Wednesday, December 31, 2008

40th Birthday Tribute (Pre-Africa Departure)

The following birthday song was written and performed by David Mann, and recorded and posted to You Tube by my dear friend Brian Mogren on the occasion of my 40th Birthday. I share as a glorious way to close out my 2008, and say, "Thank you" to all of you. LOVE! -Melissa

David Mann and friends celebrate Melissa Borgmann on the occasion of her 40th birthday and departure for six weeks of travel through Africa.

"North of Uganda and God" - Compassionate Inquiry as Response

The following arrived in my inbox as a response to Monday's blog post about the recent massacre in the Congo. I found it particularly powerful in the complex and compassionate questions that my friend is posing. He writes from his perspective as a Ugandan residing in Minnesota. I share anonymously with his permission, and with much gratitude for such correspondence. You will see my response below.

Melissa, is this why some people choose to stay within their areas of comfort, environments they understand, situations they can interpret? Sometimes our quest to expand our horizons can be a nightmare in itself! Sometimes its better to stay within the confines that make sense. I have reached a point in my life where I do not fault those who are not traveled (not even beyond their state of origin). Sometimes one is better off knowing so little but, at the minimum, in position to make sense of the little. More knowledge, of and about our world can be overwhelming. It can be confusing. It can be hard to reconcile human nature and humanity.

Obviously, as you state in your writing, you are conflicted by what you read and what you experienced in your travels. How do you reconcile that? The terrible truth is that you reconcile by digging deeper into the details, into the history, into the propaganda and guess what....... sounds like even more confusion as you uncover the background noise.

For example, the bitter truth about the LRA atrocities over the last 16 years is that more than half have been committed by the Ugandan army. Remember all this has happened in the North of Uganda and God..... does the government have such spicy hatred for the people of the North........ Wanna know why?..... read some more*...... Its terrible........!! Those people have suffered at the hands of our government!

In Uganda not many people would pay attention to a 'Church Burning' story by the LRA. Suprise!!! ....... Well yeah.. Because no one believes that it either happened or it was at the hands of the LRA.

Enough for now..... Its a terrible world.

Its a beautiful day out here, in MN...., in the US of A.

Too bad for the Iraqis or Palestinians who can't say the same......

Well, if you have a headache blame it on the winter!


*For more information on the Lord's Resistance Army, here's a link to the International Criminal Courts Investigations. This is provided by the Global Policy Forum, which monitors Policy -Making at the United Nations.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Questions on the Congo, LRA, Uganda - from Omaha, Nebraska

What is the Lord's Resistance Army?
How much do I want to really want to know about warring factions in Africa?
What is the relationship between colonization in the Congo (and Uganda and the Sudan and....) and anyone called "Lord"?
Who is Joseph Kony and what might my Congolese priest, Fr. Jules, have to say about him? How am I connected to any of these details about a place so far away, when I'm so happily present with family in Omaha, Nebraska?
Why ask questions?

These are some of my queries this Monday afternoon, in no particular order, as I peruse today's headlines and wonder aloud about this recent atrocity in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What is going on?

I arrived home a week ago today from my six week sojourn through six countries in Africa, and still my mind and heart and spirit persist in staying connected to this other continent.

I am in Omaha. It's after Christmas. I'm visiting family. I am tending to my nearly three year old niece Izzy today, and taking in this news from the BBC that sort of staggers me.
"Women and children cut in pieces,
45 civilians in a Catholic church hacked to death
Uganda's army has accused the Lord's Resistance Army
LRA leader Joseph Kony again refused to sign a peace deal.
He lives in a jungle hide out in the DR Congo.
The South Sudanese government hosts peace negotiations."

And I wonder. I sit in Omaha, and marvel at it all: What I don't know. What I do. What I have experienced, what I am currently experiencing.

Seventeen days ago I sat in the Kampala Club across from Ishaka Mawanda, who slipped me a note saying that the second in command of the Ugandan Army was seated two feet to my right. Now I'm reading about members of this General's military operation who are working to restore some kind of peace and order to a place where children are being killed, and it gives me pause. I tend to a child, who is breath-taking, beautiful in her innocence, and I believe she cannot be much different from the babies who are caught in the middle of this mayhem in Central and Eastern Africa.

What is going on?

Izzy is coloring. Her father is in the next room with a small team of contractors, working to remodel the living and dining area of their humble Omaha abode, and I'm in awe at the juxtaposition of war of development, family and faith, questions, curiosity, seeming contentment.

