I have hundreds of photos to document this gorgeous, surreal day…but I had to narrow it down to only 50….so…the following is a beautiful, colorful and highly meaningful feast for your eyes……a photo essay of what is possible…..and what happens when we join together to find sisterhood in places that do not require language…when we cut straight to the good parts of life and let go of anything that might divide us…….this is what can happen………
It was a beautiful, partly cloudy Spring day in in April……we all joined at Brave River Ranch where we hold our Brave Girl Camps…we joined together for a day of art, healing and fun…..to gather as sisters. This day was part of an incredible Job Readiness Program through Full Circle Exchange….where our sisters from many other countries have found themselves in Boise, Idaho as their new home after having to leave their native countries to become refugees. These women have been through hardships and horrors that are difficult to fathom. They are here to start over…….
It was quite a challenge to write a new art curriculum therapy that does not require words and takes very little explaining. We had the challenge of many many many different languages with only some of the women speaking very little English. I agonized over how to give them an incredible experience without the use of words, as so many of our curriculums are largely word based…and done with a tremendous amount of journaling. We had color, images and love to work with……and sisterhood. It is miraculous how this was able to become a beautiful and common language. The day was beyond magic……and healing happened on so many levels. Sisterhood happened….understanding happen. Storytelling happened. All of this without words. (we did have a few wonderful interpreters helping us with basic instruction……it was wonderful and so helpful!)
We started out by making self-portraits….I simply showed them my self portrait…..and then showed them how they could make their own. I was worried that it wasn’t getting through….but as soon as we began….I learned that with love and example and patience…….you really can make a deep connection and we really can learn just about anything from each other. We spent most of the morning making self portraits….
After we were done with the self portraits…we sat down and had lunch together…a break before the next lesson……the women, through interpreters or broken English, were all discussing how beautiful it was out in the country and that they really had only seen the city since they moved to Boise. They were aching to get outside into the beauty…so we decided that once we ate, we would go for a walk out in the forest….
The forest made us all come alive….we ended up spending a very long time outside…..lingering in the forest and walking to the river and just enjoying the day. Once again goes to prove that beauty is a language that we all speak….beauty is something that we all need….the beauty of nature is fluent in every language.
We spent a lot of time at the river……the women ended up showing us their incredible skills of rock throwing as many of them cleared the river with rocks! I humiliated myself when I tried my hand at it and only made it about 1/3 of the way across the river. These women are strong and beautiful and playful and amazing. We had such a blast outside playing in nature’s beauty……everyone really came alive with the playfulness and the lack of stress…..we were just simply “being”….no one had any expectations of anyone else…we were just being together and enjoying…
On the walk back…..I had many short little conversations in broken English…..all of them saying just about the same thing. “This reminds me of Africa” “This is so much like Nepal” “This is what it is like in Pakistan” …… showing me that there are sacred beautiful places all over the world for all of us….all of them speaking the same sacred language…..
After about an hour outside…..there was this incredible light that I started to notice in all of their eyes. I kept hearing them say “TODAY I AM HAPPY” “TODAY IS A GOOD DAY’ “I AM SO HAPPY” “I LOVE THIS DAY” “IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL”
I wanted to capture this joy I was witnessing so I started to snap shots with my big lens that I could zoom in without them knowing until after I took their photo…..I LOVE these pictures….I called them JOY PORTRAITS….I mean…just look at the light in our sister’s eyes….
Ok now I am weeping again as I look at these photos. It was just a day that is so hard to describe….watching them reclaim some things that they thought had been lost….watching them blossom into who they are….watching them witness this in each other…….just watching the joy bathe them in light……..
When our walk was over it was time for us to get back inside and work on our stories. It was difficult to figure out a way to help them document their story, to journal, without using words that we all understand. I spent a few days drawing stick figures that evoked stories, emotions, actions, etc……and gave them all several pages of these stick figures to use as a way to tell their story. This was the part that I was most worried about…would it work? Well, it did……and I will never forget what happened that Friday afternoon….
Our sisters were able to document parts of their lives that they had not been able to put into words…..they drew photos of their stories and then were able to share. There was laughter and tears and understanding. It felt like a dream………a very beautiful, unforgettable, unexplainable very beautiful dream that will live with all of us forever.
I loved seeing the pride in their eyes when they shared…I loved seeing the love they all have for each other as they each shared…the sisterhood. There was a lot of relief it seemed too…to finally be able to tell about who they are when their label has become “refugee”….these are women who left behind homes, family and a history…………
Their stories are as amazing and beautiful as you might imagine…but also so much like mine and yours and each other’s. Stories of love and loss and family and overcoming and dreaming and friendship and fear and triumph. They were human stories…..they were sisterhood stories……..they are beautiful stories…
I’m sure you would be crying as I am now if you had been there and fallen in love with our sisters the way I have. I am sure you already feel closer to them and a real sisterhood with them as you see how much they are just like every other sister you have….how much they are just like you. I want every good thing for them…..see them doing all that they can to be happy and grateful and joyful and strong…..I want every single good thing for them that their hearts desire……just like we want for every sister we know and love….and all it takes is to know them and love them through their stories…
Facilitating this day was a dream come true…and I knew it would be amazing, even despite my fears and feeling perplexed about how we could make it work….but this was one of those experiences that outdoes itself 100 times over. This is something that will stay with me for a lifetime and all that I want to do is do it again……and do it for more sisters who need a way to heal and express themselves when they can’t find the words, or don’t know the words, or the words don’t exist…….
We are all the same…all of us. We want to connect….we want connection. We want to understand and we want to be understood. We want to love and we want to be loved….who knew that art could make all of this happen when we don’t even speak the same languages……..
I want to thank FULL CIRCLE EXCHANGE (here’s their website http://www.fullcircleexchange.com) for making this happen. I have had many fun adventures doing this kind of work with them, and it has been such a joy and an honor to be a part of bringing the tribes together…circling the sisters together……joining hands………..
We will keep you posted on how you might be able to help make more of this wonderful stuff happen. For now….we wanted you to feel some of this joy through these photos…..photos that really could have stood on their own, without words…just like all of the art that was made that day.
Have I told you lately how much I love all of you…how much I love my job and how I can’t believe I get to do this? Well, I want to tell you again….THANK YOU, Brave Girls of the world for making so many things possible…for joining hands with us and with each other…and showing the world how to be good to each other, one Brave Girl at a time.
Loving you all…