Let’s win some cash for women who need it

Dear blog readers, it’s been an eon since I blogged, but the good news is, I’m still alive, I was only in cyber-hybernation.  It’s almost like there’s too much going on, I can either live, or blog, nawmean?  The Amal Center continues to blossom and grow in a beautiful way.  I was there yesterday for the tsunami wave of couscous customers. It was epic.  All 180 of them seemed to have agreed to arrive at exactly the same time, which was 12:47 (hashtag invade Amal?).   To make matters more…interesting, we were working with a newbie crew: our 5th class of 16 women just started a few days ago.  They are a very cool group of ladies, beautiful souls and smiles, lots of potential there just waiting for the right conduit.  And yes, the chef used his chef voice.  Yet, amazingly, things went smoothly, and there was much eating of couscous and merriment.  Only one customer got scary mad (she was served couscous in a white plate, not a tajine.  I totally get it, it doesn’t taste the same. Amends were made quite hastily, and she ended up relaxing and enjoying a pot of tea in the garden for a good while after her meal).

Anyway, I need your help.  See, me and Amal Center have been selected for a contest, called “Women for Change”.  It’s kind of a bummer that there has to be a competition among organizations working for good, but that’s how things work.  We need people to vote for Amal, if we get the most votes by October 15th,  then we win a prize of 25,000 Euros.  The money would go entirely towards funding small businesses for some of our graduates.  I can’t tell you how excited I’d be to see some of them run their own businesses.   The link is here (and I’ll include it again at the bottom if you just want to keep reading)  http://www.fondationorange.com/Nora-Belahcen-Fitzgerald-2744  (You’ll hear me speaking French, subtitled back into English that is, in places, syntactically French).  I’m speaking French here because the competition is run by a French company, the Orange Foundation (related to the Orange phone service provider).  We will not know who got the most votes until the actual awards ceremony on October 16th, in France.  I’d love to win this for my dear sisters, they truly deserve it.

Nearly 60 women have now graduated from the Amal cooking training course, around 80% of them are now employed in good jobs.  In each graduating class, there have been one or two who have the ambition and drive to be entrepreneurs.  In October, we’ll be running our first Entrepreneurship Incubator, a 2-week course were 15 of these women will learn about business from a number of professionals.  The idea is that they come out of the course with their own business plan.  It would be awesome to then have this prize money to actually fund some of these projects.

Someone asked me today if I think that the problem with women’s situation in Morocco is society’s mentality, and that we have to change that in order to advance women’s status.  Here’s what I say.  Women need the tools to be empowered economically.  They need training, skills and work opportunities. That’s a concrete, achievable goal.  They need to know that nebulous, abstract things like society’s mentality are mental constructs and false barriers to success.

Some of the trainees at Amal Center told me about a really powerful exercise that they did in one of their group life-coaching sessions.  The life coach gave them each a mirror, they were asked to look at themselves in the mirror and say, The way I see myself is more important that the way society sees me.  The way I see myself is what defines me.   Several of the women shared with me how powerful this type of thinking is for them, and how they realized they should stop worrying about how they are perceived, and start to work on what they actually want do with their lives, their life plan.

That’s why I’m harassing you now again to vote for me, which is really a vote for them.  Please also harass your friends and family to vote.  We have until October 15th. Here’s the link again.   http://www.fondationorange.com/Nora-Belahcen-Fitzgerald-2744


So you want to start a non-profit…

Starting the Amal Center was a difficult endeavor, I can’t explain why exactly I did it, I did not have a very clear plan on how it would all develop, I did not have answers to people’s most basic questions, like “how long will the women train there?”  I would freeze up and give vague answers like “well, we are still in the experimental stage trying to find a successful formula…”

I did not anticipate also the strain it would have on my family, of course no one could foresee that my daughter would develop a bone cyst that we discovered about 10 days after I signed the lease for the Amal Center, and that would put her on crutches for the next 5 months.  I would never wish it on anyone to undertake a major remodeling job AND have your daughter need emergency surgery and a metal plate inserted.  I felt that I had made an internal promise and engagement to help women who have had lives much more difficult than my own, but ultimately found myself often torn between the responsibility I felt to honor that promise, and the responsibility I felt to honor the more fundamental promises I have towards my husband and children.  My husband is a good and patient man, and I feel like he has been just as responsible for the manifestation of the Amal Center as I or anyone else has.  He works long hours to allow me to follow this weird and inexplicable dream to create, from scratch, a massive institution to empower women.  He supports me in this, and often provides a realistic perspective to counter my “woman’s intuition” approach.  Did I also mention that when you are the president of a non-profit, you don’t get paid.  But you get the cool perk of being the president of something, which is totally worth the blood, sweat and tears (please pick up on the sarcasm).  Just time-wise, the Amal Center needed as much as I could give it, and so did everything else important to me.  Valuable relationships and friendships suffered damage because of this.  My management and communication skills (my least developed skill set) were tested to the extreme.

However as you can see all these sentences are in the PAST tense, not because the Amal Center fell apart, au contraire.   At the most crucial time, deliverance appeared.  Help came in many forms: an experienced board of directors came together (which would have been so valuable from the beginning: don’t work alone is a big lesson learned), volunteers took over chunks of the work (delegate!), and a life-saving grant was awarded to the Amal Center by the Swiss Drosos Foundation (apply for any and all grants, sooner or later someone will believe in what you are doing and want to help!).  All of a sudden, a very skilled and experienced director was hired to run the Amal Center.  Another talented and gracious person came on board to take care of communications, which is basically telling the story of who we are and what we do to many audiences through many mediums. over and over.  Soon we will also have a social worker (!!!) to screen potential trainees and monitor their progress.

Now if you ask me all your trick questions like “how long will the women stay at the Amal Center?” or “how are the women selected?” or “what happens to them afterwards?” I no longer need to bob and weave through them, there are actual solid, well-thought out answers. The women will spend 4 months in training.  The candidates are selected either through our partnerships with other local non-profits, or based on an application and interview process to determine socio-economic need.  Priority is given to mothers who are the primary support of their families (widows, divorced, single mothers) and to women who were child maids.  The women also need to demonstrate a degree of motivation and the desire to enter the job market.  While they are at the Amal Center, the trainees will learn: Moroccan cooking, “Cuisine Internationale” (will show you photos in a bit), baking and pastry-making, waiting tables.  And they will pick one language-based course to study: either Arabic literacy, French or English.  In addition, we are going to be having workshops on what is referred to in the field as “soft skills”, such as life-planning, empowerment, non-violent communication, reproductive help, and this thanks to a working partnership with Search for Common Ground, a Rabat-based international NGO.  Simultaneously, our Amal Center team will be networking with potential employers to facilitate job placement for the women once they graduate from the Amal Center.  Insha Allah!

