Things I’m throwing out #3: Lourdes candle holders

From the series

When you’re in Lourdes, a Catholic pilgrimage site in southwestern France, every day is like Christmas – and not in an opening-presents-and-eating-chocolate-Santas kind of way. There are numerous masses, many praying pilgrims and a candlelight procession every night. My mom and I got these candle holders one night when we joined the evening procession.

From the series

Kibeho, Rwanda: The Lourdes of Africa

Choir members pull on their robes before mass at The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. This is the only sanctioned Marian sanctuary in Africa. Kibeho's overseers and the Rwandan government hope this place will become a top tourism site. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Choir members pull on their robes before mass at The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. This is the only sanctioned Marian site in Africa. The Rwandan government hopes Kibeho will become a top religious tourism site on par with Lourdes in France or Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Down a dusty road in southern Rwanda, the pointed blue roof of a large church suddenly pierces the sky. This is the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, the only Catholic Church-sanctioned Marian site in Africa. The Church says the Virgin Mary appeared here from 1981-1983, offering messages of prayer and peace to three young women, but also foretelling the 1994 genocide.

“‘I see a river of blood! What does that mean? No, please! Why did you show me so much blood? Show me a clear stream of water, not this river of blood!” screamed Alphonsine Mumureke, one of the three visionaries, according to a book by genocide survivor Imaculeé Ilibagiza. “Why are those people killing each other? Why do they chop each other?”

The Shrine’s overseers and the Rwandan government hope this place will become a top religious tourism site on par with Lourdes in France or Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. However, there has been some criticism that the government isn’t doing enough to attract tourists and the religious faithful to Kibeho.

You can see more of my Kibeho photos here.

A paper prayer petition lies folded at the foot of this statue of the Virgin Mary in the Apparitions Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. The chapel is where the three young visionaries slept when the building was a dorm. The Mary statue is where Alphonsine Mumureke's bed was; Alphonsine was the first visionary, back on November 28, 1981. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

A paper prayer petition lies folded at the foot of this statue of the Virgin Mary in the Apparitions Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. The chapel is where the three young visionaries slept when the building was a dorm. The Mary statue is where Alphonsine Mumureke’s bed was; Alphonsine was the first visionary, back on November 28, 1981. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

 

Pilgrims from Kigali pray the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. The Virgin Mary appeared here in 1981to three young women. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Pilgrims from Kigali pray the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Things I’m throwing out #2: Spelling bee study books

Spelling bee study books by humanitarian photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

One of my childhood dreams was to win the National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.

In 3rd grade, I didn’t make it beyond the class bee. I bombed out on the world “elementary.” I was so mad at myself. I mean, I was in elementary school and I saw that word on our building every day!

In 7th grade, I made it to the regional spelling bee. I don’t remember what word I went out on but I placed 8th or 9th.

In 8th grade, I made it to the school-wide bee and bombed out on the word “exchequer.” I will never ever forget how to spell it or what it means.

Many, many years after my last bee experience, I saw “Spellbound,” the amazing documentary about eight kids vying for the National Spelling Bee title. I love that film – such gripping and amusing storytelling.

But watching it, I realized I was never as fanatical and focused a speller as most of those kids. I never could have won the national bee. Still, I’m glad I had the childhood experience of studying hard and reaching for my spelling bee dream.

Spelling bee study books by humanitarian photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Ending childhood malnutrition in Rwanda for Catholic Relief Services

Last year I had the chance to go back to Rwanda and spend one week filming this wonderful family as they cared for their daughter, cooked meals, ate together and socialized with their neighbors. At the end, they gave me bunches of fresh garlic and I gave them a stack of photos. Such good memories. This video came out a couple months ago as part of Catholic Relief Services’s annual Rice Bowl campaign.

Things I’m throwing out #1: Unicorn bookmark

Unicorn bookmark by humanitarian photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

I have trouble throwing stuff out.

I’m not a pack rat or a hoarder, but when it comes time to decide if I should toss, say, that purple Trapper Keeper with the big heart on it or all my reporting clips from my college newspaper, I just can’t throw them out. I’ll remember how I picked out the stickers decorating the inside of the Trapper Keeper and how cool I thought I’d look at school. I’ll read through all the college stories I wrote and remember how thrilled I was to be working as a journalist. And then I’ll pack everything back in the boxes they came from. At least until several months later, when I’ll decide again if I should throw stuff out.

