Month: May 2015

A Green Mango Pilgrimage – Part 1- Devil’s Tower

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My life is in Haiti right now. But sometimes I have to travel back to the US and when I do my time is usually filled with fundraisers, meetings, and administrative catch up. When I’m lucky I get to invest some time in making art and visiting with friends and family. But my time in the US seldom includes room for investing in my own spiritual well being or exploring new ways of experiencing God in different spaces and environments. This time back to the US I have made a decided commitment to change that. All of those other things that I have to do require me to do quite a bit of traveling and so I’m adding it to my agenda in each new place that I pass through to visit a certain sacred space and spend some time encountering the unique holy histories that exist in each one. Although this is a personal journey, I believe that we never truly can experience God ourselves unless we are willing to discover and affirm the ways that the Sacred presents itself to other humans who are each on their own journeys as well. So I will be sharing my experiences here on the blog in the hopes that others can find something of value in what I learn myself. Feeling the journey is primary, but sharing it will also be important to me.

This is something that I’ve felt propelled to do for some time now, but last week I decided to officially start the pilgrimage while in South Dakota by making a visit to Devil’s Tower (actually in Wyoming), which is considered a sacred site by many native tribes including the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Sioux. It seemed like an appropriate genesis for my journey considering the traditional stories attached to it are about transformation, escape, and rebirth. The legends vary slightly from tribe to tribe but are all similar:

Seven young children were out playing one day, collecting flowers and berries, and chasing antelope. They had wandered far from home following where nature led them when they realized that they were lost. They looked all around, each pointing in different directions, but they could not find the way home. Then one of the children noticed a giant bear coming towards them and yelled to the others. They all turned to run away as fast as they could and the bear chased them swiftly running behind. After running as far as they could they slowed and found that even more bears were now closing in on them, all great and terrifying. With no where to run they knew that they would soon be devoured by the bears so they all gathered close together and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. The Great Spirit had pity on them and the ground beneath them began to tremble and raise up from the earth. The bears dug their claws into the rock tower trying to climb it as it rose into the sky but they only slid down it as it continued to rise with the children on top higher and higher out of the bears’ reach. The children now rose into the sky and the Great Spirit turned them into the constellation Pleiades, which still shine over the tower and the plains every night.

IMG_2401This is a powerful narrative to me. Anyone who’s read my book knows how much I love a good metaphor of people turning into stars. So I went up there last week to get in touch with the sacred energy that exists there and spend some time reflecting on what it means to be lost and desperate for salvation in this world. I had driven past the tower from a distance before but never had actually been up to the base on the hiking trail to spend time within the hallowed environment there. And yet, it is difficult to truly call it hallowed because it is indeed a sacred space, but it has also been turned into a tourist attraction as well. So one must be very intentional to find the Sacred there despite the tourists and the rock climbers and the guides. But if you go with that intention, and take a step off of the trail and just take a deep breath, then it is impossible to deny that you are in the presence of something holy and powerful. And I think that whenever you do have to opportunity to stand in that presence, you must allow yourself to surrender to whatever the Spirit has to say to you.

So I took the chance and found a large rock to sit behind for some meditation where no guide could yell at me for leaving the trail and I wouldn’t be able to hear the tourists talking about their zumba classes and kids’ last weeks at school. I had to take a moment to escape from the bears that may be chasing me down in this world. Sometimes living in Haiti and trying to do work that you know is good can feel like that. So many outside forces constantly after you, impossible to escape, and everyday you feel like they’re about to devour you. It makes you want to cry out to the Great Spirit, “I don’t get it! I just came out here to pick berries and now I’m running for my life! I just want to go home!” But then you realize that the Great Spirit is made of Love and will lift you up, place you in the sky, and give you a new home. Salvation when you’re lost. But in order for any of us to find that new home ourselves, we must first find the place within ourselves where the Great Spirit may be at home.  As I continue to visit other sacred locations within this world, I think that the real part of the journey will be discovering the sacred space that resides within me and being more conscious of what I allow into it. Those other influences can keep clawing away, trying to get at me, but I have to make a covenant with myself to continue rising above.

IMG_2386One of the greatest parts of praying at Devils Tower is knowing that you’re not alone. All around the tower are prayer cloths tied to the branches of trees. Traditional practice by native tribes of the area, these cloths are left behind so that their surroundings may be anointed by the prayers and intentions of the maker and act as a blessing to those who may come into that space after them. It serves as an inspiration to me, a solitary sojourner, to see these remnants of other people’s sacred encounters in that place. Although I don’t know who they are or what they prayed for and they don’t know me, I know that they were there with the same Spirit that I am there and they left behind a blessing that I am now a part of.  They don’t kneed to know what tribe I am from or what name I have for my God or the Spirit that we are connected through, with their prayer cloths, they welcome me into that space to commune with the sacred energy of nature and humanity. They invite me to draw my eyes upward, gaze into the heavens, and discover salvation. Discover peace.