Right now we are in transition mode full-swing.  The entire team is getting used to the new structure and putting everything in place to ensure that when the new trainees come in, they get a really top-quality training experience.  5 of the women who started out as trainees and made it through some of the rocky transition times are now full-time staff members with work contracts and benefits.  And also we saw that it would be impossible to move forward without a clear leader in the kitchen, so we hired a very capable chef (male, I think that also makes a difference and helps balance dynamics).  On the one hand, we’ve come a long way and are now working with a very clear objective.  On the other hand, I’m impatient to actually get down to the training and job placement!  We have not even gotten to the real work.

And in the meantime, we also have a restaurant to run.  The restaurant has been a huge success (alhamdulilah).  In November (pre-grant) we served an average of 13 people a day.  In December that number went up to 29!  I think January’s going to show even more of an increase.  Friday is by far the busiest day: couscous day!  The number of customers on Friday has been gradually increasing until we broke 100 recently.  Here’s what some of them have to say on tripadvisor  Mostly people love the place/food/social concept (a few people were not feelin the love though).

Speaking of links, the Amal Center is having its (annual?) fundraiser, an effort that is spearheaded by some of our volunteers.  Anyone who wants to be a part of our humble endeavor here in Marrakesh can use this rockehub link  which will be up only until the end of January.

New garden couches:


Tea time cookies:

The ceramic teap-cups are part of a donation from a local artisan businessman.  He gave us hundreds of pieces.  Those are the kind of amazing heart connections that happen.
photo 4 (3)


It tastes like deviled eggs, and salad nicoise.


This is what I want to eat for every meal:

A “light snack” for the mothers and toddlers weekly class.



Traditional Moroccan cookies:


Wow. I don’t even know what this is:






The team that is behind all this amazing yumminess:


Kitchen looking good:
photo 2 (4)


And this!  I could also eat this…a lot.  Seafood bastila:
photo 5 (3)


Again, no idea what any of this is, sigh…
photo 3 (4)

Cooking lessons happen in a sort of informal way:
photo 1 (2)


The Amal team had a booth at a local fair, another opportunity for the women to display and sell their goods and mostly to become confident in a rather intimidating setting (a good number of the fair-goers were European).

And here is that donation link again http://www.rockethub.com/projects/35895-expansion-efforts-for-moroccan-women-s-center-working-to-employ-empower .  If you made it to the end of this post, thank you dear ones near and far for reading first draft material!


Ramadan reports, recaps and realizations

It’s been so long since I last posted that wordpress has totally changed their interface…have not even “checked my stats” in about 3 months, which if you’re a fellow blogger, you know how obsessive that can get.  I feel both flattered and kind of guilty that an average of 250 people visit my blog daily to find…nothing but a 3 month old post about the Amal center.  Well, you can all blame the Amal center for the complete lack of novelty on this blog.

Where should I even begin?  A few updates are in order.  The thing I am most thankful for in the span of the last 3 months is that, after a gruelling 5 month stint on crutches (bone cyst surgery), my daughter Karima finally got to walk unassisted, just a few weeks before her 11th birthday.  She journeyed very deeply into the world of disability, and just as she was starting to identify with that world, by God’s loving grace she came back again,  The layers are still falling off, as she adjusts to her body, which she has been afraid to harm, as she adjusts to being part bionic girl…as she receives permission from her doctor to do anything she likes.  Can I kneel in prayer?  She asks him.  Yes, by all means.  Welcome back baby girl.

And there is the Amal Center.  Such a rich theater to observe the human character.  Every day some new dynamic to learn and be aware of.  The women there, although they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, have a very rich and complex culture and belief system.  It’s an intricate weaving of spiritual and cultural threads, sometimes hard to pick out one from another.  One thing is certain, their belief in God and His infinite mercy, and their complete acceptance of His decree is where everything they do emanates from.  Everything starts from that belief and returns to it.

Other times their beliefs border on superstition, for example, if someone comes to work in the kitchen, and right after that the Amal center receives a lot of customers, the ladies say that that person has “hot heels” meaning that a lot of people where hot on her heels.  The opposite is true as well, if a person comes to the kitchen and all of a sudden, there’s no sign of customers, that person has “cold heels”.  Everything is measured in terms of this increase or decrease of “baraka”, the blessing that emanates from the Divine.

And the ladies are fun to be with.  There is one lady there who would like very much to get married, and is getting to that age where no one asks your age anymore for fear of offending you.  She’s not shy about the fact that she’s getting into old maid territory, she’s boisterous and loud and jokes about it all the time.  At the beginning of Ramadan, she looks around at us and says:

“Here’s my prayer for this Ramadan, she lifts up her hands in supplication and tells us, everyone, put your hands up with me.  Oh Lord, I’m asking You, please, this Ramadan, send me someone who needs a woman to cook him harira soup every night.”

And everyone says “Amen!  Dear Lord please don’t let her down”.   So if you all out there are making any prayers this month, remember that in Marrakesh, in the Amal Center, one lady would really love to marry a good man and what’s more she will cook him some great soup.

Once we started getting customers at the Amal center, a lot of the customers turned into regulars.  It’s been really interesting to watch that community take root.  A few of the regulars would come almost every day, alone, but hoping to strike up some friendly conversation, and they would find the other regulars and sit there together for hours over a chicken tajine.  One lady we called “vegetarian briouate” because that’s what she ordered every single time.   Other people always came in small groups, so we have the “bankers”, the “call center folks”, the “university professors” and for some reason, lots and lots of doctors and medical professionals.  My husband said, “It sounds like Cheers over there”.

One day a couple of eye doctors came in, and after their meal, one of them generously offered free eye exams to any of the ladies working at the Amal center.  I said, joking, “That’s great because there’s just one blind girl after the other in that kitchen”.  And then the other eye doctor said,”May there be many, many blind people cause they are our bread and butter”.  I always suspected that that’s how doctors thought, just never heard it stated so bluntly.  Then one day a dentist starts to come to have lunch at the Amal center, and those ladies, if there’s anything worse than their eyes it’s their teeth.   They were obviously excited that the dentist might offer them some care at a reduced rate, since dentist work is not affordable to them.  When the waitress came back to the kitchen after serving him, they asked her “So?  Did you smile at him a bunch so he can see how bad your teeth are?”  and she said “I smiled til I scared the daylights out of him,  My teeth are so bad he couldn’t even look at them”.  Unfortunately they did not get any offers for dental care yet.

