Thursday, September 30, 2010

John Cusack's Hair

Regarding methods of procrastinations, I think I've hit an all-time low. I just spent 45 minutes surfing the web, to see if anyone else thinks John Cusack's hair is too dark these days. Apparently, this observation is not yet burning up the blogosphere. Maybe because we all like him too much?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Andy Fairweather Low

Why haven't I ever heard of this guy? Oh yeah, because I'm pretty out of it. But as I understand it, a lot of other people haven't heard of him either, people who should have. He's been a sideman for Clapton and George Harrison among others.

I just downloaded Sweet Soulful Music and it's my new favorite CD. His first in 26 years, so that predisposes me to like him. He works slower than I do.

Here's someone on Clapton's level without sounding quite as managed, a plus in my book. Only one song is a cover, and that includes an accordian. Gotta love that.

Oh how it makes my day when I unexpectedly come across a book or an album that I really love!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Worst Place in the World to be a School Child

When I stopped teaching adult ESL, one of the Somali men in my class asked if I had any lesson books I would be willing to donate to a school his friend was running in Mogadishu, Somalia. I did. I gave him a trunk-full, probably more than a hundred books. He was so excited! He was going to send them over a few at a time, with people who were traveling to that part of the world.

The next time I saw him, I asked him how it was going. Turns out, his friend had had to close the school because of ongoing violence. They weren't sure when he would be able to open it again.

I haven't talked to Ahmed recently, but those books are probably still sitting in his apartment.

Here are the facts, according to a report on the world's schools recently released by The Global Campaign for Education. No surprise: Somalia ranked dead last. In the world.

80% of Somalia's children do not receive primary school education. 93% do not receive secondary school eduction. And things are getting worse because of ongoing conflict. The most recent estimate is that only 10% of children are enrolled in primary school.

When you think about it, those are staggering numbers. Four-fifths (or more) of Somalia's children do not learn basic reading, writing and math skills. How do you lift yourself out of poverty under those circumstances?

See: Global Campaign for Education Report

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Conversation With Two Somali Girls About My Cellphone

Do you have a Blackberry? Ubah wants to know. (She's eight.)
I laugh: No.
What about an iPhone? asks Khadra. (She's nine.)
Uh, no.
Then what do you have?
I don't know, I say.
(I don't. Whatever it is, it's pay-as-you go and currently buried, uncharged, at the bottom of my handbag.)
Ubah tries another angle: What's your service? AT&T?
Verizon? asks Khadra.
Hmmm, Ubah says. Sprint?
They pause to consider.
Who made your phone? Khadra asks craftily.
I don't know.
I know, I know, says Ubah. Samsung!
I don't think so.
Well then, how big is it?
Pretty big, I say.
Ubah makes a square with her fingers, about two-and-a-half inches across. Bigger than that?
Really? she says.
Yeah. It's not a flip-phone.
It's not a flip-phone? they both ask, horrified.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bad News

Yesterday I found out that one of my favorite children--I'll call him Shafi--is not returning to our afterschool program. (I tutor at-risk Somali youth.) I've been worried about Shafi. He's dimpled and funny and a little bit lost. He tells knock-knock jokes that don't make a lot of sense. He's in the fourth grade this year.  Big for his grade, because he's been held back once. People make the mistake of thinking he's large and stupid, but last year he tested in the 90th percentile.

I wasn't surprised by this. He's a voracious reader and he's been contientious about his math facts. He would even stay in from recess to do flashcards. (Probably this was more about the extra attention.)

It was coming for him, though. The streets. I could see it last year when he was in the third grade. And now he's been suspended from our program because he broke into the facility. Twice.

What will happen to him, I wonder?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Not Politics

When it comes to social media, you'll never see me linking to political organizations or parties or figureheads. The battle lines are already drawn and to quote Grace Paley, "I never argue where there's real disagreement."

So that's why I surprised even myself when I said something on facebook about the proposed Quran burning in Gainesville. I said something because I love Gainesville and I don't think that pastor is at all respresentative of the people who live there. And because, at least at first, it seemed that the media was not reporting how small that church's membership is. It's just a few individuals who kicked up all this dust.

And then I felt bad, because I violated my own neutrality policy.

And then I stopped feeling bad, because sometimes something should be said.

I live in Columbus, Ohio. There are a lot of Somalis living here. They're Muslims. A few of them are my friends. I've been out and about with those friends and there have been very few uncomfortable incidents. In general, Columbusites are relentlessly friendly. It's one of our best and worst traits. But one of the uncomfortable incidents was at a church.

I was teaching Nadifa to drive. Nadifa is in her late-fifties. She is well-educated in her own language, but her English is coming along very slowly. I was surprised when she said she wanted to learn to drive. Many of the women her age are reticent to leave their houses.

