Through Another’s Eyes

looking_backDear readers…it’s been awhile. A long while. It seems that I am inspired to write on the road…less so when I’m home.

 

But I received this from a reader recently, Cecile, who I have never met. She began following my journey several years back. My life looks a whole lot different than it did four years ago, and although I know deep down that I have made much progress in so many ways, day to day the evolution feels tiny, incremental. I found her note to be very powerful because it summarizes my journey quite succinctly. And although I try to remain present and forward looking, it reminds me of the critical importance of occasionally looking back and tracking my journey over longer periods, with a view to recognizing and celebrating the key milestones along the path that have led to growth. Sometimes it takes someone else with an objective perspective to help you see them. Thank you Cissy for this incredible gift that you have given me.

 

A few years back, I found out that our whole lives we’d been lied to and deceived, and that lots of unnecessary lives had been lost, and more were being sacrificed. There was so much confusion and sadness in my heart, and all the animals were suffering more and more, and it continues to this day.

 

But one day, I found this website called Tiny Buddha. All the writers there were great, but one stood out to me. His name was Jonathan, just like my own little brother Jon who is lost to me now. So I really began to pay attention to all that he was trying to teach, and little by little the crazy chaos in my head and in my heart started to click, and the brain cells started holding hands again.

 

And so one day the brave and good man did go to Africa, far from home he went, to help the children there. And I followed him closely. He didn’t know me, but I left comments and I continued to learn. Then when he came back home, things had changed, and he had to face some harsh truths that would have broken any good man.

 

But my friend Jonathan hit the slopes when the powder was right, and he shared his pics and his fun. That old dude sings a mean song too, has his own band, and he’s just as cute as they come. Pure goodness and love this one. Tonight he sneaks in the back door in his own endearing way with a modest FB post to get our attention again.

 

He hasn’t lost his MOJO, that’s for sure. Love you Mr. Lareau! P E A CE buddy!–Cissy

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Into Africa–March 21, 2013

242“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”–Maya Angelou

Friday, March 15 was my last official work day in Mozambique. And what a day it was–finishing my last few reports, copying files, debriefing the director. “We appreciate the way you do things,” Edmundo said simply at the end, which apparently is high praise. I’ll take it. He seemed engaged and interested as I summarized my findings, accomplishments, and recommendations. Who knows what will happen once I’m gone, but I am satisfied that I gave them everything I could, and that I have moved the communications bar up a few notches on several fronts. I have shown them how strategic communications practices in certain key areas can improve their program.

And then the goodbyes. Helder and Suzanne took me out for lunch…you choose your meat, and then they cook it for you! Some of my other work colleagues even took me out for a beer at the end of the day…very thoughtful. Even Laura, who has been stone cold with me since the beginning, finally cracked at the end!

Then onto what I knew would be perhaps the toughest goodbye…Chico. I met him at our usual cafe. We played our three songs together one last time. This time I recorded them, which will not only be a great memory, but it will also give me something to practice with as I try to recreate them at home. Saying goodbye to Chico was very hard…maybe this is what they mean by “bromance?” He has been so kind, open, and accepting of me over the last two months. I will be forever grateful.

Working with Chico and the band also reminded me of what Ron and Rob, my music teachers and mentors in Ottawa, have drilled into me for so many months–the importance of being flexible and versatile, bringing more than one talent to the musical table, and being familiar with what others are doing in the band so you can speak their language. I have done well on the first one, but definitely need to work on the last two.

I capped off Friday night with a boys night out with Mike. BBQ meat, beer, and pool. Arrrrr! Great to have some one on one time together, and a nice way to close things out. I am grateful to him for opening his life to me while I was here.

After a short, restless night of sleep, I was up packing and getting organized to go. A few more goodbyes. Francesco at the park insisted on giving me a gift, so I chose a small stone rhino. Very generous, and rare, as I have not noticed much gift giving here. And then to the hotel staff–Moyenne, Cristina, Matoush, Orlando, Editio, Domingues–who also seemed genuinely affected. I surprised them when I said “salanini,” which is Changaan for goodbye. Liz and the kids picked me up, and off we went to the airport. I will always be especially grateful to Liz for opening this African door for me in the first place, and being so generous and welcoming with me in so many ways. This could be the start of a whole new chapter for me.

