Saturday, January 9, 2010

Force of Habitat

I explain this a bit on my photography blog. When I end my 9-year, common-law marriage 3 years ago, I hold zero inclination to sit around and mope on the couch, weeping and wafting between anger, bitterness and loneliness. The television set ends up on a shelf in the garage as I am determined not to turn into a zombie watching other people live their lives to the fullest while mine slowly stagnates into hermitsville. (Three years later, the set is still on that shelf. I highly recommend it.)

I decide to go somewhere in the world I've never been and do something while there (versus laying on some beach moping, weeping and wafting). That's when I discover Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program. Psychologically, I'm drawn to this particular organization because things had fallen apart so thoroughly in my marriage and the desire to 'build' something anew (literally and figuratively) is intense: to choose to be constructive versus follow a destructive path. I'm on a new road, a new journey for myself, starting a new decade in my life after a very sad decade. Spiraling into depression and self-pity is not an option. Getting away and being productive ends up the best decision I could have made.


Often when people split, an obsession with petty give-and-take erupts: what furniture he's taking, what CDs she insists she needs to keep. Material pettiness. Emotional childishness. Sometimes an outright battle in court ensues; the ripping apart of every last shred of dignity or morsel of love the relationship once held. It strikes me as such a horrifying way to end something that began as love. My ex and I had been through enough sorrow as it was so we choose to part as amicably as possible. We seek a mediator to help us draw up our separation agreement (already discussed and agreed upon before approaching the third party). We simply walk room to room negotiating what of our possessions will be going with whom. It's all managed somehow without too much bitterness or resentment, somehow devoid of hatred. Some tears are shed, hugs hugged. There are instances when even some laughter bursts out at the end.  Like when he farts in the kitchen and I point heavenward with my index finger, smile and say, "One thing I am not going to miss!" and our sides split.

When you pack for your first volunteer/working vacation, you may fall under the misapprehension that you will somehow be helping the people you are traveling towards. You don't necessarily imagine it will be the other way around. But this is what happens. I choose Guatemala as my destination and am assigned to build a rural home with other volunteers for a single mom of six children. What I don't expect is the bond that forms with the other volunteers, the way my heart is touched by these kids, the warmth and dignity of the local people, the barriers between language broken asunder, the absolute, breathtaking beauty of the country itself. I'm humbled. Yes, there is poverty like I've never witnessed to be sure, but the families we encounter know love and laughter and share both openly within the larger community in which they live. Families take care of families. Everyone reaches out.


Small expressions of Joy are everywhere: plastic bags hang as angel wings over doorways; planters of geraniums brighten the outside wall of homes; there is happiness expressed even in the colour of laundry that blows against the shadows of storm clouds which hang over the mountains.


I want to say how organized Habitat for Humanity is and what an amazing experience it was to discover a new country and its people while working to construct a roof over someone's head; what the organization feels is a basic human need. A human right.

It's not all hard work. A couple of days at the end of each work session are reserved for recreation and relaxation. Or don't relax: climb some volcanoes and swim in the water of long ago craters those volcanoes made.


I encourage anyone out there to visit the Canadian or International websites and check it all out, whether you wish to look into volunteering locally or travel to another spot on the globe and lend a helping hand. Kudos to Millard and Linda Fuller, the organization's founders and to Jimmy Carter for hopping on the bandwagon with such fervour back in '84. Really, the organization and all its volunteers do amazing work worldwide.

Altruism, philanthropy, social conscience, global awareness: these are all qualities I hope to instil in my son's heart. They may already be buried deep in there and will only require a little sunshine and water on my part to blossom and bloom. His hands are tiny right now, but I know he will want to lend them to help others someday. His feet are tiny, but I know they will want to walk this Earth we live upon, see what else is out there...


I can't wait until he's old enough so we can go on a trip together! Well, actually I can wait. But I look foward to it sometime down this road we're on together. Such a great way to see the rest of the planet and truly experience how people live and breathe, away from the resorts and high-tourist areas.

To see some more of my photography from the whole experience, click on the slideshow of the sister blog to this blog and peruse my Flickr slideshow. (I'm still uploading for this trip, so there is more to come, I promise!)

