Makin’ Moves

Bodhi next to his Bodhi Tree, both born in July 2017

Its true what the Bembas say: “Babies don’t take long to grow, its only the pregnancy which takes long”. Bodhi is now 9 months old – meaning he has been in this world as long as he was growing in Claire’s belly. It’s hard to believe how fast he is growing and becoming accustomed to his body, his surroundings, and the people in his life. He is now crawling and standing himself up, and it won’t be long before he starts walking. He is also babbling and smiling and laughing away. It is such a miracle to see him grow.

Claire has settled in to being a mom wonderfully, and is shining in her role as caretaker. She and Bodhi have a beautiful, intimate bond and it’s clear that she is the apple of his eye (and vice versa). It is almost every morning that Bodhi awakes with a start, looks around for a split second, and then opens his mouth in a wide, two-toothed grin as he crawls between Momma and Papa. He knows our voices, and wants to be a part of whatever we are doing (cooking, cleaning, driving, chatting). It is such a blessing…

It is also quite a responsibility. Watching Bodhi, seeing how he imitates my every move, my energy, my way of doing things, has awoken in me a stronger desire to be a better person. I am checking all of my addictions, habits, patterns, wondering: is this the example I want to set for Bodhi? Would I be happy if he copied this form of behavior? The good news is that for the most part, I think we’re doing well as parents – setting an example of a balanced, happy, loving relationship. And for my part, there are not many things I would change/hide from him. Still, every day and every interaction is an opportunity to become more open, more loving, more accepting, and to set this example for our Son.

Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that he is our teacher as much we are his. Patience, tolerance, love – every bit that is required to care for him is a lesson. I find myself constantly grateful when he is in my arms. I know that, having lost my father when I was only 6 years old, every moment with this blossoming soul is a gift. I try, with conscious intention, to be present with him and thankful for every moment we share. I know how fleeting these moments can be. When we are together I tell express this gratitude. Even though he doesn’t yet speak English, I sense that he understands.

Bodhi loves the water. He loves birds. He loves looking at leaves. Sometimes he is fussy when he stays inside for too long. Once he reaches a doorway to the outside, it is like a switch has flipped, and instantly he stops fussing and starts smiling. He is happy to be held by nearly anyone. This morning when we arrived at the office, he reached for Mirriam with a huge smile – happy to leave his mom’s arms and play with ‘Bambuya’ (Grandmother).

Mirriam and Bo

Of course, there are times when he only wants to be with one of us – especially Momma. It is a mixed feeling of joy and responsibility when he is fussy with strangers or less-known people, and wants to be with us. When he reaches for me, I feel this incredible joy well up inside me, that this little being wants to be with me and is comforted simply by being in my arms. At the same time, I feel a responsibility to teach him to be happy with whomever he encounters on his path, to be independent, to learn to live without me. Then I remember that he is only 9 months old, and I grab him and swing him around and we laugh together. It has been an opportunity to break some cultural stereotypes as well, when Zambian women see that a father can comfort his baby and even put him to sleep. I am grateful to know the peace and equanimity that comes from your baby falling asleep in your arms, and would share it with all the men I know, if I could. The fussing and crying which may come before sleep are also a test and an opportunity to learn, and I find that unless I can quiet my mind, Bodhi won’t quiet either. What a little teacher!

Lest this blog become only about Bodhi, there are also many beautiful things progressing in our lives here in Kasama. This rainy season has brought an exceptional amount of rain – nourishing the land and people’s crops, bringing life and the countless tones of green that mother nature paints herself in these lush months. Three years of watering, composting, chicken manure, trimming, and love have started fruiting their rewards. We are picking guavas, eating mulberries, enjoying tamarillos and papayas, and eyeing bunches of bananas which have not quite ripened. We have also begun to keep bees, in the hopes that are lives at the farm can become even sweeter.

