19 December, 2008

Not a Good Start on That 'Change'

The talking heads seem to only reference "anger in the gay community" in regards to the invitation from P.E. Obama to Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration and yes, there is plenty. However, I am not gay and I am plenty angry and very disappointed. I agree with Pastor Warren that it is commendable for Obama to invite someone who doesn't share his views to take part. However, it's this guy and these views that gall. Gays may not be members of Saddleback Church, Warren's massive congregation. His church runs a group that tries to "cure" gays. He has compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. He said on NBC just today that while he is naturally inclined to sleep with every beautiful woman he sees, he is able to control himself and went on to insinuate that gays should just exercise that same sort of control and maturity, the extrapolation being that they would eventually be able to overcome their homosexuality.

I am reminded of my mother telling me why she began turning away from her Southern Baptist upbringing as a child. On one hand, she was being taught in Sunday school that Jesus loved all the little children. On the other, she was growing up in the segregated south and remembers being scolded for playing with the children of the one Jewish family in town. Children can smell a hypocrite at a thousand paces; it's one of the things I love about them. My mother was no different.

I know there are many people who do not understand, accept or condone homosexuality; many who do not see homosexuals as human. Having gay friends and loved ones, it's a tough one to try to understand. And the Warren invitation is tough for those of us so energized by Obama's election and the end of the Bush administration. One the one hand, many of us worked and voted for an attempt at unity, an effort to overcome our differences and work together. On the other, we were promised change and this doesn't feel like the right kind.

I've had plenty of experience with judgemental people. My own grandmother insinuated that I was bound for hell for not sharing her beliefs when I was 17 and I have heard plenty of preaching from amateurs and professionals alike on how things are to be done. I often respond that I'd not seen the help wanted ad indicating that The Almighty had resigned the judicial position.

I doubt the invitation will be withdrawn. What I hope, but doubt, is that this will help spur a substantive discussion about the role of religion in our government - why, with the separation of church and state is there any need for an invocation or pastors at the inauguration? - the basic human rights too often denied gays and their place within their respective faith communities.
One roommate, herself gay, has taken to speaking of Obama like she had been double crossed by her best friend. This is not the way this was supposed to begin.


16 December, 2008

Rock On, Ladies!

NPR profiled The AccoLade, one of the first all-female rock bands from Saudi Arabia, tonight. Read up and take a listen. Whether you're into their music or not, I hope the interest in them will help support others in finding and using their voices.


Last One Out, Toss the Match!

As though the last eight years haven't been enough for this country and the world, Bush & Co. seem determined to trash whatever is left on their way out the door. These last minute rules are tough for subsequent administrations to roll back. Endangered species act? Gut it! Environmental protections? Bah! HUMBUG! And now, the latest, which is of particular interest to women. Being a woman, anybody deigning to claim sovereignty over my body or better judgement than I on the subject make me angry. I feel the phrase, "my body, my choice," in my marrow. Related to this, people who provide ways for health care providers to get out of providing health care, likewise make me angry. Very, very angry. Quick! Somebody hand me a shoe!


15 December, 2008

Reason #1 Why I Might Just Stick Around

If my country and this state is so out of whack that a person like Cynthia Dunbar (R-Richmond) can carry all the counties in her district (fie, fie District 10!) and be elected to the Texas Board of Education - yes, put in charge of the education of millions of children in this state! - in spite of spouting garbage like this in a book she authored, according to the Houston Chronicle, then I might just stick around here long-term to make people like her angry and fight back:

"Christians should 'occupy' all countries;

Pres.-Elect Obama is a terrorist sympathizer who will bring tyranny to America. His pro-choice stance on abortion is the same sort of 'fascist, supremacist attitude exhibited by Mussolini and Hitler.'

Public education is tyrannical, unconstitutional and the Satan-following Left's 'subtly deceptive tool of perversion.' And parents who surrender their children to government-run schools are 'throwing them into the enemy's flames even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.'"

If public education is so evil, why run for the board? Heck, leave it to Satan or at least those of us with more than two brain cells to rub together. Really, please. I mean, you're sort of somehow giving Satan a good name, lady! I'm not sure what's more disturbing: her views (which, as a free speech absolutist she is welcome to air); the fact that people knew them and still put her in charge of their children's education; or that people like her are all to common in positions of influence these days and that those of us who believe in such radical ideas as the separation of church and state still haven't figured out a plan to push back and realign this country along it's true founding principles.

I've had it. No more with "this is a Christian country founded on Christian principles" garbage. First of all, read a book written by a real historian and the U.S. Constitution whilst you're at it. Second, most of what you spout is not very "Christian," so don't even try. Second, not all who disagree with this extremist viewpoint are "lefties" or atheists. I know conservatives and people of deep, personal faith who are just as disgusted as I. And, if we're going to go all absolutist with things, when do we get to stone those who work on the sabbath and start keeping slaves and such. I personally can't wait to be reduced in status to a piece of property, if you guys are going Old Testament on us. Good times! Much like with gun control, I really wish we could bring the Founding Fathers back for a little show-and-tell. They would be appalled. I, for one, hope there will be a second coming and that Jesus will immediately host a sit-down with folks like you for ruining his good name and intentions. Dunbar claims her views aren't for the faint of heart. Well, lady, I'm no shrinking violet so bring it on. Let's hope you finally fling one stinking, slimy pile of small-mindedness and hate too many and your district, and others, finally wake up to what they've done. Surely in the mean time the rest of us can find somebody to run against the likes of you.


PS: Please, please read more on the assault on education in Texas here and the makeup of the Texas Board of Education here.

14 December, 2008

Duck and Cover

I do not believe this is what they mean when they say people are "voting with their feet".... However, you sort of have to hand it to Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, for having the chutzpah to hurl not one but both his shoes at Pres. Bush today during a press conference in Baghdad. The slightly more interesting thing to me was Talibani's reaction - he didn't flinch, merely made a half-hearted attempt to bat one of the shoes away. Yes, it's poor form to insult a guest, even if that guest sort of destroyed your country. Yes, it's a bad idea to hurl anything at the POTUS. But, I must say I think we all sort of wonder what we'd do if confronted by W. after the last eight fabulous years. Would we turn the other cheek? Could we? I'm reminded of all the maddening times my mother exhorted me to not use the word hate as a child because, "it's such a powerful word," which I kept trying to explain to her was exactly why I was using it (usually in reference to the kids who were awful to me in school). I'm sitting here wondering, "Do I hate him?" Suffice to say, don't worry George, I don't own a pair of heels.


19 November, 2008

Hook 'em Horns

I have been accepted to the the graduate social work program I wanted and will head west after spending Thanksgiving with family in M-I-Double Snake-I-Double Snake-I-Hump Back-Hump Back-I (that's Mississippi for the uninitiated). Very happy to be moving on with life and just need to get settled before school starts in January.


