Monday, 8 October 2012


It was my sister’s 21st Birthday Party the other day. One of those nights that reminded me of those cheesy, Disney-ish moments where everything simply seems awesome (apart from the odd 21st story that seemed to embarrass me on par with Em... oh nudity)
Surrounded by family and friends you love, having a good old laugh, dancing so hard your fringe sticks to your forehead and this deep sense of contentment just rests on you... Life is good!
It was a milestone for the journey I’ve been on since December last year. A year that really smacked me in the face and (to continue the slightly weird metaphor) thus sent me stumbling off balance. Have you ever had one of those moments where you just feel different to the rest? Say, its break time and everyone is eating an apple, most people sit and some may shine said apple on their t-shirt (normal) then the eating of the apple commences (normal) and the juiciness and crispiness of the fruit satisfies them (also normal)... then there’s the one who eats the core, pips, stalk and all (weird). I kind of felt like that I guess. Like I have had my perspective on, well life really, so flipped around that my focus and norm seems off to others and, person that I am, this led to me hiding away from people instead of calling out. But the point of this blog is not to have a big weh (it’s gets better, don’t fret) but to see how going through the weh has changed my life... for the awesome!
You see, I am one of those typical saps who goes to Africa and comes back changed. Here are a few ways in which this has become apparent:
1.       Before I went to Mali, I never cried in movies, songs, books, poems, nothing. Now that I am back I cry in lectures, videos, speeches, when I talk about my passions and even at a cookie (long story).
2.       Before I went to Mali, I thought I was a Minny-Mother Theresa, that I had it all together and was being sent out to rescue people who were below me- ‘Super Sophie’ (a little embarrassing but I actually doodled this in a school book... also because I can’t draw for peanuts but CAN draw the superman ‘S’ and so needed a word to follow it with)
3.       Before I went to Mali I didn’t enjoy toilet humour that much. But after peeing and pooing into a hole the same size as a circle shape you make with your hands, and a few fellow travellers fatal misses into this hole, something deep within me changed.
Poos are hilarious- this has no relevance to my story but must be said.
4.       Before I went to Mali, I lived for experience- what I thought was comfort. Whatever made me feel ‘good’, content, satisfied. Life revolved around me. Now, though I surely fumble... and often, I see that life is so much bigger than me, I am living for something greater than myself that is better than my hollow self-ambition and is SO incredibly fulfilling to be part of.
But these are all (or most) things that I have learnt in the crap- not literally- but in suffering. And I for one am tired of people covering up crap- let’s live in the suffering.
The day I met Donki, I left Donki. In the same van she had sat in with me as we drove out to her families crop circle, the same van she shouted out the window, “We are going, we are going!” to the passersby, the same van we dropped her home to stay. The same van my heart broke in. We are broken people for whatever reason.   
In this brokenness it is human nature to push people away, to hide behind a curtain and yell to people, “Yeh Nah I’m Fine!” It was in this that the glass shattered for me and I found out what true comfort means. What do you think of when I say the word ‘comfort’? To me, it was warm and cosy, by the fire with a hot cup of chocolate, with marshmallows as the rain poured outside. To me, at that point, I was outside in the rain- pissed off and slowly sad. I longed to be inside where life was ‘good’ and to get there quick. But what I found out not that long ago really, was that I heard comfort all wrong. The definition of comfort has distorted over time and when it was originally written, it actually meant ‘to stand alongside.’ It was as if I was looking for my sunnies when they were on my head the whole time (we’ve all done it)- I looked and looked but the answer was right there. I wanteda state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint’, yet I needed to be ‘stood alongside.’ I needed comfort. And I needed to give, comfort. And gladly, since then I have realised this is what I have felt all along- this need for comfort. Why do I care about the people in Mali, in poverty- because I stood alongside them and love them deeply. Why do I care about people here in New Zealand, because I stand alongside them and in that find true comfort. I guess that’s why the 21st made me glad- it is good to be comfortable, just not the way I originally thought about it. And who is it that stands by me when I suffer?          
Though I am hopeless- he is hope
Though I am tired- he is rest
Though I am broken- he is whole
Though I am weak- he is strong
Though I am scared- he is courageous
And I am joyful about God