There was one moment that wasy very significant to me.  We needed business cards, and so I’d gone to get some made at the printers.  I tried to come up with a few words that would sum up the two “wings” if you will, of the Amal Center.  One being great home-cooked Moroccan food, and the other being the social aspect of helping women.  So I chose the words “Amal Center for Culinary Arts in benefit of Marginalized Women” (in French and Arabic).  I felt pretty pleased with myself, showing up with 1000 business cards printed up and ready to hand out to customers.  I gave some to the women…then about half an hour later, they came to me and said “Nora we have to say something but please don’t be offended.  We read the cards and we don’t like the word “marginalized”.  We feel like people will think that we are ladies coming off the streets, that we had gone astray or something.  None of us want to be referred to that way”.  I was stunned.  And embarassed.  Because for once the two worlds that I was operating in finally overlapped…on the one hand, I am working with these women every day, I know who they are very well.  On the other hand, I’ve taken it upon myself to be a spokesperson for them to a world that they don’t have access to, in languages they don’t speak.  And I realized how careful I need to be in checking with them how they want to be represented.

I’m sorry to say that in the end, because it was convenient, we used those cards anyway, then got another batch that says “women in need” instead of “marginalized women”.  That’s the wording that they all approved.  The word marginalized sparked A LOT of debate.  Customers came to us with suggestions for other wording.  One woman, upon hearing about the women’s resistance to the term, asked them :

“Did you have an education?”


“Do you have health care?”


“Do you have any social security?”


“Do you have enough money to meet your basic needs?”


“Well, let me just say that you ARE marginalized.  You are not enjoying your full rights as a citizen, and that is the point of you being here, to change that!”

The reason I am speaking about all this in the past tense is that since Ramadan started, obviously the whole lunch scene died down.  Then the Amal center will close for August.

With Ramadan coming 11 days earlier every year, this year we started fasting on July 9th.  Started out in Marrakesh with some 110 degree weather (45 C).  That means we are dealing with two things, the fast, which is physically challenging but not as challenging as people who aren’t fasting perceive it to be.  Then there is the heat, which, even without fasting, is incredibly exhausting and makes normal activity really slow and difficult.  So what do people do?  They settle in to survive the long haul.  They alter their schedules in whatever way possible to make the fast doable.  Obviously the builders across the street aren’t going to work their usual shift of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  They defer to common sense and have two possible shifts: from 4 a.m. to about 11 a.m. or they start right after the sunset meal and go until the crack of dawn.  It’s busy all night around here.  Not to mention the various calls to prayer in the early morning…one to gently awaken people, remind them to eat a little something…one to announce the first thread of light, stop eating and go to prayers…the different readings of quran reaching us from neighborhood mosques at all hours of the night.  That’s the real Marrakesh night life.

I read a few teaching stories about the benefit of fasting in the extreme heat.  One of them was about Aisha, the prophet Muhammad’s wife, who would choose to fast voluntarily on some of the hottest days.  When she was asked why, she said “When the price is cheap, there are a lot of buyers”.  I love that.  I have to admit that I have always “bought when the price is cheap”, i.e. when the days are short and cool, I will fast any days that I missed from Ramadan or any voluntary days.  But experiencing this fast in the long, hot days and knowing its worth is amazing.  There’s no breezing through this.  There is only surrender to it and the hope that this is door to God.

One realization came to me during the first few days, when I was both hungry and thirsty and kind of weak, not much energy and it was playing on my mood and making me feel kind of down…then I thought, there are people for whom this state is everyday reality, there is no feast at the end of the day.  At that point all I could do was weep.

This difficult fast, it breaks me appart from the cocoon of comfort that I surround myself with and never question.  The cocoon where every small whisper of hunger is immediately shushed, every pull and taughtness of thirst is immediately eased.  Where the illusion of MY strength, MY doing in this world remains unchallenged.  It’s such a welcome upheaval.  There’s no more wonderful thing I’d rather do in the company of a whole country and a whole portion of the world right now than partake in this collective subduing of the ego.

And I’m thrilled that this is the third or fourth year in a row that I can share of little of Ramadan on this blog.  Each year a little different, and I am blessed that this blog allows me to reflect on the flavor of each Ramadan (so to speak).

First day of cooking at Amal center





Now that the remodeling is DONE at the Amal center, we’re focusing on equipment, furniture and beautification.

I chose traditional round wood tables instead of square (more practical) ones.  In the end, beauty and soul win out over sheer practicality for me.  The idea of sitting around a table is very symbolic, as opposed to parallel and perpendicular lines.  The round table is the heart of every Moroccan family’s home, it generously allows you to fit one or two more people around it.


Here’s some detail on our Moroccan couches.  I love the 16-pointed star and it is one of the core elements of Islamic art.DSC_0292



Here’s the reception area before: this is the first thing you see when  you come in the front door of the Amal center.  You can see right into the bathroom.  Totally wrong feng shui.DSC_0076

But now…by moving the door over to the side, we maintain the flow of energy.  We scored this awesome sweets display case from Kary’s Cupcakes after they closed down.  


Remember the kitchen before?


And now!  Thursday March 28th was the first day we cooked anything here at the Amal Center!  It feels SO GOOD to see this.  My heart is full of joy and gratitude that this dream has actually manifested.  And I’ve realized that although these women have difficult stories, the Amal center is not a depressing place, it’s full of joy and REAL HOPE just like its name.  For myself, the volunteers and the trainees we are all just blown away by this experience.  The intention, the prayers, the doing of it all and now this joyous beginning.  DSC_0304



Did I mention how hard it is to make the warqa dough?  I’m in awe of our trainer Sabah.DSC_0307


Here is the fantastic professional food processor that we were able to buy from the benefits of the American International Women’s Association of Marrakesh (AIWAM) fundraiser.  DSC_0296


Here’s our side garden beforeDSC_0068

And now…it’s not scary anymore, yay!DSC_0302





Our dear children’s space coordinator Shauna has been working every day for weeks and weeks…and all sorts of volunteers have left their mark here in the kid’s corner.  The Amal center will be opening *very soon* insha Allah.

And in non-Amal center related news



We moved house 2 months ago, and I just have to say, alhamdulillah, the view from our roof is amazing.  Every day I go up there to check on the mountains.  Yesterday this is what they looked like after a fresh snow.



And for a few moments before it set the sun lit up the snowy peaks with the most striking rose color.DSC_0245


And here is our family according to Yousef.  Karima’s crutches!  Funny that he is surrounded by these boxy concrete houses and yet he draws ours with a slanted roof.  Why is that so universal.  DSC_0242

Come on Amal center, almost there!



