Thursday, June 20, 2013

Laafi Bala: Koudougou Contemplations and Prayers

I keep seeing M'Po Augustine's feet in my mind. Her bare toes pointing up and thin legs crossed at the ankle, resting next to mine on the ground. This is where we spent ninety percent of our visiting: in the courtyard of her home in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, West Africa, seated on chairs and woven mats close to the paved earth. Brown, barefoot children, intent family gathered all around - with three year old Marguerite Kiemde tucked behind either her father or myself, sheepishly peering out at her newly proclaimed grandmother. "Yaaba." 

I recall the warm touch of my mother-in-law’s hands on mine while she spoke softly to me in More', offering a blessing, or more loudly with new phrases she's asking me to repeat. “Laafi be me;  Laafi bala."How is your health? We are in good health.  

These memories bring me back to my post in her home on the outskirts of Burkina’s third largest city. M'Po's eyes smile and I recognize their joy as that which she passed on to her son. I think to myself, "Who could ever mistake this woman for my husband's birth mom?" Their eyes dance with delight and a simultaneous darkness. As she holds my hands and whispers, I wonder, “How much has she seen in her life?” As one of fifteen of Regma’s wives; a bearer of 8 children; mother and grandmother to countless babes; mourner of two deceased sons. My imagination races with what her eyes, heart, mind have taken in and known.

We sat daily in shaded spaces - under mango trees, under tin canopies, under thatched roofs, under the roofs of cars -- to protect ourselves from the intensity of the sun's rays. 110 degrees fahrenheidt is something to endure...Our consumption of liquids was seemingly never-ending to replenish all that was perspired through our pores. Bottled water. Brakina Beer. Milk. Water. Orange Fanta. Sugared Nescafe. Tea. Brakina beer. 

Our first Sunday in my husband's homeland included mass at the Ouagadougou Cathedral, followed by a meal in the shade of pink flowering trees and a thatched covered dining area. French fries, fish, rice and spicy soup served up next to a swimming pool – and then a trip to visit Armelle, Francois' niece, in the hospital. It was an especially poignant trip for me, as Armelle was the first one to really "introduce" me to my husband's home through a series of photographs she'd taken and sent back with Francois on a previous visit. Armelle with the broad cheeks and smile. Armelle with the curly hair. Armelle with the bold request and vision for her own hair salon. Armelle, the middle child in an orphaned sibling set. 

As we approached the mental health facility in our car where Armelle was being treated, a young man emerged from the crowd outside our vehicle. Was he en route home? Was he looking for us? Where was he going? How did we see one another?

Suddenly, More and French words were being exchanged enthusiastically; the car door opened to invite in this child, and I realized that Francois was greeting someone special.

 It was outside the gates of his sister's hospital room, that I met Cedric Kiemde for the first time. This 14 –year-old-looking 17-and-a- half-year-old son of Francois' deceased brother Raphael. And something shifted inside my heart. Cedric was the very first official Kiemde child I met in the daylight, and my heart felt like it might burst inside my chest. Big eyes, dark skin, broad smile. Sweetness incarnate.

"Enchante'" I repeated, squeezing his hand, when we got out of the car. "Enchante."
 "No, that's too formal," my husband chided. But I didn't care. I was beyond delighted to make his acquaintance. Enchante. Enchanted I was, and still am. 

Georgette, Zio, Victor, Roger, Wally, Lucy, Mark, Pauline, Delphine, Kaillou, are all central figures from Francois' large and extended family and network of friends that I can still name, beyond Yaaba, Cedric and Armelle. At every corner would appear someone else my husband would claim as a brother or sister, a friend or elder who had known him his whole life. At the pharmacy counter. In the lobby of our hotel. Stopping to retrace the boundaries of his childhood home. Visiting his father’s gravesite. Kiemdes everywhere. And conversations ensued. Words of joy, passion, sorrow, humor uttered almost ceaselessly in French and More'. While my mind never processed literally what was being said, I know on the deepest levels of my spirit and psyche that this visit and the stories are stored in my being. Pain. Poverty. Blessings. Need. Hope.

Can you pay this electric bill?
You have a beautiful family!
Your brother has a new job.
Would you make me a loan for my peanut and t-shirt cart?
Here now it rains!
She will recover!
It makes me so happy to see you.

I wept when I met Georgette and Roger. These two siblings of Francois' in particular who have held my prayers and attention. I keep them close still as I write. Older sister responsible for sending Francois to the States. Younger brother who my husband helped get grounded in work. 

We birthed and buried our own son Xavi last September. And that experience gave way on many levels for this trek to my husband's homeland. With our child’s brief life and the ache present in our home as we grieve him, there is this amazing open space in our hearts that begs God for direction in receiving anew. Our time in Koudougou provided us with real glimpses of God's goodness, and possible ways that our family may expand in welcoming a new member. 

The invitation to reframe Xavi’s life and death is constant. We didn’t just lose a son, we broke open a way to grieve our family’s deepest sorrows, and make way for new life.  With our hollowing out, has come a greater capacity to receive and claim.

A child. Our marriage. Our family. Our callings.

On a very practical level then, Francois and I have been prayerfully discerning our next steps. In the quiet of each of our hearts, and in our spoken prayers and reflections, we both know we would like Cedric to come and live with us. We have investigated adoption, as a permanent response to this calling to receive him, but have learned that that window is closed, given his age. So: we are simply inviting Cedric to come and visit. We hope this might happen as quickly as August. We shall see.

The Visitation Sisters have a prayer that they say with most everyone who knocks on their door in need or want of something. As I recognize my own incredible need and want at this juncture, I request your prayers. I invite you to join me and Francois as we contemplate these words by St. Francis de Sales:

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

May we be at peace. May we know God’s embrace. May we take our next best steps.


To see pictures from our journey: Africa Photos Online


Rachel from The Weakest Reed said...

I am excited for you! Praying on your behalf to a God who makes a way when none seems apparent.

Queen Mab said...

Thank you Rachel! I'm so curious how you came to this post?
Peace, blessings,