My daughters and I recently started watching a new Netflix series called “The Kindness Diaries”. This documentary-style series follows a man, Leon, who travels around the world simply relying on the kindness of strangers. And, he finds kindness in the most desperate of circumstances. Families who can barely feed their children, provide him with food and shelter. Homeless men living on the streets, share their space and offer him the clothes off their backs. Time and time again, it is those with the least (financially) in life, who offer Leon the most. And they offer kindness entirely out of the goodness of their hearts, without any expectation of repayment.
Today, my girls and I visited a beautiful family, new to Canada. They fled Syria and then Lebanon, and arrived in Canada less than one year ago. They showed us pictures of their life in Lebanon. Beirut was flourishing, beautiful and peaceful…and their pictures showed the young family loving life. We had never met, but they welcomed us with wide open arms, into their home, and provided us with a beautiful and delicious meal. Despite the significant language barrier, we learned Arabic and experienced parts of their rich culture. The kindness they showed us was so touching. And this young family has been through so much, in fact, more than most of us could likely endure. Despite it all, their kindness was overflowing.
As we hugged and left, we were in awe of their resilience, but most of all, we were inspired by their kindness. And what we all learned, is that kindness is free and is the most valuable gift one human can give to another. If we all showed just a little bit more kindness towards each other, despite our differences, what would the world look like? What we experienced today, and what is featured on the Kindness Diaries, shows us that kindness can prevail and kindness can change the world.
So, thank you to the wonderful Helal family who showed my family kindness today. Thank you to the families in Tanzania, who have so little, but insisted on giving me gifts of eggs and soda when I visited them. Thank you to the man in Nicaragua who saw me ill and shared his only bottle of water with me at the end of a volcano hike. Thank you to Leon Logothetis for showing us all that kindness is powerful and abundant, in a world so shaken with instability and cruelty.
Your kindness matters!
Share with us an experience you are reminded of, after reading this post. Please let us know through the comments.
I’m 36 + weeks pregnant, so last week I packed my hospital bags, checked them in at the airport, and hopped on an international flight. Destination: Cape Town, South Africa, where sunshine, ocean waves, beaches, mouthwatering fresh seafood, mountains, and stretches of vineyards await. My new life rule is that I only have babies near sunshine and oceans.
When you’re an expat about to give birth, and you reside in Lusaka, Zambia, you hightail it out of Zambia to welcome baby into the world. Some of us head to the U.S., and others to places like the U.K., and a few of us to South Africa. South Africa has some of the most top-notch medical care on the African continent. Did I mention the oceans and beaches? Plus penguins. Babies love penguins.
A few of us expats decide to go ahead and give birth in Zambia. Of course, I have friends, both local and expat, who have given birth to healthy babies in Zambia without incident. Lots of babies are born there, with a fertility rate of nearly six children per woman.
Since this is my fourth birth, I seriously contemplated staying in Zambia to give birth. With three natural and uncomplicated births under my belt (except that pesky postpartum hemorrhage thing that plagues me each time), it’s been pretty straightforward so far.
A birth in Zambia would be less complicated logistically. My husband can’t be gone from work for the whole one month before and one month after the birth. My four-year old can probably afford to miss pre-school without risking failing to get into college, but my six-year old is learning how to read and write – in a second language (French) – this year, so it’s not really fair to her to pull her out for two whole months, either. I suppose, with the support of Google Translate, I could make some attempts at homeschooling….no. Just no. Plus, there’s the familiarity, the friends, the easiness in Lusaka. Planning a birth in a different country requires more paperwork, emails, phone calls, and really savvy packing skills.
I put out some feelers and asked people’s opinions about giving birth in Lusaka. I got many stories of uneventful births that resulted in a happy baby and mother, and some recommendations for good OBs. I see a lovely OB who has the most caring bedside manner, and is available to instantly answer questions by text message (that does NOT happen in the U.S.), but unfortunately she doesn’t deliver babies anymore.
