It has been too long since I’ve been under an African sky. More than 25 years have passed since last I breathed in this amazing continent. I left her with South Africa still under apartheid, AIDS unheard of and the Mozambican civil war endlessly raging.

DSC_0367 Veronica with her youngest child in Boane.

 

Most of us think we know the narrative of Africa: corruption, poverty, starving children, dying mothers, AIDS epidemic, warlords and dictators. There is truth in each one of those words, but they paint only a portion of the story. It’s easy to forget that a continent made up of 53 unique countries and island states cannot be labeled in a singular fashion. Within each one of those nations are regional and tribal communities with their own rich sub-cultures, languages and traditions. In Mozambique alone there are 43 languages and dialects spoken. There is another set of words: resources, music, wildlife, faith, community, love, growth, democracy, booming, excitement and passion: each equally truthful. In Mozambique these past two weeks, I’ve seen evidence of them all.

DSC_0361 Two of Veronica’s five children in Boane.

 

The last time I was in this part of the world, Mozambican refugees were regularly crossing Kruger National Park, a massive game reserve in the north east of South Africa. The only way these families were making the news was when they were attacked and killed by lion. South Africans ignored the civil war between rivals Frelimo and Renamo, most ignorant to the fact that the South African government was supporting Renamo to destabilize the Mozambican ruling party. Frelimo had taken power in 1975 after the Portuguese left the country stripped bare in the name of independence.

Initially under a Marxist government, the country moved to a democratic multiparty system in 1989. Renamo became a political party and peace was finally negotiated in 1993. Frelimo still dominates and has won every election since independence. Streets named Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Karl Marx are just some of the remnants of the country’s socialist past. Colonial architecture meshes with design from the early 70s and modern (mostly Chinese) shiny construction. Down the street from my hotel Chinese investors are building a massive stadium and casino complex. In sharp juxtaposition across the road, locals sell wooden carvings and fabrics.

IMG_7381 Mozambican batik fabrics

 

It’s a cliché to talk about the changes, and perhaps even more of a cliché to talk about all that hasn’t changed. Mozambique is still one of the world’s poorest countries. Recent mineral and natural gas discoveries, combined with the longest coastline of any single nation on the continent make this an enticing place for foreign investment, especially now that the government has shown some stability in recent years. Still, it’s estimated only 8% of the country’s budget goes to social services. 124,000 Mozambican children under 5 years are still dying each year and it is consistently towards the bottom of Save the Children’s list of worst places to be a mother.

I’ve been sharing the stories of mothers and their children in the developing world for three years now. But this is my first chance to be a witness. Mozambican families face a staggering range of problems. Malaria, HIV AIDS, tuberculosis, diarrhea, pneumonia and cervical cancer are just some of the big killers. Health services are generally free, but mostly funded by donors. There are service quality challenges, overwhelmed and grossly underpaid medical staff and still so many without health care at all.

DSC_0048 Felismina and her daughter at the Moamba Health Clinic. She walked three hours to get there.

 

In the almost two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve talked with countless mothers.  They all work incredibly hard. I am in awe of their strength, of their patience, of their endurance. But burning through my mind is a pivotal question: when will the mothers of Mozabique get angry? I am waiting for the day when they loudly demand more of their government and society. This country has a big future, as long as government leaders remember they serve the people.

Africa is rising and it is a thrilling time to be here. I am convinced more each day that the voices of her mothers are the key in determining which direction she goes.

I am in Mozambique as an International Reporting Project (IRP) fellow, covering global health stories with a team of journalists from all over the world. Follow the whole conversation on Twitter and Instagram at #IRPfellows or see our collective reports here.

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

 

 

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I’ve had four opportunities to test my body’s limits and be the co-creator of new life. Four chances to bring a child into the world, four first breaths, four beginnings. With each birth, I learned more about what I was capable of, and with each birth, I found power, courage and voice.

My eldest child, the one who birthed me as a mother, came on the first anniversary of 9/11. It was a hard day to be a New Yorker but after laboring for 15 hours (through a Soho dinner, a midtown meeting, long walks on the Upper East Side and the taxi ride from hell the night before) she finally arrived with her fist in the air declaring her girl power!

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In the process, I received wonderful care. But I also felt pushed around and a little bit frightened to speak out about what I was experiencing. I wanted natural child birth, but I’d been awake for 40 hours and laboring for 12. My blood pressure crept up a little and the attending insisted on an epidural *, which I did not want. As a result, labor dragged on for another 3 hours. I vowed next time to listen to my body and speak up.

With my second child I went into labor at church and promptly insisted we would walk the 1.8 miles home through Central Park back to our apartment. I labored against trees and storefronts on a hot Sunday evening and delayed hospital for as long as I could. Another taxi ride from hell (a running theme when you have babies in big cities?) thumping over pot holes and praying traffic would magically dissipate. Twenty minutes after shuffling through the hospital doors, baby girl was in my arms. No one had time to tell me what to do!

