Some Things I Learned This Week


A lovely autumn day with a few flowers still in full bloom.  Snow starts at ten tonight they predict.

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In spite of this loveliness, I keep thinking about a few sad facts I learned this past week.

On June 2, 1924, Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the US and finally, the original inhabitants of the USA could actually vote.  Well, some of them.  Certain states still barred them from voting until 1957.

More tigers live in captivity in the United States than in the wild worldwide.  95% of wild tigers gone in just one century.

More people have died from opioid addiction in the US in the last few years than from Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.

 

 

 

 

 

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Memorial Day–Memories


While I was growing up, my mom grew peonies by the side of the vegetable garden.  Red, pink, white, huge spectacular blooms that always arrived around this time of year just in time for Memorial Day.  We would pick many, put them in mason jars and take them to my father’s and her family’s cemetery plots.  She has created a metal apparatus to hold them so the wind would not blow them over.  We took water to fill the jars.  We did this every Memorial Day always.

No one lives close any more.  There is no one left to take flowers there.

My mother’s family members are buried in the Mound City, Missouri Cemetery.

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My mother’s parents’ gravestone.  She was Nellie Narcissus Kaiser before she married rather late for back then–in her late twenties.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was so much older than she that even though he lived to be 80, he died long before I was born. My great-grandfather Kaiser was born in Switzerland and brought here as a child.

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The gravestone of my mother’s grandmother.  I know she lived with my grandmother and grandfather a lot of the time from family photos, but I also know that she died in San Diego.  No one ever told me how she got there or why.

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The gravestone of Aunt Julia, Mother’s sister.  She never married, loved fancy antiques and china.  I frequently use some of what she left me.  She came to see me rather often and we visited antique stores when she visited.  To say she was an independent woman is an understatement.

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My parents’ gravestone is on the right and Dad’s parents’ on the left–in the cemetery in Fillmore, Missouri.  My grandfather, Pleasant Lightle, had walked from Illinois to Missouri as a child according to family stories.  My parents met dancing. I always smile when I see the peonies planted at their graves.

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This is the gravestone of my great-grandfather, Dad’s mother’s father, who came to the US from Switzerland when he was 18.  According to my dad, he did not want to be conscripted into the Swiss army because at that time Swiss soldiers were being hired out as mercenaries.  His mother stood on the roof of their house waving until she could see him no longer.  They never saw each other again.  I grew up on the land he homesteaded in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is filled with descendants of immigrants who came from Switzerland.

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The old carriage house near the house where Dad spent the first ten years or so of his 90 years.  It is all that is left standing.

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The house where Dad lived the last 80 years of his life and where I grew up.

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When I was a child, the building in the foreground was used at various times as a farrowing house, once for Rhode Island Red chickens, and to store various farm supplies.  When I went to visit Dad after Mom died and we were at the cemetery on Memorial Day, a man came up to Dad and asked if he was Doyle Lightle.  They started chatting and I learned that when Dad first built it during Prohibition times, he held dances there.  The sheriff would send deputies to watch and make sure no one was drinking.  I had lived there and visited there for decades and had never heard this story.

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I took this photo standing on the levee next to the Missouri River looking toward the Rulo, Nebraska bridge.  This is the land my mother’s family owned.  On some Sundays as a treat, we would cross the bridge to a restaurant on the Nebraska side.  It was famous for its fried catfish and carp.

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This is country with lots of water and trees.  This picture was taken near Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  Several times in my life, I have seen flooding from the bluffs on the Missouri side all the way to the bluffs on the Kansas and Nebraska side of the river.  When I was a child, my uncle and aunt lived on the river farm until a flood reached half way up the second story of their house.  They gave up and moved to town.

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When I was a child, there were trees like this in lots of places on Mom’s family’s farm.  About this time of year we would hunt for morels and often pick a bushel basket full.  Mom dipped them in egg and cornmeal, then fried them.  We practically lived on them for week or two.  I was shocked as an adult to go into a fancy market and discover that dried morels were 95 dollars a pound.

 

 

 

 

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

Quote for the day


Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia.  I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.  Lyndon Johnson, 1970.

Meeting Phrike: Feminist Theology and the Experience of Horror by Jill Hammer


Today, I planned to write my own blog post this evening after work. Just before I read this post, I mulled over topics, whether I wanted to share a recipe or write about so many disturbing as well as inspiring events I experienced or watched in the past week. Then today a student in one of my classes loudly questioned whether the Holocaust even occurred. This was followed by another student announcing that Jews are not people. As I read through my emails, this blog post appeared. It seemed especially telling given that experience. I refuse to tolerate comments that denigrate the religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference of anyone.

Myself, I saw the numb pools amidst the shadows; myself, the wan gods and night in very truth.  My frozen blood stood still and clogged my veins.  Forth leaped a savage cohort… Then grim Erinys (Vengeance) shrieked, and blind Furor (Fury), and Horror (Phrike), and all the forms which spawn and lurk amidst the eternal shades.