Others graced my ears with stories about the mother who needed an emergency C-section, but the medical team couldn’t get a hold of the anesthesiologist, so she had a C-section without medication. Then there was the woman who had her arms and legs strapped down during a normal vaginal childbirth, and the one who lost her baby during child birth due to poor management and care—at a private hospital in Lusaka. My doctor friends in Zambia asked me if I was crazy—one directly, and one indirectly. My lovely OB providing prenatal care for me in Lusaka laughed.
The reason for these responses is because babies die in Zambia, and mothers do too. According to UNICEF, the maternal mortality rate in Zambia is 591 deaths per 100,000 live births, the neonatal mortality rate is 34 per 1,000 live births, and the infant mortality rate is 70 per 1,000 live births. Even for those who can afford private care in the capital, Lusaka, being pregnant and giving birth is risky business. Simple complications—including postpartum hemorrhage—can go from bad to worse because of poor infrastructure, care, and a slew of other issues. (For more information about maternal health care in Zambia, check out the trailer for this fascinating documentary.)
The message was loud and clear—most likely, if I gave birth in Lusaka, everything would be fine. But, if I have the choice and the means, why would I take the risk of that small chance of something going wrong and me or my baby suffering serious health complications or worse?
So, around 20 weeks pregnant I began to plan an international babycation. I did this once before, less than two years ago. My last baby was born in Cape Town, so that helped quite a bit, especially because I used the same midwives, know the area, etc. Another bonus is that water birth is an option here in Cape Town, similar to an alternative birthing center option within a hospital that I used to deliver my first two in Chicago. There were less unknowns this time around with planning babycation round #2.
Everything is relative. Buying plane tickets for a family of five, plus a nanny, renting a house for two months, as well as a car, and paying for private health care in South Africa adds up. This is clearly cost prohibitive to most people, and I understand this inherent privilege of choice for my ocean-side babycation.
But, if I compare this Cape Town babycation cost to the cost of giving birth in the U.S., it’s at worst equal, and at best a cost-savings. For what I will pay for all my private health care, including an at-home post-natal visit and a couple nights in the hospital, combined with the cost of my two month “babycation” in South Africa…I’ll end up paying about the same or less than what I’d pay for the cost of childbirth alone in the U.S. I can pay $12,000 minimum, out-of-pocket in the US to push a baby out of me (without any medical intervention), or I can pay about $2,000 for the exact same quality of care and facility standards in Cape Town…along with all the perks of glorious sunshine and ocean views. I’ll take the penguins, thank you very much.
Our family of five, plus our nanny from Zambia, packed up with three suitcases and a boatload of car seats, and my husband helped me settle into the lovely house we rented on AirBnB in Kalk Bay, overlooking the ocean. But, my husband returned this past weekend to Lusaka with my six- and four-year old children to resume school and work.
So, here I sit with an 18-month old, nanny, and loads of sunshine and water at nearly 37 weeks pregnant. The baby is measuring at a beautiful 3kg already, and I’m having some super maddening Braxton Hicks contractions. My husband is two flights away (Lusaka- Johannesburg- Cape Town), and can get on a flight from Lusaka at 9am and rock-up into Cape Town by 3:30pm.
If baby decides to make a quick, slippery exit, Papa might miss the birth of his baby – which would be sad. He was pretty helpful the last three times – except when he told me during difficult push during crowning, “It’s just like doing back squats.” No, it’s really not like that at all. But, I’d kind of like him to be with me for the birth. So, I have the calming effect of going to sleep to the sound of ocean waves obliterated by the anxiety of my husband missing the birth. This is not a, “Will my husband make it from the office on time?” worry. It’s a, “Will my husband, with two tiny humans in tow, be able to get on the first flight out of Lusaka and make it through immigration, out of the airport, and to the hospital?”
My husband and two oldest kids plan on returning to Cape Town on April 1, 10 days before this bad boy’s due date. In the meantime, I have some amazing mama friends coming in (one from Kenya, one from Zambia) to keep me company before the crew returns, mostly to have fun and to stand-in for my husband— just in case. The next two weeks will be filled with botanical gardens, delicious food, and sea breezes. Not too shabby a way to waddle through these last few pregnancy weeks.
