I created this on 13 February 2014.

I had been put on temporary assignment in Arusha, Tanzania after the outbreak of war in South Sudan, in December 2013. I was staying with the Mennonite Central Committee Representatives for Tanzania at the time, a wonderful married couple in their 60’s. The woman had spent twenty some years as a pastor for a Mennonite church. She was warm and kind and also sassy in the best possible way. The man had a most striking ability to tell a joke that would hit you out of nowhere. He would dryly be telling a story and you’d have no idea he was about to give your gut a serious wrenching.

Their MCC home was lovely, with a beautiful garden and a Jacaranda tree in direct view from the front porch. Different types of birds would regularly visit, and even monkeys could be seen hanging around in the trees on occasion. They had two dogs, aptly named Simba (lion) and Safi, which is Swahili for fine. When someone asks you how you’re doing in Swahili, one good way to answer is, “Safi” or “Safi sana” (very fine).

I had already decided to journal, with pen and paper, every morning during my temporary assignment, in an attempt to process what was happening. A friend of mine also gifted me Julia Cameron’s phenomenal book The Artist’s Way, and so I went through it as well. Cameron’s “morning pages” was similar to the journaling I already wanted to do, plus she took me on a journey through other exercises that proved to be incredibly helpful. The woman I was staying with also introduced me to her love of paper-crafting, and cutting. She found paper-cutting to be cathartic.

The more I journaled, and the more I went through Cameron’s exercises, the more creativity flowed from me. I began drawing, too, even though I never considered myself able to draw. It didn’t matter. I also began using more color. When I made this piece with the daisy, I used three silver sparkly dots under the daisy as a sort of abstract stem. The pieces came from some old scrapbooking paper I had. After I had finished, I showed the woman I was staying with and said, “I forgot I had those little sparkly pieces,” and those words immediately struck me as a metaphor for hope.

There is something about creating that is profoundly empowering, and healing.

At the time, I vaguely understood why I chose the two phrases, “I create” and “I am ok.” I knew on some level that when everything around you is being destroyed, the ability to create something new and beautiful is powerful. I didn’t know at the time that I was uncovering, or rediscovering and cultivating a tool that would become paramount to my journey.