After writing the last post (one of my favorites!), ´Why Vegan´, the most logical next step was to follow it with a post along the lines of “Ok, so now what do I eat?¨and give you the lowdown on what a vegan plate, fridge and shopping cart look like. This was totally the plan until last night, when I was having a vegan sushi feast with my hubby and realized what date it would be today, June 13th. With that date in mind, and now you’ll see why it’s so special, I’m taking you down my memory lane to pay tribute to a very special person, and once we’re done, we’ll get back to how to set up our delicious vegan meals and another very important post related to how to get all the nutrients we need through a vegan diet. I think you’ll love today’s post and you’ll forgive me for interrupting the schedule here, so let’s get to it shall we?
Today is one of those bittersweet days at the Sujo house, it’s a day of celebration as it was the birthday of my amazing mom, an incredible woman and activist. I say bittersweet because although we feel like we’re taking her out to dinner with us, it has been 10 years since she passed away. I still can’t believe it has been 10 years, although sometimes it feels like it’s been even longer than that. The reason I’m telling you all about it and not celebrating quietly like I do every year, is because it’s the first birthday since starting Little Green Kettle, in which we’re always talking about activism, and my mom, was as big as an activist could get! I thought I’d share her story today, but of course we’re also doing the dinner celebration (this year it’s dinner and a movie!).
This is my mom. Her name was Jeannine, she was born in Argentina but moved at the age of 4 to Venezuela and then lived in England and the US as well for a brief period of time before settling back in my hometown, where many years later she became a single mom and had little Kimmie (that’s me!).
Jeannine, or Jini as her brothers used to call her, studied anthropology and specialized in archaeology. She worked in digs all over the country, she traveled the world, walking across Egypt, India and Nepal and meditated with monks in the Himalayas. She worked and curated exhibitions in natural history museums, modern art museums, archaeology museums, she wrote countless articles, an award winning book, was the director of a small publishing house and created the only existing Archive of National rock art in Latin America (sorry if that translation is a little ‘rocky’ – ha!- , the actual name in Spanish is the ANAR, Archivo Nacional de Arte Rupestre).
Those are just a few of the highlights, though in reality they don’t even scratch the surface. We’re getting to her work as an activist soon, but what I need you to know, is that everything that might have made you go ‘wow!’ in that list, was done from the seat of wheelchair, or the sheets on a hospital bed, and in the good times, with crutches under her arms or one of her artsy canes in her hand. My mom, was diagnosed at the age of 11 with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis a chronic illness of the autoimmune family which severely affects the joints, mobility and slowly with time, many of the other systems in the body especially due to the side effects of medication. Trust me when I say that everything in the books, she got, but if you think that stopped her, think again!
Before I was even in her plans, I know some of her activism as a young girl included a story she loved to tell, about how at 16 she was living alone in California and started helping the grape growers in the region fight for better working conditions. It was a HUGE movement and she was right there with the workers as if she was one of them, until the authorities, realizing she was a minor, asked my grandma to come get her. Not before she participated in some serious anti Vietnam War rallies and protests though, which marked her in a profound way. The rest I was witness to. When I was a teeny tiny kid she volunteered for an organization called Beyond War fighting to educate people about the effects of war and starting peace and anti gun campaigns throughout the world. This was my first glimpse into volunteering since I was dying to help and they were kind enough to give a little kid with pig tails tons of envelopes to stuff and copies to put in order.
When I was a little bit older, and up until the day she died, we worked gathering supplies, toys, clothing and medicine to take to the ‘barrios’ or severely impoverished neighborhoods in Venezuela. We did this in Caracas of course which has an incredibly high rate of poverty, and then we started doing it as well in the poor communities of the towns surrounding a place called Boca de Uchire. We chose this place because for so many years its beaches were our only sanctuary from the hospital rooms and her illness, and it was in this place where we got knee deep into not only collecting the goods but personally taking it to the families and taking a look at what they needed. There were a lot of poor kids in this area, so this made us start a toy campaign every Christmas and made us create the annual kite flying competition, where the kids would come to the beach, have a day of absolute crazy fun, filled with contests and of course great food and giveaways for their families. I will always remember one little boy to whom we gave a little toy xylophone to. It was bright red and looked so cool! His eyes popped out and he hugged us both. A year later we saw him still playing with it by the side of the road and we stopped to say hi, although I wasn’t sure he recognized us. We kept on going for years making rallies, cleaning the beaches, giving out supplies, donating to the schools in the area, and helping out a few families we had gotten to know over the years.
In the last years of her life she gave free talks to public schools in Caracas about anthropology and history, about our country’s resources and the super cool cave paintings and drawings she had seen all over the world. By the time she gave the last talk she had had her first of two leg amputations and still posed for pictures with the students, and had a big smile on her face.
I could talk for hours about all her other projects and adventures, but I can’t leave this by only talking about the ins and outs of her work. As a person, she was famous for having the biggest smile anyone had ever seen (partly due to her oversized teeth!) and being the most kind, compassionate and brave woman in the world. Even in her darkest times in the hospital she worried about things like whether I had sent the Christmas gifts to the kids and given the mailman his tip. She was always doing things for others, when what any other person would have done was ask for things for herself. Trust me, the latter would have been more than justified.
Did I mention the fact that she raised me all by herself?
She was my closest friend and I miss her every second of every day, but we both knew the time would come when I would have to continue without her. The biggest sadness in my life has been that she never got to see the person I became, that I have so many books I wish she could have read and movies I wish we could have seen together. When I became vegan, I knew within the deepest corners of myself, that if there was only one thing she would have been proud of it would have been this new step of my activism, and I KNOW, she would be sitting down eating kale right beside me. Who knows what happens after we go, what I do know is this woman left an imprint in everyone she met, everyone she talked to, and especially on me, her pal, who was with her from the first second of my life to the last second in hers.
Happy birthday mom! I’m still here and I’m doing the best I can with everything you gave me, a little more each day, with every passing day.
I love you, you big toothed wide eyed smiley hippie you!
Thanks for reading a bit of her story everyone, I leave you with this amazing song by Alexi Murdoch to finish my little tribute to her. Listen to the song here, follow along the lyrics here, and get his awesome record if you like his music!
You didn’t think I would leave you without some baby pictures did you? Here’s a glimpse into our crazy, sad, short, wonderful, exhilarating world, and thanks for stopping by today!