In town, the program is progressing and more and more people are taking the chance to educate themselves. Bakashana has moved to a new office, which we now call our own – thanks to Grandma Ruthie, an incredibly generous donor who bought the program this house and property as her 90th birthday present. After an incredibly busy 3 weeks of gutting the house – knocking out walls, adding windows and door frames, rewiring the electrical, redoing the plumbing, etc., we moved into our new office on April 1st. Now we have a space which the young women can make their own. All the walls, doors, and even floors can become works of art. We hope to cultivate this space as a place where people are free to express themselves and share their beauty – without fear of reprimand or cultural shaming. We hope that community involvement in this space will make it unique, appreciated, utilized, and sacred. As our Bakashana family continues to grow, we are grateful to all who play a part, whatever size, from all parts of this crazy world.

Life with the Little One

There is no way to describe what a life-changing miracle this little soul is. As a father, the change is both subtle and profound. For the most part, my life continues as it was. In fact, I have had much more work to help out Claire, who is now employed full-time in her life’s most important work as a mother. So, as I go about my day, and Bodhi’s not by my side, the change seems subtle. However, in the back of my mind, there is always this new understanding that something far more important than myself is waiting at home. The knowledge that this innocent little boy is completely dependent upon us is profoundly humbling and moving. There is nothing more important than him now – this little mirror reflects how small my ‘self’ really is. He is such a miraculous microcosm of the greater consciousness of which we are all a part.

Bo and his Grandmas

Since Bodhi’s birth, my days have been much fuller, especially in the first month or so. Claire’s usual tasks around the house became impossible, and it was a full-time job to keep the baby fed, changed, and happy. During that time, I really came to appreciate all that Claire does around the farm on a daily basis – cooking, cleaning, sweeping, washing dishes and diapers, etc. I tried to fill in as best I could, but of course my cooking doesn’t have the same touch. Claire has been an exemplary mother and is shining from the depth of her soul – it is the role she has always wanted, and she is cherishing it!

Meanwhile, spending time with the baby was, at first, much more difficult than I imagined. I had heard that the first few weeks are really difficult. Nevertheless, I had this naive idea that I would be ‘super Dad’, and somehow swoop-in when times were tough and calm down the baby. Turns out, he wanted Mom’s milk. Nothing else. There were a few times I held him, crying, until his pain was too much and I started crying too. We both came running to Mom, who of course gave baby what he needed. Despite these challenges, I still felt a profound connection to Bodhi even in the early weeks. All the difficult moments were wiped from my mind in those split seconds of sheer connection when he would look up at me with those big, bright, blue eyes and stare into my soul. It’s as if all the secrets of the universe are hidden in the light shining from his eyes, like he already knows everything, but he can’t tell me because I’m too grounded in this reality to understand.

In the second month, Bodhi became much more aware. When I would walk into the room and start talking, he would hear my voice and begin to look around for me. If I held him in my arms and we walked around the farm, singing, he would calm down and even sleep. He smiles frequently, especially in the early mornings. If I play flute for him, he giggles and stares wide-eyed. I feel so blessed that this little being is part of our lives. It is such a centering experience to hold him, to protect him, to feel his little heart beating against mine.

Having a baby here in Kasama has also opened us to another level of cultural integration. People seem to have a different respect and appreciation for us now – as if having the baby here in Kasama proved that we really are planning to stick around. Also, Bodhi’s middle name is Malama, and people are so happy to hear that we love and respect their culture enough to give our baby a Bemba name. Thus, Claire and I have had our names changed to Bana and Bashi Malama (the mother and father of Malama, respectively).

Our neighbors came to pay respect to us and the baby. After the week-long waiting period (to respect the parent’s privacy and keep the baby safe until the belly button dries and falls off), we had many visitors. They brought us gifts (mostly peanuts, maize drinks, cornmeal and foodstuffs), as is the custom. We felt overjoyed to see all our friends pay their respect, but also a bit bashful that so many babies had been born in our time here and we never followed cultural protocol. Now we know…

It was during this time, when the days became incredibly hot and sunny, the air became still, and the cicadas added their whine to the sharp heat of the afternoon – tempting even the most cheerful into grumpiness and the most sane into whimsical moments of hysteria – that rain came early and unexpectedly.