What is going on?

What do any of us really know about what goes on in the world? What makes us care?

I sit, wonder, and something in me is deeply stirred. I am not angry, but am moved toward a kind of outrage at what I know of the beauty of Africa, and what gets reported. I am moved toward a kind of outrage over the complexity that exists in trying to hold circumstances outside me with the immediacy of what my heart knows in loving family here, and a larger family abroad. I am not biologically related to anyone in Africa, but my body, heart, spirit knows a connectedness that transcends blood. And it all begs attention and inspires questions.

What is going on?

In peace, discomfort, contemplation,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Amminadab and Nahshon: Christmas Eve Contemplations

Today is Christmas Eve. Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in this guy's miracle conception or not, His presence as a good, good man is pretty easy to acknowledge. Whether you hold that He was a literal Son of God, it's hard to doubt His power as a revolutionary fellow who sought to bring light and love and justice to the world, right? The guy worked really hard to challenge people in power and transform the way we conceive of glory, goodness, success, wealth. He met people in their poverty, in their brokenness, in spaces where they felt most crippled and unworthy to be, and He loved them. In doing so, He allowed the most horrible, wretched, weak among us, to know love -- to feel worthy, in a space of seeming unworthiness. He invited us all to consider our own broken and simultaneous beloved nature. Who wants to argue or disagree with this? Don't we all want to be loved at some point in time? Don't we all want to be accepted as the crazy, mixed-up, beautiful lot that we are? I will speak for myself -- I do!

But I don't know. I just think the guy has a good story and I'm a sucker for a miracle any day of the week, especially ones where angels and lovers come together. Jesus, Mary, Joseph: they rock in my book. The Angel Gabriel - he rocks. Elizabeth and Zachariah, their baby, John: all rock. Each of their stories is layered with these amazing elements that challenge all notions of reason, and invite us into mystery. A barren woman conceives. A virgin lady finds herself with child. Baffled men have dreams that change the course of their lives. (Joseph didn't have to stay with Mary, right? Zachariah didn't have to speak John's name and support this cousin-to-Christ coming, did he?) I love these stories, people!

What I'm meditating on today, though, aren't these familiar figures central to the Christmas story. What I'm holding this morning in my prayer and contemplation, are a couple folks I've never spent any time on: Amminadab and Nahshon.*

Now who knows Amminadab and Nahshon? Seriously! Who has ever heard of these people? I'm waking to read my scripture for the day, and I'm pouring over the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel, and I come across this litany of names, that details the genealogy of Jesus, and I'm struck by "Amminadab" and "Nahshon." I mean, there's a whole host of names I barely recognize, but these two stand out to me.

"Meet my great uncle 'Amminadab.'" Or "Mom and dad, I'd like you to meet my boyfriend, Nahshon." These are the sentences that come into my imagination and make me giggle. Who has a great uncle Amminadab? Who has ever dated a Nahshon?! Maybe it's because I just spent the past week in Ghana with a gorgeous fellow named "Saddam" who turned out to love Jesus and woke me up each morning with cheesy contemporary Christian tunes. Maybe these names attach themselves somehow to this recent perplexing or surprising experience of love, and it just makes me happy. Or, maybe it's because I just like the notion of Jesus descending from some regular blokes with names that make me laugh. Or perhaps it's that I often wonder what my greater purpose is on this planet, and maybe just maybe, I could be Amminadab -- or in fact, might marry Nahshon, and give birth to a really amazing baby that goes on to inspire people for centuries....

Who knows?!

I just go this direction in my musings this Christmas Eve morning, and it makes me happy.

Who are you in this Christmas story? Who are these figures in your imagination? What names strike you? What does any of this old and familiar, or new and funny narrative inspire in your heart and mind?

Happy Contemplating! Merry Christmas! Blessed Hannukkah! Big Love this Season to All -- no matter what you believe!

Mt 1:1-25

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,

Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile,
fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
"Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A "Welcome Home from Africa" - Rising Poem....

"There is no disorientation quite like sleep depravataion combined with the jet lag." -Colette DeHarpporte

I am home from Africa, having arrived yesterday around noon, from the glorious Accra, Ghana. My heart does a funny leap writing this line, now at 3:47am in my St. Paul, Minnesota apartment, where a Winter draft greets my still-in-Africa-skin, and my body struggles to re-acclimate to the cold, this time zone. Yes.