Although I am so happy to be going home, the goodbyes were much, much harder than I could have imagined. That must be a good sign.

The voyage home began uneventfully Saturday afternoon from Maputo airport. A quick hop to Joburg where I had about three hours to kill before the 8 pm flight to London. I was feeling a little off, but chalked it up to the stress of leaving, and not having had much sleep the night before.

Right before boarding, sitting in a jam-packed waiting lounge I began to feel very strange indeed. Everything started to feel distant and distorted, becoming opaque. And then the nausea kicked in. I put me head between my legs to try and control it. Then I passed out, not sure for how long. When I came out of it I was drenched in sweat. There is no way I can board this plane like this, I thought (or spoke?) to myself. But it passed, and I mustered up enough energy to board what would be a brutal 11-hour, jam-packed flight to London.

I remember having some very interesting chats with an elderly South African man sitting next to me, as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I also remember the nausea and the pounding headaches. I just have to get though the next hour, I kept thinking, over and over again.

When I arrived in London, I did not have the strength to get my stuff off the plane. I was greeted by some very kind airport staff and paramedics who checked me out, and wheeled me to a quiet lounge where I could rest and re energize for five hours before the next flight. Those Brits were so good to me, which I know will make my mother very proud! This was in stark contrast to what happened in Joburg, where not one person asked me if I was OK. Although one incident does not define a nation, I do get the sense–as I have throughout my trip–that there is an overriding lack of human compassion or consideration for others. It’s every man for himself.

I have never felt as defeated, weary, and alone as I did on that final leg of the trip, sitting on an airplane toilet with diarrhea, the shakes, fever, headache, and sweats. Little did I know this would define the next few days. Just need to make it through this flight, I thought. Just need to make it off the plane. Just need make it through customs. Just need to get my bags. Then it will be OK.

It took everything I had (and some of what I didn’t know I had) to make it home. It was a very gruelling 30-hour trip, but It could have been worse. If I had become sick just one day earlier I never would have been able to make it. I am grateful for that.

Although it was not the homecoming I had envisioned, I was so very happy to see my wife. I hugged her for what felt like a long time, and remember not kissing her in case I was contagious. My great friend Tommy was also there, decked out in full St. Paddy’s regalia! He has been a rock, and I am very grateful.

I don’t remember much after that…my wife and son tell me my colour was grey, and that I was somewhat delirious for the rest of the day on Sunday.

As I write this, it is Wednesday, and I am in the hospital where I have been in quarantine since Monday morning, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Typhoid, dengue, H1N1, and cholera are the front runners. They’ve ruled out malaria. My body has done and produced some things in the last few days that I would not have thought possible, or even human. I haven’t eaten since Sunday, but finally think I can start.

And now, Thursday, they think they have identified the bacteria responsible, but after doing some research, this explanation does not cover off most of my symptoms. So I am preparing my case for when I see the docs later today. I began to feel better on most fronts late yesterday, that’s the good news, but there were a few complications that will keep me here until the weekend. Oh well…might as well deal with it all while I’m here, eh?

But lots of good news so far today: they’ve taken out the IV, I am keeping solid food in me, all my symptoms are fading, my tongue is pink, and my blood level indicators are all normalizing.

The hospital experience itself is a whole other story–good, bad, and ugly. I won’t go into this part in detail, but I will say that if you do get sick, make it some sort of infectious and contagious disease. You get to bypass that usually horrific emergency waiting room scene, you get your own private room, and you get our own dedicated air supply. Luxury!

On a serious note, I cannot stress enough the need for someone to advocate on your behalf while you are in hospital, and that you yourself keep track of what is happening as best you can. Write things down when you have lucid moments…questions, comments, what’s happening to you, symptoms, etc. Hospital systems are usually big and clunky, and not designed for the personal, intricate issues surrounding you and your health. There is so much going on–decisions being made, medications being prescribed, changes in staff, dissemination of your information, politics, and priorities other than you.

