Did you win, Grandma??

Sometimes all it takes is the faith of two little boys.

Sometimes all it takes is the faith of two little boys.

After Short Track (speed skating) training on Saturday afternoons I generally stop by to visit little Emma, our now month-old granddaughter. Her four-year-old twin brothers are still young enough to be impressed by my skating outfit, especially my club jacket. When we talk about my skating, their question is always: “Did you win, Grandma?”

Last Saturday I tossed their comment into the locker room conversation. “You definitely win in your age category!” laughed one of the older skaters. “You always win in the Grandma category!” said another. Angelika, our trainer, said: “You win against yourself.” At the time I thought the comments were nice ways of glossing over the fact that I am generally one of the slowest in our club. It’s true I am the oldest woman by quite a stretch (we have a couple guys over 50 that have been on the team for some years). I am the only Grandma. Considering that I only joined the club one year ago, the comments were all valid. Winning is relative. Christian’s speed and strength easily make him the real winner of our club. Michi is next in speed. His four-year-old son Ben skates with us too. Ruefully he tells us that Ben’s goal to be faster than Christian. A person has to have something to aim towards! I aim to at least stay as fast as Andre, or beat him once in awhile. It’s becoming harder as he trains more intensively. Like Ben though, I need someone faster than myself to spur me on to improvement. Every time I get a little better, I win again, against myself.

On Wednesday I stopped at the twins before training again. “Are you going to win?” They asked me.
“Of course I’ll win!” I told the boys. “I always win in the Grandma category!” They gave me high fives and laughed, proud of their winning grandma.

And you know what? I really did win the race in my group of four! I was so proud, and sure it was the faith of the twins that gave that extra boost. These lessons in winning, and of continually reaching higher, apply to every other aspect of life, by the way…

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Live creatively.

The Merlin falcon soars on the tail of the wind.

The Merlin falcon soars on the tail of the wind.

Its wings spread wide, the Merlin falcon soars easily, rising with the wind – there’s no effort in it from where I stand watching. My own body is so heavy today with a bad cold. I let it go, soar up with the hawk, spread my arms with exhilaration, let the wind carry me. My feathers flash back a glint of light. The wind takes me up, up, above the tallest tree. I let it swoop me over the hills, so crisp today after last night’s storm. My house in the village is just a speck now. Whoosh! And I dive into the valley, over Elisabeth’s backyard pond where the ice has melted and the bright orange of her fish catch my eyes. I don’t eat fish. Swoosh, back up with the current, parallel to the wheat fields still so green although it’s already the second day of February. Wings braced, I set myself gracefully on the crown of the naked Walnut tree beside our house. And go back to work at my desk.

This is an exercise from my “Journalisten Werkstatt” – Kreativität als Lebensprinzip, Creativity as a life principal. Each day find something that amazes or astounds you, fills you with wonder. Each day surprise one person, by doing something a little different, showing yourself from a different side, saying something unexpected. Write it down each day.

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The world is not all lost!!

Vivienne standing in midst of a beautiful corn crop, beginning January, 2016

Vivienne standing in midst of a beautiful corn crop, beginning January, 2016

On a particularly dark day I posted a picture on Facebook, of myself last year in a green sunny Zambia, with the words “I wish I could be down there”. A Zambian friend promptly replied: “You won’t like it here at the moment. We haven’t had rain and crops are dying and the country seems to be falling apart financially. People have no jobs and everything has gone up in price terribly. At least things in your part of the world are stable financially.”

It’s true that almost every time I call someone in Zambia, the news is not good. One friend was very sick for a long time and diagnosed with HIV. She is doing better but struggling with the diagnosis. Several farmer friends told me that the rains are very late and crops are failing or haven’t even germinated end of December – optimal planting time is middle of November. Essential items are becoming ever more expensive, while jobs are being lost. The price of copper, Zambia’s main source of income, has dropped like so many other commodities. Last April my Canadian Dollar brought me 5.6 Kwacha. Today it would bring me 7.9 Kwacha: a US$ would bring 11.24 Kwacha. That means everything imported becomes that much more expensive. People are suffering, just as my friend commented.