The next question is—will I be able to make this my last babycation? Those penguins!
This is an original guest post for World Moms Network from Jessica Menon of Gypsy Momma. Jess is a mom with three children under the age of six, with her fourth baby on the way. Jess and her family are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia.
Photos courtesy of Alda Smith. Photo of penguins and Jess and her youngest daughter at the beach courtesy of the author.
Crime is not part of my daily life. I live in a middle to upper-class neighbourhood in Cape Town. We have an active Neighbourhood Watch, and most of the people in my neighbourhood also belong to the Community Policing Forum (aka CPF). The CPF has monthly meetings where we discuss crime stats, share self-defence tips etc. We all have signs on our gates indicating that we’re part of the CPF. We also have a WhatsApp group where we keep in contact with each. We’re all just a message away in case of medical or other emergency. I have always felt safe enough to leave my front door unlatched during the day.
This month, my illusion of safety was temporarily shattered. One morning, in broad daylight, shots were fired on my road! At first we couldn’t believe that it was gunshots. After all, this is a quiet neighbourhood and it was at a time of day when our road is pretty busy. Neighbourhood Watch was immediately on the case, whilst the rest of us were left stunned and wondering what we could do to help.
Roughly 30 minutes later I pulled out of my driveway into a surreal scene. Police cars, Neighbourhood Watch personnel and private security company vehicles were blocking the road. The crime tape was around my next-door neighbour’s property! That’s right – an armed robbery happened in the house on the other side of our boundary wall! I felt as if I’d been cast as an extra in a movie or TV series. Surely this can’t be real?! It was.
This is what happened:
My neighbour (let’s call him Bill) pulled out of his driveway and realised that he’d forgotten something, so he quickly ran back inside the house to fetch it without closing his gate (as we’ve all done numerous times). Two armed men followed him inside, pistol-whipped him, tied him up and demanded that he show them where his safe was.
At this time my neighbour’s adult son (let’s call him John) arrived with his wife. She walked inside whilst he waited in the car. She walked in on the robbers and screamed. The 2 armed suspects fled with the safe, but then dropped it as soon as they saw John, and jumped into the vehicle which was being driven by a 3rd suspect. John followed them and they shot at him out of the window – just like they do in movies! By then (thanks to our CPF network), police and other response vehicles joined in the chase. Two of the suspects jumped out the car when it got stuck in traffic and were promptly arrested. The driver got away, but later the same day he was arrested too.
I’ve been left rather bemused by this. By the next day there was no sign left of what had happened. Apart from the shock that this happening caused in our quiet and close-knit community, no real harm was done. The stolen goods were recovered, nobody was seriously injured and the suspects were arrested immediately. Things could have gone a lot worse. In fact, in many ways this could be considered a win for law and order.
That said, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I don’t know if it’s because of the shows that I watch, or just because it doesn’t seem possible that this happened right next door to my house. The strangest thing is that my neighbour is one of very few people on our street who did not belong to the CPF, and I can’t help but wonder if that was a factor in him being targeted.
Truthfully (but possibly foolishly) I still feel safe where I live.
Have you lived through something that just didn’t seem real or possible? How do you feel about it with hindsight?
Ever since I was a little girl – even just a few months ago – I always thought that my mom was immortal. But she died on December 11, and left us devastated. Her name was Lalao, and she was just 61. I am a mom, and moms are supposed to be strong, right? But how can I pretend to be strong when I lost my confidante, my best friend, and the one who made me, in such tragic circumstances?
After freeing herself from domestic violence, Mom took care of my brother and me, all by herself. She faced hardship, poverty, injuries, and sacrificed her dreams for giving us a good education and a decent life. And through laughter and tears, she stood tall. I remember she had to work during nighttime to make ends meet, but still found some hours to pamper us before or after school hours. She was very severe with us, and we sometimes felt oppressed because she always asked us to do our best, especially regarding our studies. She, along with my grandma, used to sew suitable clothes for us, so that we don’t feel miserable. And we were happy, for a certain time.
