The Churches of Lalibela


Last night part of 60 Minutes featured these churches.  Several years ago I went with friends from Ethiopia to see them.  We spent almost an entire day hiking through around and up and down all eleven of them. I decided to travel back a few years and relive my experiences there and share it here.

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800 years ago these churches were carved from the top down out of solid stone. They dug a trench deep all around what is now each church and then worked from there.  Everything is stone, including the interior columns and spaces.

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There are areas around all the churches and drainage canals so they do not flood in the rainy season.

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The inside of each church is decorated with carvings, frescoes, and wall hangings.

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Because 800 years of wear and tear and especially rain was beginning to take its toll, they covered them several years ago.  Now, according the the architect on 60 Minutes, they are experiencing the opposite problem.  The stone is getting too dry and contracting. They are teaching local people how to preserve the stone so it will last hundreds more years.

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Dino, my Ethiopia friend, and the guide, in white.

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Why the ridiculous looking socks?  Fleas are a problem.  Many of the churches have old carpet on the floors, thousands of people still workshop in them regularly.  We were told to spray our ankles, tuck our pants inside out socks, spray our socks. It worked.

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And here is probably the most photographed of them from up above. Yes, you do get to climb all the way down there if you want to go inside.  We did. The story goes that the king went to Jerusalem and wanted to create an Ethiopian Jerusalem.  There is a river nearby which they call the River Jordan. As you tour, they explain every detail and how they match passages and stories from the Biblical Jerusalem.  How did they build all of these out of solid stone?  With the help of angels.

 

 

 

 

Heat


110

I look at the weather station.

watch hot wind bend juniper, mesquite.

Off and on clicks electricity, then off.

15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25,30,35.

Slowly, interior temperature rises.

I find the coolest place, read, worry

about refrigerated food.

40 minutes, 45.

Switch flips, ceiling fans whir.

I think:  how could anyone live

in this heat without air conditioning.

One happy plant resides outside,

from somewhere in East Africa.

Everything else–wilted.

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Reflections on Independence Day


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When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually.  On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun.  Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message.  Still do.

Now I live where it is hot and dry.  The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country.  I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.

For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day.  Why?

Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred.  Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.

Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited.  It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago.  People need to learn from the history most do not even know:

-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal.  What did he do to deserve this?  He tried to save his Native people.  Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.

-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks.  They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.

-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading.  He refused to believe any African  could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this.  Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”

-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.

The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country.  It continues to poison progress and hope.  It never seems to end.  I am tired of it.  Enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World in One Room


 

Four jaguar heads stare at me,

Mexican, Costa Rican.

A third guards the mantel,

partially hidden in tropical plants,

attack ready, tail raised, jaws open,

teeth bared.

 

My feet rest on a coffee table

carved in Kashmir.  I look at the photo

of the young man whose family made it.

He took me home to meet his mom,

to the floating market.

Once peace reigned there.

Now I wonder if he is safe, alive.

 

The Hoop Dancer raises his arms,

the Acoma pot exudes ancient

black on white beauty, painted

by the tips of yucca stems.

The Thai Spirit House begs

to appease evil spirits.

I should put food and flowers there;

I never do.

 

Corn plant of life–for Navaho, Hopi,

me, painted, growing up my wall,

blue and red birds flitting through

the stalks, singing ancient songs.

Corn Maiden rug hanging on the wall;

an Isleta Pueblo girl won a contest

with its design.  Four Corn Maiden

Kachinas watch the room.

Corn everywhere–Sacred Corn.

 

Three Ethiopian crosses, St. George

and the Dragon, Frida Kahlo doll,

Argentinian Madonna, Tohono O’odham

baskets, a painted cow skull, Nigerian carved

wooden elephants, including a Chieftains chair,

the stained glass transom window from the house

where my dad lived from birth to ten.

 

In a room filled with windows, there

is little room for paintings, yet–

purple bison glide across the prairie,

an Iraqi woman flies through an azure

sky filled with dark blue birds,

a 15th century mystic, Kabir, tells

a tale in poetry, Navaho spirits,

pumas walking toward me–

my obsession.

 

Rugs scattered–Kerman,

an unknown Persian city, Afghani,

Egyptian, Indian, Zapotec, scraps of old

Turkish rugs sewn together.

 

In one cabinet, Grandmother’s china,

Mom’s Czech crystal–a wedding present

decades ago, Grandson’s painted art,

the silverware Dad gave Mom on their

first wedding anniversary,  Mom’s

everyday dishes–flowers blooming.

I use them every day.

 

These objects–a testament to who I am:

World wanderer, seeker, citizen.

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Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

Whitney Plantation Visit


Whitney Plantation resides on the River Road about one hours drive from New Orleans.  A recent visit there provided much enlightening information about the slave trade, crops grown near New Orleans, and the history of this area. Tours can be scheduled all days of the week except Tuesday.  It is unique in that many different types of plantation buildings still exist there, including old slave cabins, a foundry,  and the outside kitchen.

A German immigrant started the plantation in the late 1700s.  At Habitation Haydel, its original name, he grew indigo.  After his death, his youngest son converted the main crop grown to sugar cane, which is still grown there today.  Both indigo and sugar cane required intensive labor for profitability.