So it was especially heartening to get an email from Vivienne with a picture of her amongst her maize crop. The crop is green, as tall as she is, as it should be at this time of year. She says she is expecting a good harvest. I don’t know if she did more things right than others (conservation farming methods in dry years do bring better harvests), or if she had more timely rains. Either way, it gave me hope that all is not lost. (Vivienne is one of the women portrayed in my book: “Laughter in the Shadows”)

A good attitude to have after the WEF too! Among all the doom and gloom that came out of Davos last week, it is good to remember that all is not lost in our world either!

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Many women’s issues are universal!

Loveness, one of the women in my book, has a lot in common with Swiss women!

Loveness, one of the women in my book, has a lot in common with Swiss women!

It’s a small group of women that gathers every week or two in Schleitheim for English Conversation. We’re an interesting lot – a very sprightly elderly Irish woman, the Reformed Church pastor, a well-to-do woman who accompanied her husband on a two year business trip to Africa, another one who lived in England for some time, several who just want to brush up on their conversational English skills and a Swiss-Canadian author (me).

After a reading at the local Swiss library, I was asked to join the women to read and discuss together from my book “Laughter in the Shadows – stories of courage from 11 Zambian women”. To our surprise, we discovered that Swiss women had a lot in common with the Zambian women of my stories. One topic touched on today was that it is common for Zambian men to have a wife and one or two ‘concubines’ at the same time. I mentioned that I know of a couple like that close by. One woman then told of her father, who had a girlfriend when he was older, while married to their mother – they all knew about it and understood him. The pastor told us that the theologian Karl Barth had a mistress living in his household alongside his wife.

Another time we read of the stigma that often accompanies widows in Zambia and how lonely they can be. “Yes, I know all about that,” one woman says, and relates of how friends faded away when she lost her husband. Another nodded her head.
As we read about Loveness who fought against the traditional expectations of her as a wife and woman, we talked of our mothers or ourselves, who stayed home and cared for the children; of the fact that Swiss women didn’t get the right to vote until the 1970s; that even today women still are not always treated equal.
Powerful stories are ones that the reader can relate to and find him/herself in. I hadn’t realized just how universal these stories in my book were. I’ve accomplished my purpose in writing when I hear that the stories are an encouragement to those who read them.

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Hope is a sliver of light

A moment of sunlight over Schleitheim between pelting rains

A moment of sunlight over Schleitheim between pelting rains

That’s all it takes to drive away the power of the dark – a sliver of light on the horizon. I fear this time of year in Switzerland – sometimes days, weeks on end with little sun, lots of fog and now rain. I was in total despair last night, another dark grey day, things going on in my life, the lives of those dear to me, and in the world and all I could see was dark grey.

Another dark grey day of rain today. I cheered myself; we really need the rain to fill the reservoirs. I had work to do, the day was fine. Then the room began to fill with light. Quickly I stepped out on the balcony. The sun was shining somewhere, half the village was flooded with light, the wet roads were silver ribbons, the brass clock on the church steeple blinding. It was wonderful! My soul retanked in that quarter hour and when the rain came pelting back, it was okay.

There’s a ton of issues out there that could make one feel pretty hopeless. What power do any of us have to change anything? That sliver of light drove it home to me – it just takes a little light to make a difference, to make the world a brighter place. I called Irene in Zambia this morning. Things are difficult there, the economy is really struggling with low commodity prices (Zambia’s economy depends on the copper export). Groceries and other daily essentials are getting more expensive, jobs are rare. Irene is the key mentor of a village savings program for sex workers. Despite the poor economy the women are making progress, especially she. She told me what an encouragement I am to them, without my support (more moral support than anything else) they wouldn’t have managed. Truth is, without her they wouldn’t be there. She’s the one who put in all the ground work, who these women trust and keep coming back to. She’s a big sliver of light down there. If I can be a little sliver of light for her – wonderful. Just as Naomie, my Zambian physiotherapist, was a sliver of light to me last night when I felt like giving up – I could hear her voice in my ear: “Even I feel like giving up sometimes. But what’s the use of giving up? There is no use. So I go on.”
It doesn’t take more than a sliver of light sometimes to give this world the hope it needs to keep going.