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Fearing ghosts, eating toast and living on 'pirate ships'

'Life, oh life, oh li-ee-eh-i-ife, oh life, doo doo doo doo.
I don't want to see a ghost, it's a sight that I fear most,
I'd rather eat a piece of toast and watch the evening news.'
...Yup... however catchy the song is, these are potentially the silliest lyrics I have ever heard. They come from the song 'Life' by Des'ree which you need to hear if you haven't, for the sake of being funny.
                         (Have a listen
But really, in some senses, a large portion of life is a quite funny isn't it.
I for one could spend a countless amount of time (and may have done on the odd occasion) searching Youtube for funny cat videos, which leads to 'funny cats and dogs compilation', leading onto 'funny cats in water' and finally somehow leaves you watching a baby making 'i'm pooing right now' faces... but that's when it verges on being weird and you should probably stop Youtubing. Not to mention countless silly conversations where you make a friend say 'Nis-Pee' over and over again, or, 'I live on a pirate ship' while putting two fingers on the inside of their cheeks and stretching them out wide... If you've just done that now HA, can't believe you just said that!!

Life in all of it's complexities can also be a bit funny... and with that funniness, I find, comes joy.

It got me thinking about the different aspects of Mali that have stuck with me in these past eight months, there is absolutely suffering, sadness and desperation, but the thing that absolutely blew my mind was the amount of pure joy and laughter there is in the midst of all of that... the Malians sure know how to have fun!

I remember the day when we went to our first drip-irrigation garden and met a lady called Awa. That morning I was in a haze of shock and sadness from the suffering we had seen and felt in the Kog'noumami the day before. It's hard to explain exactly how I felt, the only word to describe it really is numbness. I had come out of my small-world-ignorant bubble and realised that this world is a lot bigger than I had thought... and has more suffering in it than I had imagined. I was walking around the drip-irrigated garden that World Vision had funded and I could see the greenery of the vegetables, the life compared to the desert that lay outside the fence... but it didn't hit me, what this garden actually meant to the people, till I sat down with Awa. I reluctantly went into a conversation with her, trying to act as if this numbness wasn't overwhelming me when really it felt like I was shutting off... too much to take in for little old Sophie. But I asked her questions, and found out what the profits (from the vegetables they sell) allows them to afford, and how the garden had allowed them to eat in every season, but it wasn't till I asked Awa, "What does this garden mean for you?", that my haze began to subside. She looked at me and said simply, "This garden means freedom, freedom from hunger." It still gives me goosebumps thinking about that moment when I realised the joy in knowing that one simple drip-irrigated garden has funded freedom for a whole village, for Awa. It was that moment when I realised that actually, every little bit of my time and money spent helping to make this happen for them is worth it.

After we had sat and talked about the garden Awa, our translator and I simply had a chat. As we talked about the day Awa began to tease me about my slowness and lack of muscles in pumping the water for her watering can (even her young daughter was faster than me), we laughed about my terrible accent when saying hello/ thank you, "Aniche", to them and how I'd accidentally spent the whole day enthusiastically saying "Achine" instead. I told Awa that I'd make a vege garden in my garden the next summer to remember her by, she told me 'she'd come and visit sometime' as she cracked into a laugh.
There is something magic about Awa and the people we met who in the midst of their situation, when materially they have nothing, still have ingrained in them this deep sense of joy and fun .

I loved hearing this story from Devon (my epic World Vision mentor) about a photo exhibition we had of some of the pictures from the trip a few weeks ago. She said that she had walked around the room a few times and each time she had seen this man standing by the same photo, completely absorbed in it. The photo was simply a boy walking away from the camera in a scenic shot of the land - nothing special really.
On Devon's third time around the room she stopped and asked him what it was about the photo that had him so hooked. His reply, "This photo is everything!" Puzzled, she asked him to explain. He said again, "This photo is everything! There's the land, to the left are some farmers with their cows, in the middle is a watering hole to drink from and to the right are their huts to live in. This photo is literally their everything." When I looked at the photo after Devon told me what the man had said, it was totally true. Everything that filled life in a Malian village was in that shot... and they are joyous about it!

