Thursday, March 31, 2016

India:The Power of a Village (Part 2)

Landing in the Hyderabad and Mumbai airports, I was flabbergasted with the new world of India that was seemingly awash with more color than I had ever seen before. It was like walking into a bright technicolor movie, after watching black and white Charlie Chaplin movies for days. The rugs, decor, art, markets with brightly stacked fruit and vegetables were all painted with new combinations of colors I had never seen before. The saris (the women's dresses) were dazzlingly brilliant. Their choices of bright, bold colors in their saris seemed to be confident walking exclamations--that they were women who were beautiful, but also tremendously capable. It was like God had given extra colors on a palette to India, and everyone embraced the vibrancy of their surroundings.

I have heard that India is the Italy of Asia, and I have to agree. Art in every form, texture, and design were ubiquitous--even on the henna-sketched arms of the women. A new sense of wonder and surprise awaits the visitor in India. But it was the voyage to the small rural villages, communities of people who have lived together for hundreds of years, that captivated me the most in India.

A village unites together to make it better for everyone who lives there. One of my favorite things we did in preparation for the wedding that I attended in India was that we divided up about 20 people. We then completely canvased the village of 3,000 people to invite people to the wedding. It is tradition to invite EVERY single person in the village to the wedding. No exceptions!!!!! Every village needs to breathe this air of inclusion and acceptance. I trudged through the village for about three-four hours, ending with an electric black-out. I had already met many of the people of the village before the wedding that was the next day.Ha! It was so personal, so loving. In the video below, you can see the people waiting outside their homes, as we give them their invitation. Also, the woman of the house receives turmeric and saffron dots on their forehead and throat. When you invite somebody, you put a red dot between their eyes to bless them. Also, you touch their throats with saddle wood. Often times they would then "bless you back," by touching your forehead too. It was only done to the women. It also means that they hope the spouses will live a long time, and long lives will be the blessing of the new couple. When a woman is widowed, she no longer wears the traditional red dot between her eyes, her bangles (bracelets are removed), and  there is no more mendi (henna-decorated hands and arms).

Video by Megan Hansen at

All of the expats I have met in Qatar who are from India yearn to return to their kindred village someday. They know they are in Qatar for a certain time because currently there is no employment for them in their villages in India. However,  they all plan about the time when they will certainly, undoubtedly go back to their village, their place in this world. They speak of the mango groves or the way everyone comes together for ceremonies in a wistful way, pausing, and then looking away as in a dream. And I understand why. The camaraderie and support in those small Indian villages, emotionally, economically, and religiously, were palpably felt, even to an outsider. The multi-generational layers of history and reinforcement, that has been given for centuries, was beautiful to not only observe, but feel.

A statue of Ghandi in front of the school, reminding them of the power of villages that he preached.

When Ghandi wrote his autobiography, he elaborated continuously on  the power of a village, a network of people that daily barter, teach, celebrate, and work together. He wrote, "I would say if the village perishes, India will perish too. India will be no more. Her mission of the world will get lost." The exchanges in ideas and traditions are the unique power in a village--giving an identity and place to practice how to live. Within a small perimeter of space, villages of people live all over the world. They gossip, love, forgive, and learn from one another.

Ashok and his his sister, Asha, on the day of the wedding. Blogpost about Ashok: A Chance Encounter Can Change Your Life
Ashok Choudhary, a young 22 year old from Adasarlapadu speaks of growing up in his village. (I went to for his sister's wedding. Wedding blog post coming), "My parents are the presidents of the village of about 3,000 people. They wake up at 5:00 am, and have coffee together, talk, clean the house, and then the people of the village come from about 7-10 am, talking about water problems, schools, sometimes about any petty crimes that have been committed (like a bicycle being stolen). There are no police, fire stations, library, waste pickup. All of those things are settled in the village." He continued, "The only people who are brought in from outside of the village is when there is an election, and the ballot boxes are monitored. But that is all. My parents were elected two years ago from the villagers to mediate problems and work for the collective good. Everyone in the village knows that they have the best intentions for the families and individuals in the village. Everyone knows my parents are fair, and they respect them."

Again, I was struck by the women, especially the older women who were beautiful and radiant. Their desire to propel their loved ones forward was inspiring. Here is Ashok, with one of his grandmothers.

