A month ago I booked a last minute trip to Belgium. While even last year I would have laughed at the notion of a last minute trip to Belgium, I find that living a mere three hour flight away makes it quite easy. So I booked a ticket and was on my way the next day.
Belgium is, and I truly believe, always will be a second home to me. While I have spent much more time in other places around the world, it is in the small town on Schilde that I find sanctuary. As a very wise Buffy the Vampire Slayer once said: Home is where your friends are, everything else is just a view.
Schilde is where I find peace in the comfort of my friend’s home, in the long walks through the beautiful woods, in the lilting Flemish I so terribly attempt to replicate, and in the knowledge that the people of this town are truly a family. Having grown up fairly isolated from neighbors and a sense of community based on one’s geographical location, the idea that these families come together in times of crisis, or in times of celebration, is a beautiful idea. What is even more astounding is the way that I have felt welcomed into this community.
When I walked up the main street alone, with my American accent and my bright red hair, I know that people viewed me as an outsider. But after a few visits to the town people began to recognize and remember me.
My first night in Belgium I was first invited to go out to a bar, but politely declined. I was exhausted and over-stressed well past the point of relying on alcohol to unwind. Then I was invited to something a bit different. Gina, who I stayed with and consider a second mother, and also who’s daughter had invited me to the bar, told me she would be attending her first group meditation. It was to be a full moon that night, she told me, so we were supposed to be able to get energy from it. There was also some talk of finding spirit angels and using healing colors that I did not quite understand. But how could I say no to a full moon meditation?
We all sat barefoot with steaming cups of herbal tea in a glass room lit softly with glowing salt rocks and candles. Only one of the women in attendance did not speak any English except the phrase “I love you!” which she uttered with slight embarrassment, but utter clarity when asked if she knew any English. So I followed along as best I could while talks of the powers of the full moon, finding angels and using colors were explained in Flemish.
When I stay in a country where I do not know the language I ask questions constantly and found that the woman leading the meditation spoke slowly and clearly and I was able to understand most of what she said; the shared Germanic roots of Flemish and English helping considerably.
The meditation CD was in English, as the act of healing colors (which I know there is a term for but I do not know it) originated in England. So I sat in a room full of Belgian women and closed my eyes, focusing on my breathing and the slow words coming from the stereo.
When the time came to focus our breathing to give positive energy to those we thought needed it, and take away the negative energy that burdened them, I had meant to focus my thoughts on Gina who had once again opened her home to me and made me feel welcome. But my thoughts turned almost immediately to a little face I knew well. Some people’s faces, I find, are easier to recall than others, and I never have any trouble procuring little Rugie’s face in my mind’s eye.
Rugie is a young girl, no more than 4 or 5, who I grew quite attached to in Sierra Leone. It was easy to tell she was not the most popular child in the village, and I believe that her mother ranked lower than many of the other women. But Rugie has a kind heart and sweet eyes. It was this face I focused my positive energy on, hoping that she had not been claimed by the Ebola Outbreak or by the hunger that came with it. I breathed strength to her and willed her to happy and healthy and strong in the face of adversity and the struggles that would come when Sierra Leone re-emerged from the ashes left by the vicious disease.
My heart broke just thinking of her and all the people I had come to know in the small village. I had no idea what they were facing and I had no idea how I could help. So in that moment I did what I could and poured everything I had into Rugie.
I am not one for spirits, angels, and healing energies, but I neither do I judge something without knowing about it. I am still thankful I chose to attend that meditation. It reminded me how important inner peace is, and that even if sending positive energies to a little girl in Sierra Leone does not help shield her from ebola or fill her belly, I felt that maybe I could give her the strength to soldier on, as silly as that may sound.
The meditation also made me realize where my priorities were. It made me realize that my trip in 2014 to Sierra Leone would by no means be my last, that I was lucky enough not to have just one home on this planet, but two, and it made me realize that I have a lot more of the world left to see. If such amazing beauty and community could be found in the tiny slice of heaven known to the rest of the world as Schilde, then what else was out there? What else could be found by saying yes to invitations like the one I had accepted tonight? What else could I learn about the world and myself in these little moments?
On this most recent trip to Schilde I was blown away by the support that this little town gave me. I am currently working on raising money for my research which will take place just before the backpacking trip this site was built to chronicle. After I returned from a lengthy and refreshing walk with Gina, and her grand-daughter I saw a decorated box sitting in the kitchen. One of the women in Schilde named Danielle, a talented jewelry designer and someone I now consider a dear friend, had so graciously designed the art for my website and had covered the box in similar drawings of primates and a photo of my face glued right next to a slit cut in the box.
Walter, Gina’s husband and one of the kindest souls you will ever meet, had had Danielle create a box which he was bound and determined to take to the opening of a restaurant later that night.
While Gina would not allow Walter to bring the brightly colored collection box to the party (“It’s not our restaurant!”) it did not stop Walter from telling everyone that he met about me, my work in Africa, and my upcoming work in Malaysia. By the end of the weekend he had people walking in and out of his kitchen dropping Euro’s in the box and I blushed and thanked the people I had only briefly met but felt eternally indebted to. I was humbled greatly by this experience of support from people who didn’t know me and I still smile when I think of Walter eagerly discussing the plight of the orangutan over Spanish tapas. Walter is an excellent salesman and an even better friend.
So to end this I will say to you, fellow travelers, dreamers, and adventurers, that family and community and love can be found anywhere, if only we are brave enough to seek it out.