Although, according to population data, only ten blacks lived in Louisiana in 1712, by the end of the century slavery was the main source of labor.  In 1795, there were 19,926 slaves in Louisiana.  Under Spanish rule the slave population steadily increased.  Although many were imported from Haiti, those from Africa came from what are now the countries of Senegal, Bissau, and Guinea.  After the initial importation of slaves, the United States imported few compared to islands in the West Indies and Latin America, e.g. Brazil.  The preferred method in the United States to obtain slaves was breeding.  Women and men were forced to breed.  Their owners specifically chose certain people to produce certain types of progeny just like in breeding livestock.  One woman complained of having 16 children by 16 different men.

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After leaving the visitor center, the first building on the tour is the church.  Inside the church are statues of various children who were the products of the breeding program at the plantation.

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The artist created these statues from specific information about the children.  The plantation owners maintained detailed inventories of all slaves and their value.  This particular plantation often owned as many as 100 slaves.

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From this inventory a memorial has been created with the names of the slaves.  Included are various statements made by the slaves themselves as recorded in slave narratives.

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The above tells the story of a child fathered by his owner and one of the slave women and how his father treated him.

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Even pregnant women could not escape beatings.

IMG_2735Because the area around New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain a year, the landscape everywhere is lush.  This is one of several pools at the plantation.

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These containers cooked the sugar cane.  Starting with the largest, the cane was boiled repeatedly until it cooked down and poured into increasingly smaller containers.  This was especially dangerous work due to the fires, the heat, and the boiling sugar cane. Sugar cane production was much more dangerous than cotton which was grown farther north in Louisiana.  The cane itself was cut with large machetes and the edges of the cane are also sharp.  Many people were severely injured.  The life expectancy of a sugar cane slave who worked in the fields or cooking the cane was approximately ten years from the time he or she went to work, often as young as ten. Although field slaves had a much harder life in terms of labor, they had less exposure to their owners and their families and therefore, in some ways, more freedom to talk and interact. House slaves were constantly watched and the women especially subject to sexual abuse.

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Slave cabins like this one contained four rooms.  Like the main plantation house, most buildings were built off the ground.  No levees existed then and the largest plantations were often built within sight of the Mississippi River and thus prone to flooding.

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This building housed the foundry.  Skilled slaves, like blacksmiths, were very valuable and received better treatment, e.g. enough food.  When the movie, “Django Unchained” was filmed, part of the movie was filmed here because the adjoining plantation did not have a blacksmith shop.  The branding portion was filmed at Whitney Plantation.

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The walkway, looking from the front of the main plantation house, is lined with giant oak trees.  Before the levees were built, the Mississippi River could be seen from the house.

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Originally, there was no first floor due to the flooding.  Later, after it will built and used for dining, an office, and a living area, whenever the floods came, the slaves were required to carry everything to the second floor until the water subsided. Then they would clean the first floor of mud and debris and return the furniture there.  Whitney Plantation possesses some unique characteristics, e.g. finely painted European style ceilings.

Cooking was not done inside the main house at any of the plantations due to the heat and fire danger. The cook, another skilled and valuable slave, was required to know how to cook various popular cuisines typical of the area, e.g. creole, European–French, Spanish.

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The various ferns and mosses growing from the limb of this large oak trees demonstrates the lushness and humidity typical of this area and why it is still used for sugar cane production.

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A short distance down the road is Evergreen Plantation where the main portion of “Django Unchained” was filmed.  It, too, still produces sugar cane and a family lives here.  Tours are available as well.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Earth Day–Photos


I decided the best way I should share my reverence and love for nature and this precious planet on which we live is to share photos from various countries, states, and my own little piece of wonder.

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The three photos above were taken at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas about ten minutes from where I live.

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Above and below the Rio Grande looking into Mexico.

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Four photos above — Big Bend National Park.

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Between Marfa and Alpine, Texas.

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The Rio Grande north of Albuquerque on the Santa Ana Pueblo Nation.

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The above four photos taken in Simien Mountain National Park, Ethiopia.  The animals are gelada–the only surviving grass eating primates found solely in Ethiopia.  They actually “talk” to each other.

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Menelik’s Window, Ethiopia

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Awash Falls, Ethiopia

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Where the Blue Nile begins draining from Lake Tana, Ethiopia

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The photos above were taken at various places in Costa Rica.

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Northern New Mexico

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Grand Canyon North Rim

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The Missouri River running full.

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California dropping down from Sequoia National Monument

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Near Lake Marvin, Texas

Sunday Sunrise ©Dawn Wink

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The above photos were all taken within the last year on my little rim of wonder.

And finally below, my favorite animal.

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I Watched Movers Box Up a Life


Saturday, February 18, 2017

I watched movers box up a life today, a life I thought left me thirty some years ago.  I was wrong.

When our daughter and I cleaned out the refrigerator, we found a large pot filled with egusi stew, remnants of the last meal he cooked. I took the footlong, hand carved, wooden spoon, scraped the dry bits clinging to the sides of the silver pot.  Scrubbing it clean, smells of memory flooded my nostrils–cayenne, bitter leaves. It took me ten minutes, ten memory laden minutes.  Even after scrubbed and dried, the pot’s cayenne smell filled my nostrils, the distinct smell of West African food.

I watched movers box up a life today, a life I thought left me thirty some years ago.  I was wrong.

Our daughter and I found papers and photos, items her father kept all these years, detailed memories of our life together.  I could barely look at them, throat constricting, tears welling in the eyes of this woman who never cries.  Our daughter, dismayed, told me to go outside.  I walked down the quiet street, brown leaves scattered from autumn, unraked, a strange street both urban and rural inside a city of nearly half a million residents.  Is this where he walked, attempting to improve his health?  Was I walking in his footsteps?

I watched movers box up a life today, a life I thought left me thirty some years ago.  I was wrong.