Today's Writer's Almanac Poem*, by Robert Bly, arrives in my in box, next to my friend Colette's email, like sweet, warm, sort of "Welcome home!" words.

Disoriented, rising at this hour of dark, when my head expects light, I recognize Bly's words alive and at work inside my being: "Navies are setting forth in my veins." Yes. Little ships are moving, porting packages from my heart toward other destinations in the body. African gifts of story, memory, warmth, are being toted through my blood stream as I wake and wonder where I am, and what this air is that moves from outside, through the cracks in my windows, over my exposed South-African-Zanzibarian-Kenyan-Ugandan-Ghanaian-sun-tanned limbs....
I am happy thinking of the Indian Ocean. I am ecstatic seeing Saddam Dzikunun-Bansah's face in my mind's eye, or hearing Dumisani Ntombelas's voice the other side of a line, sending me off with South African parting words. I giggle thinking of Nomi Nkomo's sweet, silly text messages standing in line at customs. I marvel at the Dorothy Amenuke-Art-house-Arthaus dreams still alive and being constructed in real life time in Kumasi -- as well as in my own imagination. I wonder about Ishaka Mawanda and Emily Morris and if they are carrying Africa with them in their now on-safari-in-Minnesota-blood streams...? (Surely, they must understand this poem and the way waking so early in the cold affects the heart, mind, spirit.) I hold the questions of Patrick Kilonzo and Kenyan-Paper-making-collaborations in my rising body -- along with a happy desire to return to the Eastern Cape and squeeze a beloved Auntie Mo Dabula by her 70th birthday....

I read "Welcome Home" emails from State Side family and friends with requests for my American address and imagine the Holiday greeting cards that will arrive at 2338 Marshall Avenue in St. Paul. (Where will these cards arrive next year, or years to come? What is my address? Where do I live?) Hmmmmm......Where does any of us really reside?

A woman named Nozi, who is not my South African Community Development friend from Nquthu, drops me a line wondering how she got onto my Africa-emails-list-serve. I wonder this, too. My head filled with poems and dizzy dawn dreams and so much desire to locate my body in a proper time, place, aligning all of me with what my heart knows. Where does Ms. Motloung live? What is her email address? Where am I? Where are you?

Happy Morning. Happy Rising and Return Journeys to all who read this.


*Waking from Sleep

by Robert Bly

Inside the veins there are navies setting forth,
Tiny explosions at the waterlines,
And seagulls weaving in the wind of the salty blood.

It is the morning. The country has slept the whole winter.
Window seats were covered with fur skins, the yard was full
Of stiff dogs, and hands that clumsily held heavy books.

Now we wake, and rise from bed, and eat breakfast!
Shouts rise from the harbor of the blood,
Mist, and masts rising, the knock of wooden tackle in the sunlight.

Now we sing, and do tiny dances on the kitchen floor.
Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn;
We know that our master has left us for the day.

"Waking from Sleep" by Robert Bly, from Silence in the Snowy Fields. © Wesleyan University Press, 1962. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"What Do You Love Most in the World?" A Question from Kajire Village, Kenya

"What do you love the most in the world?"

Kizaka Mwacharo whispers this question to me as we sit in a lantern lit room in the village of Kajire, Kenya. He is 19. His eyes are wide. He does not smile, but poses the question with what seems all the courage and hope and desire and curiosity that a young man can muster. It's almost like I can taste these things in the oxygen he's exhaled speaking the words.

"What do you love most in the world?"

We are five in the room. Kizaka, his 20 and 19 year old cousins Nathanial and Paul, his 17 year old brother Lucas. We are gathered in this living area of their sister Ruth's home, awaiting a meal she prepares in a separate cooking space. The room is simple. A concrete/ stucco structure with wood beam rafters and a sheet of corrugated tin for the roof. Something like barbed tumble weeds line the open spaces between the walls and rough stick rafters and the roof -- "to keep the bats out." From the ceiling, hang strips of colored fabrics, muslins, cottons, like the remnants from a quilting party, I think. A confetti of cloth that makes me think this room is always ready for a celebration of sorts. Also dangling from these beams are sporadic items of American and Kenyan culture: A plastic Coke bottle, Vanilla Wafer boxes, a local empty juice can. Together, these items remind me of Mardi Gras, and make me smile whenever I look up.

The walls of this room are covered in original drawings and writing. Psalms from the Bible are written in English and Kiswahili and hung opposite colorings of local flora and fauna. It is to me, a holy, holy place. A sanctuary in this 10 x 10 foot room.