After a good 2.5 months, work at the Amal center is finally wrapping up!  Every week, the contractor takes a look around and says “all right, I’m going to put more workers on this site and we’re going to finish this thing.  One week max, we’ll be out of here”. This is the first time that I think we might actually have a chance.  Let me show you a few of things we’ve been working on.

I’m very happy with these windows we found at Souk el Khmiss, the huge covered flea market where no tourist dares set foot. The windows are so very quintessentially Moroccan and they’ve got soul, that’s what we want for this place.




Do you see the wooden posts there?  They are the beginning of a picket fence that will be installed tomorrow, insha Allah, around the kids’ garden.  And that color of paint, it’s so Marrakesh, we had to stick with it.  It’s called Rose Mamounia.  DSC_0225


Just got aluminum windows put in the kitchen today.  It looks so bright and airy with the nice cream colored paint and tile work.  The industrial sink is also from the flea market.DSC_0227



Here is the reception area. Salam alaykum and welcome to Amal, how many are in your party?  Also it will be a display area for all the cupcakes, brownies, cheesecake and assortment of Moroccan cookies that the ladies will make…DSC_0231



Part of the indoor dining area.  Planning to put some nice Moroccan banquettes here.DSC_0230


The kids’ room!  The circles on the wall are chalkboard, so the kids can draw with chalk straight on the wall.  The chairs are also locally made, painted by our very dedicated volunteers.DSC_0232


The main dining room, all painted.  These chairs were also a flea market find. I was having such a hard time finding something wooden, comfortable, durable and inexpensive, but when we came across these chairs I was just thrilled.  They need a good sanding and oiling…volunteers….DSC_0229


And this is a view from the front door…the garden has been tiled in Moroccan brick called “bejmat”, and we actually opened up a new entrance from the street that is in line with the front door.

DSC_0235All in all, it’s turning into a beaautiful place.  And although I get overwhelmed by the weight and responsibility of it, I just have to remember to ask for help from all the people who believe in the project.  And most of all, asking for help from the One who sends forth all the we have.

In case you haven’t read my previous posts, the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant is a non-profit organization whose aim is to train and employ underprivileged women in Marrakesh, Morocco.  We plan to serve breakfast and lunch daily, and hope to open in March 2013.  For more information please email me at amalnonprofit@gmail.com 


Why we were at the clinic…

If you have a million hours to kill and love to read about other people’s surgeries, then I invite you to read this post that turned into a mini-book.  It’s about my daughter’s surgery to treat a unicameral bone cyst in her femur.  Or just scroll down to the end and see what all the fuss is about.  Wish I were better at real-time blogging.

So Karima was scheduled to have her first medical intervention the following day.  We were all nervous and excited, it would be the first time anyone of the five of us in our nuclear family would “go under”, although Karima’s grandmothers have had LOTS of surgeries.  She was excited about everything, the clinic, having a swanky hospital bed with flat screen tv all to herself.  The clinic itself looks like what people in the 70’s might have imagined the future would look like, everything is white, glass and rounded.  It’s a brand new, state-of-the-art clinic with the prestigious sounding name Clinique Internationale de Marrakech.  I assume with the word Internationale they are referring to their clientele, a mix of Moroccans and Europeans.  Morocco is just getting into the whole “medical tourism” scene in a big way.  This place has all the latest equipment, I myself got an MRI there a while back, a few friends have had surgeries or delivered babies there.

When it was time Karima was wheeled away, we weren’t allowed anywhere near the OR.  It was our first experience of watching her being taken away, all in a white, like a little angelic being.  We felt we wanted to be there with her til the last minute, because she’d be surrounded by a team of medical personnel.  But that’s not how people in Morocco think about it, here connections are made quickly and everyone is either “auntie” or “uncle”.   The doctors and nurses would not treat her much differently than they would any child, including their own.

Hamza and I went for a little drive, prayed in the Kasbah mosque, and had some lemonade at a trendy little café overlooking the Kasbah square.  When we returned, after about an hour, Karima was already awake and enjoying some tea and toast.  We were all thrilled that she was not in pain at this point, things had gone well.  She told us what it felt like to be put to sleep (like blinking and when you open your eyes it’s already over).  The doctor didn’t come see us, I suppose within his range of procedures, this one was so minimal as to not require much discussion or explanation.

Karima started her life on crutches.  As expected, her friends and teachers made a big deal out of her.  They brought her lunch in class so she wouldn’t have to hobble downstairs to the cafeteria.  They made sure she was comfortable and helped prop her leg up on some jackets.  I said to Karima, “the good thing about being on crutches is that you won’t get detention”.  Her school is big on detention.

She adapted to her crutches very quickly, I was amazed at how seamless the transition was, and also saddened in a way at how fast disability had made a home with us.  But she wasn’t beat by it mentally or emotionally, in fact navigating life with a handicap just another challenge that she wanted to excel at.  This was in the beginning.  Before her body started to get very sore.  By three weeks into it everything ached, her wrists, elbows, and most of all her “good leg”.  Her good leg got really strong but tightened up, while her hurt leg got weak and skinny.  One night she had to get up really fast and couldn’t find her crutches.  She hobbled on her hurt leg, and the next day she was in so much pain that we had to go get her from school by 9 a.m.  We went to the doctor and he re-took the x-ray.  We were hoping there would be some change, even the slightest, although three weeks isn’t really enough to make a difference.  Normally we were going to take the x-ray at 6 weeks.  It was still disappointing to see the x-ray with no change. The bone cyst was just a dark mass of nothing.   At this point the doctor re-iterated to Karima that she shouldn’t put any weight on the hurt leg.  This was also the first time he talked about surgery.  He said that if she experienced great pain we’d need to go the surgery route.  This was a scary thing to hear, especially since all this was discussed in Karima’s presence.

I realized that until this point I’d been trusting that the cortisone treatment would work.  On the side, I’d been doing research online, going to forums and message boards to see what other people had done.  There were several promising minimally invasive procedures, besides the cortisone injection.  One was to pack the bone cyst with either bone graft or synthetic bone material.  I brought these options up with the doctor, but he said that the cortisone injections were the standard approach, the most likely to give results, and that beyond that there was little hope except surgery.   Hamza and I were frustrated that there wasn’t any energy here in Marrakesh around the idea of new or alternative therapies.