I am not sure where my next step in this pilgrimage will land, but I hope that you will continue to join me as I journey. If you have any suggestions of places I should visit, I’d love to hear them. For now, if you do get the chance to visit Devils Tower, please take it and know that behind a large rock on the south side of tower there is a prayer left for you from me.

 

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Top 10 Posts (My 100th Post)

When I wrote my first Green Mango post 3 years ago, I never expected it to become such a sustained endeavor. I didn’t set out to create a platform that would be a space for dialog on such serious issues. Mostly I just wanted to make fun of fanny packs. But now, it’s I00 posts later, and I’m extremely grateful to all of my readers who have joined in the discussion, encouraging me, and often times challenging me as well to see as many sides to the stories as possible. So, in celebration of me making it to 100 posts, I’m sharing my top 10 posts so far. These aren’t necessarily just my most viewed or most shared posts, but also some lesser viewed posts that I, personally feel are important. Here’s to staying green; learning, growing, exploring, for as long as possible! Leather_Fanny_Pack 1. Top 10 Fashion Crimes Committed by Mission Teams and Aid Workers

My first, and by far my most read post ever, this is the one that started it all.

2. Poor Isn’t A Dog

So much of what I write on this blog is inspired by my roommates, and this post more than any other represents them and it resulted in some of the best advice I’ve ever received from my roommates, “Just eat the potatoes.”

3. 17 Expats You’ll Find in Haiti This one became popular because everyone (including myself) could find themselves in the list. The takeaway: it takes us all working together no matter how crazy we are.

4. Let Your Soul Poop Its Pants Because it just feels soooooo good to let it all out.

5. 11 Things I’m Tired of Hearing You Say in Haiti Out of any of my controversial posts, this is the one that I paid the greatest price for personally, but also the one that got shared in the most public ways beyond social media. A lot of frustration went into the writing and I’ve tried to find better ways to get my point across since. Still, this one gets many more views than its positive counterpart, 10 Things I Love Hearing You Say in Haiti.

6. Whatever You Do, Don’t Start Your Own NGO Maybe the most important advice I can give from my own experience.

7. 11 Reasons I Don’t Go to Church Anymore Because everyone’s always looking for reasons. These are some of mine.

8. Not Spiritual Enough I can’t believe how many times I keep hearing stories like this from expats in Haiti who are doing incredible work but keep getting judged by the people who are supposed to be supporting them based on how spiritual they think they should be. Seriously, World, please stop doing this.

9. Dear Chikungunya, I Hate You This mostly makes the list because it provided the perfect opportunity to use some perfect gifs. But also because it’s important. A year later it still affects those who were infected.

10. Don’t You Just Hate Getting Asked For Money? People love to praise us for all of the good work we do but as soon as we ask for money to keep doing that good work, their attitude changes. These are some thoughts for anyone who ever donates money to anything.

Thanks for reading! I  hope that you stick with me for hundreds more posts! If there’s a topic you’d like me to write about or a question you think I should address in the future, please send me an email with your ideas at thegreenmangoblog@gmail.com. Peace. Donate

Nepal 2015 is not Haiti 2010

There’s been a trembling in my soul ever since I heard the news about the earthquake that has devastated Nepal. Since I just came back to the US last week, the images coming from the disaster zone have been bringing up too many memories. I have intentionally tried to avoid them as much as possible because I don’t need to see them to know what they look like. I have other similar images burned in my memory already. I don’t need to hear the stories to know what they say. I have 5-year-old stories that sound the same that replay through my head every day. I don’t need all of the details to understand the horrors and the trauma that the people of Nepal are living through right now. All I need to hear is the word “earthquake” and a mention of the ever climbing death toll and my heart and my spirit are already there with them because a large part of my heart and my spirit are always lingering back in Haiti, January 12, 2010.

And yet, I know that Nepal 2015 is not Haiti 2010. And for this reason, I have stayed silent. Because I know that the last thing that the people in Nepal need right now is one more person comparing them to Haiti. I know that the last thing that the people in Nepal need right now is one more person trying to tell other people where they should donate to or how they should help without any personal knowledge of the situation on the ground. I know that they don’t need more people a million miles away using their current plight to pretend that they care about humanity by donating some money through Facebook or to the Red Cross. I know that they don’t need one more person feeling bad for them. They’ve had their hearts ripped out and their lives turned upside down and all the truths that they thought they believed to be true about the universe suddenly challenged by something they cannot understand. So as long as their most basic needs are met, right now, I’m assuming that all that they need is some space to grieve. Some time to process. Some arms to hold them up when they feel weak and can’t stand in between the sobs that come without warning. They need something solid to lean on in midst of the fear.

This is what the trembling in my own soul would tell me because that’s what I needed in Haiti in 2010 but the only place that I could find it was through the Haitians who had been through the earthquake with me. Not from any other outside source. No organizations or volunteers or aid workers or government agencies. Other survivors.

