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.

 

 

 

 

The White Supremacist History of Tear Gas


One hundred years ago, a racist US General, Amos Fries, transformed tear gas from a wartime chemical into use against protestors. He loved war gases and saw them as the ultimate in US technology.  He advocated the use of tear gas against any form of civil disorder.  As head of US Chemical Warfare Services, he pedaled his favorite gas to private security firms, police departments, and the National Guard.  According to him, tear gas in the hands of the “White man can quell any uprising.”  He went on to talk about how White men are set apart from the Negro, Gurkha, and the Moroccan. In his effects were letters from the women of the Ku Klux Klan praising his efforts.

Today the tear gas he loved is used all over the world by tyrannical governments to control their people.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covid19–4


The cases and deaths rise; yet I see positives in all this mess. People are posting photos of food they are cooking at home for the first time in years, families sitting down and eating together.  Neighbors are keeping their distance but talking to each other.  People call friends to check on them.  Others are using the Internet to communicate with friends they rarely see or cannot see now, in some cases people they are too busy to connect with on a regular basis.  Some work on the stack of books they never had time to read before.  Several of my musician friends are posting concerts online.

Many of us who teach may be learning new skills like using all aspects of Google Classroom, searching the Internet for innovative ideas to use in our online classrooms. I used to play the piano daily, even competed in high school.  Then I quit.  My current goal is to relearn a piece, Fuer Elise, that only ten years ago I could play from memory effortlessly.  The music I am using is the same I used in high school, decades ago.  It is discolored, edges torn.

I do know how to sew but rarely do. This weekend I will get out the sewing machine my parents gave me more than four decades ago and make a mask.  I printed out a page of directions yesterday.  To be safe, I work from home, rarely leave my property except to go to the mailbox at the end of a long drive.  Luckily, I live in the country, have horses, and a lot of space.  It is easy for me to get out and exercise. Added to that I joined an online Zumba class with an invitation from someone I met years ago, a horn player in a mariachi band in San Antonio–I love mariachi.

Going to and from work took 1.5 hours each day so now I have all that extra time.  In the last three weeks I have read two books and started a third, caught up with magazine reading, and started FaceTime with my college roommate and her husband in California and also my daughter and grandson who live nearby but I cannot visit now. I have gardened, mowed, hiked, and photographed spring flowers and sunsets.

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Yes, living in the country with space makes this easier I rather imagine, but I feel confident if people really search, they can find new and interesting adventures inside themselves and around them.

Be safe, take care, dream.

 

Covid19–2


The saga of staying sane, learning new skills, keeping occupied continues.  When I posted Covid19–1 a couple of days ago, the Panhandle of Texas had two cases, now we have ten, one of whom, at the age of 39, has died.  Another 30 something is in critical condition.  A case was announced this morning at Cannon Air Force Base just across the state line.

Yet, I can think of positives arriving from this:  people at home reading, spending more time with family, cooking, playing games, relearning old skills.

What have I done recently?  I teach high school English and Spanish.  Starting Monday, we will be teaching online using Google Classroom.  I have used it before but not for over a year.  Probably overkill, but yesterday I spent something like four hours taking a class on how to use it and relearning.  More to come today.  I have the English lessons hand written, all planned out.  Now I have to convert them to Google Classroom. Perhaps with Spanish I will change course totally and use Duo Lingo for many of the lessons.  Did that last year, but not this one.

Luckily, living out in country, having horses, having lots of gardening to accomplish makes this quite a bit easier.  Horses have to be fed and cared for, weeds require hoeing or mulching, dead wood must be cut out of woody plants, the tasks seem endless.  Since we are having a heatwave and temperatures are considerably above normal, I can hike, walk the long drive to the mailbox, eat lunch on the patio as I did yesterday.  The mustard weeds out by the barn suddenly grew more than two feet tall; it was driving me nuts–I cannot stand mustard weeds.  Yesterday afternoon, I got out the tractor and mowed.  They are tough.  When I fed the horses this morning, I saw a few had regenerated themselves and were sticking up again. I might have to do this over.