Ashok spoke of his father and mother's involvement in the village, "Although my father is about 50 (he doesn't know exactly his birthday because no one ever kept track, and it is only my generation that celebrates birthdays and anniversaries), he has been settling people's problems for about 20 years, all the time I was growing up--even when he was not a president of the village. He loves politics. It doesn't make my parents any money, but they love their village. They will never leave, and will never go anywhere else. They know nothing else. These are their people, and there are no enemies to them. If they have a difference of opinion, they just proceed with their life like nothing happened. "

Listening to Ashok speak when we are both back in Doha, I look at the poised, educated young Indian man who calls me "Mom." He tells me in English with no hint of an accent, "When I was 16, my parents urged me to go to Hyderabad to go to college and learn English. I told them I didn't want to leave the village. I pled for them not to make me go. But they insisted that I should leave the village and learn things they do not know or will ever know. Reluctantly, I went to the city of Hyderabad, to go to school, and then worked for Google. I relentless worked on my English. But I will go back to the village, maybe when I am 40 or 50.  I will be like my parents, and try to give back. I want my village to have a health clinic, a library. I want other kids in the village to have the opportunities I have had. But so many things I want to stay the same in the village."

Going to the village of Adasarlapadu has triggered many reflections about the power of a village. Although Adasarlapadu has little aspects of modern living that I know, this small village has raised a remarkable young man--one who is tremendously intelligent, creative, driven, funny. He gave us a gift when he invited us to come inside his home, his village. It was obvious to the observer of the many people who had made deposits to this young man, and how much all children need a village of people to love them. Perhaps most people in Adasarlapaudu are uneducated, even illiterate, but they know how to build and nourish a child. The entire time we were there, many people were checking up on him, asking about him. We were endeared because we were connected to him. The women, especially the women, the aunts, the neighbors, the cousins, and of course, his own mother,  have loved a little boy who has become a great young man.

The power of women who bond together in a village to nurture children was amazing in this small Indian village. As Ashok told me about his family and neighbors, I could see the the impact that those early connections have on a small child. Gade Kumari (in the red sari), his aunt, who was more educated that many of his family and village always made sure that she brought clothes and anything to her family and loved ones. Because she knew she had more, she gave more. Ashok said, "She would even go to my school to conference with my teachers. She was my aunt, but I owe much to her for making sure I got a good education. Again, she knew she had been given more, and she gave more.

George Eliot wrote in Adam Bede about living amidst the people of our chosen spheres or villages, "These fellow mortals, every one, must be accepted as they are; you can neither straighten their noses nor brighten their wit, nor rectify their dispositions: and it is these people amongst whom your life is passed--that it is needful that you should . . . love." To see the handprints of a village who has shaped such a wonderful young man was heartening, beautiful to me. That is the power of a village.

The beauty, simple, but yet elegant, was painted, carved, and planted in every corner. The courtyard grounds were painted with elaborate tile-like paintings, splashing color everywhere.

Elias walking up the front entry of a beautiful house that was so well manicured. I wanted to linger for a long time there, smelling the passion fruits, mangoes, and bananas.

Doors were painted, with bright yellow colors to show it was a blessed house.
Since we came for a wedding, we were able to see the preparations for the wedding. Village friends helping to prepare for the wedding of two people from the village who had been sweethearts since childhood. I stayed one night at the bride's home (on the roof), along with many others in the family. The groom lived a few "blocks" away. It was remarkable to see a collective group of people plan for the wedding/ceremony/festival in the small village of 3,000. 4,300 people ended up coming to the wedding. 
A young man holding his prize rooster. Indians love their roosters. I heard lots of crowing when I was there in the village.

Animals, goats, sheep, and especially the water buffalo are so important to Indian people. The water buffalo are treated like people, and sometimes they are allowed to wander in the house. Usually, they are kept in the courtyard, right next to the home. They provide the milk, but they are loving pets. They are petted often and watched over.