It’s a vicious cycle and it’s kinda crazy. And it’s ending now!

I recently realized that the reason I hang on to this stuff is because I like seeing the items and remembering the stories behind them. So I’m photographing all these mementos, writing little stories about them, and then periodically posting each item on this blog. Then I’ll donate or throw out the stuff. I don’t exactly aim to become a minimalist. I just want to stop lugging around boxes and boxes of random belongings whenever I move (for the record: 20 times since graduating from undergrad, seven of those times to other countries).

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Item #1: Unicorn bookmark, circa 1985

As a kid, I LOVED my collection of bookmarks with yarn tails. People of a certain age out there, you might remember buying these at Waldenbooks or getting them for free with your order from the Scholastic Weekly Reader.

I don’t recall where I got this unicorn bookmark, but it was one of my favorites. I remember using it specifically for horse-themed books (because a horse is close to being a unicorn), classics like “Black Beauty” and “Misty of Chincoteague,” and books that nobody ever heard of, like “The Pony That Nobody Wanted.”

Do kids even use bookmarks anymore?

 

My Grandpa, Frank W. Pohl

Frank W. Pohl Marthasville fire chief hat by humanitarian photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Grandpa’s fire chief hat.

Note: I wrote this obituary to honor my Grandpa, who was the longest serving fire chief in Marthasville, Mo.

Frank W. Pohl, a farm equipment mechanic whose life’s passion was working with the Marthasville Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief for 25 years and helped professionalize its services, died on May 30, 2016. He was 90.

When Frank was elected fire chief in 1957, the department consisted of one fire station funded through a tag system – basically, donations from the public. But not everyone paid; people knew the firefighters would show up anyway. Frank and other department leaders saw the need for a reliable revenue base and professional development for the firefighting force.
Under Frank’s tenure, in 1976, Marthasville’s citizen’s voted to form the Marthasville Fire Protection District and pay for it with taxes. The first budget was about $14,000, which allowed for an expansion of the Marthasville fire station and construction of a new station in Treloar, according to the fire department’s website.

Though Frank performed many administrative duties as chief, he always considered himself a firefighter first and foremost.

“Unless he was out of town, Frank answered every fire call,” said Jeff Backhaus, the current chief of the Marthasville Volunteer Fire Department and the son of Harvey Backhaus, who worked with Frank as a firefighter. “His love and dedication for the fire department was unreal.”

Frank often answered fire calls with Harvey and another volunteer, Frank Rombach. The two Franks worked at Driemeyer’s, a farm equipment shop in town, and Harvey owned the meat shop next door. When there was a fire, a siren would wail on top of Marthasville’s water tower, and Frank, Harvey and Frank would hop into one car and race over to the fire station. They would then jump into a fire truck and speed off to do their duty.

Even when he wasn’t answering calls, Frank was often at the fire station. Using his mechanic skills, he’d work on fire trucks until 1 or 2 in the morning to ensure they ran properly.

“At home at dinner time, Dad would talk about working on the fire truck, doing training or having a meeting,” said Donald Pohl, Frank’s son and only child, who was also a member of the fire department for about five years. “His dedication made me know that you have to give back to others and do things for the community.”

Frank served as fire chief until 1982 – still the longest-serving chief in Marthasville history, said Jeff – and remained active on the board for many years after. In 2005, the department honored him for 60 years of service. Frank also served with the Marthasville Community Ambulance District.

Frank was born on November 5, 1925, in St. Louis, the only child of Frank H. Pohl and the former Goldie Rogers. At age 8, during the Great Depression, Frank and his family moved to Marthasville. In 1946, he met Marion Emma Holtmeier at a dance and they married in August 1949. She died in 2007.

In addition to his son, Frank is survived by his daughter-in-law, Catherine; grandchildren Laura Pohl, Janet Spirek, and James Pohl; great-grandchildren Fiona and Siobhan Spirek; four nieces, a nephew, extended family and loving friends.

A visitation will be held on Monday, June 6, 2016 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Martin Funeral Home in Marthasville. A funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 10 a.m., at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Dutzow.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Marthasville Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 101, Marthasville, MO, 63357.

Frank W. Pohl Marthasville fire chief hat by humanitarian photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

All photos © Laura Elizabeth Pohl. No republishing without permission.