I spent a good chunk of my childhood living overseas, in developing countries, where life was hard for everyone and there was always the potential for bad stuff to happen. My mom taught me very early on that if I were ever to find myself in trouble, I needed to find the mamas. When I was older and I moved to Haiti, and later to Kenya, she reminded me again, to find the mamas. When I backpacked around the world by myself, her words went with me and I knew that, should things go bad, I should find the mamas. To find the mamas, in my experience, means to find a woman. Because more often than not, a woman will help. They don’t have to be mothers, in the biological sense, and perhaps ‘find the sisters’ might be a better phrase. But in many cultures, and certainly in the ones I grew up in, the mamas are older, wiser women who will always offer assistance if you need it.
Time and again, without fail, the mamas have come through for me. Around the world, I have been rescued by mamas. Housekeepers have nagged and cajoled me for not being more careful. Market ladies have warned me and herded me in the other direction when they knew what I didn’t - that there was trouble ahead. Women have lingered when I have been threatened, have yelled when I have been followed and have delivered warnings with their eyes when we did not share the same language. Mamas have picked me up when I have fallen on dirty, crowded streets. Mamas have guided me, in person, when I have lost my way in a foreign city. Mamas have fed me and lavished me with gifts given out of their own poverty. Mamas have never let me down and I am forever indebted to the mamas of this world.
Life here in Paris is pretty safe compared to the big world out there. But it was hard for me for the first couple of years as I tried to adjust to life in a new town. It got even worse when I was no longer working but was, instead, home on maternity leave with a vulnerable baby who wasn’t supposed to be out and about in the community because of the germs. That was a very long and lonely winter. But then I found the mamas and my life changed entirely.
I know that a lot of people say that they hate Facebook for all the drama and pettiness and I just don’t understand that. Maybe I just have a really good quality filter on my Facebook, because for me it has always been a wonderful means of building community and connecting with people. In Paris, I found community through a Facebook group called Paris Mommas. It was started by a mama who saw a need in the community and came up with the solution. Since she started the community group on Facebook a couple of years ago, the group has become a very popular way for mamas in the area to connect and to help each other. The mamas may be at home or at work, but they are still connected with their phones. With over eight hundred members, the group is a treasure trove of wisdom. I honestly use the Paris Mommas more than I use google, because the mamas are faster. They can tell you what sunscreen to use and which shops in town sell it, who the best pediatrician is, what the price of gas is, where kids can eat free, what that loud noise was, how long the line up at the walk-in is at any given time, if your kid’s hat is still at the park, if there is a dog loose on the main street, where the power is out, if a rainbow has emerged over the town, what that rash is, who can paint your house, how to get that stain out, where to throw a party, which mechanic to trust, which neighbourhood is being hit by door-to-door salesmen, what that flower in your garden is called, if the splashpad is finally working, what time anything opens, where peanut butter is on sale or what baby food has been recalled. They sell anything and everything, and also just give things away all the time. I swear nothing is wasted in this town. Even coupons and bonus codes are passed on to those who can use them before they expire. This is just like an old time village, except they are all connected by the magic of wifi instead of gathering around the well or the marketplace. You can’t tell me that life is so different in our modern world, after all. We aren’t as alienated and alone as they tell us we are. Even in our modern society, we are connected and when someone needs help, the mamas still show up. I have never put out a request for help or advice that wasn’t answered. Several times, I have asked for specific donations to help out a teenaged mom or a new refugee family, and complete strangers have shown up at my back door with their generous gifts. Every single time. The mamas in this community are a never-ending source of advice, encouragement, information and assistance.
There has been very little drama or conflict in our group, although I think we've learned, the hard way, to avoid such topics as circuses or circumcision. The Paris Mommas aren’t particularly political (who has time?!) but they are very practical. This week, one of the mamas sent out a message about a homeless gentleman she had been chatting with in the park. He had shared that he was having a difficult time and could use some help. I waited for the comments to come, the warnings and watch-outs, the cautionary tales. They never came. What did come was comment after comment after comment, an entire column, of suggestions and offers of help. Within hours, the mamas of this community had provided this gentleman with a new tent and warm blanket and nourishing food and toiletries and a flashlight and new shoes and grocery store gift cards. They all spoke of him with respect and compassion. They met his needs in a very practical and kind way. And they did it as individuals coming together as community to reach a very specific need, instead of just assuming that agencies and organizations would ‘take care of the issue’. Wayne is not an issue; he is a person. And the Paris Mommas treated this person with such love this week that I teared up every time I read another message on my phone. And many of them did so with their kids in tow, so that they could model what it means to show kindness and respect to those who are different from us. As one mama wrote: “Our job is not to judge. Our job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Our job as human beings is to lift the fallen, restore the broken and to heal the hurting”.
Wayne found the mamas.
So this blog entry goes out to the Paris Mommas, most of whom I have never met but all of whom I deeply admire and appreciate. I am grateful for the community within the community that we have built for ourselves. I am grateful that I found the mamas.
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!