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My third was another experience in not being heard, but boy, did I find my voice. From the moment we arrived until five minutes after his birth, the attending physicians ignored everything I knew about my body. To be fair, labor and delivery was packed to overflowing. But I now knew that once dilated, my body moved fast. 45 minutes later I ‘caught’ my son, by myself (I’d sent my husband out for help) behind a curtain in a triage room with eight other women. I had dilated from a ‘four’ to a ‘ten’ in 40 mins. The registrar who’d repeatedly ignored me when I’d told him what would happen was completely gobsmacked (yes, that’s a technical term). When my son took his first breath, I reached down and roared in a loud mama bear voice, “give me my child” and wouldn’t let anyone near him for hours. Body listened to, voice finally heard — check!

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Finally my last son, a much wanted miracle after a couple of miscarriages (one particularly tough). I gave birth with midwives, in a bright beautiful room larger than my Manhattan apartment. Beloved was sadly 2,100 miles away at the time (our son was a few days early), but my mother was Beloved’s eyes and hands via speaker phone! As I went from a ‘five’ to a ‘ten’ in five minutes (yup, you read that right), everyone listened. Everyone trusted I knew exactly what I was talking about and calmly went about supporting me as my baby arrived into the world.

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With each birth story, I was born a mother all over again. I also found my voice. Strong and clear and loud and present.

May is the month of motherhood. My friends at Every Mother Counts are fighting every day for all mothers to have the right to be heard, the right to decent pregnancy care and safe births. Every two minutes a mother dies from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Instead of a 20 minute taxi ride across bumpy Manhattan streets, many women walk for hours to a clinic, or are thrown around the back of a truck that scales massive ditches over the miles it takes to reach an emergency care facility.

You can take two simple actions to help prevent unnecessary maternal deaths.

  • Upload two photos
  • Donate two dollars
  • Share two facts
  • Run two miles
  • Buy two gifts

You’ll find them all here. Add your voice for all mothers everywhere.

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xo

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

* I am not against epidurals. But I am for being listened to!

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When Mandela Asks, You Say Yes

by Chrysula on December 6, 2013 in dreaming,reforming

In October 1990, just a few months after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela toured the world to thank those countries and people who agitated for his release and the end of apartheid. One of his stops was at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, for an non-denominational service where he captivated the packed church with his humility and dignity.

My brother and I lined up with a thousand others to greet this man and were able to have a brief moment with him. Just a man, Not perfect. And yet oh what he taught us.

A few years prior, in 1986, I’d lived in apartheid South Africa. It was a time of great violence and tension. Even as a seventeen year old exchange student, I could sense the change that was coming. The cracks of the old regime were widening. Most of what was really happening was censored. In fact there were events that year I only learned about after I returned to Australia. I was fortunate that one of the families I lived with were deeply involved anti-apartheid activism. In the darkened room of an artists’ commune in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, my host sister and her partner would carefully share underground newspaper articles and stories, teaching me about the other side of South African politics during weekend visits. On Mondays I would return to my wonderful, but very sheltered girls school in Pretoria. I recall a bold newspaper printing an issue that showed, with large blocks of blackened text, just how much of their content had been deemed incendiary by government censors. Almost three-quarters of each article was blocked out. But what a statement!  To this day I wish I had kept a copy of it. I don’t know what happened to their editors. But I do know they were part of a larger group of people of all races fighting to end segregation.

Many countries and communities face racism. Those issues are far from over in our own country. But the difference at this time in South Africa was that racism had a name, and a body of legislation behind it called the Group Areas Act. Laws that said where you could live or not live, where you could work, or not work, even whether your homeland was called by its traditional name or the arbitrary “homeland” name assigned by the government.

In 1990 in Australia, Mandela was a free man. But apartheid, whilst crumbling, had not yet been dismantled. Even so, what my brother and I heard that day was consistent with everything I saw in him when he became South Africa’s first black President. Forgive. Reconcile. Move forward. Acknowledge all of humanity and bring people together. It is the only way.

Much of Madiba’s* dream for South Africa has not been realized. It has been too many years since I lived there for me to comment with authority on who is at fault or what has to change. But I do know what the potential was for devastation when the end of apartheid as a formal structure finally came. Mandela demonstrated from day one that he was a President for all of the people of South Africa. It is with that spirit, a passion for peace, a hunger for justice and equality that I will remember and honor this great leader.

I once heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu say that when Mandela asks you to do something, you say yes. The Archbishop is right. Mandela has asked all of us to stand up against poverty; to stand up for education; to stand up for equality and peace for all.

We are compelled by his legacy to say yes.