06 November, 2008

Florida Still Manages To Screw Something Up

O.K. Florida, yes, we escaped a recount this year and yes, you finally went blue. Yet your voters, who obviously didn't bother to research, much less read, those pesky ballot initiatives managed to prove we are not the post-racial country everybody is now touting us as. Bravo.


05 November, 2008

What It Means to Me

I have a good friend in Istanbul, a great Englishman with a keen mind and big heart. The type you can really tangle with intellectually over a beer or two. Certainly no fan of the McCain/Palin ticket, he's been sending me links to articles critical of Obama, calling them "reality checks". I love them because amidst all the jubilation they remind me of things I and others have to keep pushing for and will have to hold our new president to. For now, like most - literally - of this country, I am enjoying the moment. It doesn't mean I have forgotten that the world keeps turning, bombs keep falling, people people keep losing their lives, the planet keeps dying...

The landslide election of Barrack Hussein Obama - yeah, pause on that one and smile - to the office of the presidency will have great ramifications for the rest of the world, I suspect in ways small, large and surprising. Watching people around the world celebrate with us - the students at President-Elect Obama's former elementary school in Indonesia, his extended family in Kenya, the citizens of (no joke) Obama, Japan - has brought a tear or two to my eyes today. But, I am not sure they - you - quite understand what this election means to us.

It does not mean we are post-racial. I don't believe human beings will ever be post-racial; I think we'll always have those in our midst who are only capable of that pathetic, narrow mindset. But it does mean that the phrase, "Any little boy or girl can grow up to be president," now has new meaning.

It means that after seven years, we have a new, positive collective memory. "Where were you when...?" Until now, those three words have been reflexively followed by "on 9/11". It doesn't mean we forget that day, but it does mean that after seven years we can begin rebuilding our relationships with the rest of the world and try to proactively, diplomatically and practically alleviate the things that led to that day. Schools, clinics and functioning economies are far more powerful than guns, bombs and hate.

It means that we can start pushing back against the losses of the divisive politics of the last few decades. It means that we can start trying to bring people back together who were torn apart by lies, hate and fear. It shows that we're tired of the old ideologies and definitions. It shows that most of us aren't just desperately hungry for change, but that we want to get our hands dirty bringing about that change, we want a role in making this the country we know it can be, the "more perfect union". It means this generation has elected their JFK. I agree with Chris Matthews that public service will become cool again.

It means that the Democratic Party is now the big tent party - able to pull in African-American, Hispanic and other non-white voters while managing to improve their numbers with white voters. Footage of McCain/Palin rallies simply did not reflect the diversity of this country and the party's rhetoric certainly doesn't either. I hope this election means the moderates in that party will fight to take it back from the frightening, reactionary forces of the far right. This election means the Democrats are no longer the bracket party - clinging to the northeast and west coast. It's the start of a true nationwide party and seeds were laid in places where they are sure to grow.

It means enfranchisement is not merely a word. It means that people who never before saw their commonalities can, with a little help, find them and work together to attain shared goals. That so many of the divisions plaguing this country are mere paper tigers. It means their is hope for the idea of community in this country; that we may actually live up to the word united. It means that if all this hope and energy can be sustained and channeled, the results will be stunning.

It means that despite the fear mongering - "If he wins they'll riot!", "If he loses they'll riot!", "They'll take their revenge on us!", "He's a Muslim!", "He's friends with terrorists!" - this country did the right thing anyway. Fair weather "patriots" be damned. It means 527s and their money may not be as powerful as they thought they were. It means you can run a positive campaign and win.

It means we'll have a thinker, listener and consensus-builder running the country. It means science, reason and diplomacy can come in from the cold. It means new ideas will be elicited, not feared. I hope it means we're coming out of our low cycle of anti-intellectualism and xenophobia.

It means I am back in the U.S. and will likely dig in and stay a while; that there's fight left in this country yet.

One criticism of Obama supporters and all this is that all of us believe he can turn water to wine, walk on water, balance the budget in his first hundred days and bring about world peace in the next hundred. While there are, as with any candidate, followers with unrealistic expectations, I and most I know are thrilled to be able to follow a leader we respect, but are well-aware he's not of divine or extraterrestrial origin. We haven't drunk the Kool Aid, so to speak. I mean, we all know world peace will take six months at least. (I jest.) Is he perfect, God, the Messiah, the chosen one? No, but he is our president. And for the first time in a long time I'm very proud to say that. Will that change? We'll see.

So, give us some time to revel in this. In many ways, it has been a long time coming.


Post-Election Violence

My cousin's daughter, a first grader, voted in a mock election at her elementary school in Austin, Texas. She voted for now President-Elect Obama because, "he's smart." This being Texas, even in Travis County, McCain won in a landslide. On the bus that afternoon the kids were discussing the election and as they were getting off the bus, somebody asked A. who she voted for. When one second grade boy heard she voted for Obama he walked up to her and shoved her, hard. Luckily, A. has a posse. Their response when they heard? "He's goin' down." For the record, I do not support violent reprisals between political factions in elementary schools.


One Sad Note

UPDATE: Not entirely sure of this, but Rachel Maddow just said California will honor the same-sex marriages entered into prior to yesterday's passage of Prop. 8. I hope that's true.

California voters have narrowly approved a ban on same-sex marriage, Prop. 8. Unlike my home state (Florida) and Arizona, where voters last night approved changes to their states' constitutions to ban same-sex marriage - a superfluous move since both states had laws on the books defining marriage in ways that prevented same-sex marriage - same-sex marriage has been legal in California since June 17th of this year. As MSNBC host Rachel Maddow highlighted last night, California voters are not simply preventing something, but rather are taking an existing right away from their fellow citizens. Think about that. There is no word on what the ban will mean for the 16,000 committed same-sex couples who have married in the state since gay marriage became legal in June. I hope, but am sadly doubtful, that those unions will be allowed to stand.


04 November, 2008

Yes We Did!

It's just after 11pm EST and we have a new president. This is an amazingly early night, but it is over. The "skinny kid with the funny name," as he described himself, has done it. The crowds in Chicago, Kenya, and outside the White House are massive and joyous. John McCain is giving an admirable concession speech and trying to quiet the negative shouts of his supporters. Had he run a campaign more like his comments tonight, perhaps the results would have been different, at least somewhat. President Bush has called to congratulate President-Elect Obama. We're all awaiting his speech amidst a sea of people spread alongside Lake Michigan. It's a great night for all of us.


Trouble Already!

Just got an email from a cousin in Louisville, Kentucky, where I lived for a time, that polls have not opened in the neighborhoods of the West End because they cannot find the voting machines or poll workers. The West End encompasses most of the historically African-American neighborhoods in the city, such as Smoketown. Let's all hope election officials get this mess straightened out quickly and this isn't indicative of the kind of day we'll have in this country. Come on Louisville, you can do better!