Seneca, Oedipus (trans. Frank Justus Miller)

Horror is not a cognitive but a physiological or affective extra-discursive state of being. Not unlike the state of, say, feeling nausea, horror is a state of being, whose manifestation, based on the etymologies of the Greek φρiκη [phrike] and the Latin horror, may be described, as Adriana Cavarero writes, as “a state of paralysis, reinforced by the feeling of growing stiff on the part of someone who is freezing,” and further, through her mythological reference to the prototypical figure of horror, Medusa, as a state of “petrification”…

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Currently: Eagerly Anticipating #Akefest16 in Abeokuta


For those who want to explore movies, musicians, and writers many of you may never have heard of, here is a lengthy list with photos.

Kinna Reads

It’s 1pm and I’m planning my trip to Abeokuta – I leave on Wednesday.  Yessss, the 2016 edition of Ake Arts and Book Festival is loading…. I’m so excited, I have butterflies, the pit of my stomach is always warm because

That is me up there, scheduled to host a book chat with NoViolet Bulawayo and Jennifer Makumbi!  Ms. Makumbi is the author of Kintu, which qualifies as the most recent addition to my all time list of favorite African fiction ever. I’m so stoked.😆😆😆.

I will also moderate this:

Laila Lalami, fellow book lovers!

Finally, I’m also on this:

It’s all very glorious!

#AkeFest16 comprises 12 panel discussions, including:

(I get to meet Sarah Ladipo Manyika (InDependence) finally…

9 Book chats such as:

Also on the schedule are film screenings, a play and a concert:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will headline. In boxing parlance, he is the…

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Catrinas


In 1913, Mexican print maker Jose Guadalupe Posada sketched the original Catrina, an elegant, upper class skeleton woman in a ball gown to symbolize the emptiness of the upper classes.  Subsequently, Catrinas have come to be a part of El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.  None of this has anything to do with Halloween, absolutely nothing.  People sometimes associate the two erroneously, but only because of the dates when they occur.

This evening I was privileged to be one of the judges of a Catrina contest.  Before the contest occurred, the evening began with some traditional Mexican dancing.

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There were also several traditional El Dia de los Muertos  family displays to honor deceased ancestors.  The following was the most elaborate.

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Finally, the Cartrinas were ready.  Ten young women competed.  The following photo shows the top three, judged for originality, costume, and makeup.

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The young woman on the left never smiled.  The top makeup impressed everyone.  The skeletal bones you see on the young woman on the right were all painted on and a backbone, etc. was painted on her back as well.  The young lady in the center won the costume portion–a bride in a black veil, elegant, empty.

 

 

Friends and Flowers


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On my way home from work today, I stopped by a friend’s house to get some Black Eyed Susans.  She and her husband run a bed and breakfast with a spectacular garden in the back.  Iris of every color are blooming, yellow, lavender and white, peach, every shade of purple, and one a combination of colors I have never seen before.  The lavender and white combined in one flower I gave her in the fall of 2012.  They rebloom and spread rather rapidly.  Because of that and the fact that I cannot bear to throw any away, I have them by the barn and here and there.  Some do better than others–a lot of the soil here is either clay or caliche or a combination, not very conducive to anything but the toughest.  She has a rose bush taller than I am which means it must be about 5’6″ or 7″.  Another deep red rose was already blooming.  She gives me flowers and I wait and see how they do or if the deer or bunnies will eat them.

Today’s weather brought perfection, a rare treat of just the right temperature, sunshine, and no wind.  When I arrived, her husband was napping in the garden in a lawn chaise.  He got up, we all walked around the garden, looked in the koi pond, and commented what flowers seemed to flourish more readily than others.  Many flowers which do well in town either die out here in the country only twelve miles away or fail to thrive.  They just sit there and do nothing.  She and I have shared flowers for years, flowers and conversation and wine.  We all decided to sit town and share some wine and cheeses and crackers and visit.  They travel widely and always have tales to tell.  He is from Jordan so we discuss world events.  Part of today’s conversation centered on Boko Haram and the differences between Shia and Sunni.  He is Sunni and I used to be married to a Shiite.  Often we discuss extremism and how it harms everyone, regardless of religion.  None of us understand the hatred some people seem to feel toward others who are different from them either my race or religion or ethnicity or gender.

As soon as I returned home and changed into gardening clothes, I fed Rosie, and planted the Black Eyed Susans with a big dose of water and root stimulator.  Who knows if they will make it.  I will wait and see.  If they do, they will contrast nicely with the purple of the catmint and the white, tiny, native Blackfoot Daisies growing wild among the other plants in my little garden.  What more can a person wish for than spending time with good friends among the flowers.  And a little wine never hurts.