Music: De Cara a la pared, Lhasa de Sela
(R.I.P. September 27, 1972 ~ January 1, 2010 - Lhasa, you live on in your voice)

9 comments:

Brian Miller said...

what a cool experience...we have taken trips mostly in the states...built houses...cleaned lots and built parks...and worked on a few HFH houses as well...and the chnage you experience in your own life far outweighs the work you actually accomplish it seems. i want the same for my sons, to see that it is more than just about them. we involve them in serving on a regular basis, they love it, and one day they will get it...

the b in subtle said...

that's awesome, Brian. isn't it an amazing experience? i worked on a women-only build a few years ago, about three hours drive from where i am now. it was fabulous as well, but really amazing to do it in another part of the globe. there's nothing like it. the change definitely outweighs the work. but it's like my mantra: what goes around comes out and the good that you do in the world does come back to you tenfold.

Sparx said...

I wish I'd known about that when I had the urge - I was told several times that volunteer organisations only want people with special skills as they are inundated with requests for volunteers... sounds like a wonderful time.

I've left you a photo meme at mine if you'd like to do it. You don't have to but I do love your photographs.

Cabo said...

That sounded like an extremely cool experience. And now bubbles up in me that long laid desire to join the Peace Corps that has hounded me from birth! Very cool, Nancy. Very cool indeed. Big Grin.

the b in subtle said...

Wow. Sparx, thank you so kindly. And you, as well, Michael. What goes around...comes around... ;)

Land of shimp said...

Hello, hello! One of my pet causes, and a fantastic organization. I've only done volunteer work here in my state, but Habitat does great work in many areas of the world.

Jimmy Carter was easily the best man who ever held the office of President in the U.S. and he was quite the visionary. He wasn't our greatest President here (depending on who is doing the judging) but what a stellar human being.

He's the sort of person who makes it possible to be proud of being human, isn't he? And we don't get to feel that often enough.

You did a wonderful thing, and found as much as you gave, which is a big, big part of volunteering.

It's hard when relationships end, but sometimes the participants have been watching the death throes for long enough that when it is over, it is over. It isn't sorrow so much as...it's done. That feeling of sadness isn't so crushing because the process was completed.

Now, I love a good TV program, so in that we differ. I know people who write for, and about TV, so I'm not giving it up...but I do love that you decided, and then did.

It's easy to decide to do something, but you followed through. Sounds like you're prone to that :-)

It is a trait people I truly admire share, and I hope I possess. I try to possess it, and live it.

Babble, babble, all I'm really saying was that this was a wonderful read, and inspired a lot of enthusiasm for the subject in me. Thank you for that. What a lovely thing to encounter, shared exuberance :-)

the b in subtle said...

Alane - i love that you're so verbose (and quite elegant at it) - it makes me feel less bad for being so myself! ;) thanks for your beautiful comments all over my blog. much appreciated.

minh said...

When I first read this I got tears in my eyes and then put this in my bookmarks. Now I´ve come back to it a couple of times and there are thoughts and ideas evolving..

I really appreciate what you wrote about breaking up. Mine too was a common law-marriage, of seven years (and I was married-married for seven years as well over ten years ago)and going our separate ways after all these years is bloody hard! Still, I feel good and liberated because now I share my life with my son alone and our bond is unbreakable. He´s very much into the same things as me, for now at least, like animals, nature, reading, cooking, watching movies and getting excited about music!

I promised my son years ago that we will go to Africa together one day. I won´t be just a safari or a holiday, it will involve work of some kind and this story of yours gives me inspiration and ideas for it. He is now seventeen and will not stay with me forever, but I know we are so close and love each other´s company so much, we can travel and do things always, when he is older too.

My idea now is to go to Ireland or Scotland and volunteer in one of the wildlife farms in a couple of years time. My son will love it!

Thank you for sharing this and also for communicating through Flickr. I feel you are the kind of person I would love to know and talk to.

Big kiss to your beautiful boy!

the b in subtle said...

thanks Anna. it is sooo great to connect with you, another artistic, nature-loving soul across the ocean. your son is the perfect age to do a habitat trip with you if that's what you're looking at- you're right - he will move on with his own life soon, but i'm sure you might consider holidaying together doing work-vacations or volunteering in some way down the road. i hope to with my little one (though i will be 60 when he is 18 so i hope i'll still have the get-up-and-go to do a work vacation). so happy we found each other! you will get through this. it was very liberating for me. my 30s were terribly depressing and leaving him and moving on was the best decision i could have made. i'm on a much happier track now. xo