Sunday, August 19, 2007

POSTCARDS FROM AFRICA - #2 of Michealene Risley's live-blogs from Zimbabwe

Ed. Note: Sincere apologies for the delay in posting this. These blogs were written during the production/filming of TAPESTRIES OF HOPE in Zimbabwe. Between sporadic electricity in Africa and getting to blogs back in California, we lost a couple of days. Afterwards, the crew was arrested and interrogated by the Zimbabwe Police, and the blogs were temporarily taken down out of concern for their safety.

I am often asked about how I got involved with Betty Makoni. As I sit here, I laugh about it because I had never intended on going to Africa. Not because it isn’t a beautiful continent. On the contrary, I’ve dreamed of going on a Safari, before all of the animals disappear and to actually see the beauty of this great continent. But, after two serious bouts of parasites, one in the Phillipines and one in the West Indies, I had decided to stay closer to home.

Last year in late September, photographer, writer, and friend, Paola Gianturco and I met for a luncheon at the Global Fund for Women in San Francisco. I believe they were honoring Lorraine Jobs for her work and support of the fund. As we had lunch, Paola told me the amazing story of this group of young rape victims and the feisty, courageous lady named Betty Makoni, who had become their protector. I was shocked by the number of rapes and abuse in Africa and of the myth that raping a virgin could cure a man of AIDS. I was horrified that this ignorance was destroying so many children and families. Many times, fathers will rape their daughters in desperation. I thought for a few minutes about what an inspirational story it would be. Yes. But, no way was I going to go to Africa to film it. That was the end of that.

A few months later, as a part of the book tour for my co-authored book “This Is Not The Life I Ordered”, we spoke at a UCSF gender studies luncheon. At this event, I happened to sit next to Amy Levine, head of the program, and her sister Gloria Simoneaux.

After the lunch, Gloria asked if we could have lunch; she seemed to need to speak with me and was persistent. When we finally met, she showed me the incredible work she was doing over in Africa. She had been using art as therapy for kids, creating schools, and making a huge difference. Once again, the plight of the girls in Africa came up and I politely dismissed it. I have three boys that I love deeply and I did not want to take any unnecessary risks.

In late March, I received a call from Paola again (damn her! :-) ) Betty was going to be speaking in San Francisco for IDEX and Paola invited me to attend. I was anxious to hear Betty speak, so Paola and I planned to meet at the event and have dinner afterwards.

To better prepare myself for the event, I went on-line and did some research on Betty and the Girl Child Network. I also called IDEX to see if there was a way to meet Betty face-to-face. Now you might think that I had already decided to do the film at this point but instead, I really was just so fascinated by the courage of this woman that I had to meet her. I didn’t imagine that it would actually happen.

I believe that there are no accidents in life. At least I have come to see that in my own. In less than a week, I found myself sitting across from Betty at breakfast with the help of Sara Dotlich at IDEX. Betty was every bit as compelling and passionate as Paola had described. That night, I heard her speak and found myself quietly crying. It was then I started to have that conversation in my head, “She is incredible, but I am not going to Africa. Maybe I can send someone there, and I can start work from back in the States. I have to…” it was then that I heard a deep soul-filled laugh. I looked around, there was no one standing there. I got quiet…and finally got the message.

I looked up at the sky and said, “Okay, Okay, I get it. I’m going! You don’t have to hit me with a two by four.”

Michealene Risley

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