Sunday, April 6, 2014

Memoir Update and a Reflection From the Congo: Part 1

Greetings friends!

Spring is upon us, and I am happy to say that we are progressing well with the memoir project. This past winter has held many changes for me including a new job position. In my new role, I am serving as Director of Development for an amazing organization called Digital Divide Data. I will share more about this opportunity in the future.

Although I am still very much involved with First Step Initiative as the organization’s founder, this past year we instigated a new grant-based model, which means more of the donations will go directly to women in the Congo, and additionally, I am no longer serving as Executive Director.

As part of the shift with First Step Initiative, I made a trip to the Congo last September. It has taken me until now to fully process my thoughts, but now as we near completion of the memoir, I wanted to share with you my experience visiting my family. My reflection is lengthy, so I will share it with you in two parts. Here is the first part of my story.

After the long journey from Minnesota, I had finally landed Lubumbashi. Disembarking from the small South African Airways commuter plane, I walked down a concrete path toward the arrival center. I was filled with anticipation and excitement at the thought of seeing my family again, especially my mom and dad. At the time, my dad had been ill while my mom's health remained the same.

Two years earlier, Mom had had a stroke. Although she miraculously recovered, gaining back the majority of her faculties and functions, she has never again been the same woman she once was. Mom’s stroke turned my world upside down; for the first time our roles were reserved. My siblings and I quickly discovered what it meant to become caregivers for our parents—trying to find that delicate balance between honoring their independence and making hard decisions on their behalf.

It was during this time that I started writing what has now become the memoir. Initially, I saw my writing as an escape from the pain and loneliness of losing a part of Mom, but I see now that it was more so a search—a search in which I was trying to find my mother again, the strong and independent woman who filled my earliest memories of childhood, a friend in whom my siblings and I had confided our dreams and hope, and a grandmother whom my nieces and nephews knew simply as "Mom." It was this woman I was searching for as I spent hours revisiting my childhood in the Congo. I could no longer quite find Mom in this world, but I could still find her in my memories as I remembered our lives together.

As I made my way with the other passengers toward the arrival center on that hot, sunny day last September, one hand clutching the luggage handle, the other shading my eyes from the blazing African sun, I searched intently for my mother’s familiar face in a sea of those waiting to greet their loved ones.

As my eyes scanned the crowd, I caught sight of my younger sister Chikombu, carrying her six-month-old daughter, Aminata Kamun, named after my mother. Next to Chikombu, stood Mom. Leaning against my little sister, as if to prop herself up, her frame was small and frail. I looked at Mom, clapping her hands, tears of joy on her sunken cheeks, and I saw for the first time how fragile she had become. In an instant, I was hit with an overwhelming awareness of the fragility of life. And in that moment, as joy and longing and despair bled into one another, I felt a deep desire to cherish every moment I had with my parents.

As my mother reached out to me and held my hands, I leaned in close to hear her soft voice whisper, here you are my daughter, here you are.

To which I responded, I am here Mom, I am here.

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