamilton, and support from her Godmother, Toni, the narrator of this tale fights to find her way in spite of a father that believes women are only meant to be wives, and her newly married husband, Edward, who does not trust her and threatens to ruin everything.

If you (or someone you know) has ever been in a possessive, and/or abusive, relationship, what transpires between this young couple (Laura and Edward), may feel uncomfortably familiar. What first appears to be support, love, and care, slowly gets twisted and subverted, until Laura must make a choice and risk leaving the young man she once loved, without being harmed (or killed) in the process. She does everything she can legally, and gets help from her retired English teacher, Elisabeth, her mentor at work, Vanessa, and Godmother Toni.

This story encompasses a number of themes. What is family? How much does one owe family, and what parts do you leave behind? Are there any signs that someone will turn out to be abusive when you first meet, and if so, what are they? How does one safely escape from a violent, or threatening situation, without jeopardizing themselves or others? Is family history something that should be respected at all costs, or left behind when it becomes overbearing? If you like the recent memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomeyer (My Beloved World), you’ll enjoy Love Field by Virginia Alanís.

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Coming Into Her Own

The Buddha of Lightning Peak: Cycle of the Sky
By Yudron Wangmo
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A lot of authors, agents and publishers say their story is “unique”, but rarely does the tale turn out to be that different or “special”. The Buddha of Lightning Peak is an exception. The characters in the story are like many people I know, and experiences they have lived, but I’ve never read something that combined them all into one tight, believable and well-crafted novel such as this.

Denise “Dee” is a teenager who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also black, lesbian and part of a meditation group. She has a variety of friends, including Leslie and her BFF, Shanti, as well as her mentor/teacher, Sandy. She isn’t a strong environmental advocate, until she learns of a mining operation about to start up next to her beloved summer camp and mountain.

The author reveals life through Dee’s eyes and perspective, and reveals the thoughts, emotions and experiences that many teens go through, especially teenage girls. The Buddha of Lightning Peak is an insightful and entertaining story that reveals Dee coming into her own strength, realizations, and sense of connection and community. I rarely read stories twice, even good ones. This will be the exception.

(The author provided me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.)

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Is This The One?

My brief contribution to the book The Real Meaning of Life. Edited by David Seaman. (New World Library, 2005).

Some folks search for love all their lives and never find it. Some run into it in their teens and others when they’re seventy. Some strike it rich with their first love, and others with their second marriage. For me, the third time around was the lucky charm.

The younger my age, the more certain I was about the mystery of relationships. When I was a teenager, I used to think I knew everything about love and what it means. I thought I was wise to love’s ways. I believed that “when we fell in love we just knew it.” If it didn’t work out, then it wasn’t “meant to be.” Such were the awe-inspiring depths of my young perceptions. As I’ve aged and traveled the many roads of partnership, my previous certainties and simplifications have been blown away by the winds of experience. Now I know that I know very little, if anything at all.

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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?”

An Orphan’s Life

When this story about Franco was first written, the orphanage was called El Shaddai. It has since changed it’s name to the ROP Center for Street Children and moved to the other side of Kigali.

If it isn’t difficult enough to be a teenager, try growing up in a country that just over 16 years ago experienced one of the worst genocides in African history and combine that with having both of your parents die from AIDS when you are only 15 years of age. That’s the life into which Franco Gakwaya was born, but it is not the end of the story.

Rwanda is in East Africa, adjacent to Lake Kivu and bordered by the countries of the Congo, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is a land-locked nation, known as the “land of a thousand hills” for its rolling iron-rich red landscape, fertile fields and volcanic mountains. Some of the rarest species of mountain gorillas live within its northern borders and chimpanzees are protected in national parks in the east.

Even though Rwanda is now a bustling and successful country that is providing health care, education, jobs and economic growth to it citizens, most people only know about the 1994 genocide, in which a million people were killed by their neighbors over a 30-day period. It was horrible and still affects every single Rwandan.

The AIDS pandemic has also touched Rwanda. As a result, there are thousands upon thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children. In the last twelve years, many of these children have been placed in foster homes, orphanages or boarding schools, but far too many still roam the roads and live on the streets. Franco is one of those who found a new place to call home, an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children. ROP is located in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the most densely populated country per square mile in all of Africa.