We moved house during all this.  To a new neighborhood with lots of outside space.  The boys immediately took to riding their bikes every minute they weren’t in school.  The youngest, Yousef, learned to ride a two-wheeler a few days after we moved in.  I had this idea that riding a stationary bike would be good for Karima, it would give her hurt leg some gentle, much-needed movement.  Then she said “what about riding a real bike?”  And we both said “nah”.  What if she needed to stop real quick and jarred her hurt leg on the ground?  Still the idea kept coming back and Karima said, “Let me just try it”.  We had never wanted to hold her back or keep her on bed rest.  We’d always tried to let her have as much freedom as possible while on crutches.  She was so tied to those crutches, I didn’t want her to start identifying with them.  They weren’t a part of her body.  The bike idea seemed worth a try, so she got on very carefully, propped her hurt leg up on the pedal, and started to pedal with her good leg.  It worked really well.  She circled around the empty lot that is in front of our house and she just laughed to feel so free.  It was beautiful to see her move so fluidly after about 5 weeks on crutches.  Plus it felt really great on her hurt leg, it got gently bent in that way that felt so good to her.

The bad news is, Karima had a fall.  One of the neighbor boys was walking his rather feisty dog, and the dog lunged at Karima while she was on the bike.  She tried to make a u-turn real quick and her bike tires slipped in the dirt.  She fell directly on her left side, the side with the bone cyst.  After that she started to have a lot of intermittent pain, it would come on real strong, like a contraction during labor, then pass.  We were majorly set back, she and I could no longer do the simple physical therapy moves we’d been doing, like bending her hurt leg at the hip.

The doctor ordered another x-ray because he suspected a hairline fracture or fissure.  Nothing showed up, but we saw once more that the cyst was the same size, in fact if anything it seemed larger.  The doctor said that if the pain kept up we’d have no alternative but surgery.  We started scrambling to find a specialized clinic abroad, we looked at Spain and France.  Our hope was to find an orthopedic pediatric specialized team.  We had complete faith in the doctor in Morocco, he was widely known and had performed many successful surgeries on some of our friends and acquaintances.  Still our hope was to find someplace that performed some of the less invasive therapies we’d read about, the bone marrow transplant, or packing the cyst with bone graft, inserting cannulated screws in the cyst to drain it continuously…anything to avoid a painful surgery that might have long-lasting repercussions.  Our good friend in Spain was married to a doctor so she was an obvious choice to ask for help.  Sure enough she and her husband started to research the question for us.

In the end though, the choice was taken out of our hands.  On Saturday the 12th, Karima hurt her leg again.  I suppose this was inevitable.  She was starting to get tired of the crutches and sometimes stumbled because she was being careless.  She’d almost slipped a few times.  On that Saturday, we had a few kids over and although she had said she didn’t want to play with them and she was going to stay in her room, in the end she couldn’t help it and went outside to be part of the action.  Somehow it happened that one of the kids stepped on her hurt foot, and as she tried to pull it away, she felt something snap.  More intense pain, she went to her room and got in bed. It was worse now than before.  I thought it might pass if she stayed in bed and didn’t move it.

But by night time, the pain had only gotten worse.  Now she was crying non-stop and none of our meds worked, even paracetamol with codeine that we kept around for those special (painful) occasions.  Nothing could cut through the pain.  It was an awful feeling for me, to watch her shrieking in pain, and I had to think quickly in a situation I’d never been in before.  I texted my husband to come home quick, and then called the doctor and explained the situation.  It was obvious by now that Karima needed emergency pain relief.  Karima was saying “I want the surgery right now, I don’t care, I’ve been patient all this time, too patient!  That’s it! Make them fix me mama!”

We rushed her to the clinic in the middle of the night, calling some good friends to come spend the night with the boys, Amin and Yousef.  Karima was still in a state of agony when we got there, but somehow after about an hour, she relaxed a lot.  The resident on duty was another student of my husband’s, and once Karima had relaxed, they were discussing how it makes more sense for medical students to write their theses in English rather than French, since all the reference material is in English.  My husband teaches English and so people often want to have these types of conversations with him.  We also found out why the x-ray appeared to show that Karima had a fractured hip bone, totally unrelated to the bone cyst problem.  We’d seen these x-rays and they left us really perplexed (and googling “children hip x-ray”).  Well it’s because there is a layer of cartilage in the middle of the bone, that’s where the bone grows from, and on x-rays the cartilage shows up blank.   It looks exactly like a fracture, but it’s not.

Karima seemed to relax even without pain meds.   She and I went to her room, by this point exhausted because it was 2 in the morning.  But she couldn’t sleep, the pain would come on in waves, so we had to call the nurse in, who gave her the first (but not the last) very diluted morphine shot.  I didn’t know that morphine really burns when it’s being injected.  But it sure knocked that girl out.  I was surprised that such a swanky clinic was “out of blankets”, luckily we’d grabbed two on our way out.   They were going to charge for each person that stayed the night with her, and there was only a thin couch to sleep on, so we decided that I would stay with her that first night.   Finally by 2-3 in the morning we were both able to pass out.

The next morning was pretty mellow, Karima was excited to be in the clinic and have it be such a big deal.  The surgery was scheduled for the afternoon so she was instructed to eat a light breakfast and then nothing after that.  Her dad brought her just about all of her favorite breakfast things including Moroccan donuts, French cheese bread, msemn fried bread with eggs, chocolate milk and a Crunch bar.  Although at this point she didn’t have much appetite (maybe the morphine).  We all gladly helped her out though.  That morning she was still “enjoying” the “thrill” of being in the hospital.  She asked her dad to get a wheelchair and wheel her around the place.  When I look back on that morning and her innocent excitement I’m so sad.  Nothing could have given her (or us for that matter) any inkling as to what was about to happen to her, I mean going through the door of surgery and coming out on the other side.  To prove how clueless we were for about the post-op, we actually had this plan to re-unite our family (the five of us) and celebrate over happy meals in the evening (her special request).  That was her big wish,” I want a happy meal waiting for me”.   Note that we don’t eat at McDonalds ever, except in circumstances of major duress.

The day dragged on and finally by 3 pm they came for Karima.  We gave her big hugs and she was wheeled off.  We didn’t even know which type of surgery she would have.  The doctor had told us there were two options: the first, and least invasive, was having 2 titanium pins inserted into the bone (intramedulary) near the knee and those would go from the knee to the hip (this is the option we were hoping for obviously).  The second option was to have a metal plate inserted directly at the site of the cyst, fixed in with screws.  This was going to be the more invasive of the two.  The doctor said that after Karima was under anesthesia, he would study the bone under a machine called fluoroscopy which is like a big x-ray.  If he found it was too fragile he’d go with the second option.  So he told us it would all take some time, because he couldn’t actually decide which surgery to go with until she was under.  The prep work would take about 1.5 hours even before the surgery began .

