It’s become common practice for authors to show off their desks so their readers can get a glimpse into their writing world. And for lack of a better blog I thought, what the heck? Why not? So here it is:
That jar in the right hand corner is my reward and sustenance: Peanuts from Uganda that a lady gave me. After I’ve written so many pages I treat myself to a handful. It keeps me energized.
That silvery thing next to the jar? It’s made of bottle caps, bent in half, enclosing a small bead or stone, joined together on a long piece of leather. I picked it up at the Gulu Recovery Centre for former child soldiers. It was used as part of the musical therapy when the counsellors wanted to bring joy and laughter and dance into the children’s lives. I leave it there to remind me to focus on the new lives these people have now. That it is not all doom and gloom. When I shake it, it sounds like a hundred birds taking flight, their songs spreading over the forest, announcing a new day.
And of course there’s research. I have three books I’ve read and taken lots of notes from: The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality by Tim Allen and Koen Klassenroot, Child, Victim, Soldier: the loss of innocence in Uganda by Donald H. Dunson and First Kill Your Family: child soldiers in Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army by Peter Eichstaedt. All valuable resources that I turn to again and again. Of course I use the internet, but these books have provided me with lots of information to help round out my stories.
Those pictures on the right hand side, by the peanuts? I left them there to remind me to take them to a school I’m doing a presentation at. They’re drawings former child soldiers made while in the recovery centre. They show abductions, raids, forced marches and gunfire exchanges between the LRA and the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defence Force). They’re a reminder that the stories are real and the ones who suffered the most were the children. The bookmarks are for the students. They’ve really enjoyed the book and I want to thank them for their enthusiasm. The class is doing a fundraiser to help former child soldiers too. Cool.
And to the left of my laptop - yep, those are bullets. 30-40 KRAG SP. They’re not the same bullets used in an AK-47, but they’re close enough to work for photo shoots. I keep them safe on my desk.
Then there’s the paper work, placed strategically here and there. I know where everything is. The “To do” lists, the papers with African quotes I refer to, the files for the writing groups I belong to and their “To do” lists, etc. etc. I know it looks chaotic but I can rummage through my desk and find what I’m looking for in a matter of five, say ten minutes.
And the cup - usually filled with tea, herbal, homemade using mint from my garden and rosehips collected in the fall after the first hard frost. Delicious. The tea in this cup is cold, and has been reheated probably three times already today. Which is a good sign. Means I’ve been on a role and haven’t had time to stop the writing to take a sip.
And that’s about it. Oh, yes. The window. Gives me a wonderful view onto the trees that run along the edge of our house and the birds and squirrels that search for the spruce cones in amongst its branches. If I peer past the trees I can see my horses. The view can be quite distracting sometimes. But I like it there. A little distraction now and then can be a good thing.
A great movie to bring in the new year with. Full of hope and courage and love and all of those things we want to fill our world with. Happy New Year my friends!
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with actor (The Good Lie), rap star (We Want Peace), former child soldier and award-winning peace activist Emmanuel Jal when he was in Winnipeg last year.
It was a warm spring morning and we opted to sit outside on a bench in front of a church, which proved to be quite hazardous. Anyone who knew Emmanuel stopped to say “Hi” and get his autograph. Finally when we were alone I took out my pen and paper and got down to business.
We talked about his experiences in Sudan, his struggles, and his new life here in Canada and I was again amazed at the resilience of the human spirit amongst all things that are horrid and evil.
Then I began to think: teens in Canada could never identify with what Emmanuel went through, but yet many have suffered abuse and neglect in their lives. What could Emmanuel say to them? If he had endured so much and rose above it all to became an advocator of peace, then perhaps he had something to share. So I asked him: What advice could you give to our youth when they're trying to rise above the challenges that are thrown at them day to day?
He used a very effective analogy: refining gold. “If you look at a piece of gold that is all polished and beautiful you may not know that in order for that gold to look like this, it had to go through intense heat and fire to be refined. It is like us. What difficulties we go through can make us stronger.”
I noticed as he told me this he placed more emphasis on the word can. Why? He said that many children have been victims, whether it is sexual abuse, domestic violence or something as horrid as being forced to be a child soldier. But, and he stressed this too, it is up to the individual to decide if they are going to take the step and embrace the courage it takes to conquer their past. He explained that there are many great people who have risen above their adversities. People like Nelson Mandela who had the great capacity to forgive and move forward.
That's exactly what Emmanuel Jal is doing. He’s moving forward - in a most awesome way - putting the past behind him, but using it as a tool to teach others about forgiveness and hope. And that, my dear readers, is pure gold.
In case you haven’t had the chance to watch this, I thoroughly recommend it. One of those movies that reaffirms your faith in humanity. And yes - my claim to fame - sat down one afternoon and shot the breeze with Emmanuel Jal.
In light of the recent news about elephant trophy hunting I thought it was best to voice my opinion in pictures instead of words. While on a safari in Malawi, we came upon this herd of elephants. And there, right in front of us, we saw something that will stay with me forever: two elephants entwining their trunks around each other’s. They do this as a greeting, sort of a “Hey, how are you? So good to see you! It’s been a long time, what have you been up to?” And sometimes they do it as part of a courtship thing: “Hey, you’re quite lovely. I’d like to get to know you some more …”
When I saw this my heart became so full. Such beautiful majestic creatures.
And now, with the elephant population finally increasing in Malawi, there have been more tourists coming in to visit their wildlife reserves. Nobody comes to Africa because they want to see a headless carcass of an elephant. No one.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.