Monthly Archives: April 2011

The courage of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

My aunt came over to our house one day to teach me to sew.  We picked out a pattern for a simple jumper and a beautiful dark green corduroy fabric.  She insisted that we should make a prototype out of cheap muslin for practice.  I think this was to save the more expensive corduroy from being destroyed.  We cut, measured, pinned and sewed to finally have a jumper that was passable as a piece of clothing.  She handed me the pattern, corduroy and told me to give it a try.  And with that she went home.  All week I tried, cried, yelled, threw the fabric, threaded and rethreaded the machine.  On the weekend my aunt came back and I tried on the severely misshapen corduroy jumper.  She pointed out a few things that might have gone wrong, armhole facings to name one big snafu, and declared the best way to learn was to keep sewing. And with that my sewing lessons were complete.  Not a method I would recommend.  However my aunt did give me enough knowledge to create an appetite for making many of my own clothes through junior high and high school.  I made more than I wore, and if you have ever attempted to sew you know exactly what I mean by that, and can truly appreciate those who are skilled dressmakers.  A skill and title I do not even come close to.

The book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is set in Afghanistan during the past 15 years surrounding the rise of the Taliban rule.  It gives a glimpse into the lives of the women who lived during the oppression of this era.  The young women in the Sidiqi family are living lives with school, career and choices in front of them.  In just a few short days in 1996 they are sequestered to their homes, banned from school, work, and restricted to public appearances only when accompanied by a male family member.  The burqa, the head to toe fabric covering, was required for any travel outside the home.  These young women were industrious, creative and immensely courageous.  They learn to sew and develop a thriving dressmaker business and sewing school in spite of great personal danger.

As I recalled my experience with sewing and then contrasted it with theirs I developed great respect for these women. They have persevered under stress, oppression and danger.  Their resourcefulness was not just self-serving but for the community as well.  They looked beyond their own needs to give opportunities and hope for other women as well.  My sewing never had a purpose greater than to increase my wardrobe.  Kamila Jan and her sisters were thrown into difficult circumstances and found strength not only to survive but to look beyond themselves.  They brought hope and courage to everyone around them.  Including those who read their story.  It is a story well worth reading for yourself.


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The Complexities of Forgiveness

Stacey was a high school girl with a traumatic past when I met her.  She had been abused by a family member repeatedly when she was younger.    Then early in her high school years while walking home from a football game she had been hit by a car driven by a classmate at her school.  Stacey suffered multiple injuries that had long-term impacts on her physical appearance and abilities.  She had deep scars inflicted by others both physically and emotionally.  But the heaviest burden she carried each day was the hate, resentment and unforgiveness in her heart.  It was tangible, uncontrollable and repelled anyone around her.  It was difficult to spend time with her.  As I got to know Stacey and she unfolded the tragedy in her life I was overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy.  I could not relate in any way to the depth of pain she had experienced.  Anything I had to offer seemed far too little.   And many times I found myself avoiding her.

One night as I gave her a ride home and our conversation turned once again to her continued resentment, hatred, bitterness towards not only those who had hurt her but anyone that might associate with them I shared what I had always heard and knew to be true about forgiveness.  Until you offer forgiveness to those who hurt you, those who have hurt you will continue to do so. Not by their actions but by your own imprisonment to the bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is the only way to begin the healing process.  The way to receive forgiveness yourself.  Those words coming from someone who has never experienced the depth of pain she had experienced were laughable to her and unwelcome. Our words were heated, sharp and brutally honest to one another that night.  I wanted Stacey to let go of the hurt and allow forgiveness to penetrate her soul, but she only wanted to hurt those that had hurt her and in her mind the only way to do that was to remain angry with them.  I moved away not long after that and time and distance eroded any relationship we had.  But I think often of Stacey and that conversation in the car.