All the parked  bicycles in front of the school.
Young girls who stay in a hostel in the village. Some of them live too far away to pedal home every day after school so they stay in the hotel during the week, and then go home on the weekends.
Getting ready for the wedding party, putting up the tent, and taking away the water buffalos to the field for the night. 
Some venders who were selling nuts and homemade candies. There was a complete absence of waste products, no cardboard, hardly a bag in sight. Embarrassing, but true, but we had the only water bottles. Everything was composted. The village was clean, efficient, orderly. 
Flowers were everywhere. Ashok says, "Indians believe that they should worship God with flowers."
Going inside a kitchen, I was amazed at the orderliness and beauty of each room in the house.
Some children who are trying to get a peek at the foreigners. The one in the orange and plaid shirt followed me around like a puppy for two days. But he had a face that was easily to love....
A tailor, getting ready to iron some shirts.
A young girl riding home from school, wearing her uniform.
Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the foreigners. Ashok said only a few people had ever seen a foreigner before. Most had never been to Hyderabad, which is only a few hours away. I am already dreaming of going back too, just like my Indian friends. Are you ready now to go to Adasarlapadu? 

Doha Food Festival with Martha Stewart

Martha preparing some healthy carrot juice with ginger. She was inspirational with her energy and vigor at 74!

I must say that Doha knows how to throw a party for the world to come see.  National Qatar Day (every December 18), National Sports Day (the second Tuesday in February), and a weeklong Food Festival in March to celebrate have been just a few events that we expats have enjoyed since moving here. In late March Doha opens three venues for a food festival, The Museum of Islamic Art, Katara and The Pearl, all located on the Persian Gulf Cornish. You can climb in a boat for a few dollars if you want to go to all the locations. But we just went to The Museum of Islamic Art Park, and found plenty to do for one night--even a chance to see a Martha Stewart cooking show.

The food festival brought in chefs from China, Japan, and the US domestic diva herself, Martha Stewart. There was not much advertisement about Martha coming to Doha, hardly a thread of information about her free show in the park. When we got to the small outdoor theatre, there were only about 15 people there, and the show was starting in ten minutes. We were about ten feet from her as she prepared juice, salad, and salmon for us. I must say it was quite amazing to see Martha cook me a small meal. I checked on Martha's blog about her trip to Qatar, and you can see us on picture #42 of 80 at her cooking show. Ha! Martha Stewart Show

You can find other Megan Hansen videos at

Some of the things people said about her:
"I love Martha, warts and all. "
"You can work forever, and keep on being creative."
Interestingly, one 19 year old young woman said, She has made a business of making our homes more beautiful. And although I know she has an army of people to help her, I am more motivated to make my surroundings more beautiful when I see what she has done."
"Our food options are so much different than when her best selling book, Entertaining, came out in 1982. She has been a big part of that revolution."
"It was great to hear her speak about her family and grandkids. You can tell she really likes being a grandma. I was impressed that her daughter is a vegetarian, and has not made the same dinner for five years."
"I have to say she really knows her "stuff."

Some of the things Martha taught day: "Feed your family good and healthy food. Work at it. Be mindful of what you are eating. Keep being intrigued on how to make meals interesting. When I started this business, we didn't eat such an international diet. For example, now quinoa, a Peruvian grain with lots of protein, is one of my favorite foods--not so 30 years ago. Keep learning from every source about how to be healthy. Celebrate with family and friends the big holidays and the daily dinners. All of the days tied together are important--not just the holidays. Grow herbs and vegetables. Share them with family and friends. Get some chickens. Chop food with three knives of the same size, (yes, three). Don't use a lot of paper towels. Use just one good rag. Compost, Recycle. Enjoy every season to the fullest."

Favorite quotes by Martha:
"Doing projects really gives people confidence. Nothing is better than taking the pie out of the oven. What it does for you personally, and for your family's idea of you, is something money cannot buy."

"My dream now, in retrospect then, was to be an eclectic knowledge-gathering person--in order to be able to learn and then to teach. And I'm still doing that, so I think I am a teacher."

"If you learn something every day, you can teach something new every day."

Thanks, Martha. I never thought of you as a teacher, but I was inspired. I am glad we finally met.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Storytelling: The Currency of the World

Loy Bonseak, from Cambodia, was 17 years old when he escaped from Pol Pot's army to live in a refugee camp on the Thai border in about 1982. He didn't come back until Cambodia's genocide was over, a few years later. He married his wife when they were both teenagers in the refugee camp, and went to Siem Riep (where Angkor Wat is located) to put their lives together again. Pictured are his wife and three daughters now. The youngest child was adopted when they found her in an orphanage. In my recent travel to Cambodia, I was elated to find Loy who demonstrates a profound resilience--an ability to turn one's life around without bitterness. One Cambodian refugee told me when I asked him about his story when I was in a refugee camp in Thailand in the early 1980's, "It would take a river of ink to tell the sorrow of my people during the time of Pol Pot." Loy is a man, as you can see, who has worked to heal that chapter of his young life. What a delight it was to meet him!