Today's the Day

It's election day in the U.S. Lines are very long and hope is high within both camps. If you are a registered voter in the U.S. and you read this, please, please, be sure to vote. As long as you're in line, you have the right to cast your ballot, even if it's time for the polls to close. The estimate yesterday is that half the registered voters in Florida voted early and the numbers are high in other states.

Eighty-eight years ago, I wouldn't have been able to vote. That's not all that long ago.
I always remember that, somewhat viscerally, on election days. I also remember that less that 150 years ago, African-Americans and citizens of color were guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. constitution. In reality it to the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s to truly begin securing that right. Violence has been mostly replaced by dirty tricks, though violence remains. Do not think for a moment that this country is post-racial. Even in my own family, I have one relative who referred to Sen. Obama as "the black" and another who screamed "You mean you would vote for a Muslim!?" at an Obama-voting relative. Both have said if Sen. Obama wins or loses African-Americans will riot in the streets. Fear is a multi-faceted and powerful thing. However, my grandmother in Mississippi, in her 90s, is voting for Sen. Obama, which is undeniably remarkable.

If you wonder why so many of us are hopeful about Sen. Obama, read this. To all you fearful folks worried about violent African-Americans and Obama supporters, read this.

I don't cry at movies, but I still love Frank Capra's films. They help me from being completely cynical and pessimistic. So, I am not ashamed to say that watching Sen. Obama and his wife cast their ballots in Chicago this morning, their daughters at their side, I teared up.

I remember standing in a field at Georgia Tech, not long after Sen. Obama announced his candidacy, listening to him re-ignite the hopes of thousands. I remember the giddy smiles on the crowd at the conclusion of the speech. I remember turning to a young woman in hijab next to me, giggling and agreeing with her that all of us in the crowd were now totally amped up to get out and do something, to take that hope and responsibility he talked about forth and put it into action. I also remember the friends I went to the rally with lamenting that he would undoubtedly lose to Sen. Clinton in the primaries. I stand by what I said before this campaign even began: this country is more ready to elect a man of color than a woman. That doesn't excuse the faults of the Clinton campaign or take anything away from the remarkable campaign run by Obama. I truly do not think most people thought we would see this day.

Certainly, I refuse to say this is over until it is signed and certified. I'm from Palm Beach County. I still have nightmares about going to bed with Al Gore and waking up with W. Now that most of the conservative pundits, even the ones who until yesterday were trumpeting Sen. McCain's potential paths to a "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment, are admitting that it looks to be going Sen. Obama's way, I feel a little better. But, to quote Yogi Berra, "It ain't over 'til it's over."


03 November, 2008

The Kids Are Alright

All the touch-screen tapping pundits on television have yet to loosen the knot in my stomach. This is Palm Beach County, where voting is simply assumed to be, at best, a messy embarrassment. Look what we accomplished in 2000. However, today, I got a little boost in the waning hours of this campaign.

My mother's elementary school help a mock presidential election. Everybody on campus voted - students and staff alike. The results were as follows:

Obama/Biden: 72%
McCain Palin: 28%
(Adults alone: Obama/Biden: 69% McCain/Palin 31%)

Here's hoping Tuesday will look as good. The kids are really excited to compare their results with the state and national returns later this week, to see if "everybody else is as smart as we are," as many students put it.


PS: The Ten Thousand Islands and the 'Glades were beautiful this weekend. Saw sharks "fishing", had a dolphin breach and swim right off the bow of my kayak and lost count on gators and wading birds. To be back in a kayak amidst the cypress and mangroves was the real homecoming. Made some friends and received an offer to guide trips in the future. Not bad, indeed.

31 October, 2008

Welcome to Hell

On this All Hallows Eve in Florida we are beginning the steep, hellish descent into the infamous Republican 72 hour pre-election horror story. It's going to be especially unpleasant in this important battleground state, with 27 electoral votes to the winner. The only thing in mom's mailbox today? A handful of fear-mongering fliers against Sen. Obama from the Republicans and various special interest groups. Nearly ever commercial on television tonight have been political attack adds, my "favorite" featuring a menacing voice-over as the camera creeps towards a framed photo of Obama and his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Yeah, they went there. Playing the socialist/radical/leftist card? Check. Playing the race card? Check. Playing the red state versus blue state, us versus them card? Check. Playing the fear card? Check. Actual positive, policy-centered arguments supporting McCain? They'll get back to you on that. From here until Tuesday it's going to be ugly, swinging hard towards the now infamous Rove-ian tactics. How will I cope? By wading into alligator-infested waters, because big reptiles are far better creatures and make better company than political operatives. I'm going down to the south-west edge of the Everglades, one of the most unique, beautiful and most endangered ecosystems on the planet, to go kayaking in the peace and quiet of the mangroves and go slogging through the cypress and sawgrass. It's a small remainder of an ancient watershed that has so far managed to persist despite our best efforts to divert, drain and destroy it. Looking out over the expanses of sawgrass dotted with cypress hammocks I am always reminded of the subtlety of Japanese landscape paintings. The place can be so subtle that it annoys the average tourist, used to more "grand" national parks like Yosemite; they whine and complain that there's "nothing to see," completely blind to everything in front of them. We're going to a more remote area thankfully and the loudest sounds should be ospreys, herons, the sound of my paddle in the water.

I need this. Tuesday's going to be a long night. (sigh)
PS: Never to be forgotten, R.I.P. Studs. One of our true greats.

30 October, 2008

Go Broward!

South Florida is not a bastion of cutting-edge thinking. Maybe it's our proximity to the Bermuda Triangle, but this place can be crazy-making, especially when it comes to politics. So the story I just heard really surprised and thrilled me. The Broward County School District - the city of Ft. Lauderdale is in Broward - managed to register about 3,600 eligible students to vote and during this weeks early voting used field trip funds to bus students to the polls to give them a chance to vote. Nobody forced them to register with a particular party and the district broke no laws, so don't even try to paint it as something nefarious. Young and new voters are important groups in this election. What a great way to help students get into the process. The students interviewed, proudly showing off their "I Voted!" stickers, said the same and said they might not have registered and voted if not for their schools' assistance. One of the school board members believes Broward is the only school district in the country to have done this. I hope he's wrong about that and that Broward's success can be replicated nationwide in future elections.


29 October, 2008


In the U.S. these days there are more than a few things to bring out the raging pessimist in the best of us. Even many children, as much as I love them, can be a bit disappointing with their pleading that reading gives them headaches, against playing outdoors and lack of curiosity. However, not all of them are lost.