We needed a place to practice parking and so we found a very large church with a very large and empty parking lot. It was a weekday evening and no one was around. I set up cones in the corner of the parking lot. After about 45 minutes a woman came out of the building and asked us to leave in a not very friendly way. She said that children belonged to that church and that she couldn't let us on their property. It would be dangerous. Of course there were no children anywhere near us.

That may very well be that church's policy. It's plausible. But I suspected it wasn't true. I suspected she saw Nadifa's hijab and didn't want her there. And I could tell by the look on Nadifa's face that she didn't just suspect this, she knew it. She didn't understand the exchange between me and the church lady, but she heard the tone of voice.

Now the woman from the church was African American, and there's no love lost here between the African Americans and the Somalis. So the subtext is complicated. But the results of incidents like that really aren't. How eager is Nadifa going to be, the next time someone suggests she leave the little Somali enclave?

And pundits will continue to write op-eds about how the Somalis do not assimilate, and how they do not leave their "ghetto."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Maud Newton: An Appreciation

Over the years I've often visited Maud Newton's blog. It has been the place to go for smart talk about books. Well-thought-out interviews and reviews. A spot of literary gossip. News about Maud's own writing.

She's been silent all summer and I got out of the habit of checking in. But yesterday I did and discovered a new post that explains her absence. Her father-in-law died and she has been grieving. He was, in fact, more than her father-in-law--(that's painful enough)--he was also her long-distance writing partner. He died without having finished his book.

It might creep her out to know this--(we've never met; she has no idea who I am)--but I've felt connected to Maud in many ways. She went to the University of Florida and studied creative writing there. So did I. She loves books passionately. So do I. She's been deeply wounded by Christian fundamentalism. So have I. She's struggled to juggle a job, a relationship, a difficult cast of family characters, and her writing ambition. So have I. And because of some of that, or all of that, she has had a perennial novel-in-progress. Me too.

Like Maud, I also have writing partners. We talk a lot about our work. We encourage one another. We commisserate when things aren't going well. We compare methods of procrastination. We bounce ideas off one another. But we're not getting it done. Or done fast enough.

Maud writes that now "it’s impossible to imagine ever returning to a life in which I treat my writing like a frivolous hobby or prioritize writing about other people’s novels over working on my own."

I want her wake-up call to be my wake-up call. Our wake-up call.

Godspeed, Maud.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I just opened a library book and found someone else's grocery list: milk, bread, noodles, broth, spinach, pink stuff, fruit.

Pink stuff? What could that be? Grapefruit juice? Pink lemonade? Fruit loops?

How much time am I going to waste today, trying to figure this out?


Yes, this time of year I obsessively check the National Hurricane Center's website. Tropical storm Hermine just formed and will travel north through Texas, they say. This reminds me of a favorite S. story.

He was a little late to the Harry Potter party, but when he did read them he read the whole series straight through. Then we rented the first movie. After it was over I asked him what he thought.

"Pretty good," he said. "But I hated the way they pronounced Hermeeonee's name."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

The reports on Hurricane Earl have had me thinking about an odd thing that happened in the aftermath of Katrina. Then this morning I read a review of the new book about animal ethics, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. The two seem connected. Here's what I've been thinking about:

I was working with an animal rescue organization in New Orleans. It was almost Halloween. There weren't very many animals left to be saved by then. There was a lot of spraypainted graffiti on the fronts of houses, documenting deaths, human and otherwise. We were working from a list of animals who had been reported, through a website, to have been left behind. By this time, though, they would have been rescued if not for an address problem. It was a list filled with typos. We drove aimlessly through what looked like a war zone. It was eerie. Packs of now-wild dogs roamed the streets. Cars were upended. There was wreckage as far as the eye could see.

We finally found a house on our list. There wasn't any problem letting ourselves in. All of the doors hung open. Inside, furniture was piled willy-nilly. The floor, the walls were coated with slime. We were wearing masks, but the chemical smell was still dizzying. And there, on the second floor, we found two goldfish! They were alive! How did they live for so long without food, we wondered?

I was the one who cradled them on my lap in the backseat of the van all the way to site where the rescued animals were being cared for. I did that, but I wouldn't have rescued them in the first place. I was there for the cats and the dogs. But I couldn't argue with the others' logic. Who was I to choose between species?

That's the image in my head: carrying that goldfish bowl through the rubble.

As it turns out, the reason the fish had lived was because their owners had been checking on them periodically. They had to drive 50 miles to pick them up and bring them home again.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The American

I went to see this with my father today. When it was over, Dad said, "It felt like an old-time movie." By which, I think, he meant the 70s. It's uncompromising. It demands a lot from the viewer. I loved it. So did Dad. Over a salad at Wendy's--(his new place)--we discussed.

"It was almost as good as Clooney's other movie," he said. "The one with the one-word title."

"Michael Clayton?" I said.

"Yeah, that's the one."