A few months after my father died, Mom reconnected with a man she dated in high school. That guy hated us and wanted to have his own child with my mom. In 1995, she had an ectopic pregnancy which required surgery and left her unable to bear children. Her man started to cheat on her starting from the day he knew she won’t be able to have children anymore. Violence was back in our life, but it was different from our father’s style. This violence was more psychological, and at some point our family exploded because he asked Mom to choose between him and us. Mom wanted to stick with him until the day she found out that he had a baby with another woman. That was in 2001.Mom went into a deep depression. I know these were really hard times for her, and I feel guilty because I tried to escape from all this suffering in the best ways I could: studies, activism and – soon, marriage. I was just 22 while I left my mom and brother for my new life with my husband. I didn’t want to be a burden for my mom anymore. I found a job and paid for my own studies.
Eventually, my mom found a new job, and her life tremendously improved. She was happy again but was anxious about my brother who struggled with his studies. I will always remember her smile and tears of joy while my son Tony was born. I think she saw him as a kind of achievement. For the past 3 years, she was totally involved in community projects, helping the poorest. She was full of energy. Today, when my youngest son, Hugo, asks why Mamie “left”, I still really can’t find suitable words to explain the situation.
This is the most awful situation I’ve ever experienced in my life. At 2pm on December 5, Mom called me, saying that she had severe abdominal pain. We had met the previous day and she was perfectly normal. My husband jumped in his car to take her to the hospital. This was not the first time – my mom was often sick with serious stomach pains, but we didn’t knew what was causing it. Her stomach sometimes inflated like a balloon, and it was so painful that she couldn’t even wear a shirt over her abdomen. Just as quickly, her symptoms would disappear.
So, the morning my husband rushed her to the hospital, we thought it would be the same. She was convinced that she would be back home a few hours later. I had to work, but I tried to find time to stay with her at the clinic. At first, the doctors said she had salmonella, and then typhoid, but the treatment they gave didn’t make her feel better.
I was worried, but still felt confident. I was also busy because my kids had their mid-term examinations, and the premiere of my movie on civil resistance was that same week. I briefly saw Mom on the day of the premier, and she said, “Good luck tonight!” She watched the movie on my laptop and she liked it. I really missed her during the premiere. The day after, I was running a training while she texted me. The doctors told her she urgently needed surgery. Finally, they had diagnosed her, not with typhoid, but a bowel obstruction.
She was transferred to a different hospital, more equipped for this kind of surgery. We slept only for a few hours that night. On my birthday, she went for surgery early in the morning. She finally came out of surgery at 2 p.m. The doctors explained that there had been complications during the surgery. It appears that someone had accidentally left a pad or a towel in her womb during her surgery after the ectopic pregnancy in 1995. The foreign object had been lodged in her bowels, which was the source of the obstruction. They had to cut 40cm of her intestines and create a bypass. Ther surgery was long and complicated, but she was alive. I thanked God, thinking that her misery was finally over.
We were only allowed to visit her twice a day: at noon and at 6pm, because she was still in the emergency unit. I talked to her, and she was fully conscious. She wanted some water but it was forbidden. I wrapped her chaplet around her skinny arm and she asked for prayers. Friday night went well. I didn’t want any party for my birthday, given the situation, and my kids didn’t really understand that (they were looking forward that party for a long time). On Saturday, the head of the emergency unit asked called me to her office. I was scared. She said the situation was critical because my mom had had a stroke that morning. They managed to save her, but they were concerned about future stroke. I begged her to do her best.
I saw Mom again on Saturday evening. She looked very tired and she was thirsty. She said she couldn’t feel her legs anymore and the doctors explained that it was because of her disc herniation (a problem she had after a car accident in 2010, another sad story). I don’t exactly remember what I said to her that evening, when I left. I just remember I urged her to hold on. While I heard a car arriving in our yard around 2 a.m., and saw my husband standing on the door, I didn’t want to think to the unthinkable. But the unthinkable had occurred.