It makes me think about something Rob Bell, a pastor and author, said on his video 'Drops like Stars'. How some people can have everything yet possess nothing, while others, like Awa, can have nothing yet possess everything. Life in all of it's complexities and well, fluffiness, really is about what you possess inside of you isn't it? And what Awa has is deep joy - she has that to keep and to share. That came as a surprise to me - I thought I was there as one to see their need and learn how I could help to meet that need, but what she could share with me was so much more important... that deep joy that no material 'thing' can bring.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


Some how this got deleted accidentally so I'll pop it up again! :)

Bus rides are a social phenomenon. I only just realized the other day that a simple ride on the bus is actually a well choreographed maneuver that we human beings perform every day. 
I stood in the queue to board the bus, while in this queue I saw a person nearby me, no, more of an 'acquaintance'. We are the Facebook friends who really couldn't get passed the "Hihowareyou's" if we were passing each other by. With this observation I faced back to the bus and boarded, after talking a little about the "All of a sudden how cold it is!" weather with the bus driver I then turned to the most complex part if this bussing exercise- taking your seat. As my chemistry teacher once explained to me, the rule is exactly like electron pairs, we each take a seat between people. Not directly beside anyone unless it is absolutely necessary and a far enough distance towards the back of the bus to let our 'acquaintance' decide whether they would want to make conversation about uni exams or if they'd prefer to Ipod zone-out today. Yet even then I saw that a bald man would rather stand and sway with the buses turns and brakes than sit next to another suited worker. What is it about us that makes this distance so normal? Not only on buses, but in life we generally live in houses fenced off from our neighbours, we choose to sit at a cafe table one over from others and uni seating gets straight up ridiculous when we take the aisle seat 20 seats away from our fellow student. In all of this, it seems as if we are so separate in what we do, which tends to define who we are in some sense. 
I guess this is one of the things that the people in Mali showed me, community, and what it really means to live to support your people. In the village of Kog'Noumami we met Donki. In this village we also met an entire community who came out to welcome us in a little circle of broken benches and stools. In this village we were told that they had only 19 days of rain in the entire year. In 2011, Auckland got 130 days of it. This means there literally isn't enough water to grow crops in. Donki and her village were rationing out 500 grams of millet each to live on daily. One man told us that he can't sleep at night because it is so stressful not knowing whether or not there will be enough food for his people in a few months time. These people who he lives with, farms with, shares with and loves so completely are unsure of the next chapter. But the thing is, right after the people told us this, Donki took us into the room where they cook their millet. We walked inside the roasted black room and as flies darted around the millet porridge bowls Donki came up to us and offered us her bowl of peanuts. Now the thing about peanuts is that they are a treat. The staple diet for Donki is millet, so when it comes to taste, peanuts ROCK! After we had just been told this village does not have enough food to last till next harvest, Donki offered us her food, her treat, her best, as if I was offering you a plate of nibbles over dinner. We had known Donki, her family and friends for a few hours and she was giving us all she had when she is the one suffering. I guess in that moment I was overwhelmed by this sense of love and care... this community they had welcomed me into.
This genuine and natural love that overflowed from Donki and so many other people I met in Mali is challenging me, and I am glad. They have made me think about how I view other people around me, would I give them my last peanut? Or would I fight them for it? How do I actually look at my community when I'm the one who sits separate from acquaintances on short bus rides. Not only that, but how do we see the people in Mali? I know that I once viewed them as separate from me, too different to relate to. Now I see them as people I look up to and am completely humbled by. They know what community is and how to care for each other. They offer us our best, can we offer them anything less?

