Monsoon summer

Displaced. Source: newspaper, Kathmandu

Displaced. Picture from local newspaper, Kathmandu.

in monsoon summer
the sky grows sad
its eyelids sag and
heavy tears wash
dirt away from river
banks. houses sleeping
up on top are lost,
the people bits of
driftwood dislocated
from their villages.
now who are you
to say a home
is just the heart with
which you fill it?

Over the last three weeks there have been enormous floods and landslides in rural Nepal, particularly in the west of the country. Though statistics differ, the local papers are reporting that up to 200 people have died and a staggering 20,000 families have been displaced. Though the reports say ‘families’, many young children have found themselves without any relatives. They are now living in makeshift environments with little to no santitation or clean water, limited to no access to medicine, food or clothes, and are at high risk of water-borne diseases.

In the last week I have assisted the Women’s Foundation Nepal (WFN) to generate funding to provide emergency relief in the form of food, clothes and medicine in the rural areas in which we work. It is also expected that the organisation will begin a long search for surviving relatives of the parentless children with the hope they might be resettled with family. However, it is likely that many children will be brought to WFN’s shelter for women and children in Kathmandu, provided that is what the children themselves desire.

WFN runs three shelters in Kathmandu for women and children who’ve escaped situations of domestic violence. Two of these are in secret locations, much like a witness protection program. Through these shelters children are given the opportunity to go to school, and the women are also given educational and livelihood opportunities.

One such job offered to these women is to become ‘mothers’ to children who have been rescued from violent situations as babies or young children. These women are paid a wage, but despite what you think, by all accounts these women are mothers to the children. Last week when I visited the shelter for Teej festival, many of the children who grew up at the shelter and who are now studying for their final leaving exams were excited to introduce me to their mothers, proudly showering them with kisses and hugs. A positive alternative to the standard orphanage setup? I’d be interested to hear what you think – comment below if you feel to.

If you want to learn more about the Women’s Foundation of Nepal and the work I’m doing in Nepal as Director of the Global Women’s Project, please do visit the organisations’ websites.

http://www.womenepal.org
http://www.theglobalwomensproject.com.au

In gratitude,

Briony

Everything we’ve lost can be found

The bowl in question

The bowl in question

at the cliff edge upon which
everything still sane with the world
teeters or is lost completely,
there are moments
when with utmost clarity
humanity reveals itself
wide and deep like an old bowl
to save sanity from falling.
in that human moment we
might be forgiven for thinking
that everything we’ve lost
can be found.

Yesterday i bought the most beautiful handmade Nepalese-Tibetan singing bowl. I’d played scores of them all over the place before I found this one that resonated deeply with something in me. They say sometimes of instruments that the instrument chooses you. This felt like that.

On my way from the singing bowl shop to another appointment, I caught a taxi with a nineteen year old Nepalese man called David who had a crooked homemade cross and the word ‘Jesus’ tattooed on his forearm. Over the heavy bass of a strange but rocking Nepalese-Anglo dance remix, we talked about Christianity, guitars and other things. It was a good twenty minutes following my exit from the cab before I realised I’d left my singing bowl in it.

To my surprise, this actually didn’t upset me too much. There’s something really cool happening internally over here – a combination of acceptance, awareness and something magical I can’t quite put my finger on – so I was sort of resting in the conviction that I’d manage to find it again.

And find it I did. It took me most of the day today, but with the overwhelming generosity and help of a group of Nepalese cab drivers, who truly went out of their way to rally the troops and to help me locate David – one young cab driver in a BIG city – I’m happy to say I have my singing bowl back.

It’s really nice to know that against a pretty bleak global backdrop, there are still really good humans out there. Sometimes you just have to be open to the possibility and look a bit harder.

Side note:

In addition to the cabbies, I also want to pay credit to a couple of people I’ve had the honour of acquainting over the last few days – even if just in a literary context. I came across Alice Walker’s title ‘Anything We Love Can Be Saved’ the other day at a truly inspiring talk on ‘Men Against Sexism’ in Nepal which was presented by Ben Atherton-Zeman. Ben travels the world talking to communities about gender-based violence and gender equality and is a pretty inspiring guy. You can have a look at his site ‘Voices of Men’ here. Ben cited Ms Walker’s ‘text and I thought it was so beautiful and profound and poetic I wanted, in some very small way, to pay homage to it – hence the title of this blog entry.

She writes:

“It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame.

This is the tragedy of our world.

For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile.”