My mother died firstly as a consequence of a bad operation she had 21 years ago. She lived with a pad in her abdomen, and that was probably the root cause of all her problems. Then, she died because of a false diagnosis. If the bowels obstruction was detected the very first day – through a basic exam – things would have gone differently. She died of a “massive pulmonary embolism” on Sunday, at 01:25 a.m., because she was exhausted by the pain she felt from the previous Monday till that very minute. I think she gave up. Too much pain and too much suffering in a single life! Too much violence, too many tears, too much sadness! She said, “Enough is enough,” and she walked away. I had to call my brother, who lives in Morocco, to tell him the bad news. That broke my heart once again. He arrived a few days after, a torn soul.
So, what are we up to, now? We moved to Mom’s house with our kids because we wanted to keep her memory alive. It’s a rental but we hope that someday we’ll be able to buy it. My brother is back to Morocco, and he tries to grieve in a constructive way. As an activist, I feel I won’t find peace if I don’t do anything about this false diagnosis, and about healthcare in general, in Madagascar. Do you know that here, you can still die from fever, or from cholera, or from whatever disease, because average people can’t afford drugs? As 90 percent of people live with less than $1.25 a day, where can they find money for healthcare? And the government does nothing! Rich people go to Mauritius or South Africa to get treatment. Average people like us go to public hospitals or private clinics where you can die because there’s no oxygen, or because of a power shortage. Poor people just die in the streets, from starvation, or from treatable conditions. The doctors say, “Don’t blame us, blame the State! We are poor victims too!” Perhaps. What can I do in order to change this system? Any idea is more than welcome!
I don’t want Mom’s live to be wasted like dust in the wind. I need to do her justice, but without going through a trial because corruption ruins everything here. Please, moms, help me to find my soul back again. Tell me what I can do for my mom, my immortal hero.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Ketakandriana Rafitoson, our contributor from Madagascar.
Photo credit to the author.
My 20 year old daughter and I have been having some very interesting conversations lately. The latest is what prompted me to share this with you.
I believe that all of us have things on our “To Do” Lists that somehow never get done. We feel badly about not getting around to them, but we console ourselves with the “I don’t have time to do it” excuse. We might even believe that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, but the truth is that we make time to do what really matters to us.
It’s actually a relief to admit to yourself the real reason for not doing something. It might be fear of failure, or simply the fact that we haven’t yet reached the level where the discomfort of not doing it is greater than the relief / happiness / sense of accomplishment etc. that getting it done would give us. Of course this is almost always something that happens subconsciously. It’s only when you take a step back and objectively look at how you have spent your time until now, that you realise what’s truly important to you, and / or what’s holding you back.
Now I could argue that what I do at the office Monday to Friday is not something that I necessarily want to do, or ever aspired to be doing, however bringing the paycheck home is a priority (because we couldn’t afford to pay for my chronic medication, send our daughter to College, live in the house and neighbourhood we do, etc.) if it wasn’t for the money I contribute to our household every month. Moms of babies, still in the blur of sleepless nights, feedings and nappy changes could argue that they would rather be doing something else, but it’s not really true, because the well-being of our children trumps everything else (at least for most moms)!
So why do we do the things we do? It’s all about the “payoff.”
As much as we don’t like admitting it, humans are self-centered. This is a simple fact. It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily selfish or egotistical, merely that we (again, usually subconsciously) don’t do anything unless there’s some kind of benefit for us in doing it. For example, I have chosen a charity that does amazing work with special needs children in my neighborhood, and I have volunteered to be their Fundraising Co-ordinator. The “payoff” is simply “feeling good” about doing something to help further a cause close to my heart. I have started a “secret” Facebook page called Living with an Invisible Illness (for everyone who is living with any kind of chronic condition). The payoff? It’s an online support group that helps me as much as it helps the other members.
I’m pretty sure that, if you really think about it, you will find your “payoff” for even the most altruistic things that you do.
Is there anything that you feel you “should” do, but never get around to? Can you identify the real reason for not doing it?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Mama Simona from Cape Town, South Africa.