* Madiba is Mandela’s clan name and used to show affection for him by many throughout the world.
Image: Nelson Mandela at a St Marys Cathedral mass in Sydney, October 1990 | News Limited

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

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30 Days of Gratitude

by Chrysula on December 1, 2013 in life

Nov 1:  God. For offering me forgiveness and atonement.

Nov 2: Beloved. There are not enough words.

FierceNov 3: Our children with all their fierce fire and energy.

Nov 4: My parents, brothers and their families who are so far away.

Nov 5: My work. LOVE what I do and who I do it with.

Nov 6: Beloved’s family. A girl could not have married into better.

Nov 7: My name. I’ve always loved it. I am named for my Aunt, whose passion I miss every day, even though she’s been gone (from this life) for 15 years.

Nov 8: Whilst I have pretty dismal health insurance, I have it. And good doctors, nurses and other health workers along with it. Even better? Healthy kids! (and after living with various siblings and extended family with massive health challenges, I know what that means).

SunsetNov 9: Because even though the children were outrageously naughty today, and Costco was beyond heinous, there was this to look at the end of it all.

Nov 10: Church each Sunday resets me in such a meaningful way. I say sorry, I dust off my mistakes and start again.

Nov 11: My very own vets — my two grandfathers (WWII, Navy, Air Force) and my Dad (Vietnam, Navy). Lest we forget.

Nov 12: Cool clean water to drink, and hot showers on demand.

Nov 13: Electricity with all its wonders and gifts.

Nov 14: Safe births for each of my children and amazing care during/after my two miscarriages.

Nov 15: You. Community is a gift, online and offline. Special gratitude to those who lifted my family this weekend as we juggled my neck injury and meetings all over the place.

Nov 16: Medicine. I hurt my neck over a week ago and it’s getting worse. The pain is at times unbearable but the right meds have helped me manage my responsibilities.

Beloved in rare moment of leisureNov 17: Beloved. I know I listed him earlier in the month but if you could see how he’s supported me this past week despite his own massive deadlines and projects…He is so tired, works so hard and all I can do is give thanks.

Nov 18: Music! Singing, humming, annoying children and Beloved with bursts of Kaskade/Avicii and then sudden shifts to MoTab or Mozart ALL at FULL VOLUME.

Nov 19: Errands or a quick treat with just one of my kids. Precious solo time. We need more of it.

Nov 20: Gathering in a room full of incredibly talented people and just absorbing the energy and intellect all around me.

Nov 21: Being able to turn my neck with out wanting to cry for the first time in 10 days.

Nov 22: Laptop, mobile phone and portable WiFi. Technology is wonderful!

Nov 23: Warm coat and gloves on a bitterly cold day. And hot chocolate with whipped cream. Sometimes it’s the little things.

30 Days of GratitudeNov 24: My kids faces lined up at the bottom of my bed this morning after not seeing them since Thursday.

Nov 25: Being a global girl. I’ve lived in 5 countries and 10 cities, traveled all over the world and learned we all love, hurt, rejoice and laugh in pretty much the same ways.

Nov 26: America. This country has been very, very good to me. I love our rich conglomeration of heritages, freedoms of religion and expression that are held so dear. Whilst there are many things I worry about, ultimately “this land is your land, this land is my land…this land was made for you and me.”

Nov 27: Australia. As I get older, I miss it more and give thanks for the values of work hard, play hard and don’t take yourself too seriously that it gave me. Aussie Aussie Aussie!

Nov 28: Friends. Friends from primary school, high school, University; friends from all the places I’ve lived, all the jobs I’ve had, special projects I’ve worked on, all the churches I’ve worshipped; friends from my digital life who’ve proved just as true; friends who have become family (who know who you are). And it all boils down to the gift of human connection for which I am deeply, deeply grateful.

PavlovaNov 29: An abundance of healthy food choices and occasional indulgences, but mostly the people who are around the table when I break bread.

Nov 30: A grateful heart. The process of reflecting on my blessings has been powerful. I have always believed the key to a rich life is to be thankful. I haven’t always practiced it. But focusing on the gifts in my life has proven to be a magical experience.

With love, and of course, gratitude,

Chrysula Signature

 

 

 

 

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

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Faith, Mercy and Letting Go

by Chrysula on October 14, 2013 in asking,listening,mothering

Last night in a special church meeting, I received a pink balloon (not a typical church experience!), along with my 400 fellow congregates. It represented two things. The first was to honor the memory of Emilie Parker, who lost her life almost a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The second purpose was an invitation to mentally insert into the balloon something or someone we haven’t forgiven. And then to release the balloon into the gorgeous fall evening, letting go of our issue as the balloon rose to the heavens.