"What do you love most in the world?"

My chest squeezes hearing the question repeated. Kizaka breathes in deeply and these four young men, Kenyan boys that I am holding space with, await my answer.

I think, "God." Yes. "I love God the most in the world." Saying such a thing doesn't seem so silly when you are almost in a pitch black room, lit only by a kerosene lamp. I have been hanging out with Paul, the eldest cousin, back from college in Mombasa, for the better part of my arrival three hours ago. (Sitting under a tree raining yellow flowers), we covered Obama, the Kenyan elections and political difficulties of this past year, and my work in the states as a teacher and person desiring change. I know of his trek to college, as one of 3 males that left the village to pursue a higher education. I trust and feel trusted here. My heart is open. I don't feel silly speaking of such intimate things.

"What do you love most in the world?"

"Yes, I think I love God the most, and then the ideas of peace, justice, love, building relationships across race, class, borders, lines....I love good stories, too." They smile. We wait. I wonder. I ask, "And you all, what do you love most in the world?"

I am back in my classroom. I am at North High. I am with the spoken word poets from "Teens Rock the Mic"; I am in the midst of my Writing as Performance class in North Minneapolis; I am hanging out with the Teen Group at the Church of St. Philip's. Rodney Dixon, Jamie Wynne, Tish Jones and Shaina Wilburn, Denez Smith, Jasmine McConnell and Ms. Omorogbe; Joy Chaney, Sharifa Charles and Berato Wilson are all here. Chestine Hutchinson, Gawalo Kpissay and Aaronthomas Green are here. I may be in Kajire, Kenya, physically-- but the spirits of my students from the United States are present and pouring forth in the palpable energy that is this room of Taita brothers and cousins.

"What do you love most in the world?"

One by one, then, each boy answers. "God," "Football," "Girls," "Love." " Peace." These are prevailing answers. Each posed with such earnest, such sincerity, my heart would like to break. It has broken wide open.

How can a person ever go back to being the same again, after such moments of connecting, of questions, of exposure, of cracked-open-honesty and intrigue?

"What do you love most in the world?"

I want to say, "You."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Road to Voi

Development is a rocky, rocky road.

After my initial introduction to Kenya, via the warmth of faces and the service providers at the Airport, Taxi, and Hotel, my next impression of this country has been formed by the road to Voi, Kenya.

Weathering the exhaustion of "going, going, going" is one thing, as so much joy accompanies the movement. Weathering the affects of navigating rough roads, is another kind of learning curve my body and spirit are registering, for sure. And this road to Voi, Kenya, where I am volunteering this week, is a powerful teacher.

I sit in the bus, three seats from the back end, next to the window, accompanied by my host, Patrick Kilonzo. And I try to relax. I close my eyes. I shut out the dust pouring in and sunshine beating down, and just feel my way over this landscape. The road from Nairobi to Voi is under construction. Three hours of this six-hour trek will be over the rocky, pot-holed marked surface that is the under-construction path. Our bus rocks back and forth, bounces up and down, and my body shifts with each and every jolt - in and out of forward motion. The red earth pours in the through the open windows and my linen pants and white shirt are marked by this dusty air. And I know: I will keep my eyes closed. I will simply register what development FEELS like.

I think to myself, "This road will be lovely, smooth when done, but for now, it's difficult terrain to cover."

How is this like any of our paths to some destination? I am reluctant to call this road, "the road to development." In my mind, this phrase feels somehow diminishing of what exists perfectly at this moment in time: this path. It is the earth. This is landscape as God made it. (Referring to it simply as "the road to development" reduces it in a way -- as if what it is, is somehow "not enough" and must be improved upon, developed, made more.

This road to Voi is like any of our journeys, homes, hearts, careers, relationships, dreams, I think. We are working to step forward. We are working to be in smoother, easier spaces. We are wanting to not perhaps bounce, be jarred, or get dirty and sweaty and hot. But this is all necessary on the trek toward anything.

So, the question, in my body, mind, spirit, becomes, "How do I enjoy this, how do I celebrate each jolt, each moment, in the meantime? How do I smile and lean into the sun, and embrace the gift of now?"

Happy Roads and Paths wherever you are! We are all exactly where we are supposed to be, and this is never fixed in time. We are all in motion....Do you believe this?

Happy Contemplating!

Peace, Love,