Nepal 2015

Nepal 2015

Haiti 2010

Haiti 2010

But Nepal 2015 is not Haiti 2010. So I hesitate to offer any words at all to heap onto the situation. Words, after all, are what made the burden so heavy five years ago. This puts a writer into a difficult place who is used to expressing his feelings with words. And right now I feel so many things for Nepal that I had to write this down and get it out there. I hope that it builds up and does not only make the load heavier for anyone in Nepal who is already carrying around what may seem like tons of emotional rubble with them. Because I do not know what they are going through, I can only guess based on my own experience. I’ve read too many articles already of others trying to project their own emotions onto the victims and trying to predict what the near future holds through the relief effort and trying to prescribe solutions that I assume none of the victims are actually interested in right now. Yet at the same time, with something so personal, I cannot remain silent forever.

So, if I have any words at all that are worth contributing to the situation, here they are:

To my good-hearted American and Western friends:

I know you want to help. But the truth is that unless you have a direct connection to Nepal or at least a secondary connection to someone with a direct connection, there’s not much you can do. The most crucial parts of the relief have already been done by the people on the ground and the fact is that the victims will probably be able to find food and water and a tent regardless of whether you donate now or not. After that the rebuilding needs to be done by the ones who did the original building in the first place. Donating to organizations to rebuild homes or schools or temples does more harm than good unless those organizations are the ones who built the homes and schools and temples that got destroyed in the first place. It just takes agency out of the hands of the ones who have to deal with the consequences in the future. The Nepalese citizens who right now and in the coming weeks, are going to be hungry for nothing more than a sense of control once again. This, I can say from experience, was the most difficult thing to lose, a sense of control. And the more that donors put the power into the hands of NGOs, the more the common citizens lose control of their own situations. So, if you do have the direct connection to help those victims regain control of their own lives, do so by donating directly to them without any strings attached. And if you definitely want to donate to an organization, search out one that is locally led and was there before the earthquake and has sustainable plans to be there long after. Then once you’ve found it, make a long term commitment to supporting them on a regular basis. Next year, or in a few years are when they’re going to need the support the most.

To the Nepalese people now reeling from the loss and trauma:

I can’t feed you any BS about it how it’s going to get better because I know right now that would be of no comfort to you. The truth is that whatever sorrow, bitterness, anger, confusion, despair, fear, or whatever emotions you’re feeling right now, it’s okay. And it’s not going to get better anytime soon. It will eventually, but you’re going to be stuck in these feelings for a long time while everyone else around you tries to fix things. Take your time. And in those moments, cling to those around you who know what you’re going through. Lean on them for support and be there for them when they need to lean on you. Share your story as much as possible. Tell it to anyone who will listen because the more you keep it inside the stronger the aftershocks will be within you down the road. Cling to your faith and remember that you are more powerful that you may ever realize. No matter how many walls around you crumble, there is a sacred beauty and strength within you that cannot be destroyed. Allow it to push you forward.

To my Haitian brothers and sisters who remember what it’s like:

I know they gave you Cholera, forgive them. I know you lost 100 times more loved ones than they did, but the loss of even one to such tragic circumstances affects us all. Take a moment to grieve with them. I know that you don’t have any money that you can send or even have the ability to connect in anyway to the Victims in Nepal. The best thing that you can do for them now is to provide them with proof that it does get better. Show them that there is hope in the life that lies beyond the rubble. For the sake of the Nepalese people who are suffering right now and for the sake of the memory of our own that we lost 5 years ago, don’t take for granted the opportunity that you’ve been given to continue to make life in your communities as beautiful and as worthwhile as possible. I know that you were used as an experiment in aid 5 years ago, and that experiment didn’t go well. Don’t let it be in vain. Don’t let the world forget the lessons that they learned. Continue to tell your stories and remember who you are as Haitians. Remember the revolutionary spirit that has gotten you to where you are and allow it to push you forward. I know there are still aftershocks in your soul. If you ever need a shoulder to lean on, you know where to find me.

As far as what I’m going to do now with the own trembling in my soul for Nepal, I’m going to spend some time trying to form some direct connections in the coming months. And through those connections, I’m going to do some work with my artist friends in Haiti to try to build some bridges and lend some support emotionally, spiritually, and hopefully even financially to those in Nepal. I have a very strong sense that right now if anyone can help the people of Nepal, it’s the people of Haiti. I’m going to do what I can to be a part of making that possible.

I always have a donate button at the end of my posts here on the Green Mango. Usually if you are kind enough to click that button and donate some money, it just goes to keeping me alive. But this time, if anyone donates through that button in the following week, I’ll be using those funds to get this cross cultural project started between Haiti and Nepal. I’ll be sharing more details about the project over on my art website when I have worked them out more but for now, if you trust me enough to contribute, I guarantee you that it will be going towards something unlike any other “help Nepal” project out there right now. Thanks.

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