My mother, former classroom teacher and now media specialist, helped organize a civics project for third, fourth and fifth grade students at her school. Since the beginning of the school year she's worked with the classes on issues related to the election and civics. Don't freak Fox News, she's not indoctrinating! They talked about issues, candidates, how the students and their families feel they will be effected and what they want. One class hammered my mother with a slew of theoretical situations in a discussion on how you qualify for citizenship by birth: "What if your mother is a citizen, your father isn't, but you're born on an airplane over the ocean coming to the U.S.?" Students were encouraged to talk with their parents and to read and bring in articles on the campaign. Many did, filling a bulletin board with news and opinion articles they read and reported on, using comments from their parents as starting points for class discussions. Students were asked tough questions about issues and asked to think critically - something almost lost in our training to the test educational system. In recent weeks, students wrote a letter to either Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain; the choice was theirs and they were encouraged to write for themselves, not their parents. Monday the school will hold their own election. Teachers will use that to teach everything from math to history.

My mother was in charge of copying the letters (for school archives) and sending them to the two candidates. Some of the letters featured the beautifully non-linear thinking of children and didn't quite manage to make a point. Some were achingly real: "My parents can't afford gas/food/to keep me in aftercare." All were incredibly sincere and impressive for a group of elementary school students. I don't know if it means anything, but far more students wrote to Sen. Obama, based on the weight of the envelopes. A few of the letters to McCain actually attacked his position on the issues. It'll be interesting to see if the school gets any kind of response.

All the kids are interested in seeing if the results Monday come close to the results on Tuesday. To have children so involved in and aware of what's going on, asked to really consider the candidates and the issues and to watch them get so excited about the process has given me hope. I hope, in the future, we can turn education away from training and back towards critical thinking. For now, I'm pinning my hopes on these kids.


28 October, 2008


I tell you! People these days! You risk a major international incident by flaunting international law and invading another country to go after an al-Qaeda operative to help out the neighboring country, and the operative's home country, which you also invaded and how do the folks in that initially invaded country show their gratitude? They denounce you. Imagine that. Shocking. I say you pack up your toys and go home in a snit forthwith.


27 October, 2008


In case you've not heard, there seems to be some sort of election in eight days. I know, I know: "Who knew?" All you have to do is vote. Simple. I've done it and so can you...well, most of you. If you can, do. Otherwise, for the next four years at least, I'll kindly ask you keep your mouth shut because you will have squandered your voice. Don't just complain about things. DO something.
And, trust me - Palm Beach County voter speaking here - every vote counts. Or, at least the supervisor of elections here got in some practice recently with a triple recount in a judicial race. Fingers crossed Florida will somehow be surpassed on electoral screw-ups this time! (sigh)


26 October, 2008

U.S. Raid on Syria?

UPDATE (10/29): I was a little curious about this myself...

I am very concerned about news just breaking here on MSNBC claiming that U.S. forces entered Syria from Iraq yesterday via helicopter and killed 9 people in a raid on a building in the town of Sukariya, about 10 miles from the Iraqi border. The U.S. military is not confirming anything yet. With only 9 days left until national elections here, you have to question the timing of such an operation and wonder how this might effect this could have on the election, not to mention recent Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli negotiations, British-Syrian talks, a host of issues in Iraq, the status of Iraqi refugees currently in Syria and the broader Middle East. Syrian officials in Damascus have called the American Charge d'Affairs in to explain the whole thing. Not sure how the Syrians will respond, but given a number of factors don't expect things to go boom. I guess somebody decided that since the Pakistanis have not responded with violence (at least not towards US troops) to our cross-boarder raids from Afghanistan, though to say they are not happy with them is a rank understatement, the same thing would work just fine in Iraq. One more time neo-cons and fans, Iraq is not Afghanistan and no country takes kindly to other countries ignoring their territorial sovereignty. Not a way to win friends and influence, people.


19 October, 2008


I am not one for waiting. First, I am American and we are not known for our patience; think Happy Meals versus a two-hour Slow Food banquet. Second, I am an only child, which means Copernicus, Gallileo, et al were wrong and the Earth orbits me. Although this was significantly tempered by being raised by a teacher. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Earth orbits my mom, if only out of fear. I have certainly improved with age and am a pretty un-American-American. No, not that kind of un-American, Gov. Palin! It's not the little waits that get me; I am not one of those who hurls my drink in the face of the barista for foam on my no-foam latte. It's those waits for the big things, that whole "let go, let God," stuff.

I am waiting to hear if I've been accepted into my first choice for graduate school. I have decided to pursue a masters of social work, or M.S.W., or as I like to call it, "masters of saving the world." It's been a bit of a whirlwind month and while I didn't anticipate most of this I finally feel things coming together in a deep, tectonic way. I just returned from a visit to the school, which was awful only because now I really want to go to school there and not being accepted would actually hurt. I met with many professors in the department, who were incredible and opened me up to thinking about potential directions I'd not considered. It felt right, felt like the place to bring together my energy, experiences and passions. I should hear by mid- to late-November and would begin in January. I have plenty to keep me busy for now, but it's still waiting and it still eats me up. Fingers crossed....


Thank you, Colin Powell

Thank you, Gen. Powell for your thoughtful endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, not just as a citizen who voted for Obama, but as an American very troubled by the potential future of her country and the rest of the world. What I appreciated most was your pushback on the dangerous and divisive fear-mongering from the right: the whispers about Obama's upbringing, religious beliefs and professional associations. In expressing that the truly correct answer to "Is he a Muslim?" - not "No, he's not," but "So, what if he is?" - you pulled back the curtain shielding an ugly crowd of bigots that has been left untouched by so many and you honored the lives and faith of countless Muslims who live in this country. And thank you for reminding us that not all the graves at Arlington National Cemetery bear a cross or star of David, for remembering that Americans of all faiths have given their lives for this country, that no political party or ideology can lay claim to patriotism.


PS:If you missed Powell on Meet the Press Sunday, be sure to hunt it down on the internet and watch the interview for yourself. Meaningful and moving to say the least.

04 October, 2008

Thankfully, Mom's not the Only One...

According to this article, my mother wasn't the only one angered at receiving the fear-mongering DVD Obsession in her daily newspaper. The Palm Beach Post has called her several times asking if she would like to resume delivery, to which she firmly responds, "No." It's not an issue of whether Clarion has the right to make the film, of course they do. I am an absolutist on free speech, no matter how uncomfortable it may make me. What we objected to was the DVD being distributed by a newspaper, an outlet that would seem to legitimize the group and it's political message. Legitimizing such obviously political junk so close to a major election is unconscionable. I am glad to hear others spoke out against the distribution of the DVD. It gives me some hope that people still care and will organize to take action.


28 September, 2008

A Must Read on Palin and American Politics

Thanks to Bright Ideas Group Blog for reposting this article from the most recent issue of Rolling Stone by Matt Taibbi. Please read. Also, if you missed the now-infamous Katie Couric interview with Gov. Palin, you can watch some here and here, thanks to The Huffington Post. Be sure to check out Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's version of the interview, which I've added below, from last night's episode of Saturday Night Live (you'll have to watch a brief ad first). Very funny skit that is, sadly, not far off the truth. Come on, people! Vote smart!


25 September, 2008

More on Israeli Settler Extremism

Disturbing article from the NY Times on the violent extremist faction of Israeli settlers and their attacks on Palestinians AND Israelis.