Since I was a small child, the power of storytelling has stretched my resilience, eased my fears, propelled me to have courage, and grown my compassion. I believe the power of a story, whether it is spun with written or oral words, is one of the most important tools in life. In my mind, library, heart, and files, I collect stories. I believe everyone has a story to unravel if we have the patience to listen for it. The stories that we keep in our reservoirs can illuminate and inspire us.. They can rescue us, healing and restoring broken hearts, in the most difficult of atrocities. When they are retold years later, the knowledge of these heroic acts of strength (of character) can shape us, giving us mettle when we hobble or ache.

Victor Frankel, a survivor of the Holocaust, who later wrote the famous book, Man's Search for Meaning, kept other prisoners alive with his supply of stories in the concentration camp. He tells the experience of how the memories of his wife's image illuminated him in the most desperate of situations:

"As we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one anther up and onward, nothing was said, we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I hear her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise."

 In the darkness of the walls of Auschwitz, Frankel told uplifting stories to his fellow prisoners. When he had the energy, he encouraged them to remember the stories of the people whom they loved. He told them to honor that person in their minds, and that a great flood of love would come to them. Through processing the memories of loved ones and their stories, the concentration camp victims could be elevated to another sphere. As bleak and dim as their external, physical lives were in Auschwitz, Frankel taught them how to live in their minds. He wrote that one could understand love in a new way, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."

In my travels, I have met men and women of immense fortitude that have given me pause to rethink how I could handle my own difficulties. Some have experienced much tragedy, but they trudge on--loving, forgiving, persevering anyways. One trait that I have noticed about all of the people I have known that motivate me: they excavate, find ways within themselves to contribute to others, making the world a better place. Often times they document it for others that will follow them.

Last June we spent the day with Geert Van Den Gogaert, from Gent, Belgium, owner of Normandy Heroes while we toured around Normandy, France. We were there to see the same places that my father-in-law, H. Smith Shumway had experienced when he landed on June 6, 1944 on Omaha Beach as a young 22 year old (Six weeks later he would be blinded in the push to Paris). I noticed immediately that Geert and I both are "tale seekers," trying to discover stores that have been preserved to illuminate history. On that special day of connecting stories to sacred places, we exclaimed how much stories affect our lives--especially from people who are humble, even obscure. Geert, a professional tour guide who speaks three languages said, "When I go into a town and walk on the streets of Normandy, I try to discover someone with gray hair to tell me about the French Resistance and wartimes. The more gray hair the better!"

In the book, The Road to Character by David Brooks, he explores human character, as we juggle with the conflicts of trying to become successful in our careers and in developing traits that inspire us to be better people. He writes about the struggle we humans have between "resume virtues" and "eulogy virtues", qualities that will live on with us after we die. Brooks quotes Dave Jolly, a veterinarian, who sums up a thoughtful life: "The heart cannot be taught in a classroom intellectually, to students mechanically taking notes. . . .  Good, wise hearts are obtained through lifetimes of diligent effort to dig deeply within and heal lifetimes of scars. . . . The job of a wise person is to swallow the frustrations and just go on setting an example of caring and digging and diligence in their own lives."

Brooks writes eloquently about how good people become better in his book The Road to Character--how they developed traits to endure and love anyways. Yet I found myself wanting to hear other stories of unknown people, who have withstood tremendous sorrows and been victorious. Here are only a few accounts from people whom I have met in the last months in my travels. I am not related to them. Maybe I will see them again, and then maybe not. But their stories fuel me, urging me to be hopeful--of the great capacity for humans to change, contribute, love, forgive--to be merciful. As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice:

"The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.
Upon the place beneath.
It blesseth him that give and him that takes."

 I am a life-long "taker"--storing the stories when I am in a drought myself. The famous, renown people surely intrigue me, such as world leaders, generals, writers, humanitarians because I love history. But it is the ordinary person who has persisted, in spite of fears, war, and even genocide that move me to another level. I want to hear their voices too. Perhaps it is because the obscure and unknown voices are so often forgotten, off the grid or map.  Yet they too show me that I can hold on; they buoy my faith and spirit. I believe every person has a story, an important tale to tell. In fact, they are the currency of the world.