As the patient, and depending on your condition, you are hardly in a position to keep track of all this. There have been several key decision points during my hospital stay where if my wife had not stepped in, things could have easily gone off the rails for me. Remember that how well you are feeling is not the only determinant to what happens to you in hospital (although it should be). Bed availability, other patient’s conditions and requirements, and cost of care all factor into the decisions made by hospital staff and administrators. So it is absolutely critical that you have someone who can follow what’s happening, and push for the right decisions to be made that are in your best health interests, at least until you are well enough to take over. Thank you, my love, for being that someone for me.

Having said all that, I sure was happy to be back in Canada for all this medical madness. Getting treated in Mozambique would have been an adventure. If I were in the US, I’d have to take out a second mortgage to cover the costs.

I keep asking myself what the lesson is for me in all of this. I’m not sure yet, but it will come. It always does. I just don’t always see it clearly right away.

Oh…and one other work-related thing I am quite proud of: my commitment to describing the journey in this blog. I wasn’t sure that I would have that much to say, or even that I would know how to say it. And I am so grateful to those of you out there who have taken the time to read about it.

This was not the wrap-up I had envisioned, so I will be back in the coming weeks with more “uplifting” thoughts and images from Africa. I will close with a quote I really like from an excellent blog called What is Real True Love.

“At every moment we’re either becoming more aware and more sensitive, or we’re becoming more self-preoccupied and numb; we’re either moving in the direction of becoming more alive inside, or internally dead; more ego driven or more soulful and guided by perennial universal and noble principles.”

‘Til next week,

Jonathan
(MoJo just doesn’t seem to fit today)

Into Africa–January 31, 2013

kids under tree1“Many people travel, but you are a journeyman.”

Thank you to my friend Morene for sending this my way…I hope to live up to it. This is indeed a journey on so many levels. It is the perfect quote to begin this week’s post.

It’s kind of a long post this week….but if you look at nothing else, don’t miss the two video clips below.

A little about where I am. Mozambique is one of the five poorest countries in the world with an average income of about $1 a day. About 12% of the 15-49 age group has HIV/AIDS. It has an adult literacy rate of only about 46%, but that is hugely improved from 30 years ago. Although a high percentage of children are enrolled in schools, they don’t all actually go. Further, many of those that do go don’t actually learn much because of the caliber of the teaching. Internet access is about 4%.

Mozambique is one of about 54 countries in Africa, and is about twice the size of California, or a little smaller than the province of Ontario. It is on the southeast part of the continent, hugging the east coast, just north of South Africa and Swaziland. It is also bordered by Zimbabwe and Zambia to the west, Malawi and Tanzania to the north, and the Indian ocean to the east. Marriages are often polygamous in rural communities, with men having 2, 3, or more “wives” here. It is not uncommon for 10 kids in single family, and I have heard of some men with upwards of 30 kids from a number of partners! What up, bro! Many fathers clearly do not take their role very seriously here.

The Portuguese settled this country, and it remains the official language even though they pulled out in 1975, after the war for independence. Then the civil war began, lasting 17 years until 1992. Add in floods, cyclones, cholera, and malaria, and you can see how Mozambique has its challenges.

Malaria is a nasty and sometimes deadly disease that attacks the liver, caused by a parasite carried by the mosquito. They tend to come out mainly at night and can only fly about a kilometer or two. People who live here tend to build up some immunity. Although malaria is more of a rural than urban phenomena, it is now rainy season here, making it even more widespread. There is one huge, main central public hospital in Maputo. Which mean that people come from all areas to be treated for their ills, including malaria. Which means that those that are bitten here in town pass the parasite onto these mosquitos, they bite someone else, and so on. All of a sudden we have a potential central distribution point for malaria!

I regard every mosquito with utmost suspicion, which then turns into a fight to the death. I am taking my pills faithfully just to be safe.

