Sunday, June 12, 2011
Under the Avocado Tree
We met these women under the shade of an avocado tree. They came to greet us and to rest from their work, bent to the earth with babies on their backs. They are in the second year of cultivating a pineapple plantation, with seed money provided by Rwanda Partners. The daily goings-on in this cooperative are deeply complicated in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. There is no one in Rwanda who escaped the effects of the horrors of that year. Many of the women who work the pineapple plantation lost husbands by machete during the genocide. Many others lost husbands to post-genocide incarceration. The younger ones can tell dark tales of lost youth and the desperate lengths they went to without family and/or community after 1994.
I expected to be impacted by the Rwandese women I knew we would meet on our trip. I was not surprised to be inspired by their bravery or moved by their sacrifice. But I was caught off-guard under the shade of the avocado tree by a tender, aching remembrance of our family’s birth mother, inspired by the visions of the young Rwandese mothers with their babies. I watched as these beautiful women unwrapped their children and carefully set them among the folds of their skirts in the tall grass. I tried not to stare as one particular baby in front of me contentedly gummed a crust of bread and played with the edges of his mother’s skirt.
My own son, from the day he was home, would expectantly cling to my shirt and crawl onto my lap to snuggle. Even at four-years old and forty pounds he would be happy to be carried in my arms almost anywhere. The first time he buried himself in my chest, adjusting the neckline of my shirt so that his cheek could be against my skin, I knew in my heart that this was a gift to both of us from his birth mother who kept him close and fed him from her heartbeat for nearly two years. But watching these mothers, so attentive to their babies, was a vivid, bitter-sweet vision of the beauty and loss that lies at the beginning of my son’s story. I blinked back tears and whispered a sincere prayer of thanks for the opportunity to share an hour of afternoon shade with these women. And then I thanked them, in tearful, broken sentences, for showing me again, the beauty of a close and quiet love.