Dileep Varma, from another village in India, was here with us for a wedding in a small village about four hours from Hyderabad. The woman in the picture is Katavathadu, from Adasarlapadu in the district of Khamman. She  is my friend's aunt whom I recently met when I attended a wedding in her small village of about 3,000 people. She is a woman who has known tremendous sorrow and pain, but still has the widest smile. Her home is everyone's home in the village, and she wholeheartedly welcomes any strangers like me. Her garden supplies many with fruit and vegetables. When I learned of her story, I was very moved. The rest of the time I was there at the wedding, I noticed her amidst hundreds of people, especially her joyous smile. She was always smiling. I was humbled to be in her presence. She spoke no English, and undoubtedly had little education. But her ability to withstand a huge blow of sorrow gave me some time for reflection. Her story is below:

When we went to her house, it was very simple, clean, and beautiful. In the living room,  there was a large picture of a 13 year old girl in the middle of the shelf. My friend told me that his 13 year old cousin was trying to save her grandmother's life when she was tragically killed. Her grandmother, Katavathadu's mother-in-law, had argued with her son the day before. The mother-in-law was so distraught or angry that she decided to jump in a deep well. When Katavathadu's daughter saw her grandmother trying to jump to her death, she beckoned for her to stop, pulling her away from the well. But her arm was caught, and both slipped to their deaths. Katavathhadu has one remaining daughter. The picture of this brave 13 year old girls is in a prominent place in their home, reminding them of her bravery and love for her grandmother. Katavathadu has not allowed her pain to ruin her life. My friend tells me it is her house that everyone in the village likes to come to. It is where strangers and visitors enjoy coming too. He then commented, "You can see, can't you, that it is the prettiest house in the village?" (Next post about the village, and more pictures of Katavathadu's house).

Some beautifully painted stairs, going up to a rooftop or balcony, where it is like another room in the house. The rooftop is where people gather and sleep in the warm weather under the skies.Plants, fruit trees are everywhere. Katavathadu had made her home into a haven, a place of beauty for all to come. In her anguish, she decided to reach out, embrace, instead of caving to sorrow. A remarkable trait of people who experience tragedy is to welcome people into their lives and heart--even when their own hearts hurt. 

Katavathadu in the background, with some passion fruit she had just picked for us.

This is a picture of the Best picnic of my life (blog about Normandy). Here is Bernard, now 85 and Collette Marie, about 78,  who live in Normandy, France. Bernard was a 13 year old boy when the Americans came to the Normandy shoreline in 1944. He befriended them, and never forgot the gum and friendship they gave him. His wife, Collette, still lives in a home that is about 300 years old. Bernard has been a farmer all his life. They have the most beautiful apple orchards you have ever seen. You can still see the bullit holes on the outside of the house. I started crying when we left the picnic because he picked up his son in the wheelchair next to him with his strong hands to put him into the car. I didn't know a 84 year old man could do that for his beloved son. But he does, every day. He cuts his food. They laugh at jokes. With my minimal French, these people forever etched their influence on my heart. I visited in their home for about five days, and was a better person when I passed through the gate to go back home.

Here we are at the picnic in Le Tronquay to celebrate Le Fete des Voisins and to honor my father-in-law who helped to liberate this small village. Mitch Quilles, a videographer of WW2 stories, Jean-Francois Marie, my son, and the Maries. Jean-Francoise was also a remarkable hero to me. His elementary English went a long way to communicate with his loving heart. When we left the last day, he rolled himself in his wheelchair to the gate. As I looked in my rear view mirror in the long driveway as I drove away, I could see him sitting there, waving to us. I didn't want to leave. These were my people, and I hardly speak French. Since I have a son with a disability, I am touched when parents, even in their 80's are caring for their children. Successful people accept the conditions, and love anyways. 

Peter, my son, Mitch, and Bernard in Camont, France, another village where my father-in-law helped to liberate. Remarkable people who have faced tragedies (and if you live long enough, we all do), reach out, embrace, teach, love. They deliberately block the sadnesses and sorrow of their own lives to elevate others.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Gathering Music in Schools Around the World

Orchestra students standing for their ovation at the end of the concert
This past week I was asked to let a high school student borrow my cello. It is a little bit like allowing someone to borrow an appendage of your body--let alone someone whom you have never met. I heard there was an international music festival for high school students here in Doha at the American School of Doha. One cellists's instrument had been broken in the transport from Korea, and she desperately needed a cello (there are not a plethora of cellos in Doha, Qatar). I agreed. But as many things in life that you timorously consent to, trusting in those people who see the whole perspective, the result can be surprisingly satisfying, even joyous.