In the midst of this crisis, I have noticed far too many people around here seem not to take this seriously.  It appears, looking at the news, that this is a problem in many parts of the country.  Do we want to be like Italy?  I received a message from Martina there.  More and more dying and no end in site.  When I stepped out on the patio this morning to take the photo that appears below, the traffic on the main road was as loud as it is when nothing is happening, when people are not asked to stay home.  Is no one complying?  Why?

Meanwhile I will take advantage of all the positive things I can find in this–communicate with friends and family all over the world, garden, cook, learn more Google Classroom, relearn some pieces on the piano, water before the predicted wind for tomorrow occurs, brush the shedding hair off my horses, read, and perhaps join the online Zumba class in San Antonio at 4.  Life, even in times of crisis, is what you make of it.

Be safe!  Learn something new!  Laugh out loud!

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Desert


Give me the long view

the endless space,

let my bones gleam white

beneath a desert willow

where a diamondback seeks shade.

 

Let me walk through red rock, climb to eternity,

stretch arms into the azure, crystalline air,

laugh out loud.

 

Give me the long view,

let me laugh out loud,

look down the Kaibab

Plateau into eternity.

 

Let me sing songs to emptiness,

to stark, open, free,

dance in sun, moonlight,

laugh out loud.

 

Give me the long view.

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Student Poems–Four


In the beginning of the world

nature provided.

Poachers, factories, deforestation,

We abuse nature.

Nature now has too much to carry,

Greed, selfishness, money.

Nature is being destroyed.

We are the ones who have destroyed.

If we continue,

then no one knows what the future will hold.

Luke Mason

 

 

All the birds are chirping.

The dogs are barking.

The leaves are falling.

The deer are eating.

As we lay here

in these oakwood desks

Learning!

Animals get to relax

and eat.

While we learn and

work.

WHY!

Ellwood Jennings.

 

 

The sun,

The moon,

The animals.

This is nature.

When the sun goes down

the moon comes out.

Animals howl, bellow and bark.

They are all part of

the animal kingdom.

This is nature.

 

Brooke Madill

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Student Poems–One


After reading nature poems by Denise Levertov and Wendell Berry, the students wrote their own nature poems.  Ten wanted me to post their poems on my blog,  As as consequence, I will post two student poems each day.  Here is the first set.

 

In late fall evening

There are leaves falling

and they are crunching

under your feet

as the birds fight

for the tree with the

most leaves My family

watches football in

the warm cozy house

of ours.

 

Trey Matthews.

 

 

Nature is beautiful

and helps you see,

the wild is suitable

for you and me.

Nature helps you grow

in strength and mindset,

and helps you realize

your true assets.

Look around and see

the beautiful world God made for me.

 

Bailee McAlister

 

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Beauty


Once I was married to a man who sarcastically commented that I could find beauty anywhere.  It’s probably true.  Taking a hike in semi-arid country, I find tiny flowers, hidden lichens, cactus the size of my thumbnail.  I keep thinking of the miniscule lavender flowers near the rock walkway by the garage.  They only appear briefly in the spring.  They are so tiny, tinier than my pinkie nail.  How can I see them?  They stand out so brightly against the rocks, they’re hard to miss.  Well, hard for me to miss.

Every natural place has its own beauty.  I can only think of one place I’ve been where I questioned this:  a place on the Interstate east of LA next to the Arizona border.  In June when it was 118 and the hot wind nearly knocked me over, I recall asking myself, “How can anyone live here?”  Yet I’ve seen photos of the same desert carpeted with hot pink flowers in the spring.

Every natural place has its own beauty.  You just have to be open to seeing., feeling, experiencing  its magic.

 

Note:  This essay was part of an assignment for a writing class from the Story Circle Network.  The assignment is to write six minutes each day using just one word to get you started and writing about that word. You can make a list of topics or just pick a word out of a book.  The teacher is Yesim Cimcoz. It would seem I never took of photo of the tiny flower mentioned above.  Below are photos of native flowers taken around my house.

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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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