17 September, 2008

Quote for the Moment

Reading: Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

"The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." -Thomas Paine

15 September, 2008

In response to the Republican platform plank mocking community organizing

Photo montage by me. Some of the faces are famous, some aren't. You don't become a community organizer for the fame and fortune. What is a community organizer and what have they done for you and others? Well, for one thing, without community organizers (see Cady-Stanton and Anthony above and Google Lucretia Mott) women wouldn't have won the right to vote in 1920, which means without community organizers there would be no GOVERNOR Sarah Palin.


By the way, community organizing can be on the right, left or in the center...the Wikipedia entry for CO includes a reference to Pat Robertson.

Hate, delivered straight to your door

Hate is alive, well and being delivered to your very door! Not to mention misinformation, far-mongering....

This morning, our local paper (The Palm Beach Post) delivered to every home a copy of the hideously inflammatory hate film Obsession, which claims to be an expose on radical Islam, which is, of course, code for Islam in general. We're actually going to try to sit through the whole thing, but it's hard to stomach a film that intersperses images of Muslim children with images of Nazis. Proud to report that Mom, the subscriber, complained by email and phone and canceled her subscription to the paper. Even Olberman picked up on the story tonight on Countdown as it seems the DVD went out via several newspaper outlets nationwide. Frighteningly, it was also distributed free at BOTH the Democratic and Republican conventions. The American Muslim has a detailed background story on the film and the mass distribution of 28 million copies of the DVD and resources for how you can respond. For more information go to Obsession Watch. If you received a copy, please take a few minutes to demand that your newspaper to not take part in spreading hate and misinformation.


Update: Mom's on a roll and has emailed the president of Cox Newspapers, which published The Post, and the head of Cox's advertising department to complain to them as well. It's not that people should be deprived of their right of free speech, no matter how disturbing. It's that by being distributed by a newspaper, a supposed bastion of truth and unbiased information, the publishers lend credence to the filmmakers, their backers and their message. I hope others with cancel their subscriptions. To ignore is to condone!

Mondo Bizarro World Redux

I believe I have awoken inside some sort of mirror realm. Both Carl "El Diablo" Rove AND Fox News called the McCain camp out on the lies their campaign has been spewing. (Shakes head violently to try to reboot brain in face of confusion) With not much time left until election day, I am hoping that all these people so excited by "relatable" Gov. Palin, who have so obviously been sipping from the same Kool Aid that had folks saying that then-candidate Bush43 was somebody they could "relate to" - because can't we ALL relate to a guy whose dad ran the CIA? - will wake up. Things are getting bizarre and I agree with my mother who is calling this election as another squeaker. I can't take another election night like 2000 - going to bed satisfied and waking up to a nightmare.

But, hey, on the bright side, today's financial disasters aside, don't worry. McCain said this morning that the foundation of our economy is sound. Seriously?


27 August, 2008

D is for Disappointing

I'm facing some serious disappointments right now, personally and professionally. It's just a really rough time. I love my kids, I love Palestine, but, man, am I in a bad place right now spiritually. I don't have time for a proper post, just a brief vent. Too busy making all the materials to teach my kids, who are actually kindergarten level, not 1st grade, but who I adore. Anyway...


19 August, 2008

Update: Bringing up Bubba

Yes, once again, I bring a little of the South to the East. First, it was Mardi Gras and gumbo...

After trying out a roster of names including Kunafe, Mejnoon, Deeb - and Tarkan and some Chinese names courtesy of Nichole - I settled on "Bubba". I sort of end up calling things Bubba anyway and it suits him.

However, I also made the difficult decision to find a permanent home for Bubba. The landlords are not happy about the dog, people here are aghast that I would bring a dog into my home and my work schedule means he's home alone on my balcony, our only space to keep him in, most of the day. It all adds up to a bad situation for him. Luckily, the vet said he's in good health and raved about what a great dog he is (of course!). He was trying to help me place him on a farm, but on a whim - actually out of desperation - I emailed the professors of the local university's vet school, explained the situation and begged for help.

Much to my delight I received a warm response saying they would love to take him at their farm facility and that he will be well taken care of. So, now I just have to arrange taking him there. Though I know it's the best for him, I'll be increadibly, sad to see him go - despite his puppy habit of sometimes biting me in rather inappropriate places. He's made a good bit of progress in three days. I was able to get him to "do his business," as my mom says, outside on a leash for the first time today. His "leash" at the moment is actually lots of shoe laces tied together, but it works. Funny how elated you can feel at the sight of a small animal taking a dump; I was like a proud parent. We, of course, plan follow-up visits to make sure the vets know how to take proper care of our Bubba. I jest - the tone of the email was warm and welcoming. I am thrilled for the little guy. But, still, a bit sad.


18 August, 2008

Bringing Up Baby

Much to my surprise, I have acquired a puppy. I was spending the day at a friend's house and heard a terrible whelping coming from across the street. A group of teen-age boys was crowded around some tall weeds surrounding a phone pole. They had a dog cornered, a few had sticks and were whacking at the source of the sound. If I see you hurting a child or an animal I may end up hurting you. So, I went over to try to talk to them and get them to leave the dog alone. I asked what the problem was and why they were bothering the dog. As soon as I reached into the weeds for it, shushing it, the dog started licking my hands and let me pick him right up. The boys were pretty surprised I cared this much about a dog. One tried to sell it to me, but another just said they would give it to me, which is mighty generous since it wasn't theirs to begin with. We ended up having a relatively nice talk; I even gave an impromptu English lesson. In the end, I walked away with the dog. A barber across the street asked what had happened and when I explained he agreed I'd done the right thing and that the boys were in the wrong. My friend's husband and I bathed him with Johnson's baby shampoo in their yard and we picked up some dog food on the way home.

So, I have a dog, which is really unusual for this city. Not sure how old he is, but can't be much. A vet's going to take a look at him today. We don't have anything for him to chew on except a pair of men's tennis shoes one of the summer volunteers left. Right now he's asleep on my floor, curled up with his shoe. I "crated" him in my room last night with an overturned table and he did fine. Now I just have to start paper training. Oh, and he's well into the wild stage of teething. Haven't picked out a name for him, though. Any suggestions?

13 August, 2008

Pioneer Spirit

Just finished: White Noise by DeLillo
Next up: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palesine by Pappe
Listening to: The Calling by Mary Chapin Carpenter & Mahler's 9th Symphony
Eating: Far too many figs from my Fig Guy in the souq. I think even he's getting concerned.

Darwish was buried today. I haven't seen news of the burial yet. Some of us listened to radio coverage between meetings. I thought about going, being a part of it, but decided I would better honor him by continuing to work on getting our school up and running. I think he would have agreed with me. We are very busy at the moment with seemingly everything as the first day of classes rushes up on us. Busy is a bit of an understatement.