Before my (now 24 year old) son was born, I was a SuperSitter. Not only did I work for a Babysitting Agency called SuperSitters, but I’d also studied Child Psychology, Child and Infant First Aid and aced a course which would have allowed me to open up a daycare facility of my own, if I’d wanted to. I was the person they’d call for challenging babies and children. I could soothe a colicky baby and have a normally hyperactive child fast asleep before the parents came home. They all expressed their astonishment at how well their young ones behaved when in my care. I felt supremely confident in my ability to be a great mother – after all, if other people’s children behaved so wonderfully when I looked after them, surely my own flesh and blood would be even easier, right?!
When I found out I was pregnant, I was thrilled. I read every single book on pregnancy, childbirth and parenting that I could lay my hands on, attended prenatal classes, and congratulated myself on how well-prepared I was for motherhood. A week before my due date I had my bag packed for the hospital and my birth plan written out. My husband had been prepped as to what I would need from him at each stage of labour. We were ready – or so we thought!
My due date came and went with no sign whatsoever of my son wanting to be born. I was extremely bloated and hot (January in South Africa is peak Summer heat), not to mention anxious to hold my son. To make matters even worse, my husband and I were living with my grandparents at the time, and with every braxton hicks contraction they would ask, “Is it time?” Eventually I couldn’t take it any more, so 10 days post due date I had my husband take me to the hospital. When I got there my contractions stopped again. On examination I was 3 cm dilated. The doctor asked me if I wanted to go home or if I was willing to have my labour induced. I wish that I’d been smart enough to go home, but at that moment I couldn’t face going home again without having given birth. This was to be the first of many mistakes I made as a mother.
I will spare you all the gory details, except to tell you that nothing went according to my meticulous birth plan, and I ended up needing an emergency c-section due to foetal distress. That was just the start of our problems. The surgical team struggled to get my uterus to stop bleeding after they’d delivered my son. My blood pressure nearly bottomed out and (much later) my OB-Gyn admitted that, if I hadn’t stopped bleeding when I did, she would have had to perform a hysterectomy to save my life! I thank God every day that it didn’t happen, because I wouldn’t have my beautiful daughter if it had! I’d lost so much blood that they had to keep transfusing me throughout the night. I wasn’t taken back to the maternity ward until the next day.
Because of what had happened to me, I wasn’t given the chance to breastfeed my son until much later the next day. By then they’d already given him a bottle and I never managed to get breastfeeding properly established. Instead of the minimum 6 months that I had planned to breastfeed, I ended up switching to bottle feeding almost from the day I got home. I really wish that I’d known then what I know now, like breastfeeding on demand!
As if that wasn’t bad enough, my son had severe colic for the first 3 months or so. Much to my surprise and dismay, this “SuperSitter” was completely and utterly unable to soothe her own baby! I also suffered through Postpartum Depression. I thank God every day for the unbelievable support I had from my husband, grandparents and aunt, who all stepped in and did for my son what I wasn’t able to.
Things went from bad to worse for my poor son. He projectile vomited every feed for almost 2 years, despite all our best efforts. He also often had gastroenteritis. Between puke and diarrhea we did a full load of washing every.single.day. I cried a lot during those first two years, because I felt like the world’s worst mother, and I was sure that my son wasn’t going to survive given all the vomiting.
Fast forward to today and the child I was so worried about has grown into a handsome, healthy and intelligent young man. In those early days I couldn’t even begin to dream of him becoming the man he is today. He has surpassed all my expectations, and I am incredibly proud of him.
He is now married, and is the step-dad of a lovely little girl. My son has learnt how to speak, read and write German fluently, and is currently studying Computer Science (Informatik) at Goethe University in Frankfurt.
The main reason for writing this post (apart from the fact that today is my son’s birthday!) is to give hope to all the moms who, like me, feel that they’re not “good enough” mothers. What I have learnt is that all children need to know three things – that you love them unconditionally, that you’re proud of them and that they can trust you. As long as you have those 3 things in place, nothing else really matters that much. Most of the things that we beat ourselves up for they don’t even remember when they grow up!
Was your labour and delivery what you hoped it would be? What do you wish you’d known when you were younger?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Mama Simona from Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo credit to the author.