Daisy, from Korea, who borrowed by cello.
This past week the American School of Doha hosted the Association of Music in International Schools (otherwise known as AMIS). Amis is also appropriately the French word for friends. Two hundred high schools students (going to international schools) had come from five continents--from Japan to London, South America, and Lagos, Nigeria. They had auditioned back in October from all over the world, sending in their music to judges, and had been practicing by themselves at home for several months before they descended on Doha.

Since March is the month people celebrate Music in the Schools, the festival was perfect timing. We attended the gala concert after several days of workshops. I was awestruck at the result of what 200 high school students can accomplish in just a few short days (although they had been working on the music for about four months in their home countries). One of the students commented, "I wish the world could see and understand how we can all come from different persuasions, opinions, politics, and make this beautiful music. Boundaries fade, and we just all share the same stage, with the same goal." Another student said, "My dad was able to come, and I had never seen him wear a tie, and I also had never seen him cry."

I did not have a child up on the stage, but I still had a tear. I was happy that my borrowed cello was a participant up on the stage. It is amazing to view what can happen when people come, unified in purpose and mind, from all over the world--to uplift with their talents and work. As an audience, we all came together for a brief time to see what the cultural arts can bring to society. The fifty countries that were represented are better because of the students who represented of them. One could not only hear the music, but feel the friendships that had occurred in a few days in Doha. Connections and bonds were made because each of these students prizes one thing: music.

As gifted as the students played, it was obvious that each of those musicians had been taught well, by a teacher who had worked with them, patiently, diligently. I salute the students, but the festival reminded me of my own music teachers, my children's music teachers. As Henry Adams said, "A teacher affects eternity. They can never tell where their teaching stops." And since this was an international student music festival, I have a feeling that these musicians will never be the same. They will not allow boundaries and walls to define friendships. It is an important reminder that a teacher can never estimate where all their teaching and tutoring will travel--to the most remote corners of this world. That is the power of a teacher.

A child who plays music may sound ordinary or typical, but you never know the ripples that student will eventually transport. That little child could cross thousands of borders in a lifetime....

Two students from Lagos, Nigeria

Four players in the band from Luxenburg, China, Switzerland, and Germany
A French horn player, hailing from Amsterdam, who goes to school in Zurich.

Obviously, I loved watching the cello section. They were from Korea, China, Taiwan, London, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, India--most anywhere you can think of. Their concert was truly a global project.

A teacher from Brussels, with the students from her school.

A student from London with her father.

Two friends, from Switzerland and Amsterdam

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Celebrating Women on International Women's Day

At the wedding in a small village in Adasarlapadu, we foreigners were embraced like we were their own. I sprinkled rice, along with the family, which meant to scatter blessings on the newly married couple. I wafted smoke from candles to give them light. Women who are secure and strong allow others to participate and learn about their village; they are inclusive. The woman in the purple and green is my friend's mother, the president of the village (about 3,000 people). Here is the  blog about the Indian village

I am thinking of the countless women I have met in my travels all over the world since today is International Women's Day. I am buoyed by women, both collectively and individually, in every stage and age: their examples instill powerful stirrings in me to do better. Many women of this world have given me courage to try and launch a little higher. Their vigilance and tenacity to combat disease, give voice to the voiceless, lift minds with education, and to trudge forward when their hearts are broken unfailingly inspire me. Whether women have traveled widely or have stayed in their own village, they almost always choose to lift those around them. I believe women are the warm blankets of this world; they innately want to cover and comfort those around them.

Everywhere I travel, I am humbled by women. To observe their struggles, sometimes amidst poverty and suppression, has caused me great angst and reflection. As a 22-year-old young woman, I worked under the auspices of the United Nations in refugee camps in the Philippines and Thailand. It is estimated that 90% of the Vietnamese female refugees in those refugee camps were sexually abused after they escaped. I remember one Vietnamese family who was my friend coming to me in tears. They were inconsolable because they did not know how to find their young 15-year-old niece who had been taken by Thai pirates on the choppy waves in the South China Sea. This was in the 1980s, and we still have a long way to go before women are safe in this world. Women still are vulnerable. We must all work together to give women education, protection from sexual trafficking, and help alleviate poverty. We must do all we can to prevent the sabotaging of women.

