fiddlehead.....every changing, ever growing

fiddlehead....ever changing, ever growing

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jack at breakfast

Jack at breakfast....the sun shining in the kitchen is one of my favorite things!

Summer time fun at the pool!

 The boys have had ALOT of pool time this summer, but this week we ventured to the recreation park pool so Juddy could show his diving.  Then all the boys went down the slide and Jack had his first afternoon at the "Ducky pool", perfect for his age.   Summer is flying by....and we are having a great time!

Art Show Debut!

Today was a very exciting day as an aspiring artist~  I set up my first public showing of my art work!  It is in a wonderful coffee house in Freeport, Illinois (30 minutes south of Monroe) called Higher Grounds.  The space is beautiful and perfectly accent my pieces!  Or I should say, my pieces are perfectly accenting the space!  It was amazing and emotional to see my work on someone else's walls.  To top it off my three dear friends, and fellow artists, Debbie, Marcie and Jackie all accompanied me to help set the show up and to acknowledge this moment in my life.  My art will be at Higher Grounds for the month of August.  I am so happy to share a little piece of who I am with each piece of art..and now that is out there to see.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thinking of our Ethiopian Daughter

With so much to say about my journey to Africa, it is not lost on me that I haven't yet mentioned our daughter. Traveling to Africa felt on a very deep level like I was making a connection to our daughter. Of course, Swaziland is a very different country than Ethiopia, and yet I couldn't help but feel like just being on the continent and experiencing Africa was coming a bit closer to our daughter.

With each day that passes we are getting closer to her. As I met children and saw the expressions in their faces I wondered what her face would tell me. As I visited the clinics and walked the roads that the mothers walk, I thought of her birth mother. Where is she right now in this moment? What is she feeling and experiencing? What are the reasons she will come to choose adoption for her child? Are any of the reasons related to what I saw for myself in Swaziland? These are questions that may never be answered, but as I left Africa I left a part of my heart there and thought to myself...I'll be back and next time it is to bring you home, Sweet Girl.

In this vein, yesterday, Marcie (my dear soul friend here in Monroe) bought this amazing photograph for my birthday at Madison's Art Fair on the Square (see link below). Marcie called me over to this photograph, by Lisa Kristine, of a young Ethiopian girl in front of a red door. She is looking right into your soul and it brought me to tears. Immediately, Marcie insisted on purchasing it for me as a gift, and I have to say it is the perfect gift for several reasons. This photograph, given as a birthday gift, represents to me the year ahead. The girl looking out of that photo speaks with her eyes directly into your soul. The red (the color Marcie is always drawn to) door in which the girl stands before represents to me the door we are opening to a new life and love in our family this year. It is absolutely the most amazing and beautiful gift. I love the image and I love that Marcie gave it to me...a new year ahead of new life and love for all of us. Thank you Marcie....
Please see this link to see all of Lisa Kristine's amazing work!

Barefoot in is what we are going to do!

It feels a little strange to go to Swaziland and be exposed to the many, many needs there and then just return to life as usual. Like any major life experience, I am touched and changed by it all. I am now working on what to do with that I started talking with my dear friend, Marcie about this after I returned.
While I was in Swaziland and after I returned, I have thought so much of the children I saw walking on those rough roads completely barefoot. The children I saw with shoes in dire need of repair, or with shoes on that were far, far too large....and then knowing the drawer full of shoes that we have has left me so uncomfortable. So, Marcie has helped in putting these feelings into action with this fantastic idea: to collect gently used children's shoes from our friends, family and the community and send them to Swaziland!!
I have yet to establish a contact person in Swaziland, but I doubt that will be an issue with the contacts with the EGPAF clinics! It is a wonderful thought that we might be able to touch lives in some concrete way. It is one way to continue contact with the region and in some small way it will make a difference in the life of a child. So, send those gently used shoes our way. ;)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Swazi girls' message!