Friday, 25 May 2012


How weird is it that you can enter a country with a certain perception of the people there who you’ve actually never even met, and two weeks later when you leave the country, you feel like you’re leaving home?
I remember the moment when it hit me that I actually wasn’t in my “happy-go-lucky-little-NZ-bubble” anymore. We were sitting on the plane from Morocco to Bamako. Our group was one of two groups headed to Mali. None of us Kiwis had seats next to each other, no one spoke. 
As we sat in the plane, foreign Arabic music filtered through my ears and I realised that we had become the minority. I started to feel very small in this big world of ours. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. This uneasy feeling in me grew to sheer terror – the type where you are literally frozen and your muscles tense up (flight or fight response... how ridiculous is it that mine is fight when I can barely even pinch someone enough to make them jump).
After we arrived in Bamako we drove to the ‘Nord Sud’ where we’d be staying for the duration of the trip. The car ghetto blasted rap music with lyrics that seemed to dramatise the dark scenery of the urban slums we were driving past. I remember the lyrics that the taxi driver happily bopped along to, 'Shake yo thong girl, shake yo thong' were some (classy). I could feel my heart pound faster. The intensity of poverty I saw outside my window was disturbing. I was experiencing feelings and a sense of uneasiness that I never had before. I could hear my heart beating in my ears and my temperature soared till I felt like my head was going to pop off. We had a close encounter with some of the sad actions people are resorting to in Mali on that drive.  I didn’t sleep much that night.
The crazy thing is that I now actually see this first night as a blessing. I know, it sounds flipping weird, but I will explain. On that first night we were absolutely thrust into Mali and I experienced a sense of fear I didn’t know I had.  But it also meant that my New Zealand perception that ‘the world is made of candy tra la la’ was popped. I was thrown right into this reality that without food, people seek desperate measures. It also meant when we actually met the people in Mali, we found they are the most inspiring, resilient and beautiful people you will ever be blessed to know... not sad, hopeless, desperate humans that we should take pity on. But that we should stand beside, hand in hand.
Our first day in Mali felt like baby-steps for me in realising just who these people are. I’m going to be honest and say that when we were given the opportunity to go for a walk around the town, my first instinct was to say ‘NO! Let me stay in my NZ bubble instead!’ But as we walked around and I watched families of five riding on one motorbike, boys selling plants and waving as we passed by and girls riding bicycles with their vibrant patterned skirts flying out behind them, I started to see the Malians for who they really are.
From there my love for these people grew by the bucket-load every minute. There was one day when I just could not stop being overwhelmed and humbled by their love. It was the second garden we visited. From the time we arrived in the village and were welcomed by the people, to the time we left as the children and parents crowded round the van, my heart became play dough in their hands.
We were taken for a tour around the garden and the ‘garden president’ showed us how this garden could be funded by people who care about them on the other side of the world and could grow in just one year to feed thousands of people. We stopped at a chilli bush and one man came up to us and offered us a chilli to try. At the offer the group around us cracked up, not believing that we would accept the challenge. We did. First Matt, then me, then Katie and as we all burst out our tongues from the spice of the seeds. They all cracked up laughing except one lady who was so concerned for us that she came to me with a leaf in her hand and gestured for me to rub it between my fingers meticulously. I had no clue what the point of it was, but after her concerned frown subsided, another lady told me that the leaf neutralises the spice so that the chilli’s won’t burn your skin.
It sounds so small and silly, but the way each and every person cared for us like family makes my heart overflow. I sat and picked chilli’s with this lady later. Her name is Jara. We’d pick chillies for short stints of time before she’d stop me and make me wash my hands in her bucket of water so my hands wouldn’t burn. How is it that Jara can care so much for me when she is the one whose future was seemingly uncertain before this amazing garden?
The day ended with thank-yous and goodbyes and there is one thing that the garden president said to us that explains the Malians perfectly. She said, “When you came to Mali, you left home. But you are home.” It sounds weird to say that I feel homesick from Mali, but when I hopped on the plane back to New Zealand I breathed in the last gulp of air from Bamako and had that sinking feeling when your heart feels heavy. (Cheesy Africa Reminiscing moment... get over it :p) I thought about how I had left my home in New Zealand and in just two weeks, Mali had turned from sad and desperate to laughing-caring-humbling kindness. Mali , to me, is home because the people made me see that this is what life is all about – having a community where strangers become family and we are there to help each other. 
So I guess with 40 Hour Famine being here, I wanted to express just one way which these people have impacted me, with their absolutely golden hearts. Jara cared so much for me just by protecting my hands from chilli burns. I care so much for Jara that I want to tell her story in hopes that we can create these freedom-gifting gardens for thousands more just like her.                       Far out they deserve them!
SO Go Hardout the Hungry folks... and remember who ‘the hungry’ are!
Adopted Malian.    