I was so happy today to see one of my students from the summer program, a tiny, adorable and wildly bright boy who will enter second grade this year. He was in the office with his sister and parents and his parents, who I'd not met, looked a bit amazed when he walked right into my open arms for a big hug. My group this summer were new students who didn't have much English at all, so I focused on getting them ready to handle school. But hug was one of the first words I taught them and I hugged each of them, and most of the rest of our kids, every day. It sort of became an automatic response with a few of the: they would see me, throw their arms open wide and walk right over to hug me.

School opens on the 24th and there is just a skeleton crew on hand at the moment. The Palestinian teachers are enjoying a much needed break. In the midst of trying to get the two first grade classes arranged and outfitted, planning my lessons, and remembering little things like food and water, we are still working to arrange the library and make it all it can and should be. Then there's organizing the joint staff meeting with its full agenda of discussion and break-away groups, helping develop the new Web site, coordinating with my two Palestinian co-teachers, welcoming the newest members of our international staff as they arrive, my mural projects, sorting out where to plant a student garden, designing my after-school programs, trying to arrange meetings with community groups for joint projects....

I am getting more of a sense of settling in. I exchange far more greetings as I walk through the old city and the neighborhood around our school each morning. A few of the people I see regularly have begun addressing me as "mualeema", or teacher, when greeting me. I feel a part of things and it is wonderful. Sadly, I've no time at the moment to sit and chat, but everybody is very understanding.


Beautiful Things, Terrible Things

Palestine is a surreal mixture of beauty, horrors, pain, joy, warmth, frustrations, sadness...The elements swirl about your wherever you go here.

A few articles from the news today reminded me of this.

Raja Shehadeh's book, Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape, is in my on-deck circle. People need to know there is beauty here worth saving, in the land and people. This is a nice article from today's NYTimes about the West Bank and Shehadeh's attempts to just go for a walk there. If I every have a child, I may name it Sarha...

However, the pain continues and wounds are opened anew. The Israeli tank crew that fired on and killed Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana, 24, and eight young bystanders in Gaza in April will not face legal action. Shana was in a car bearing clear markings identifying it as a press vehicle. From the story in The Guardian: "Reuters said x-rays showed several of the inch-long flechette darts were embedded in Shana's chest and legs as well as his flak jacket. Shana's flak jacket was marked with a fluorescent "Press" sign and his car, which was not armoured and was set on fire in the incident, was marked Press and TV."


Guest Post - The Loss of Darwish

My friend, Areej Ja'fari, a phenomenal community organizer at the Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Deheisha refugee camp, sent me this today, her thoughts on the loss of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish this week. Darwish is to be buried in Ramallah today. She agreed to let me share her words here:
As Palestinian I am living the shock of losing Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian Poet, he was our spokesperson for decades. I am sharing these feelings with you about this tragedy we are living now:

Mahmoud Darwish is not a passing traveler in Palestine

Singing for freedom has always been a part of national struggles throughout the world; but when you sang for freedom, you sang with words of love with your entire mind and with every drop of your blood ---and for your whole professional life.

You took the responsibility of documenting the moments of our lives and made them unforgettable, like a mural painted across the surface of the moon to be seen and remembered by all who love nature, and especially those who love the moon.

You spoke honestly about Palestinian history and what was happening to us on the ground as if we were watching a movie---informing our minds with beautifully and ingeniously written Arabic poems.

We read your words once, twice and maybe three times to understand the ideas that gave life to your words. We wanted to read your words again and again because we wanted to live the moments of your words, especially when you described our beautiful mother Palestine.

"So leave our land. Our shore, our sea. Our wheat, our salt, our wound. Take your portion of our blood and go away."

We love life as you loved it; we want to live in dignity---not under oppression. You did everything to oppose oppression and to show the world we are not human bombs walking in the streets killing Israelis, We are birds of love, peaceful farmers, lovers of Palestine and life-makers in the midst of domination.

When you wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988, your words placed us within the sphere of diplomacy. You led the nations of the world to their first recognition of Palestinian rights, and you made us proud of who we are as refugees and Arabs. You have sown the seeds of the Palestinian Dream since you were uprooted from Al Berouah, and you spoke loudly of who we are when you wrote...

I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged . . .

Your death is not our end, nor will it ever be. Though it might be the end of your love story with your beloved "Falasten", you didn't take your words with you when you left; they remain with us forever to read again and again.

"My homeland is not a traveling bag,
Nor am I a passing traveler.
It is I who am the lover and the land is my beloved"

Your politics never mattered because you were always more than this; you were Palestinian. Your greatest disappointment was the oppression and bloodshed among brothers; and your final wish was to visit Gaza---the added wound to our already divided homeland.

You have seen us lose everything, but you kept hope in your words and in your heart, and you brought this same hope back into our hearts and lives. You made us, the Palestinian refugees, visible at the time when everybody had forgotten us. You remain the voice of the promised return of Palestinian refugees to their homelands. We will return, but we will return without you. Al Berouah and Al Jadeedah will always remember that you tried everything to be able to go back to them.

Mahmoud Darwish always called for peace, but never experienced this peace, even when he lived in France or in other countries outside of Palestine. He lived like a stranger even in his own country. I share this with him and with more than three million other Palestinians. Now he is at peace, but not in Palestine or on the Earth he loved so much. It is only we who will continue this call for peace and justice---the same as he did.

Palestine . . .

You spread onto my body like sweat
You spread into my body like desire
You take over my memory like an invader
And occupy my brain like light.
Die, that I may mourn you
Or be my wife that I may know betrayal
Once and for all."


09 August, 2008

Death of a Poet

I awoke just now to the terrible news of the death of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish at the age of 67 following open heart surgery two days ago. If you don't know his work, you should. Listen to him read his own works in Arabic here. Listen to Marcel Khalife sing (and NPR translate) one of his best known poems, Umi (My Mother) here. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared three days of official mourning. Remember him the best way; read his work. You can start here:

I Come From There

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.....


Newsline Neopolis

Since local news from here rarely shows up on the evening news in other countries, I wanted to share a few news stories out of my town and the West Bank in the last few days, courtesy of Ma'an News Service and others.

The very troubling, but not unusual, news in the West Bank these days seems to concern the escalating aggressive actions of some Israeli settlers. Settlers attacked a caravan with two British diplomats in Hebron this week. An armed group of about 50 tried to storm the Ibrahimi mosque (the site of the Goldstein massacre of 29 Muslims in 1994), also in Hebron. In our own city, Israeli forces arrested a small group of settlers who entered the city illegally in an attempt to visit the shrine of Joseph. These follow the horrible incident of August 2, in which settlers stormed a home and threw a 14-year-old boy from the roof of the home. He survived the 60 foot/20m fall, but suffered serious injuries. The same group later attacked a nearby wedding party. Living in a city surrounded by settlements, this escalation in the violence concerns everyone.