I have never faced the depth of pain she experienced at the hands of others.  And many times I felt that my words were empty because of that.  But I do believe that the words I spoke from the scriptures were true and had life of their own to offer her, forgive just as you have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).  Even this one, if you refuse to forgive others, you heavenly father will not forgive you. (Matt. 6:15)   I learned a lot during my friendship with Stacey.  I saw the results of refusing to forgive.  It was painful to watch and ugly to see.  But I also know that forgiveness is hard to offer and not an instant result of saying or hearing the right words.  It seems that there are complexities to forgiveness.  There are numerous books written on the topic, seminars, counseling sessions and sermons given on forgiveness.  And yet all the clarity those resources have to offer fades when someone who has hurt you physically or emotionally asks for forgiveness and you are faced with the emotions raging within and the person standing in front of you.

I hadn’t thought about Stacey in a long time.  But when I hear PBS is airing a two-part series Forgiveness:  A Time to Love and a Time to Hate  April 17 & 24 and read the article about the series I couldn’t help but think about her again and reflect on my own struggles with forgiveness since my encounter with her.  Forgiving a child, a spouse, a friend or a co-worker is difficult.  But what about a nation that has experienced genocide or apartheid, how does forgiveness look in that situation?  Does the depth and magnitude of the pain inflicted and evil endured complicate the question of forgiveness?  It seemed to in Stacey’s case.

More to come no doubt.


Filed under Misc

The story behind the picture

The joy that is depicted in this photo was 4 years in the making.  Maybe that’s why I love this picture, because it tells a story of hope, disappointment, perseverance, pain and ultimately joy.  The purest joy that wells up uncontrollably from deep within us perhaps indicates how hard it was to come by.

Kudzagbakope is a small village sitting on a long dusty dirt road in rural Ghana.  It was on the list of 5 villages in 2007 to receive a borehole, as wells are called in Ghana, that would provide clean water through a partnership with Rotary Club branches in Chittenango, New York and Ho, Ghana.  The money was raised locally and matched by Rotary International.  At the time that seemed like the hardest part.  Four of the wells were successful, hitting clear, clean water.  But in Kudzagbakope the well came up dry.  And the money had run out for any further drilling.

10 months later the people in our church gave money to our Advent Conspiracy Fund. They chose to spend less on gifts at Christmas in order to give more so others could have the gift of clean water.  Kudzagbakope was on the top of the list of 4 villages to receive a borehole.  But again, the well came up dry. The remaining 3 boreholes were successful in providing clean water.  Once again, the people of Kudzabgakope would not have clean water.

The question began to be discussed on our side of the partnership, how many times will we continue to drill before we say enough is enough?  Will we continue to spend precious dollars in an area that does not seem conducive or look elsewhere near other villages with more promise?  We decided to give it one more attempt.  The local Ghanian drilling company ran several more advanced tests in a location further from the village center.  They were now donating a portion of their labor costs to help in this effort to bring clean water to Kudzagbakope.

In the early part of  2010 the borehole drilling was successful.  Clean water had been found.  But now there was a new problem.  The money reserved for the pump had been used for another purpose.  This brought about a delay that involved many difficult conversations with the leadership, accountability practices and restitution by all those involved with the handling of the money.  This would delay the delivery of the water until the funds were replenished. The water was found, but not accessible until the pump could be installed.  Another period of waiting for the people of Kudzagbakope.

January of 2011, just 5 days before this picture was taken, the pump was installed and water began to flow.  Waiting 48 months from the initial realization that water was coming until it was actually available.  As a leader of the village this must have been a hard thing to lead the people through.  I can not imagine the thoughts, conversations, perhaps arguments and disappointment this chief has endured with this people over the past 4 years.  His smile is a picture of the joy that comes when you have truly experienced the realization of a precious gift.

There was dancing, singing, celebrating by the entire village.  The chief wore his finest  Kente cloth robe and obviously his fanciest head-piece, but what he wore that dazzled us all that day, was his smile.

Other pictures from that day:

My daughter Courtney joining in the celebration.




Two little guys who danced all day long.




Daniel, our partner who helped see the project through beginning to end.




A gift from the chief to our team at the end of the day.




Clean, clear, plentiful water.



Filed under Global Reflections