There are about 20 different languages in Mozambique, some very specific to different regions…and we think in Canada that two official languages is complicated to manage! Mozambique has a population of about 22 million, spread out over 10 provinces, almost 2 million of which are in the capital city of Maputo (in Maputo province), which is where I am. Maputo is in the very south end of the country, only about 80 km from the South African border. It’s hot certainly…about 30-34 C are typical highs this time of year. Quite humid and muggy, and not much of a breeze. But it’s bearable, and you sort of get used to it (I was expecting worse). Yet all the men wear long pants, and almost no one wears shorts! So do I for work, but I don’t like it.

The massive amounts of rain continues to be a problem just north of us in particular, with more than 36 dead, and almost 100,000 displaced since my last update. To make matters even worse, a crocodile farm flooded, releasing 15,000 crocs into the Limpopo river. They have recaptured only about 2,000.

For all of you who generously donated $800 in cash as well as soccer balls, pumps, and pens…I think that putting it all towards helping these flood victims might be the best use. Homes, schools, and entire villages have been wiped out. More on that when I figure out how to best do this.

Public transit in Maputo

Public transit in Maputo

Dirty, smelly, loud, bustling, hustling…Maputo is not much different from any other big city. Rich and poor. So many different people, classes, cultures, nationalities coexisting. People are generally well dressed (particularly on Sundays) and polite. There are hardly any street people here, compared to what I am used to seeing at home. I haven’t been asked for money yet. Hustled yes. Trying to sell me things…all the time. But no panhandling.There are absolutely no rights for pedestrians and I mean NONE (you have to be looking all ways all the time). Stop signs mean nothing. Drivers are very aggressive…it makes driving in Montreal seem like a field day. This is very different from how they are as people. Cars seem to have a way of bringing out the worst in people no matter where they are. So many cars here, and people park wherever they want, including the sidewalk (and no tickets!). There is garbage and broken glass everywhere. Certainly no recycling program in Maputo! Everyone has a cell phone which seems strange here, but I guess communicating remains a powerful human need wherever you are.

So many cars, so little space for pedestrians!

So many cars, so little space for pedestrians!

Everyone is trying to sell something wherever you turn. VERY enterprising people! The street and sidewalks are a mess…big gaping holes everywhere. I have yet to see a police officer, car, or station, although there are guards everywhere, along with gates, electric fence “deterrents,” and razor wire.It’s total chaos…but somehow…it just works. Not the way I’m used to, but it works.

This is purely anecdotal, but I sense that many of our western problems–for example guns, bullying, drugs and alcohol, obesity–are much less of an issue here. Which doesn’t mean they don’t have their own issues, but it is interesting to think about why, and how much people of different backgrounds could learn from each other. Wouldn’t it be great if we could cherry pick and combine the best traits of all cultures?

The cost of living is much like at home. No bargains to be had here on food, drink, clothes, accommodation, travel, etc…prices are usually at least as much as home, and often more. For example, $200-250 a night for a hotel room would be about average. Because Maputo is bustling city with money, people here charge what they think they can get, and strangely, stick to their guns, and can usually get it. They are willing to lose sale for the sake of keeping prices inflated. I stopped for some fresh flowers…they had tons of them, and it was the end of the day. They wanted about $10, which I felt was way too high. So rather than deal, they let me walk. I suspect this is a big city phenomena though, and that in the rural areas this would be a much different experience. I also wonder how long this over-inflated bubble can last. And I also wonder how people who live and work here manage.

It’s a very interesting and strange mix of things here. The street names in Maputo for example…Mao Tse Tung, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx….all over the map. Lots of foreign money here as well…the Chinese built the stadium and the presidential palace (using their very own convicts!). Maybe they’re just being friendly. Surely they don’t want anything in return!