“We sleep four to a bunk for the older boys,” says Franco, “and six for the younger smaller kids.” MORE

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Love, Lust and Pheromones

Some folks search for love all their lives and never find it. Some run into it in their teens and others when they’re seventy. Some strike it rich with their first love and others on their second marriage expedition. For me, it was the third time around that was the lucky charm.

The younger my age, the more certain I had been about the mystery of relationships. I thought I was wise to love’s ways. I believed, “when we fell in love we just knew it. If it didn’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be.” Such was the awe-inspiring depths of my young perceptions about relationships.

As I’ve aged and traveled the many roads of partnership with the opposite sex, my previous certainties and simplifications have been blown away by the winds of experience. When I was a teenager, I used to think I knew everything about love and what love means. Now I know that I know very little, if anything, at all.

Why do some relationships and people, work together like two good actors on a stage, while others forget their lines, make the wrong entrance or are overwhelmed by the other actor or actresses personality or performance? Why do some folks stay together a lifetime and others less than a year, a month or a week?

There are some obvious considerations. If people are attracted to each other physically, able to communicate clearly and respect one another as complete, changing human beings, I would bet their relationship has a lot better chance of succeeding than those who lack these mutual attributes. But then again, I’ve met people who never listened to one another and have little understanding of their partner, yet continue to live together for many years with genuine contentment and joy. There are some human needs and agreements, spoken or unspoken, that the other person must fulfill in these arrangements. On the other ring finger, I’ve met people who had all the qualities I’d expect in a good marriage yet called it quits after a couple of years.

When I was eighteen years from birth I met Cindy, who was sixteen. I thought I had found true love and gone to heaven. The day we met we decided to move in together and two weeks later, with the permission of her mother, we did. Our love, lust and attention were all consuming. I would do anything to “make her happy”, thus denying my own desires and dreams and leaving her with all the decisions about how we would live and what we would do. Our plans for the future were very different, but I was blind to such realities and let my body rule my heart.

When Cindy turned eighteen and I was twenty, we married. Neither of us took it seriously (well maybe I did at the time) and thought it was a great excuse for a big party! A year after our marriage we divorced. She had done everything possible to get me angry, to make me stand up for myself, but I was lost in the poppy field of love and couldn’t get back home to my true self.

After a number of years and a couple of other interesting relationships, I met Pat. This time the roles were reversed and I found she would do everything I wanted to do, at least in the beginning. We were both involved in similar volunteer work, wanted children (and always had) and seemed to have similar goals and aspirations. Once again I thought our agreements and her acquiescence were love.

Pat and I were married and had two beautiful children. Then the truths and realities I had ignored and given lip service too, began to reveal themselves. We started arguing about everything and anything. A lot of what she had said or done in the past hadn’t been out of her desire, but because she knew it was what I had wanted to hear. Food, work, adoption, school; everything was in conflict. After eight years I came to my senses and we divorced. It was painful and difficult, but necessary. In addition to learning a lot about living with someone or how not to live with someone, our relationship had blessed us with the children we had both longed for.

Not long after our divorce I met Audrey. We’ve now been together twenty-three years and married for twenty. We were pulled together like magnets and could not deny the attraction and love that existed between us. We seem to have all the ingredients for a magical partnership – love, respect, honesty, communication, desire, admiration and support, but all the right ingredients don’t always make a good dish. We’ve been through some painful, difficult times and moments, but haven’t flinched or had doubts about our marriage. And, to tell you the truth, I don’t know why. Why are we going to happily live together until one of us dies? Why do we feel the way we do about one another? Why do we feel so comfortable and at ease with the others presence? Why am I still so in love with her after all these years?

Maybe it’s all about pheromones, the unique scents and smells we excrete to attract mates (like most animals). Yeah, that’s the ticket! That explains everything, pheromones and circumstance. The next time someone asks me how we know when we are definitely in love, I’ll tell them it all comes down to the nose: the nose, the stars, the planets, knowing your self and a truck load of luck.

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