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Shalom! Feels like it's been a while since I've had a brain-heart-vent so I'm feeling pretty stoked to be sitting here, on my bed, pizza in hand, ready for another Mali blog! :D
I was thinking about the last few months and how really there's only one word to describe them...wud.
'Wud' is a Scottish word that means mad I'm told...hopefully my sources are correct and I haven't just offended anyone.
But seriously it is the only way to try and say what has happened since December last year. 
I remember getting home from Mali and lying in my bed that night. I couldn't stop looking at the amount of stuff in my bedroom, the stereo, the painting of a country road, my set of drawers, even the fairy-lights...I sat there in a space of disbelief that I had just come back from Mali, where I knew that night, Donki would be sleeping on a mat on the floor of her mud-hut while I was tucked up in my kiwi bed.
The next week was a weird one... I became a total hermit. It was a week where I had this massive blob of experiences in my head and I was just starting to unravel them like a ball of yarn. It sounds strange, but I was completely overwhelmed by this daunting feeling. In the eight days I'd spent in Mali I'd met so many people whose stories I knew I was there to hear, so that I could go home, share these stories and then, hopefully,  change their situation. Katie and I talked about it heaps - we wanted to do the people in Mali proud, with everything we said and every action we took. It seemed like we were walking on a tight-rope and couldn't put one foot wrong otherwise we'd fall and fail.
At that time I had a couple of sweet face-slap moments from Mum (not literally) and realized it was silly to think about all the things I could fail at (A LOT), but instead just do all the things I can... but also, not to take it all on my shoulders. 
And FARR OUT it has been insane from there. The experiences from Mali have sunk in and are changing me, and I talk about Mali till my mouth gets tired and stiff (I'm a little obsessed). 
It's crazy thinking that in year ten I quit playing the saxophone because I hated performing solos that much. I'd get picked to play an improvisation and would stand up awkwardly, legs like jelly, going rapidly more red as the song went on and on, hating my conductor (sorry Nevil) for picking me...crowds are scary! Yet today, I just got home from the most amazing Easter Camp where I spoke in front of 4500 kiwi Youth about Mali and the 40 hour famine. I kid you not I thought I would poo myself on stage, till I actually got up there and shared what has been on my heart. 
Now it's not Mali that makes me feel daunted, but it's actually Mali that allows me to get past my nerves and say what needs to be said and changed...because it NEEDS to be said and changed, and we're the ones to do it youth of NZ! :)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Something poetic about dreams and reality-face-slaps :)

I have realised this blog is quite on a bit of a roll haha. So grabbing a drink or a snack now, before you start is probably best :)