However, in the midst of all the bad news, sometimes good things do happen here:

Turkey to donate 15 Ambulances, PA asks for support for An Najah University hospital

International spinal surgeon trains Palestinian doctors in Nablus

Israeli authorities release Nablus mayor and businessman

Early Friday morning I went for a run up my mountain and ended up, after running up to one of the checkpoints, at a bend in the road overlooking a hilltop settlement in the west, likely illegal even under Israeli law. The morning light was just breaking red and gold and the white trailers, lined up in a tight formation that seemed to mock the original tract homes in the U.S., appeared only a shade lighter than the reddish brown earth they occupied, but still marred the landscape, even in sleep.


08 August, 2008

Welcome to Israel

An interesting blog post from Stolen Words Stolen Days (via Sabbah's blog) about what some travelers face trying to enter Israel. I got lucky upon arrival and dealt with a witty young woman in passport control who was actually very helpful. She asked a bare minimum of questions and obviously recognized me as the wildly nonthreatening soul I am. Sadly, that's not always the case:

"The woman accused me of lying, saying I wanted to volunteer instead of sight see or visit friends. She wanted me to log into my email so she could go through it because she didn’t believe me and said since I received the papers through an email that she needed to see my emails. I refused, saying I couldn’t, “as an American,” and this was a violation of my privacy. She stated that I was not cooperating in an angry and aggressive tone...

"I asked her how could I have time to volunteer in three weeks, and she replied that I could extend my ticket. She continuously asked if I was going to volunteer or attend Arabic classes. I told her repeatedly no and she replied that I was lying. She also threatened to call the university that was in Nablus that put together the papers to ask if they knew about me, and I told her to go ahead as they would not know whom I was, yet she did nothing but continued to call me a liar. Even though I was going to sightsee and visit friends, I do not see how a possibility of volunteering at a university in Nablus to teach English would be a possible reason to deny me entry. She appeared to refuse to listen to my plans but was just assaulting me with “questions” that were really more like statements or assumptions of what she thought I would be doing, regardless of what I said."

In the end, this person, a tourist, as with so many others, was fingerprinted, photographed, and detained overnight before being placed on a plane and deported. Read the full description and see the photos of the detention center. Welcome to Israel, indeed.


07 August, 2008

Tell Everyone, Everyday

I saw my friend, the tiny, elderly man who lives up the hill near the Quranic school last night. My roommate and I had gone for a walk up to the top of the hill, near the checkpoint, for exercise. He asked how we were doing and if we'd had any trouble at the checkpoint then laughed when I said there was no way I would walk all the way up to an Israeli checkpoint along a dark stretch of road dressed entirely in black. He turned and explained to the two men with him, who had continued up the road several steps, who are and they nodded in greeting.
"Are you telling everyone you know about what is happening here in Palestine?" he asked warmly, flashing me his grandfatherly smile. I told him I was trying. "You must tell them, all of them. Everyday." He smiled and wished me goodnight before turning to join his companions.

I agree with him. I do have a sense of responsibility. Especially living in Neopolis, a place not visited by many foreigners. I've been slowly coming to know my town and slow to begin documenting it, especially with my camera. I don't like dropping into a place and immediately firing away at the people through a lens. Sometimes I feel it makes people feel like animals in a zoo. And Neopolis isn't always a city where you walk about casually taking photos of people on the streets. Instead I've walked the streets, talked with people and just given them a chance to begin getting to know me and even get bored with me.

As to telling the news, I believe that unless I can tell you about it first hand, you can read it for yourself. I've added a link for Ma'an news service, which covers Palestine, in the sidebar. There are other links there as well. No matter who tells you, it doesn't mean a thing if you're not listening. And most of you aren't listening. Otherwise there wouldn't be an apartheid wall, extending like an ugly scar across the landscape. Otherwise my friends could return to their villages, could move about their country freely. Turn off the t.v. news, do your homework, listen, ask questions and make up your own mind.

Here's some of the latest from the past week in the West Bank:
Settlers push 15-year-old from roof
Israeli forces release Nablus mayor


02 August, 2008

Thoughts on life

Just thinking a bit about how and when people come into your life. You meet someone, even just for a minute; maybe you don't even say more than a few words to them. Then you see them again, across the world, and you know them, even though you don't know a thing, really. But you know the face, or maybe the voice. And it drives you mad for a few minutes; you watch them across the room and the gears turn and creak. Then, if your brave enough, or if you feel it matters enough, you ask them to help you put your stories together. Maybe it comes to nothing, a polite acknowledgment of a shared moment, but sometimes, sometimes, it's the start of something real, special. If you're lucky enough, you'll be awake to see when life gives you a second chance.


29 July, 2008

Special Morning

Just returned from a special visit to the Dome of the Rock. A friend arranged a tour of the interior for me. Security is incredibly tight for the Temple Mount. I was finally allowed in at the entrance near the Western Wall. It's an intensely powerful place, very moving. I'm still processing. I understand the security issues, as I did at the Western Wall, but it's a shame more people aren't able to experience it. I'll have photos up tonight.


27 July, 2008

Not A Good Night

I was just shutting down my computer when this headline popped up - 13 Killed in Istanbul blasts. My quiet night in a holy city ended. The two explosions are another blow, following the murders of the police officers at the U.S. consulate earlier this month, to a city and people I love. I hope all my friends and loved ones there are safe. If you read this, please check in with me. My thoughts go out to the families of those killed.


Salaam min al-Quds

I arrived in al-Quds this afternoon from Bayt Lahem, where I'd spent the night at Ibdaa to see a friend before he returns to America to complete work on his graduate degree. I took the 21 bus through the tunnel straight to the Damascus Gate. Unfortunately, one Palestinian passenger with a Canadian passport was held at the checkpoint and not allowed back on the bus for what seemed like weak reasons.

It's quite a great deal to take in and process, really, this place. It's sacred, profane, mystifying, maddening, joyful and kitsch all at once. You stride over stones worn to a sheen by six thousand years of steps, pass covered women, Muslim and Jewish, and half-naked women, tourists in everything from gold stilettos to micro-shorts and bikini tops, and plenty of grumpy Israeli soldiers and police with guns, in and out of uniform but all with their radios at their shoulders. Nuns, priests, hustlers, pilgrims, posers, tour groups, muftis, rabbis, shopkeepers, beggers, ebb and flow the way it's always been. It is a spiritual place, but that brushes up against the costs in the city. The second coming may be canceled due to insufficient funds. I don't think the carpenter's kid can afford this place anymore.

I've made friends with just about every kid who speaks Arabic in the Old City. It helps dodge the requests for shekels and yields some surprising results - one boy insisted I fire off a round of his pellet gun and I got to sit in on a rather intense game of marbles.

I just spent the afternoon wandering around the streets. I expected the Old City would be larger; that new Jerusalem would be like the Jerusalem of old. I've seen most of it, at least the exteriors, in one afternoon. Not to say I won't be retracing my steps in coming days. I've been turned away at almost every entrance to the Temple Mount by Israeli security, who told me it's closed. However, a shop keeper told me otherwise and his young grandson told me to try early in the morning. The dome and al-Aqsa are a powerful sight, even at a distance.