 

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Poverty


Proofs sent to the library at work–a high school–cannot legally be used on the shelves so they end up in various places.  Somehow I end up where they reside and read them.  My latest, The Boiling Season by Christopher Hebert provides abundant food for hard core thinking.  The setting, a Caribbean island, reeks of political turmoil and the legacy of slavery.  Unless you are totally ignorant of Caribbean history and the various cultures there, it does not take long to figure out the setting is Haiti.  In case you want to read the book, I will give you only a cursory introduction.  The main character grows up in basically what we call here a slum.  His mom dies of malaria when he is quite young and  his dad owns a small store.  He hates it and focuses most of his life on getting out of these circumstances.  He gets a job and a place to live with a senator, meets important people, and eventually discovers an abandoned estate out in the country.  He moves there after it is bought by a wealthy foreign white woman who hires him to restore it.  He absolutely loves the place.  It is an island of beauty and peace in the middle of squalor, poverty, and strife.

The details you can read for yourself.  It’s focus is the dilemma many who grow up poor and want to better themselves face:  if you progress, are you abandoning your roots, to whom do you owe loyalty.  And, indeed, what is progress?  Civil war breaks out and the main character is torn between his desire for peace and a more elegant lifestyle in this beautiful place and the needs of the poverty stricken people who surround it and who at one point work there.  Is he a free person or just a fancier slave for the rich who own the place?  Has he deluded himself into thinking because he worked hard to get where he is that he is better?

Although the book’s setting is a particular place, the theme remains universal.  I think of individuals I personally know who could not cope with success and riches, who felt they must “save” all their relatives and then were left with nothing themselves.  The thinking is this:  if you come into money, you must share it with everyone; to keep it for yourself is morally wrong.  If this is the case, how can the cycle ever break?  This sort of thinking is very difficult for those of use who work hard and save for the future to understand.  We question why we should help them when they hit the bottom.

Yesterday my hard working, single mom, going to graduate school daughter went on a rant about people she knows who get food stamps, Medicaid, etc. while she works and goes to school and gets nothing.  They have fancier cars, better TVs, etc. than she does.  I do understand both viewpoints although I admit I am the frugal without being austere.  I remember a time several years ago when several of my poorer students–I teach at a Title 1 school–wore jeans more expensive than I would ever buy–its jeans.  We got into a discussion about this.  I informed them that all the clothing I had on except for underwear and socks came from a thrift store.  When I take things to the thrift store, I actually shop.  Thrift stores are full of “finds”.  The response of one student was echoed by others, “I would never go into a thrift store.  Someone might see me go in there.”  Because they were poor, they wanted to avoid anyone seeing them do anything they thought might confirm this.

Although fraud exists in programs for the poor, it also exists in high end banking and just about everything.  The solution is to work hard to investigate and prevent it.  I keep wondering what is the solution for the people truly in need?  Do we punish everyone to prevent the fraudulent acts of the few?  And what about the children?  What happens to the dependent young?  Obviously, the world has not found answers.  I wonder if we ever will.

Amazon


His milk chocolate, heavy lidded eyes stare at me from the

front of the magazine.

His cheeks display charcoal tattoos, a criss cross

design, tiny Xs on top, stopping where his nostrils flare.

His straight hair barely touches his shoulders.

not the black I expected, but the color of mahogany.

His eyebrows grow thin and wide,

no visible eyelashes.

His skin, color of morning coffee with two teaspoons of milk,

looks clear, smooth.

His full lips only slightly darker than his skin

do not smile.

He, a Kayapo Indian, continues staring.

He lives in Kayapo Territory, Brazil, land the size of

Great Britain and Ireland.

He plans to save it from the rest of us.

He plans to save us from our own worst selves.

 

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The Kayapo and other indigenous Amerindians have lived in the rainforest for millennia.  They and most environmentalists view their rainforest as a priceless haven for biodiversity.  Their Amazon remains a major defense in the fight against global warming and habitat destruction.  Fifteen per cent of greenhouse emissions, more than all the trucks, cars, buses, and planes combined, come from deforestation.  Although Brazil has slowed the deforestation rate by 70 per cent in the last nine years, last year saw a reversal with an sudden increase of 30 per cent.  Brazil also began construction of a network of canals, dams, and a huge hydroelectric project on the Xingu River in the middle of Kayapo territory.  The Kayapo and other Amerindians defeated a larger project in the 1990s. They intend to defeat this one.

The chief of the Kayapo, Megaron, knows what is at stake, not only for his tribe, but also for the rest of us, long term survival.  One  National Geographic article noted, “It is one of the richest ironies of the Amazon that the supposedly civilized outsiders who spent five centuries evangelizing, exploiting, and exterminating aboriginal people are now turning to them to save ecosystems recognized as critical to the health of the planet–to defend essential tracts of land from the outside world’s insatiable appetite.”

Kayapo success can be attributed to their ability to embrace some of the best of the modern world while retaining a strong sense of identity, culture, and traditions, all of which come from the forest.  As Megaron notes, “Before the white man, we were always fighting other tribes.  Not anymore.  We stopped hitting each other over the head and united against a bigger threat.”  For our own long term health and success, we can support them and hope they succeed.