Pretty beautiful stuff if you ask me.

x

One day the words will come

The dead burn at Pashupatinath temple, Nepal

The dead burn at Pashupatinath temple, Nepal

I’ve been trying to find words to convey the enormity of my experience at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu last night. I’ve done hardly a thing today, though not for want of trying – I feel like I have been split open and it’s hard to be coherent in that state. Though some garbled words have come to me, it’ll no doubt be a while before I’m able to articulate even part of the story to my satisfaction. Indeed, that time may never come. The decision about which parts of this story I want to share publicly and which parts I want to keep for myself may also take some time to reveal itself to me. Until then, I will share with you one of the very few photos I managed to pull myself together to take. In deep, deep gratitude and wonder. Briony.

 

A love letter, from autumn to summer

Boys climb stairs outside Pashupati, Kathmandu

Boys climb stairs outside Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

 

i met you just as the last of your flowers
bid their wishful goodbyes to branches
that had cradled them for three months
or longer. you grieved into my outstretched
arms, seduced my chill with warm fingers
breathing perfumes from your mouth
lovers grasped at the last straws of light
we tickled their noses with fancy
that this year, we might just skip the other
seasons.

but you knew as i that change should be
the only thing as certain as death so
we burnt gold the leaves with our fierce affair
others swayed in verdant envy breathing
as we danced each other hard and fast
those lovers bounced beneath branches orange
sad and heavy with the brevity and sweetness of
seasonal romance.

when you pulled away and made to
voyage unknown ends of the universe
the first leaf fell like a tear and the lovers
peering from their safe window
watched them pile up and up and up
they deluged the earth until all the trees
were exposed in their nakedness
accusing skyward with skeletal fingers
i wrapped them up in blankets made
of my melancholy and reminisced for
you.

crisp days turned into cool nights
though sunshine often teased of your
absence. and the trees whispered they were cold
without their clothes, without your sun to
keep them warm. but i was soon used to you gone
we were all soon used to you gone
your memory a footpath puddle evaporating
at a time when you were in your
body.

now the happy lovers make fire
lie by the hearth entangled in limbs
they read to each other
imbibe red wine from glasses that
shine with their reflections
they make love while
piles of leaves outside combust
and slowly turn to
mush.

Dear human, just feel me

Dear human, just feel me

Dear human, just feel me

yesterday i spent three hours
at guru swami dada’s place
through esoteric talk of
chakras ghosts and death
he said: you see the problem
with humanity is that
communication has
simply broken down

we don’t believe each other
how bizarre that we should
need ID to prove that we
are us as though plastic
has more weight than word
imagine god at heaven’s gate
turned us back because
we lacked a visa

Krishna’s birthday in the clouds

Krishna’s temple

she calls the people and
the mountains to her
valley-bound the sound
falls like tumbling hair
the people tuck it
round their ears and flock
like moths, tributes to her
amaranthine spirit
upon her alpine throne
she beams pink-skinned
and owns the dawn
as if it is only hers

Fingers crossed we get the gold

Working with Street Children: An Approach Explored by Andrew Williams

This evening I write on the back of another day of developments for our Women’s Project. I don’t know where I’m getting the energy to jot something down for the blog, but I imagine it’s got something to do with being excited. I started with a meeting at 8.30 this morning and I’m just sitting down now after finishing a round of family home visits. It’s 11.30pm, so that’s a long day in anyone’s book. In fact, there’s been a lot going on this week, including the continuation of our workplace training with the women involved in our project, and getting the kids into gear for the new school year.

Also this week I’ve been quite lucky to have been able to spend some time with the very knowledgeable and lovely Andrew Williams. Andrew’s out here on behalf of the Moroccan Children’s Trust to have a look at the work the team here is doing with street children. Andrew is now based in London after 9 years working in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, during which time he established and ran an organisation called Retrak, which aims to support street children and to carve them out new and positive pathways. He’s also written a book called Working with Street Children, which is about, funnily enough, working with street children. It’s been great talking to him about the work he’s been doing in Africa, and hearing his insights about the team’s work here in Morocco. He’s here for another few days during which he’ll be running some training for the Moroccan team; we’re all looking forward to it.

But onto the Women’s Project! This morning, after a couple of early hiccups, including a printer that ran out of toner and temporarily losing Andrew Williams, the director of our organisation, my colleague on the project, Andrew Williams and I, met with the head honcho of the regulatory government body on social policy for this region of Morocco. We traipsed through town with our paperwork to his big, cushy office where we attempted to interest him in our income-generating project for mothers of street children. And what’d you know? Apparently, we’re onto a good thing. Not only was he supportive of our project, but he personally invited us to submit a funding proposal to the government department responsible for the disbursement of a $35 million Spanish Government foreign aid grant which is due to be allocated from the 30th of September. We’re all now in hyperactive mode scrambling to assemble the 15 different documents required by the department. It’d be absolutely incredible if our project were able to secure some of these funds, not only for the project itself and the women it aims to support, but for raising the profile of Groupe Maroc Horizons and its Street Child Centre.

What can I say but incha’allah!
* To order Andrew’s book in Australia, click here.