Generally my dreams involve a few random places I've been in my life, warped with unnatural colours where processed food grows on trees or there's a baddy chasing after me and for some reason there is almost ALWAYS a bunny rabbit (maybe it's because i gave my bunny to a better home a few months ago? Moo vengeance...) But a few weeks ago i had a different dream. It wasn't one that left me utterly confused with myself when I woke up or one that evaporated when I tried to read into it more - this dream was flipping awesome.
In Mali, we visited an area where World Vision had just started helping out (were still assessing what can be done). We drove from the capital city, Bamako, for about five hours (three on tar sealed roads, and two on where-is-the-road-I-only-see-potholes) to reach a small village called Kog'noumami. This was the village where reality smacked me in the face, and the way I saw Mali changed from a photo I looked at and thought "Flip! That's sad!" to an actual place, with actual people who laugh, dance and sing... and are stressed over not having enough food to survive on.
It all sunk in when we were sitting in the crop harvest of Donki's family.
Donki is a girl who we met in this village who has corn-braids, the cutest dimple you'll ever see, one dangly earring with a red star on it, and Donki is a live-wire. She taught me how to pull up water from the well, or attempt this anyway. I pulled the rope up again and again, getting slower as the pulling got more tiring while Donki clapped her hands and shouted African encouragements at me, "Yawa, Yawa!",  till she was satisfied that I had conquered the well. Then in true Mali style we carried the buckets of water on our heads to the women who were washing their clothes... in true gump style I managed to slop the water all over Donki and onto the ground where red dust splashed all over my peach skirt....ah...success. Once again I earned a laugh from the onlookers, and from Donki.
I think it was spending that time with Donki, doing simple things, playing games and chatting that meant my view on African people changed. I had always subconsciously alienated them, to that picture we often see of children with flies on their faces, helpless. Donki absolutely shattered the mould, her energy and liveliness made me realise she is not only human, but she is a fighter!
This is what made the crop harvest so hard, as we sat in the circle of millet, Donki's dad Guano told us straight up, how there is not enough food for them to live on. There were nine months till the next harvest in mid December, and they had two months of food left. This was the place where my heart absolutely broke for Mali and for Donki. This amazing girl who would go far in New Zealand with her drive for life is stunted by living just to survive. That is all her life is about.
As we left the crop circle, I ran up to Donki and picked her up, it was that moment when I realised how protective I felt over her. Again, it's cheesy, but man I love Donki!
This is how my dream ties in, in my dream I was walking around Parachute music festival (which had morphed into a trailer park and boat shop too), then I turned around the corner and all of a sudden I was back in the crop harvest with Donki. That moment when I ran to pick her up played out again, but instead of me picking her up, she picked me up. This scrawny little twelve year old, lifted me right above her head! The same feelings I felt when I had picked her up in Mali came back, but this time, you could tell Donki felt them too.
This dream has been on my mind sooo much since it happened and it's made me realise that not only do I love the people in Mali, which is why I do the famine and raise money for the projects over there, but man! They love us too! It's not a one-way, separated event where we give and give to a void, an organisation, a cause. We are giving to people, who are real, and when we give a gift to them, they know we love them, and they love us back. We're all on the same plane really, Donki's needs are just different to mine at this time. It's simply that!

Monday, 13 February 2012

What a... trip?

When you get back from a holiday, it's normal to ask, "How was your trip?!". Usually the reply is said in an excited tone, it includes something about the culture, food and funny/awkward moments you had with people over there. But after coming home from a, World Vision, two week trip to Mali and hopping in the car for the half-conscious drive home (we'd just been travelling for 52 hours!), my initial response to this question was silence. It seemed so weird, summing up the 'trip' I'd just come home from in the short space of a car ride. Yes, there are stories that are easy to explain, like the 'toilets' we had to use which are called squatters in Africa. A ten centimetre hole in the ground with two blocks on either side that you had to stand on in order to pee. The funniest part about it was that the concrete which the squatter was made in was light grey...meaning any liquids made the light grey turn dark...meaning people knew when you'd missed the target (I've never laughed so hard while peeing in my whole life!)
But other stories, aren't really stories if that makes sense. Like describing to someone that moment when I began to feel so protective over the people who I'd just met, who are faced with the problem of having food till the end of February and then have no plan B to get more food, there is no super market down the road to run to...there is just anxiety. How do you explain, in a story, just how connected you feel to these people that it hurts thinking they are struggling to eat while I sit at home on a comfy couch? 
Well I guess this is where I'll try :) 
So yes, my trip to Mali was absolutely amazing, uncomfortable, challenging, humbling, eye-opening, happy, heartbreaking and life-changing. But it wasn't really a 'trip' as we would call it, more a place where I realised, through getting to know the Malians in talking, laughing and dancing in the dust with them, that they are the most beautiful people I have ever met and I feel so privileged to have gotten to know them, seen the reality of life for them and now be able to do something for them...CHA HOO!

By the way, sorry if this blog has cheesy parts, I've realised it's hard to talk about Mali without sounding like a total-cheesy-ball, but I'm just going to say it like it is so hopefully you'll pick up some things to ponder over too.

Soph :)