We sat and did some prayers, prayers for mercy and healing.  There’s a way in which being in a hospital room is a lot like being in a retreat.  There’s not much to do except be very present with what is.  It’s a very focused and refined space.  I think I actually tried to sleep at that point, I was in that soldier mode where a mere 20 min of complete and deep relaxation can keep you going another 8 hours.  Some people came to visit, thinking that Karima was already out of surgery.  A few co-workers  of Hamza’s.  Around 6 pm I started to get anxious and restless, I went down to ask at the front desk if they’d heard anything.   They said that there was usually no communication from inside the OR, so they didn’t know any more than I did.  After that I went down about every 10 or 15 mins, just to feel like I was doing something, each time they said, we’ll let you know as soon as we hear something.  I had awful moments thinking of all the bad things I’d heard about people not getting up from anesthesia.  Because overall, we weren’t “worried sick”, up to this point we hadn’t felt like Karima had anything life-threatening or debilitating, so although it was a major shock to even find ourselves there, we didn’t have a feeling of desperation.  But of course, with the surgery taking so long, the mind wanders.  Finally around 7 they said that the nurses had left the OR.  The first sign of life from in there.

Then all of a sudden the doctor was in the room with us, dressed in his everyday clothes, which was a little disorienting.  It’s like he was ready to go home and we didn’t even know what was going on.  He’s a very calm guy, for someone who deals with so much responsibility, he never rushes or gets worked up.  I learned a lot from seeing how he is, he just deals with what is in front of him and he gives it all his attention and intelligence.  We didn’t even know what questions to ask.  He said the operation went well.  I had the wits about me to ask which of the two surgeries he’d done, and it was the second option, the metal plate.  Masha Allah, not the news we were hoping for.  I don’t know why I was still in the mindset that it was going to be the first options (titanium pins).  Later Hamza said he knew it was the second because it took so long.  At this point, everything was so new and constantly changing that we were beyond reacting to each individual development.

He took us down to see Karima, she was still in the OR.  He had us put on some disposable gowns.  We went in, it’s an intense space, there were people in their cots with curtains pulled across, in various states.  Lots of machines and beeping.  Very high tech and state of the art.  We saw Karima in her bed, asleep.  Her face pale and somewhat swollen.  She opened her eyes slowly, saw us, and a tear rolled down her temple.  She just said “it hurrrrts” and she slipped back into unconsciousness.  That is when it hit me, what she’d gone through, how big this all was. She opened her eyes again, and again that look of pain came across her face.  I wished she wouldn’t wake up, and sleep through the worst of it.  We tried to think of something positive to say, so we said “Salma is here”.  Salma is a really good friend of hers, and Karima had asked that she visit.  It was clear to me at that point that Karima was in no shape to see anyone that night.  I remember touching Karima’s face and she relaxed and went to sleep.  It was like seeing a newborn.  But she kept waking up, each time she was in pain, and I think too at this point, the shock of her new state was settling in.  Before she had thought that when she woke up from surgery she’d just be all better.  And I had similar delusions too, I didn’t expect to be set back this far.  I stayed with her, while Hamza went out to tell people that she wouldn’t be seeing any visitors that evening.  Salma and her family, and a few others visitors had kindly shown up and I was so grateful that people cared enough to do that.

They wheeled Karima up to her room and transferred her to her bed.  She was so groggy and she was suffering.  The nurses settled her in and then left, and Karima promptly threw up.  I was mad at the nurses for not anticipating this and leaving her something to throw up in.  I cleaned her up, called them to change the sheets, and I found a bowl in the bathroom that was meant to collect water from a dripping faucet.  I put this near her.  Then she went to sleep, and I remember thinking, “great, she’ll probably just sleep through the night and through the worst of it”.  I settled down on the couch but didn’t go to sleep, I think I was checking internet on my phone or something.  Then Karima threw up again, I helped her, rinsed out the bowl and brought it back.  Poor thing she was exhausted and the throwing up was so violent.  She proceeded to throw up every half hour or hour, all night long.  Every time she drank a little water, she’d throw it up.  We tried some 7up too because it “has electrolytes” and I wanted her to have fluid in any form possible.  The nurses came in a few times, but mostly we managed on our own.  The general attitude in Morocco is that throwing up after surgery is a really good thing because it purges the body of the anesthetic, so they actually saw Karima’s all-night barfing binge as something great.  She got a lot of encouragement from the nurses about that.  I got sleep in two shifts that night 12-2 and 5-8 or so.  Karima was exhausted and only wanted to sleep, but her body’s reactions wouldn’t allow her to.  She dozed on and off.  I wonder if they didn’t give her a dose of anesthesia that was too much for her body weight, or if she is just particularly sensitive to it.  I remember getting up each time to help her, and each time I was more groggy and confused, til I couldn’t talk, I would just go through the motions and collapse again.  It was like having a newborn, except with a newborn you don’t know what they need, and with Karima, she could tell me exactly how much her body hurt, how dizzy and nauseous she felt, and there still wasn’t a whole lot I could do except exert myself to the maximum to relieve her suffering.  It didn’t make me long for a newborn, truth be told.

At 8 a.m. I was so ready for Hamza to come and take over.  I wanted to go home, have a shower, change, maybe catch some sleep.  I figured he’d come in with new energy and shift things.  Then he called me and croaked “I’m very sick, I’ve been up all night”.  He was having chills and fever and had lost his voice.  He was in terrible shape.  Because it seems that we have a rule in our life that we never just have ONE thing going on, it’s always two or three major things at once.  So.  It reminded me so much of my first post-partum days with Karima, where it was something like this: I draw from the well of patience until I feel like I’ve reached the bottom of it, only to find that bottom has gotten much deeper.  I draw on that deepest well of patience and strength.  I haven’t done this, to this extent, in a long time.  Life has not recently tested my physical and mental limits in such a real and raw way.

That morning was horrible.  Karima started really freaking out.  I don’t know if it’s fair to blame it on the morphine, although I’m sure that added to her delusions.  She started sobbing and saying things like “Save me mama, I’m going to die!”  “Why would they do this to me, tell them to fix me right now” “It’s TOO MUCH” and also “It’s not fair to do this to a 10-year-old girl”.  Pain is a big teacher, and I could see that Karima had gotten a taste of her mortality, at a very young age, and it scared her.  A friend said “the good thing about impermanence is that suffering also will pass”.  Alhamdulillah that’s true.  And from my perspective, the good thing about suffering is that it reminds us of our impermanence.  For Karima, the fabric of safety and normalcy was ripped open for a while and all of our efforts combined couldn’t protect her from experiencing that.

