Tuesday, 25 June 2013

sensory memories

There are some memories that are mixes of sounds, smells, sights, or feelings. There are no photos or videos for these multi-sensory memories - only words. Sometimes you just have to put the camera down and experience, you know?

At Bethesda hospital, Cotonou: We walked carefully, quietly, past children in hospital beds, lined in a row, their parents smiling at us weakly, IV tubes connected to arms as children slept. We got to the end of the room where 4 children were lying on a counter top. The doctor giving us the tour asked if a little 2 year old boy was still breathing. The boy lay on the table wearing only a diaper. The nurse said "yes". The doctor shook the boy's body and after a few seconds, he coughed. The doctor frowned, put the stethoscope on the boy's heart, listened. He shook his head and said, "he's dead." Tears came to my eyes at once. It took all of my concentration to hold them back as the small boy lay limp on the table.

At La Casa Grande children's home in Allada: The sound of crickets chirping mixed with children's pure singing voices coming from the girls' house. Night had fallen, everyone was in bed, praising the God who had given them life. In the other direction, drumming and singing from the neighbouring church. A peaceful way to fall asleep.

At Ouidah, the slave port on the Atlantic coast: After hearing the story of the slave trade, Zoe said, "Sometimes I don't like the colour of my skin."

In Rome, Benin, Paris: Eden was sobbing because she felt so badly for a homeless woman who was sitting outside of a cathedral in Rome. In Benin, the need was much greater. Every time the car was stopped at a light, people rushed onto the street offering CDs, toys, towels, dishcloths, photo frames, for sale. Others pushed someone in a wheelchair who had leprosy, coming up to each of us at our car windows and asking for money. One day, Eden saw a hand come up from below and hit her car window. She laughed, surprised. She looked down out of the window and saw a man pushing himself around the traffic on a skateboard, asking for money. Our Beninese hosts weren't comfortable giving money to beggars, so we followed suit. In Paris, Eden asked again to give money to someone on the street. When do we give? When do we not give? It seems so random, and our children are watching.

Leaving La Casa Grande: I cut my finger on the rusty trunk of the taxi as we got loaded up to go back to Cotonou. It didn't really hurt, but tears came as I got in the back seat of the car. Would I see these children again? Where will their lives take them? In 2 short weeks, I had come to love them, and wanted the best for them. I prayed that their dreams would come true: for a library, a basketball court, a high school, a promising future.


  1. Thank you for sharing these powerful descriptions and images that will stay with me, and important for us not to forget.

    I also struggled with knowing how to respond to the begging when I was in Benin. It was so overwhelming and I knew I couldn't respond to all. One of the mission workers there told me that she always kept change in the car or on her
    and she would give to one or two people on a given day knowing she couldn't help all. I kind of liked that response.
    Sue S.

    1. Sue, I like this response that you mentioned here too.

  2. Rebecca, your writing about Benin continues to be a very life-giving thing for me to be able to read. I wish there were more sources of writing like this locally in our community that would connect us to issues in such a heart felt way. I would much rather read this than peek at depressing news headlines. (although I suppose I should do that too)

    Or course, the image of that dying boy is gripping. Thank you for sharing that, even though the emotions it brings are hard. I don't know why I seek to experience others' pain and hardship at this point in my life, but I do. I think it's because I have come to realize at some level that the only reason I am able to live such an ignorant and self-focused life is precisely because I have been shielded from the pain and suffering of others. Perhaps part of the cure, in my mind, is to try and remove that separation... to be willing to live in truth, even if that truth is painful... with the faith that God can use that truth powerfully in our lives, and how we are then motivated to live differently and be more caring of others.

    Thanks to for your questions about giving to people on the street. I've struggled with that too. I think I've only given to a person on the street once in my life. My understanding growing up was that you shouldn't do that, because they'd likely use it for drugs or some other destructive thing. But there's something about that response that doesn't sit right either. So I don't know what to do.

    Most recently, as I've been feeling God calling me to be community with those who are hurting... I was on my way to a blood donation appointment on my bike, and as I was passing the Sobey's near our house, there was a man standing on the raised section between the two directions of traffic on Fischer Hallman, with a sign, asking for help. I legitimately wanted to do something to help, and wished I wasn't almost-late for my blood appointment. And in the seconds after I passed the man, a little voice inside me said something to the affect "if only you knew how little value your blood donor appointment was, and how great a value it would be if you'd stop, turn around, go talk with that man, and invite him over for supper". I didn't listen to the voice, I kept cycling to my appointment. Luke 10:29-37

    1. Thanks for these comments, Daniel. Yes - giving to people on the street is something we've talked about a lot as a family over the last year. I'm not consistent in what I do, but sometimes we have bought a meal for someone, or a coffee, or just given money. It's Eden who is the most affected by signs that they are holding up - and she knows enough French to be able to read the signs in French too in the various places we visited. So it's hard for me to say no to Eden - feels like that would be de-sensitizing her to the problems that are out there, and I'm not ready to do that.

      Interesting story about the voice you heard on the way to donating blood. Thanks for sharing that.

    2. Daniel and Rebecca, What both of you said resonated with me so much. We have been so sheltered from the pain and suffering of others, but when we do actually open ourselves up to it, that is when I feel that God is really present with us. The voices in our heads and the innocent and genuine voices of our children come from the same place I think.
      I want to stop being in a hurry and listen to these voices. I am so weak a lot of the time.
      Thanks to both of your for your insights. Very powerful for me.

  3. Oh Rebecca - thank you for sharing these heart felt emotions. How very sad - the boy. How very sad.
    And then the sounds of drumming and singing so beautiful. I prefer reading your blog over reading the news. Thanks for writing and asking these important questions to ponder.

    1. Yes - I was surprised at how quickly the tears came. I just looked across the room at Derek and tried to stop. They're not big fans of showing teary emotion in Benin - that's why I tried to keep a lid on it.

      Thanks for your encouragement, Shauna.