Balloons

We heard throughout the evening from various speakers, sharing personal stories of faith and trial. Each was exquisite in the telling, inspiring in the examples offered. My dear friend Lizzy Jensen shared how her hospital room, where she spent eight weeks being monitored for a high risk pregnancy, became a holy place as she drew closer to God. My friend Amie Anger outlined a crisis of faith and an answer no one expected. Julia Laughlin talked about not allowing our perceptions of feeling ‘atypical’ (don’t we all feel this at some point?) to stop us from drawing closer to God and claiming that divine opportunity. Colin Stauffer invited us to access the gift of mercy for ourselves and apply it to others. David Checketts, the leader of my church in this region, talked about the accidental death of his brother thirty years before, and a lifetime of healing from that loss.

And Emilie Parker’s parents, Robbie and Alissa, in powerful and raw ways shared learning from their journey since the wrenching loss of their daughter. I cannot imagine grieving on the national stage. I cannot comprehend becoming well known for such a reason and yet, they have accepted the mantle of this responsibility. In the process, they are each finding their voices to help others.

As I pondered the gorgeous night, and thought about what should go ‘inside’ my balloon, their examples, and those of the other instructors from the evening, dear friends and strangers alike, were anchored deep in my heart. How could I hold on to my ‘stuff’? After meeting Malala Yousafzai recently and being deeply moved by her capacity for forgiveness towards the Talib who shot her, I asked myself, what can I possibly have eating away at my heart that justifies holding on to it?

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

Excerpt from Hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Last night I realized I don’t need to experience great tragedy (though perhaps it will come) to let go of my anger and the things holding me back. But the power of these collective examples, and the fact that they are willing to be teachers, whilst they themselves are still students, sets a tone and an example I can aspire to as I look to the greatest teacher of all, my God.

I lead an extraordinarily blessed life. But since I was a little girl, I have struggled with anger. I thought my battles with this issue had long since dissipated in my twenties, but in my mid thirties, I had children. And no one warned me about how old habits come flooding back when you haven’t slept through the night in an eon and there are these small people who you love so desperately you can’t breathe, and at the same time drive you so. in. sane.

Last night, as I looked up to the inky clouds backlit by the moon, I said a prayer for Emilie and her precious family. And sent my fiery temper floating gently to the sky. I am leaving this burden at the feet of the only One who can really help me conquer it. At last.

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Chrysula

 

 

 

 

This is the first time I have openly written about my faith on my blog but as it is integral to my identity, I hope you will find some connection with this element of who I am. I am a mother, a communicator, an agitator, and I’m a Mormon.

Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

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Last August, during standard “back-to-school” photos, one mom (a dear friend of mine) in a split second decision, asked her kids to make a sad face for a fun photo. The pic was snapped by her husband in one take. She slapped it up on her Facebook page and thought nothing of it.  A bit of a laugh, that’s all.

Back to school

Well, a friend shared it on Facebook (not me!). And then another and another. Soon it was posted on Reddit and 1.5 million hits later, Good Afternoon America picked it up as well as BuzzFeed, Babycenter and various regional news websites. What was fascinating was how the Internet (surprise!), polarized heatedly around my friend’s mothering. Detractors ranged from assaults on her appearance to teachers bemoaning parents who view school as free baby-sitting to other mothers ripping her parenting skills apart in great detail. Yet for each detractor, hundreds of commenters came in to defend her and challenged critics to lighten up. Every time she was tempted to dive in and comment, others took care of the over-zealous and the hateful.

Several months later, I am sitting in her kitchen and we’re laughing about it all. She’s about the funniest woman I know with clever wit and amazing outlook on life. And when her (perfectly delightful, well-adjusted and deeply supported) kids got out of school a few weeks ago, they got their own revenge. So lighten up Internets!

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Photos used with permission of the subjects!

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5 Reasons I Love My Husband, Even in the Moments When I Forget

It is a truth universally acknowledged* that marriage isn’t easy. I’ve never met a perfect person, and therefore I’ve never encountered a perfect union (neither human nor country). I could storm and rage and tell stories and give you a litany of imperfections in my own marriage. Beloved and I, we’re flawed and human. We […]

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How Protest Songs Have Moved Us to Agitate for Change in the World

The world of film and music has always been a part of the fabric of social change. It has the power to move us, challenge us and change us. In the 1960s and 1970s, a South African man, Steve Biko, was a vocal advocate of non-violent protest as a means to ending racial division in […]

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Work Life Balance is the Biggest Social Challenge for Western Societies

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard spoke at a gathering in New York a couple of weeks ago at the Australian Consulate. He was Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister, from 1996 to 2007, and represented the Australian Liberal Party. Before my conservative friends stop reading, in a “the world is upside down moment,” the […]

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Please Bless All the People

Every night since Sandy Hook, my 6 year old son has uttered essentially the same prayer. “Please bless all the people and all the earth that no bad things will happen and that everyone will be OK.” Clearly this last week (and many of the weeks prior) this prayer has not felt answered. He doesn’t know […]

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