My parents came and that helped a lot.  At this point I was very bonded with Karima.  We hadn’t spent this much time with other continuously, in years.  I had that “can’t leave my baby with anyone because no one can take care of her like I can” instinct kicking in.  I couldn’t leave that day.   We spent a lot of the day like this: Karima would say “My foot, it’s too out”, so I’d pick up the whole leg, adjust it by turning it either in or out, about  1 cm, then I’d lay it down very carefully, prop it up with her favorite red fuzzy blanket.  Then I’d gage by her face whether that was bearable or whether I needed to readjust.  We did this a lot.  It was the least I could do to help make the pain bearable.  The nurses started to give her morphine (actually albuphine a close relative of morphine) sub-cutaneously instead of intravenously.  Her veins are thin and they’d used up both arms and both hands.  She was all bruised and bandaged so they just gave up on the IV.  The morphine really burns when it goes in.  Then Karima would get really distant and within a half hour she’d pass out.  But after an hour she’d wake up and be miserable.  The morphine made her really dizzy and nauseous.  So it was a balance between managing her surgical pain with morphine, and then managing her nausea with something else.  The entire day was spent like this.  Karima was too dizzy to watch tv, draw, talk on the phone or play on Gramma’s ipad.  Yeah, that’s how bad it was.  When people came to see her, they’d make her dizzy.  So when they came, I’d let them come and visit for a minute or two, but then if they wanted to talk we’d go out of the room and hang out in the waiting areas.

That evening the doctor came to see Karima.  He took out that scary looking drainage tube from her incision.  He had Karima turn on her (good) side, which was very challenging for her and she was crying. He took off the bandaid and I got to see the incision for the first time, it was about 5 inches, and long black line. It looked better than I expected, it was swollen or bruised.  Karima wouldn’t look at it.  Then the doctor made Karima get up, she was very dizzy and weak, she cried that it hurt and that she couldn’t do it.  The doctor had her get out of bed, walk around to the other side then get back in there.  She was exhausted.  I was pretty surprised that she could already do it, because we had spent all day adjusting her leg one cm this way or that way so that she had the least amount of discomfort, and then all of a sudden the doctor comes, turns her on her side, and then has her get up.

Meanwhile, Hamza was really sick, he was suffering from a bad flu. So we had medical drama roaring on two fronts.  The next morning, my parents came again pretty early which was just wonderful.  They were there for us throughout, taking care of the boys, bringing food and, as usual, my mom would show up with exactly the things we needed, without us having discussed them beforehand.  That’s how she is, she just knows.  A new calm descended over the room, a new energy took over.  Grandpa read to Karima a story he had been reading to her called “Wayside school” and she wasn’t too dizzy to follow.  My mom brushed Karima’s hair, gave her a sponge bath, made things tidy in the room.  As soon as I felt that Karima was in a good place, I took off, I had a lot to take care of.  It was strange to head from there straight to the little stores near our house.  I was pretty shaky from not having slept.  I grabbed a huge load of groceries…there I was asking the price of carrots, as if it mattered again.  And I desperately wanted to tell everyone I met that my daughter had just had surgery, that that was where I was at.  But I also desperately wanted to get home, so I kept my story-telling for later.  When I got home with the groceries, Hamza was resting, and I gave the supplies to Malika, our housekeeper and savior in times of trouble.  It’s a wonderful feeling to know that no matter how crazy things get, she is there to keep the mess in check, and to cook the best Moroccan food in town.  I took a much needed shower although at that point we had just moved into our new house and our shower was so funky that in order for the hot water to work you had to turn on some cold water in another tap, then you had to not have the light on because the light and the fan were both connected to the same switch and the fan would suck out all the warm air.  Nevertheless, showering and changing clothes was bliss for me.  I hadn’t packed anything to go to the hospital and things got so crazy with Hamza being sick that there was never a chance to bring more things.

That afternoon, Karima was ready to leave the hospital.  It’s not very restful being in the hospital, there’s always sure to be someone walking in just as you are about to doze off.  I’m talking for me as much as for her.  She was off of morphine by then, amazingly, so we were no longer tied to the hospital for that.  So I called the doctor and asked him to have the clinic release her that day.  Hamza was able to come over even though he very weak from the flu.  He is really good with the kids and I’m always happy for him to step in.

So now we were waiting for the bill.  The girl in accounting told me that if we stayed past 6pm we’d be charged for the night.   All of a sudden I was really done with that place and the last thing I wanted was to be charged for another night.  I hopped in the car, raced home, got some cash and drove back.  I paid the bill and left the insurance forms so that we could file them later and get reimbursed for some of the cost.

We drove home in the night, the same way we came.  Since then, Karima has gone through a lot of phases of healing.  For the first two weeks she was home, she couldn’t bend her leg, so there always had to be someone on hand to hold her leg and keep it very straight.  It was a big milestone when she could finally bend it and get up on her own.  Then she slipped and had to put her weight on her bad leg, and after that she couldn’t bend it again.  All in all she was in good spirits, but when that happened she broke down, crying and saying that she felt she was never going to get better.  It is hard to imagine that one day she’ll really be off crutches…unfortunately, it has become part of lives and something we adapt everything around.  Going outside was another big milestone for Karima, as was her first slow walk around the block.  Her school is one block away, so I had her walk to it just to reconnect with it and start visualizing going back to school.  Last week, Karima started physical therapy, and that’s been transformational.  In the first session, it was almost as if Karima didn’t consider her leg a part of her body anymore.  She was scared of it and if she needed to move it while she was sitting, she’d move it by picking it up with her hands.  She also couldn’t lift her leg more than an inch off the bed.  She couldn’t bend her knee hardly at all.  Amazingly, by her 4th session, Karima was riding away on a stationary bike, she can bend her knee past 90 degrees, and she can lift her leg up as high as she wants.  Every time she comes to physical therapy, a layer of stiffness and disability is lifted off.  Having the therapist right there helped her get over this idea that she might hurt her leg or break it if she moves it too much.  She’s not afraid of that leg anymore.  She needs to rebuild her strength in it to get ready for the next phase which will be 6 weeks of walking with one crutch.  After that, insha Allah, she’ll be off crutches completely, just in time for her 11th birthday. 


Why we are at the clinic: part 1

It seems life’s been full of steep learning curves and new challenges for me these days.  Since November I have: gotten the ball rolling with the women’s training center, moved house, and dealt with a major health challenge concerning my daughter.  I’m going to go into that because…I’ve explained it a lot in the last few days and I’d like to have the full version down on “paper” while it’s all fresh in my mind.  If you like a good story about medical procedures, and who doesn’t, then read on.