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Burundi’s farmers cut from all-important agriculture information

Burundi farmers, like these in Zambia, are dependent on timely information to make good farming decisions.

Burundi farmers, like these in Zambia, are dependent on timely information to make good farming decisions.

Think of how you react when your internet connection is down for even half a day. What if it was down for a week, or a month? You depend on it for the information you need to do your job well, the one that provides the bread on the table. Can’t imagine what you would do? Well, that’s the situation facing the Burundi farmers. It’s not the internet though; it’s the radio program they depend on for information about weather, markets, inputs, prices and all that information farmers need to do their job well. Ever since the political crisis in Burundi last April, private radio stations have been shut down, some even burned down. Agriculture journalists had an agreement with private radio to air agriculture information twice a week, information farmers depended on to make important decisions. Ever since April, that information isn’t forthcoming anymore.

Burundi agriculture journalist John de Dieu Ininahazwe writes in a report for the International Federation of Agriculture Journalists that many journalists have fled the country in fear of their lives. He himself was caught doing an agriculture report in July, his notebook and recorder were confiscated. He was interrogated for three hours then let go. He doesn’t know why he was lucky to be freed when others were killed. He writes that farmers are suffering because of lack of knowledge. They have good rains this year, good crops, but don’t know where the markets are. There is written information available, by newspaper, but a good part of the small farmers which make up most of Burundi’s agriculture don’t read. Farm radio is vital to their business.

I get angry when I think of what it took to build up these radio programs; what it came to mean for farmers; how it improved their livelihood. And then it is just killed. The program and the journalists. John de Dieu Ininahazwe says they will keep fighting. Reminds me of words said in Paris after the Terror attacks. People of courage won’t let evil win as long as there is anything they can do about it. My hat off to you, John.

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With a burst of song – come 2016!

Find and hold the wonderful days in your heart! Happy 2016!

Find and hold the wonderful days in your heart! Happy 2016!

I’ve never before heard so many people, at the end of a year, say – Good Riddance 2015! It can only get better. I hear it from my Zambian friends, battling with disease, drought, death and a struggling economy. I hear it from our friends in our Western World, who battle health issues, heartache and joblessness. Definitely the global news was not good in 2015 – war, refugee crisis, terror acts that have made us realize we are more vulnerable than we thought. There are parts of my own 2015 experience that often threatened to darken the whole year.
One large German newspaper, “Die Zeit”, dedicated the global news portion of its last 2015 issue to only good news. A reporter tells of an intimate meeting with a refugee boy that lit up his day. A young couple goes out for supper at the clubhouse where the terror acts of Paris were acted out, to help themselves fight fear. More children are being born again in Europe.
When I forget what good things happened in 2015, I check out my ‘pictures’ folder. Mostly I only take pictures of good times. There are biking trips with my husband through French lavender fields and up the steep hills of the Italian coastline. Pictures of our four-year-old twin grandsons on Granddad’s knee, or playing with Lego on my bed, which is the Tiger cave. I’m the mother Tiger, they are the Daddy and the baby Tiger. We growl and hunt and sleep. Pictures of family times – so many, I am so very fortunate to have wonderful family on both sides.
2016 started dark and damp, with fog swelling around the buildings, threatening to creep into my heart. Good thing there are Christmas tree lights! Last night we took in a New Year’s brassband concert in the beautiful St. Moritz Church in the hills above Hallau. 80 top class musicians played a wide array of tunes, from classic to folk. Some tunes were accompanied by Lisa Stoll, the crowned Swiss alphorn player. It was a phenomenal evening. I am left with the impressions of the last piece – a burst of sound so vibrant, so joyful. What a way to start the year!
And that’s what 2016 will probably be about – there will be dark days, and great bursts of joy. May we take note of the joy, and let it swell in our hearts.

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A mix of sun and cloud…

Will we let the fog take over in 2016? (picture from 2014 when we still had snow...)