Someone told me that one of the things they like about Mozambique is the diversity….and that anything that can happen, and usually does. There’s an up and down side to that I guess. It’s a fairly liberal place  compared to some other stricter African countries, with a definite Latino feel and flair. On Friday night for example I found myself at the opening of an art exhibit….at the German cultural centre! I was surrounded by Germans, Mozambicans, and many other nationalities, speaking all kinds of languages. I generally don’t like these sorts of gatherings as most of you know–too fluffy and stuffy, I am generally just uncomfortable, and for some reason anxious–but I tried to keep on open mind anyway. I especially enjoyed a couple of local musicians, and thanked them for their performance.

“Music is the language of a 1000 nations.”

More inspiring words sent to me by my good friend Thomas. Thank you….

Saturday afternoon I was walking around town, when all of a sudden I heard these beautiful sounds. I followed the sounds to a municipal garden on the ocean. As I walked into the park I saw this huge tree, and underneath it, a large group of very well dressed people. It was a wedding, and they were all singing and dancing. Another one of those magic moments. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible (not really successfully mind you) and managed to capture this bit of video.

Then I started thinking that it would be a great thing to somehow connect and play with local musicians. Try to do here what I love to do at home, and how incredible it would be  to learn their style of music. So out into the universe that thought went.

Sunday night I went to see a local band perform at Cafe Camisa…a cool little local spot for music, and attached to Nucleo de Arte (art nucleus), a workshop/studio where dozens of local artists come to paint, sculpt, play. It was a wild show, with a thumping, almost hypnotic, rhythm.

The musician dude (Ivan) that I thanked on Friday at the German cultural centre (see above), was at this club and recognized me. I talked to him about wanting to play with some local musicians and he offered to introduce me to one of the band members who was just finishing a set. Chico Antonio is an older guy, very talented, and as it turns out is one of the best known and accomplished musicians in Mozambique. He is the main guy in the video clip. So I started chatting with him and he offered to jam with me, and introduce me to other musicians! I finally connected with him today, and hope it will lead to something. Regardless, it was pretty cool how all the pieces just sort of clicked together following my intention.

Being open to the flow

Faces look back at you as you look at them. Cautious mirrors cautious, open reflects open. Smiles bring smiles. Raising your hand as a greeting gets you the same in return. Pretty simple equation, but a valuable lesson and reminder in human nature.

I have connected with many of the staff at the apartment-hotel and know most of them by name. They appreciate the effort. I think they get a kick out of me for some reason. They have a special handshake here, and I have tried to learn it and practice it on them regularly. They love that…I can hear them all chuckling and laughing as I walk away, genuinely amused. Big white guy trying to do handshake, they must be thinking. Funny guy that Mr. Jonatan! Some of them are actually seeking me out…going out of their way to connect and say “ola,” so that’s kind of cool. It feels genuine.

At work I have connected with a few people, after ongoing effort and patience. Tomas (pronounced Tomash), an older educated guy, a telecommunications engineer who also teaches mathematics. He took me to lunch last Friday which I really appreciated. But my favourite is Helder…probably about my age. He is a driver, but also provides logistics and coordination support for the program. Really bright, thoughtful, deep guy who understands big picture issues. He picks me up and drops me off every day. And he has my back. In his limited English and my even more limited Portuguese, we somehow make ourselves understood. He wasn’t sure about me at first, I could tell, but after a day or two, he came around. I mean, how long did he really think he would be able to resist my charm?

I finally connected with one of the women at the office…Denise. We had never exchanged more than a few words. But Tuesday morning I complimented her on her hair, and all of a sudden discovered she could speak English! We talked about culture and music…turns out she’s a singer too, and she has also offered to introduce me to other local musicians!

Not knowing the language is a real barrier, but somehow I am learning to get by. It’s hard though. Now that the novelty of being here is starting to wear off, and the routine is setting in I am starting to find it more difficult in some ways. I get up, go to work, come “home,” usually go out for a walk and a quick bite, do some writing, watch some TV (two English channels: CNN international which is pretty good or bad movie channel), meditate, and go to bed. Then repeat. It is mind expanding and new, but also kind of a lonely, isolating experience in a way and I do miss my wife, son, family, and friends. I will have to find a different gear with six weeks to go. Highs and lows are to be expected….I know I must continue to embrace the opportunity I have here.