Wherever women reside, whether it be in small villages or large cities, women make magic happen. When they gather together to serve, nurture, and work together, communities are transformed. Abigail Adams (Marmee), the mother of the beloved American author, Louisa M. Alcott, instructed her daughters, "Educate yourself up to your senses. Be something in yourself.  Let the world know you are alive. Push boldly off.  Have heads full of new and larger ideas. And proceed to the great work of humanity." Wherever we reside in the world, we as women must decide to be the spark that elevates--in education, health, culture, and yes, in laughter too. And we must lift one another, each and every one, wherever we live in this world.

In ancient Greece, the Olympics began with a race called the Lampadedromia, a relay where runners ran on foot, day and night, to bring a lit torch to the gods--to announce the beginning of the Olympics. The bright, emblazoning flame on the torch needed to remain if the relay was to signify the start of the Olympics; it did not count if the flame had been extinguished. Each runner in the chain was considered a winner, even victorious, when the lit-up torch was presented at the end.

Just as in ancient Greece, we can all run together with a lit torch, wherever we are in the world, as fast and urgently as we can--to do good, to contribute, and change barriers that block progress. We are all winners; the race will never be a solo marathon. Everyone, man and woman alike, must unite to bring back a lit torch to the finish. We must gather all the light we can along the way. Ancient Greeks believed that the successful delivery of the lit-up torch was akin to giving a gift to the next generation. I pledge in my own sphere of possibilities to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

In Alexandria, Egypt, a young woman is in a mime theatre training program. She is preforming in front of the new, modern Library of Alexandria. It is exhilarating when women excavate and find their talents. 
Last June we celebrated Le Fete des Voisins in Le Tronquay, France, a small village. The mayor, Patricia Gady Duquesne, believes in building strong villages and neighborhoods. It is remarkable to be around a woman who has vision, passion, and desire to make her community better. She can work miracles. Blog about Celebrating a Village Picnic
Dr. Maie, an Egyptian pediatrician, became a special education teacher when her son was born with special needs. Her generous expertise and love have blessed my son with autism. Blog about Meet My Mother Teresa

A woman in Egypt who supports her family by making bread.

Sister Alice Eugene Tighe, a Catholic nun, died at age 97. Sister Alice received a Ph.D. in musical therapy from the University of Michigan. She helped to bring several students to Julliard on scholarship who would not have had the chance otherwise. For seven decades of her life, she taught music to the lucky students who were able to sit next to her on the piano bench. Several of my children received lessons from her, forever changing their lives. My daughter, Sarah, would receive several free piano lessons from her as she prepared for piano competitions. Sister Alice then would jump into our family van to attend piano competitions in other states. She gave several generations of children a love of music, never tiring of sharing her love for it. My children were her children. When I asked her to take the money for the lessons, she just replied, "Give any money you would give to me for autism research"--since my son had just been diagnosed with autism. Although I am not of her faith, she always was praying for me. When my grandmothers died, she became my grandma. 
My own mother, Paula Haymond Myres, with one of her 54 grandchildren. I am the oldest of nine children, but my mother has loved hundreds and hundreds of children. I am grateful for the constant love she shares with everyone around her. She brings gentle patience, a quick laugh, and kind encouragement to every exchange and encounter. Everyone needs to be the recipient of such love in their lives. We, women, have the power to do that--to fill in the gaps for others when their mothers are not there.

A woman in Istanbul making bread. I always love to see women proud of what they are doing...

A young Egyptian girl with Down's Syndrome lives in Cairo. Isn't she beautiful? Women with special needs must be given dignity, education, and jobs. We must remember the women who do not have a voice.

This is a picture of a Qatari woman I met soon after I moved to Qatar. An Icelandic friend is behind us. We are represented from all over the world, and guess what? We love each other. Blog about a Qatari Farm

At an international fair in Doha, Qatar where some Japanese mothers are sharing about their culture. I am always amazed at the women who grow up in a language and culture, and then leave their home countries for education, marriage, and other opportunities. Their courage to permanently leave their homelands shows so much pluck and resilience.

