Paulina didn’t have a sofa on which to entertain guests. She didn’t have a stove on which to boil tea. She didn’t have crystal serving trays that she could fill with pretty cakes and cookies. She didn’t even have a living room where we could settle in for our visit.
Paulina didn’t have any of these things, and yet she stands out in my memory as one of my most gracious and welcoming hosts.
Paulina was standing in front of her mud hut when I met her, wearing the traditional attire of Maasai women – layers of colourful fabric tied around her waist and shoulders, a beautiful (and no doubt heavy) variety of beaded necklaces around her neck, more beads wrapped around her drooping earlobe, a brightly coloured headscarf tied around her head… and a broad smile shining from her face.
At first, I approached her tentatively, my North American sensibilities telling me I had no right to impose on her. Her grin broadened as I neared, and she stepped forward eagerly, offering her hand. I started to ask whether I could see her house, but before I could speak, she’d gestured me inside. Others in my group followed.
She led us through the narrow hallway to her bedroom. Inside were 2 small beds where she and her husband slept. Between the beds was a primitive oil lantern on a small table. She gestured for us to sit on the narrow beds made of rough sticks and ropes with thin mattresses covering the frames.
Next to her bedroom was another small bedroom (not a “bedroom” really, just a bed with a blanket hanging in front it). She leaned over the bed to open a flap in the wall to let the light through the small hole in the wall. This was where 2 of her children slept. The third child slept in another bed in the tiny kitchen. In the centre of the floor of the kitchen, not far from the bed, was a small fire pit. On the wall hung 2 or 3 cooking pots.
That was all there was to the house. The entire structure was smaller than my living room. She’d made it herself out of sticks she’d gathered in the forest, coated in cow dung left to dry to a concrete-like consistency in the heat of the sun.
Paulina didn’t have any of the things we mistakenly feel are needed for us to serve as good hosts. Her house is made of sticks and cow dung, and her language of communication was different from mine, and yet she had a big heart that remembered that hosting is not about the material things you offer but about the love you offer others.
Materialism and the acquisition of wealth in our western cultures has done significant damage to our sense of community. We’ve become convinced that things need to be perfect before we can be hosts. We hide our messes because other people have prettier things than we do. We give in to the pressure of advertising, because the people in those commercials with the expensive leather couches just look so much happier than we are.
I know this to be true, because it’s been months since I invited anyone into my home. Why? Because the carpet is stained, the linoleum is peeling, and the front window has a big crack in it. I don’t want anyone to see all that brokenness, and so I’ve kept it hidden. My shame has been preventing me from honouring my friends by hosting them in my home.
We are being fed a whole lot of lies and we’ve become dangerously addicted to these lies. The biggest lie is the one that says consumerism trumps community.
I keep asking myself this question, “How do we get back to community?” How do we walk out of the dominant paradigm and serve as midwives to a new paradigm that brings us back together? I don’t know the full answer to that yet, but of one thing I am certain…
It’s going to be up to women to bring about the shift. Women are the hosts, the nurturers, and the midwives. This is in the very marrow of our bones and we need to stop denying that and step forward and offer it to a hurting world.
The world needs a whole lot of wild-hearted, courageous love, and we know how to give it.
In a women’s leadership circle I co-hosted recently, I invited the women to see themselves as community leaders and to consider “what wants to be born” in our communities. Playing with the “garbage” that I’d brought from my recycling bin, we let ourselves imagine what was longing to emerge out of the brokenness of our failing financial systems, our flawed relationship with the earth, and our broken sense of community.
What started to show up was a model for community where there are equal opportunities for every member, there is no discrimination, there is plenty of opportunity to learn from and be in connection with the earth, and there was beauty, art, spirituality, and wholeness. In that little village made of recycled milk jugs, toilet paper rolls, and cereal boxes, the imaginary people were living in right relationship with each other and the earth.
When I invited the women to consider what over-arching theme was emerging, we agreed that it was connection.
It’s very simple, really. We need deeper connection with the earth. We need deeper connection with each other. We need deeper connection with ourselves. We need deeper connection with the Sacred. We’ve always known how to make those connections, but we’ve let our deep feminine wisdom be buried under years of patriarchy. We have to do the hard work of excavating what we’ve lost.
Paulina had it right all along. Connection trumps consumerism.
Women, we are the leaders called to bring us back into connection.
Just start where you are. Connect with yourself, your Spirit, your neighbours, and your garden or the trees down by the river.
Open your heart and see where those connections take you.
And if you want to visit me in my home, just let me know and I’ll make a place for you on my sagging sofa. It’s the best that I can offer you, but you don’t want my sofa anyway, you want my heart.