I wish my video was uploading, for some reason it is not....but instead, I will give you a taste of what it was like to visit some of the clinics and schools in Swaziland with more photos. We were always greeted so warmly. Here, the children's school day was over and they waited for us to arrive. I saw the traditional dress and couldn't wait for the performance. It was amazing to witness and even more amazing when the message was translated. This is not exact at all, but in general I was told that what the girls are singing is "Swazis are dying. HIV is killing us. We are the flowers of the community. We must make good choices". Even without a direct translation you can feel their desire to communicate the message and their hope. Enjoy a taste of the beauty of traditional Swaziland!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Building a playground in Swaziland~

On our last day of AIDS Walk Africa- We had the opportunity to help build a playground structure and a shelter area next to a clinic. These structures will be very important in helping mothers wait at the clinic, sometimes all day, to be seen. They will have an area out of the blistering summer sun to wait under the shelter and their children will have an area to exert all of their energy. This will likely hold a great impact in mother's staying to wait for their treatments and as a result will lead to more success in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS!
partially constructed playarea BEFORE
Mom, Casey and I all knew immediately that we would like to work together in the playarea. Like all mothers, I could really relate to the mothers needing a place for their kids to play! I also knew that the children would absolutely adore such a play area here in this part of the world where it is truly rare. So, we got right to building with 6 other walkers. The lead constructioner, Luciano, with his strong cultural beliefs had doubts about our ability as women to be helpful in this endeavor. Well, we all showed him as women that we are more than capable! My first task was to bolt the preconstructed slide to the pre-constructed structure. This had its issues with lack of power tools, but I got the job done. Then I worked on nailing all the steps up the playstructure to complete the stairs. As I did this I was tried very hard to make sure it was as exact as possible and used my own hand to measure the distance between steps!

At the same time Casey was working on nailing in the floor of the playarea, a very time consuming and tedious task! He did a great job! Mom took on the challenge of putting together an oil drum crawl through structure. She did great constructing it and bolting it all together. Later Mom and I crawled inside those very greasy oil drums and wiped them clean of the sand, oil and grime. It was quite a task, but I can know say I would let my own children crawl is that clean. Casey, Mom and I all did alot of painting. The paint was very thin and they pigmented it themselves. Unfortunately, we didn't have primer to really make the paint stay in the elements, but alas, we did the best possible with the resources we had!

In the end it was a most amazing build. Our team has left behind a wonderful play area. But what was so magnificent about this day, was in the afternoon when the children who had been anxiously waiting for us to complete the project were able, at last, to climb up those stairs and slide down the slide, they swang on the swings with delight, they crawled through the oil drums and teetered on the teeter-totter as if flying.

At the end of the day, we met the King's brother and other chiefs of the area were present. The local chief also honored all the elders of the group....I call this part, "Mom's senior moment" where she was wrapped in the traditional batiq wrap in front of the entire group with the rest of the elders from our group. It was a wonderful way to honor elders....frankly, I think we should take that tradition back home.

During all of these formalities it was rather quiet, except for the wonderful noise of children laughing and playing on the play area. It was the most beautiful sound and sight!

Having had the opportunity to leave something behind in Swaziland, Africa gives me such joy. Every bit of work I put in to my fundraising and spreading the word about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Swaziland has in the end giving me so more. Now THAT is a beautiful gift I never fully expected.

Journey of a Lifetime....AIDS Walk Africa

Sharing everything going on in my mind about my journey for AIDS Walk Africa in Swaziland is almost impossible. But I hope to give you bits and pieces as I go along. So, after reading this blog please go to to see the virtual walk posted by the EGPAF. They have an amazing day by day account of all the details of our walk.

Here, I would rather tell you about what it felt like for me to be apart of this journey. It really was one of those life experiences that becomes apart of your soul, which I think are the best kind. We (the staff and 19 walkers including, my Mom and cousin, Casey) witnessed so much over the course of walking the land of Swaziland in just a few days.
First, the beauty of this peaceful country is amazing and its people are incredibly welcoming and gentle. Then taking in their tradtional way of living in the rural areas wherewe walked to clinics and schools. Witnessing the children, my god, the children- with our own eyes and touch. And knowing with each time you made eye contact, smiled or touched a child that they are what this mission is truely about. Giving these beautiful children a chance at life free of HIV/AIDS!