Women who love care about who came before them. Here is a picture of Helen, from Australia, when we were in Gallipoli. She desperately wanted to find her ancestors who fought in that battle and had been buried there. Strong women care about the past and want to transmit those strengths to the next generation. A Blog about Gallipoli

As I have traveled all over the world, I am always amazed that I can have so much fun with people who do not speak my language. This is a picture in Jerash, Jordan (some Roman ruins north of Amman). There were some bagpipers who were playing in the amphitheater, and we just spontaneously all started dancing together. The world is full of lively women with spunk and zest. 

I was so impressed with this family at the recent Paralympics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Pictured is Samantha Kinghorn, from Scotland. Her mum told me she lost her legs in an accident when she was 14. I will never forget the moment when she finished the bronze in the Women's 200-meter T-54. When life gives us thorny trials, we keep going, and our encouragement and support is immeasurable. Blog about Paralympics

A happy moment climbing Mt Esta, Iceland with my cousin, Karolina Gudmundsdottir. She is sharing a special moment with her triplets. Her happiness as we trekked in the beautiful nature around us, with her children in tow at 3 am,  (the time this picture was taken ) was infectious. Karolina could lead thousands up mountains, and everyone would be cheery and happy in the march.

A picture of my daughter in a recent trip we took to Hoi An, Vietnam. On Christmas Day, we played with and held orphans. Sometimes all you can do is to love, even if it is for a short time--especially for those who have no voice. It is women who often hold those who suffer most in this world.

Here is Meak Chy, an illiterate Cambodian woman in her 80s who I taught in the refugee camps. In a place of misery and fear, a refugee camp, she could routinely make 1,000 Cambodian refugees in a large pavilion explode with laughter. Her gift of laughter enlivened everyone around her. Blog post about Jidon, my Cambodian grandma

Here is a woman from Iraq who wanted to get a picture of me at a recent soccer game I attended in Qatar. Japan and Iraq were playing against one another. I am always struck by how geopolitical conflicts have no bearing on friendships. Why do we obstruct potential relationships because our countries, families, or faiths are different? We miss out on so much understanding and goodwill when we block our hearts and love. 

Nafi, my friend from Ghana. Her gift of creativity lights up my life. She is an architect, an artist, and writes children's stories about African folklore. When I am with her, she inspires me to be more creative. Here is her story about the Parable of the necklaces

On a recent trip to an Indian village in Adasarlapadu, India (in the district of Khammam),  I was touched by this woman's love for her mother at a wedding that we attended. Everyone was talking about this woman, this grandmother, neighbor, or loved one who had passed away. They missed her. Although she is anonymous and unknown to almost anyone outside of this village, she had a huge impact on the lives there. The pictures of loved ones, in the simplest of homes, were in the most prominent positions. No one can underestimate the ripples of love that one can share; they can last for generations.
While on a recent trip to Vietnam, I noticed how hard the women worked. Everywhere they carried their load. I saw women, many even in their 60s who were on road crews shoveling rocks and dirt. Often times they shared a warm smile as they carried their burdens. I was moved and impressed by their inner strength and resilience.
A quick laugh shared by some Relief Society friends, Betty from Nigeria, and Manu from New Zealand. One of my favorite parts of Relief Society is sharing lives with women from all over the world--of every stage and age. To see women gather, especially from various cultures, heartens my soul every time. If given the chance, women can do anything. That is why not one woman, young or old, should ever have their talents and gifts squelched. The world needs every single woman to lead, love, and laugh.
A picture of my husband's grandmother who went to New York City to become a nurse in 1916 from Utah. All of her life and she lived to be 103, she lived to heal other's wounds. As a woman who lived in a small Wyoming town for much of her life, she delivered hundreds of babies when the doctor was not available. She ran a clinic from her home, with payment of eggs and bread. She sewed on fingers, gave anesthesia, and helped with burns--volunteering during the bottom of the Depression. She befriended the local Indian tribe, sharing their ancient herbal remedies with others. No one can measure the education of a woman. It just keeps growing through generations, as evidenced by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We were captivated in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to see some women in a tuk-tuk. If you look very closely, you can see the woman is bringing her new baby home from the hospital. I loved this picture, with its joyous faces. 
These are my dear neighbors. I drove them to the airport when they were going to Mecca. On the way to the airport, my friend lovingly said to me, "You know, I always pray for you. What would you like for me to pray for you in Mecca?" I told her, "My children, my family,..." And then she said, "I will pray that we will always be eternal sisters." A Blog post called Unexpected Sisters