‘Til next week…

MoJo

Into Africa–January 17, 2013

Dear friends,

Today I am taking my show on the road–leaving my home, family, and friends in Canada to spend the next two months doing volunteer work in Mozambique, Africa. This follows a trip I made early last year, doing volunteer work in Nicaragua. Although for a much shorter duration, it gave me a powerful opportunity to open my mind and heart to others, and to demonstrate that in a meaningful way. Something shifted in me during that trip. It’s hard to put into words, but I have been hungering for something similar ever since. So now….Africa.

This time I will not be building a school, but rather providing communication advice and expertise to an education system that needs to reach more Africans. I look forward to the adventure that awaits me, and will use this space to update you on my progress and observations over the next several weeks.

I am so fortunate to have such encouraging and supportive friends and family around me. One such friend, Julie Truelove, just sent me this heartfelt little note. It seems a perfect way to start the journey. Thank you Jules…you have framed it beautifully.

People hear and read many things about Africa, but experiencing it all is a whole new reality. And it is unique to each person who experiences it. You may find the good, the difficult, the amazing, the ugly, the slow, and the beautiful all rolled into one day…and you will see it in your own way. It seems to me that every person who travels to Africa has “their moment”…a specific moment when it all hits you. This can be an inspiring moment or a gut wrenching moment and ultimately both really.

My moment was at a school in Tanzania when this very distinguished, well-spoken, and well-dressed male teacher stood up to welcome us and humbly said he was glad we came. And then his next statement was “don’t be sad for Africa” and that has stuck with me and served me well over the past few years. Another moment I had in the last few months was when someone, and I don’t remember who, said “sometimes you need Africa more than Africa needs you.” This was a more difficult one to get my head around but eventually I saw the light…even though I think Africa still needs people among many other things, but that is for another discussion.

So take it all in, all the tragic and the beautiful and the amazing, and find your moment when it comes. Let it reach you. When you have those tough times, and surely some lonely times, your moment will help you through towards the brighter days. It’s the fight inside that keeps you going, the inspiration that can help keep you positive and your heartfelt secret when people around you haven’t experienced it and don’t understand what you keep talking about.

The Fisherman’s Dream

I first heard this story when I was in Nicaragua earlier this year on a volunteer mission. I have often thought about it since, and was reminded of it again when I ran into Sasha and Liz a few days ago–two fellow volunteers who were on that trip with me.

The story reminds me of how often in my life I have been caught up in trying to get or achieve something, but how unfulfilling it usually feels when it finally arrives. By then I am onto the next thing, never really taking the time to appreciate what I have. Thinking somehow that if I get that thing, I will have arrived and I will be happy. But it never turns out that way because happiness is not a destination, and it is certainly not the accumulation of things that leads to peace. The ego has a funny way of distorting the way we view things, and can be insatiable in its quest to justify itself.

My life is changing, and this story describes perfectly where I think it may be headed. I think perhaps I have all I need right now. The grass is already green on my side. And the fog is slowly lifting.

A North American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Nicaraguan village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat was a lot of large mackeral, tuna, and shrimps. The tourist complimented the Nicaraguan on the quality of his fish and seafood and asked how long it took to catch it all.

The Nicaraguan replied, “Only a little while.”

The tourist then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

The Nicaraguan said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”

The tourist then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Nicaraguan fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The tourist scoffed, “I can help you. You should spend more time fishing. And you should buy a bigger boat. And then buy other people’s boats and own a whole fleet of boats. Then, you can sell directly to restaurants and hotels and fish factories. You would control the whole process. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Managua, then to Los Angeles or Toronto to run your company.”

The Nicaraguan fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

The tourist replied, “15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Nicaraguan.

The tourist laughed and said, “When the time is right you would sell your company and make millions of dollars.”

“Millions?…Then what?” the fisherman asked.

“That’s the best part,” the North American said, “Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos. You would have an easy life!”