This is a preschool (above) we stopped at to donate some clothing items, paper and coloring pencils. The teacher said her school needs a new roof. She also said that all of these children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In Swaziland, we didn't see orphanages, instead the children are raised by extended family in the community.
Going on this walk I prepared myself to feel a great deal of sadness, but found that while I had some moments of sadness (ex: witnessing a boy with shoes that were a men's size...but he wore them to school. Also, witnessing a boy with such severly bowed legs he could barely walk and knowing this could be corrected in the U.S.A. so easily) the sadness I felt was overpowered by the HOPE and JOY! The incredible hope that the people hold for their children to be able to live free of HIV. The hope was in their eyes, and smiles. The hope rang in their sweet voices as they sang and danced for us. The message of the children's dance was a brave say out loud HIV is killing our people, we need to make good choices and keep ourselves healthy as we are the flowers of our community.

The children stay with you. I met a sweet little girl, named Tula, while walking. She was fasinated by my sunglassess and then proudly wore my sunglasses and carried my walking stick as we walked together. She reached out to hold my hand. As we walked those hills together hand in hand, I realized these are the hills her mother walked with her and that she will likely walk with her own children one day. The terrain will not change, but the plight of the people walking this terrain can! It is possible! There is hope for her...and for all these children. I felt the hope and know it is possible to eradicate HIV.
The cultural norms and taboos surrounding HIV/AIDS must continue to evolve and the Swazi-people realize that they must happen first with their youngest generation. This nation is being destroyed by HIV/AIDS and the challenges they face are enormous. Many Swazi-men do not want to know their HIV status and continue to take many wives and girlfriends. The women in the rural communities have very few resources and so many challenges (poverty, HIV stigma and status, clean water, basic needs).

These are a traditional Swazi -homesteads with the husband's sleeping quarters, the wife (or wives) have their own sleeping hut and a seperate kitchen. Swazi's prefer to have the main home round as to keep the "evil spirits" from hiding in corners.

The next time you take your car to a Dr's appointment and wait to see the Dr., think of this. As we walked the miles and miles through the hills you couldn't help but imagine yourself a Swazi-women: barefoot, pregnant, not feeling well from HIV/AIDS and carrying a child with her walking miles on very rugged terrain, and steep hills to get to the clinic for medical treatment for herself and her child (preventing mother to child transmission, prenatal care, her own HIV treatments. Below is a photo of some of the roads walked, a mother and baby waiting in the clinic, and an outside shot of the clinic where they provide soooo much to the community on limited resources. The EGPAF provides the support to help prevent mother to child transmission and treat HIV/AIDS.

The mothers often wait all day to be seen and will sometimes sleep on the grass outside until the next morning. The Swazi-women are no different than all mothers who deeply love their children and want their children to have a healthy start in life... to be born free of HIV. Like all mothers, they too want to be healthy and be able to raise their own children, but are fighting against many challenges to do so.

There were countless moments that have stayed with me. Some are the amazing walkers I met who really use their lives and are so inspiring! But for me what comes to mind first are the interactions with the children. We met so many. I liked to teach them to do a "high five". They would hesitate at first and then doing the high five brought a big smile and giggle. Sometimes we would do patty-cake too. Some of the girls love to dance and we twirled them, which they loved They especially loved to have us take their photograph with our digital camera and then be able to look at their own image.

I had heard ahead of time that the children will want to look at our camera's images and then the idea came to me to take that one step further. It was absolutely one of the most joyful moments of my life was being able to pull out my polaroid camera and take photos of the children and mothers. I was able to witness the pure wonder of a child as they looked in total awe at this photo developing right before their eyes. They clung onto their special photo as if it was gold. I was able to bring 80 photos for the polaroid and each time I took a photo I felt such joy in being able to give them something meaningful that they will treaure. And for me that is one of my greatest treasures.

I will have more to share with you soon!

Thank you for visiting the fiddlehead report!