It all started sometime in late October/early November.  My husband took the kids with him to the gym, for a fun bonding time.  There’s hardly anyone there so they had the place to themselves.  Our daughter Karima got on the treadmill and put it on as high a speed as she could and challenged herself to run a full minute.  That’s the kind of thing she does, she loves quantifiable goals.  Practice piano for 20 minutes, read 1 chapter…Anyway, they were all happy when they came home.  The next day, she said she had pain in her left thigh.  I figured she must have pulled a muscle because she got on the treadmill cold.  Over the next few days she continued to talk about the pain, halfway down between her hip and knee.  I reassured her it would go away soon.  Well, it didn’t go away.  It didn’t seem to be getting worse, but it wasn’t getting better.  She continued like this for a good 3 weeks.  I suspected she was exaggerating, or that she didn’t actually know what pain felt like because she’d never experienced anything intense.  So I would often say to her, “oh come on Karima, it’s not that bad, don’t overdo it”.  Well the 4th week she started to limp, and wince with almost each step.  I tried to observe her in secret to see if she was only doing it for our benefit.  Some pre-teen scheme to get attention.  She wasn’t.

At the same time, life was so full because I was getting things going with the women’s non-profit which is a huge project for me, we found a great house that we were going to move into, my husband works long hours, and plus she was away at school for 8 hours a day so she wasn’t right there as a reminder.  It was so obvious that she needed help and yet I just didn’t get it together.  Finally I had this big realization that I needed to be a lot better at holding all these things in my consciousness at once: the family, the everyday running of the house, the women’s project, and moving all needed to be equally important.  In a way, having more things to do has forced me to be more aware and efficient than I was before.  My husband and I agreed that taking Karima to a doctor was an immediate priority.  So we went the next day.   As I saw it, mainly to reassure Karima that “it was all in her mind and there was nothing wrong with her so she could knock it off already”.  

The doctor, a traumatologist who knows our family well and was my husband’s English student, examined Karima, found the exact spot where it hurt, and then took an xray there, so of the middle of the thigh.  When he saw the xray, he took another one, this time of the hip.  He showed it to me and Karima, and point to an oval dark place in the extremity of the femur (thigh bone).  I saw it and immediately knew it wasn’t normal.  The first thing that ran through my mind was “am I looking at bone cancer?”.  Then he explained that this is something called a bone cyst.  Perfectly benign, a bone cyst can occur in children during their peak growth years, between 5 and 15 years old.  The cyst fills with liquid that can’t get out, that liquid puts pressure on the bone.  In Karima’s case, the bone was bulging, and very thing.  The biggest fear with a bone cyst is that it will weaken the bone and cause it to fracture.  Karima and I looked at each other and it was so bizarre to hear all this that we laughed with each other.

“You weren’t faking after all!”  I said to her.

“You see!” she said, vindicated.

Then she cried a little because it was new and scary, and now she had something in her bone that made it very weak.

The doctor said that she couldn’t walk on her leg anymore, and basically she had gotten to the point where it was so painful to walk on anyway.  He got out this pair of little kid crutches with colors on them and handed them to Karima.  She was so excited.  Crutches!  She tried them on and took a few bounds.  She walked in there without crutches, and walked out with them, not knowing that she would have them for many months to come.

In the car she was all bubbly and excited, “I just can’t imagine how everyone will react” she said.  All she could think about at that point was how surprised people would be when they saw her with crutches: her brothers and father at home, her friends and teachers at school.  She got home and the boys were so excited about the crutches.  Everyone wanted to have a turn and we had to keep adjusting them to fit little Yousef then readjusting them back for Karima.  For a brief moment, both boys were very helpful to her, Amin said he’d be her “crutch assistant”, hand them to her whenever she needed them.  It was the big news, as we called family members and told them about it.

I forgot to say that the doctor had told us that the standard treatment for a bone cyst is to drain it and inject it with cortisone.  And that Karima would have her first such procedure the following day, in a clinic, under general anasthesia.  Karima was really excited about that, about being put to sleep, and having all sorts of medical procedures.  Oh yeah, and the doctor also said to me that I should have noticed that the pain wasn’t improving.  He said, any pain that stays the same for a week needs to be checked out.  Lesson learned!  I’m so glad that Karima didn’t fracture her bone, can you imagine me telling her it’s all in her mind and then her leg actually breaks.  She and I joked that I just barely missed out on the trophy for Worst Parent Ever.

The next day hubby and I took Karima to the big shiny new clinic (we didn’t know then that we’d become quite familiar with that clinic later on…in fact that’s where I am right not, but I’m getting to that part).  In fact, as much as I’d like to finish the story, I’m too tired now and I’ll just try to post this and write the rest of the tale tomorrow.  I’ll say this much, Karima is doing well now, praise God.

Before and during pictures

Construction is going in full swing over at the Amal Training Center.  Luckily we have a really competent and patient foreman who is in charge of all aspects of the building, otherwise I might have already had a breakdown.  Everyday some combination of us gather to feel and talk through the space.  We’ve torn down a lot of walls, closed up doorways, and even removed a drop ceiling to create a sense of height.  Below you can see the future dining hall which was made by combining three smallish rooms.  Funny story about this space we rented, it used to be a doctor’s office.  The same doctor who delivered one of my kids.  We’re trying to get rid of that doctor’s office feel.  And this process feels a lot like pregnancy, growing something beautiful…


The kitchen was also made by combining 3 different spaces.  This part of the building was not used for like the last 20 years.  This is how it looked last week.


And this is what it looks like now…  The plumbing is just ancient and has to be stripped.


Outside of the kitchen, last week:


And now…


It’s been fun to figure out how the kitchen should flow, slowly the end vision is emerging.

And lots of people are coming forward to offer help in neat and unique ways.  I’ll write about some of them in the next few posts, but for now I’ll tell you about one of them:

We have a resourceful young intern named Rachel who is, at the moment, in charge of outreach (i.e. fundraising).  She’s put our project up on a site called RocketHub, which is a new kind of site called a crow-funding site, similar to Kickstarter (crowd-funding is now “a thing”, in case you didn’t know).  We hope to raise $5000 in 50 days for kitchen equipment, and it’s been amazing to watch the donations pouring in.  As of now, the site has been live for a week and we are at 70% of our goal!  Whenever I open my email I get about 5 notifications telling me that someone has donated to the project, it’s almost too much goodness for my heart to bear…  Now it’s really feeling like a community effort.  I am in awe as I see God’s loving mercy flowing and flooding these women’s lives.  Their lives will never be the same after this.

Here is the website if you would like to support the project.  I don’t enjoy asking for money, so please feel no pressure.  You support this project through your encouraging words, loving thoughts and prayers, and through this dream we are all carrying to give these women a chance at a new life.