We were away, at a beautiful beach on Lake Tanganyika to celebrate my birthday. A call came from Kapembwa that hail and rain had come and damaged our place. While we enjoyed ourselves without a care in the world, our neighbors were suffering an onslaught of nature. We returned the next day to find massive destruction. More than 30 mm of rain had fallen in just a few hours, flooding the land like a giant river and carrying with it top soil, plants, and even some of the slate we used to make our furrows. Huge hailstones the size of softballs had ripped through all the tree leaves and pummeled everything in sight. The garden fence had been partially swept away by the flood, and all of our tomatoes and greens in the garden had been destroyed.

We knew that if things were bad at the farm, our friends and neighbors must be suffering. We knew that they had all been working hard the previous five months to prepare their dry-season gardens, and were days away from finally harvesting and reaping profits. The storm destroyed everything; the crops, the bush fruits, even the cassava leaves. After the storm people went to their gardens and threw themselves on the ground, wailing for their loss of income and pending hunger. In retelling the story of how ferociously the storm hit, my female friends were smiling. I asked them how they could smile in the face of such tragedy and one woman replied: “everything is lost, even the birds in the forest have all died, but we are still here. For this we give thanks.”

The following day I visited their gardens… Acres of tomatoes, greens, onions, all ruined by the hail. Our neighbors depend on gardening for a living – they sell their produce in town to feed their families, pay school fees, and buy fertilizer and seed for their maize. Everything was lost. Visiting the gardens was akin to attending a funeral. If it hurt my heart to see this destruction, I can’t pretend to understand what it meant to someone like Bashi Mwango, who lost an acre of nearly-ripe tomatoes, into which he had invested almost everything he had. Humbled by the strength of our neighbors in the face of suffering and misfortune, I returned home with a heavy heart.

When I entered the house and saw our baby boy smiling up at me, I cried. My heart couldn’t hold the grief. Bashi Mwango enters his house and looks at his children, with the same love that I share with Bodhi. Yet in the back of his mind, he is doubting whether they will have enough food to keep the kids healthy this year. I felt a wave of emotions running through me, ranging from guilt at having so much, to empathy for those who have lost, to absolute gratitude for the blessings we receive every day, both material and otherwise.

I cannot imagine what schizophrenic mix of luck, karma, blessings, and fate have allowed Claire and I to live with such material and economic security. Living in Zambia is a constant challenge to my perceptions and boundaries. There isn’t a day that goes by, or a purchase that I make for myself, when I am not considering how that money could be better-spent helping someone around us. We can’t hide from the economic disparity here – it is a part of reality that we live with. Finding a balance within this situation is very difficult, and may be a major factor explaining why so few Muzungus actually move to Zambia. I used to get angry when people would ask for loans or money – with the typical western view that money shouldn’t get between friends. The longer I live here and the more my heart opens, the more I realize that this anger comes from within – from the depth of my heart where I know that I can and should always give more, that I could say ‘yes’, that perhaps I should. Also, I’ve learned that in Zambia, if there isn’t money between you, you aren’t friends.

In this case, we scrambled for resources to help the afflicted families in our community. Our nearest neighbors and friends included seven families. With the help of some Bakashana donors and money from our organization we helped each family with beans, seeds, cooking oil, and chicken manure. These meager offerings were enough to get people back into the gardens right away, since the chicken manure works quickly to transform soil health. We are grateful to those donors who offered money to support the cause, and to all donors to Bakashana who trust our small, nimble organization to use money in the way it will make the most positive impact.

At the end of the day, everyone around is still eating. However, this coming rainy season will be a trying one for families who already weathered late fertilizer inputs and the resulting suffering last year. It is difficult to reconcile why such open-hearted, hard-working people have to face so many challenges while we live with such relative security. I have never doubted if I would have a meal. Neither has Claire. I pray that Bodhi will not either. Yet he will grow and learn and frolic alongside some children who are not sure when their next meal will come.

Caring for this little being has changed me. In the subtlest of ways, he was in my heart as I mourned with our neighbors over the storm. He won’t suffer from the hail, but he is connected to this community. In the most profound of ways, I felt true empathy – the depth of which I have never felt before – for those families struggling to keep their own kids happy and healthy. Knowing the depth of love for this child has opened my heart to such joy, and also the sadness to which that joy is inexorably intertwined.