Will we let the fog take over in 2016? (picture from 2014 when we still had snow…)

My hands warmed by my morning coffee, I stand on our balcony, this almost last day of the year 2015. Before me the smoke rises from the old houses of Schleitheim, as it has for a thousand years or more. I went out here because it promised to be one of those rare clear mornings, the hidden rays of the sun creating a gold outline over the hills surrounding our village. By the time I made the coffee, put on my fleece jacket and found my shoes, wads of soft grey clouds, like cotton candy were creeping up from hidden valleys, seeping slowly over the hills. The light was still allowed through, the fog silver yet, as it shrouded one hill, one tree after another, a light diffusion first , then fully gone. Fascinating to watch this take over. The village didn’t know anything of its fate yet, the smoke from the old houses still clear, the air crisp; I could see every bulb of the Christmas lights burning across the valley.
It’s cold, I need to go back in, get to work at my desk. I know, when I look back out, the hills will be no more, the village shrouded in grey, the light gone. And I think of all those villages where there is war, where life was normal, the light shone, the children played in the streets, went to school and people walked to the bus stop and went shopping. Not knowing perhaps, of what was creeping towards them, taking the light out of their lives, not just covering, but destroying the trees and the village, and the people living in them.

It’s warm in my house. The sun will come again, today or tomorrow, or the next day. The village and the hills will look the same. For many in our world, that’s not true. This last year saw so many people fleeing their homes, more than ever before. Many of them are coming to our safe worlds. Many of us see them as the fog creeping over our safe villages, taking over our streets and jobs. Definitely our world will change somewhat. Nothing ever stays the same, even in a village as old and traditional as this one. The migrants, whether legal or illegal, are not going to go away. It is up to us, largely, whether we see it as fog or light. Is it fascinating or fearful? Because, as an old saying goes, we create what we fear. So what do we want to create this year? I want to embrace the light along with the fog, and make something beautiful of it, as was the scene before my eyes when the fog was in the background and the light still there.

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“Laughter in the Shadows” – beware of where writing can take you!

I'm signing books after the reading at the Schleitheim Library. picture from Andrea Wanner

I’m signing books after the reading at the Schleitheim Library. picture from Andrea Wanner

When I started writing “Laughter in the Shadows” I didn’t know what could happen when you publish a book. In fact, already while writing and then when seeking publishers and all that that entails, I’ve often said I would never write another book. But if I hadn’t written it, yesterday wouldn’t have happened. And that would have been a shame!

A theologian I know that is quite involved with women’s work, with refugees among other things, took a keen interest in my book and arranged for a reading at our local library. My uncle figured I was being pretty brave, to do a reading in English in a conservative Swiss village. It turned out to be a wonderful evening of sharing together. I was surprised myself who turned up, who reads and understands English around here, especially as most of the people I’d invited who I thought would enjoy the evening, were already booked out.

As a result of that evening I was invited to take part in an English Conversation group that meets regularly to practise their spoken English. We would use a few scenes out of my book as a discussion topic. It wasn’t a big group that met yesterday, but a special one. We were women from various walks of life. I was especially excited to have an Ethiopian woman take part. As we read, she would comment on the similarities or differences of Zambian culture with her own. In the introduction to my book, I say that this is what I wrote the book for – to foster understanding between different cultures. It happens at each reading I do, and here it was happening again, with the added bonus of people of both cultures together. Christine, one of the women in my book, taught us: “Start small; when you can do that well, grow bigger.”

A morning like this gives me the courage to take the next steps to bigger.

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A Can of Corn

A fellow blogger with some deeply thought provoking, disturbing thoughts.

To Breathe is to Write

I saw something on Facebook last night that got me a bit upset. Now, I know Facebook is good for that. Upsetting people. What I saw last night I took a bit personal and I’ll tell you why.

Someone made a Facebook status about shopping at the grocery store and the checkout lady asking if they wanted to donate to the food bank. They joked about it. One of their followers said something along the lines of….’they could donate a can of corn, at least whoever gets it will have their poop decorated for Christmas’.

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Meaning that corn is hard to digest and the poor person who ate the corn will have something decorated for Christmas. I’m sorry, but I found the whole thing in very bad taste in more ways than one. I thought about it most of the night. It was on my mind first thing when I…

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