Read an interesting book a while back….. after quoting Mother Teresa the author wrote this statement.
“Too often we idolize the messengers and quote their sayings but miss the essential message of their lives: living the truth at whatever cost. As we live the truth, our lives build a convincing case that there is in fact an alternative way, and that abiding in love is the only way.” (Jim Palmer. Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion To Find God.)
As a humanitarian worker in such a challenging place as rural Mali, people assume that we must be seeking to change the world. Like, bull roar…….. as if I could.
I wish, but I will not leave even a dent or scratch in Mali, and I know it. When I leave one day, I will be very quiclky forgotten.
Probably, few, if any westerners will ever actually see what we are doing in Mali. These Al-Qaeda issues in Northern Mali have all but silenced any talk from western field visitors.
But, after a short period of sadness several years back, I got over it.
It was about then I realized how being the invisible humanitarian, flying under the radar so to speak, has its advantages. But I still wonder why it is that every other person I know working in Africa has field visitors, and I simply never have any?
What clinched the deal in the end was our agency receiving legal advice suggesting that the volatile and risky situation in Mali could be overwhelming. If anything were to happen, not only kidnapping or some other Al- Qaeda event, even a simple car accident, sickness, robbery could be opening up Man Of Peace Development to some serious possible litigation issues from hosted workers, or their families (even if the workers sign a waver, their family has not). Even from the Malian Government, if any possible miscondict by said arrivals were to occur (accident injuring some local, sexual misconduct or liazions result in pregnancy, theft, drugs etc.) One simply never knows for sure. Basically, if anything goes wrong we would be crushed financially as a humanitarian organization.
Therefore, in Mali, our agency will not be growing this work like we once had hoped to do. It will remain two workers, my wife and me, until another agency, independent of us chooses to come and partner.
So, a very small team, not leaving a very big mark, is the reality. This is perfectly acceptable too, is it not?
Also with our work philosphy being: simple, economical, and easily repeated, One will not see buildings called “Base”, offices, local staff, our “training Center”. The MOPD office is the corner of a room where we live and the training center is in the village family courtyards.
There is no place to point toward with a “shingle (sign)” saying “Man Of Peace Development”.
We are quite invisible both in Canada and Mali. However, there might be some wisdom in this that we may chat about another time.
So if we are not “changing the world”, what are we doing?
Living the truth of love.… the truth that the health and welfare of many dozens of elderly grandmothers, and their grandchildren, in some isolated Malian village, matters. Even if we are unable to, “change their world/lives forever”, we are helping in some part.
Our drought season drip irrigated gardening project certainly aids these women and their families. But, let’s keep it real here, I am probably not much more than a speck in their life, and village. So what, they matter, I don’t. I dont need a village bowing at my feet dishing out heaps of gratitude. Let’s get real about how we really fit in folks.
There is an alternative way to live…. to love. Loving humanity…. loving people is always worth it in the end. The indelible image of a toothless smile from an Old lady, as she picks and holds in the air, her first ever self-grown cabbage, knowing her family will eat healthy tonight, can sear itself into your brain for life.
There are alternative ways to live. Live to love….
We do not need to be “hired” and serving in the box of some institution, with some fancy degree, position, sporting some positional title. The alternative way is loving the human life right into some people that no one else in the “program” will ever see or touch.
To hell with recognition, everybody knowing, people seeing.
To hell with cornering people to listen to the story, when they really don’t care, and would never ask us anything outright.
To hell with applauding, making our mark, leaving our legacy, people patting us on the back.
Those desires are (where) the juvenile desires. We’ve moved on now. Grown up, as we sink into the shrinking last half of our life. Love somebody, anywhere, where others have not. Disappear among those people. Go ahead and let your blip extinguish on the usual path people’s radar.
I’ve not made a pitch for money or funding to anyone about this work – never ever…. not once in twenty years of this Africa journey.
But what I do is this; when asked (rarely asked), I simply tell stories told to me by these voiceless people I am privileged to love. Sharing my story as well, the story of my experiences while loving and interacting with them, while on the alternative way.
Some one once told me…
“Live a life that gives you stories to tell”.
When I lived and served in the institutional box, I never had any stories. So you resort to canned illustrations repeated by others, or from a book.
The alternative path? Well, don’t get me going as I can’t shut up now.
Life is full of meaningful encounters out here….away from running the organization and planning and preparing for events.
Do not idolaize people. Don’t be jellous or envious of their lives, their lives are not nearly as glorious nor glamorous as you think. You, you reading this, just go live the truth, whatever the cost.
The alternative is love.