I visited the Western Wall this evening, God's Inbox. Women are again marginalized here; their share of the prayer area is far smaller than the men's. There were hordes of young, conservative girls squealing and schooling around the square. One tiny boy stood in rapt wonder at the pigeons milling about him. A bride and groom arrived in their white bests to offer prayers, the bride having a hard time keeping the bobbing hoop skirt of her dress from revealing to much to the eyes of God and the rest. Another couple had their photo taken kissing in front of the barrier to the prayer section. I offered to take a photo of a young Jewish family, who gratefully accepted, so dad might make it into at least one picture.

The soundtrack to the day has been the adhan and church bells, a heady combination of wake-up calls. The mosque across the street from where I'm staying has a fantastic muezzin, whose adhan is a joy to hear: melodic, a touch mournful, but not overwrought. We're surrounded by at least ten mosques, given my quick initial count of minarets, which produces a remarkable, if not unified, stereo effect.

The Old City is dark and quiet now, it's after eleven. The whole places begins shutting down around 8, security prowling the streets, metal doors slamming shut, dangling racks of goods fished down from their perches. I'm staying at the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, which is lovely and highly recommended, at least the dormitory where I'm sleeping is. I'll be here through my birthday, a little spiritual retreat on my own, before returning home. I want to be up early tomorrow to see the city wake up. I have a few new photos posted on Flickr, by the way.


25 July, 2008

Living in Neopolis

Some things to note about living in Neopolis:
Water is very tight. It's a problem in many parts of the region and wider world for sure. Even posh Istanbul endures water cuts from neighborhood to neighborhood at times. Here things are compounded by Israel and the illegal settlements in the WB, where most of the ground water is siphoned off before it can reach Palestinian villages and towns. In Nablus there is a municipal water system for delivery, but all water is rationed. Roofs are topped with large, black plastic water tanks where your rationed water is stored. Despite gravity, water pressure is generally low and the responsibility to conserve water is high. We have a washing machine, but it uses too much water. The summer volunteers found this out the hard way last month and had to endure several days without water for the bathroom. One good thing is that the tap water is safe, clean and tasty, something Istanbulites cannot even brag about.

All foreigners look alike. Almost every day I walk to work through the old city. And every time most of the same people welcome me to Nablus. It's very nice of them, but rather amusing and leaves me feeling a bit like Bill Murray in the film Groundhog's Day. The people I buy my coffee, spices, honey, cheese, olives, etc. from know me well, obviously. It also reminds me of my former-mother in-law in Morocco commenting that I looked exactly like the anchorwoman on BBC who did bear a striking resemblance in that she was carbon-based, human and female.

The kunafe comes two ways - "hard", with the shredded phylo on top, the way it's served in Turkey and Syria and the only way I'd ever seen it made, and "soft" with a simple wheat meal topping. Soft's the way to go. Nichole and I have decided to eat at every kunafe place in the city and write the definitive guide. You know, as a service to the public. If unsure, start eating at Damascus Sweets, just west of the fruit and vegetable market at the clock tower.

You will see a variety of what I term "public art": shaheed (martyr) posters, election posters and graffiti. What strikes me most about the martyr posters is how nonthreatening almost all of them look, even holding ridiculously large weapons, like boys playing war. That and how incredibly young some of them look and were.

There is a mall, not American-sized mind you, but the Israelis are shutting it down August 15 because they claim it funds Hamas or the shop owners fund Hamas or something, depending on which story you here. The closing date is also flexible. I'm meeting friends there for lunch tomorrow.
Supposedly the whole place is having a going-out-of-business sale at the moment, in case you're in town.

Some people believe you should boycott all Israeli goods and a boycott can be a good form of non-violent protest. However, almost everywhere I go, people stock products from Israel, so the consensus on boycotting seems a bit weak.

Ladies, there are no tampons in Nablus. Trust me. Head to Ramallah.

There are goats on the roof of the souq. Seriously. Two of them almost fell on me through a hole in the roof in front of a butcher shop the other day. I heard a commotion above my head and looked up to see the shadows of two goats scrambling around like fallen ice skaters. No word on what else is up there.

Off to the pool with friends.

22 July, 2008

No time for kunafe!

Just finished: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Reading: White Noise by Don DeLillo
On Deck: Gardens of Light by Amin Maalouf
Listening to: The Seeger Sessions by Bruce Springsteen

Things are very hectic here at school, with summer camp ending and planning for the coming school year shifting into high gear. With about a month to go until the first day of school we've made the rather momentous decision to scrap the existing textbooks that coincide with the Palestinian curriculum and create our own. While this is exciting and will produce far more challenging materials for our students, it's also a bit crazy-making at the moment. We'll be deciding who will teach what grade at today's curriculum meeting. Each of us will be creating books for English, science and math. The math we'll be teaching is not simple arithmetic but rather what's not covered in the Palestinian curriculum: measurements, word problems, time, money, etc. We'll be selecting themes based on the grammar points included in the Palestinian curriculum and building from those. The overall goal is, obviously, to create a challenging, innovative and well-designed course of study.

In addition to that small task I'm working in the library to catalog the English-language materials. It's slow going, but I enjoy getting to see what I have to work with and reminisce over some of the titles from my childhood. I'm also working on updating the school's web site with stories and photos from summer camp. In short, I'm crazy busy and wildly happy.

Last night we enjoyed a wonderful time at the palatial home of Munib al-Masri, the wealthy Palestinian businessman who is working hard to develop his beloved hometown. He was kind enough to invite all our students to his estate for an evening of games, music and a quick tour of his home. Click on the title of this post to read more about him and see the estate.

The internet's been out at the house, which makes updating challenging with all the work to be done first at school. We may be moving again, splitting into seperate homes for the men and women. I hope to get to Jerusalem for at least a few days while school is closed for the next two weeks, but my original plan to travel north had to be postponed due to the massive textbook project. I finally have a few new photos up on Flickr and am trying to post more when I - ha, ha! - have time. Bear with me, folks!


08 July, 2008

What incursion?

"Did you hear any explosions last night?" asked Jon.
I was making breakfast and stopped to look at him, puzzled.
"Uh, no."
"I could have sworn I heard them," he said, scratching his head. "Maybe I was dreaming."

We learned today that 140 Israeli soldiers had entered the city the previous night and Jon had, in fact, heard some small explosions in the distance. As is usually the case with me, I slept right through it and didn't hear a thing. No precise word on if they're still in the city, but my understanding was that four men were taken due to their involvement with Hamas. Or something. Honestly, at this point everything is very second-hand, at best, if not third- or fourth-hand. I'm not belittling it, just admitting that, after just one week in the city, I'm not exactly tapped in yet. On the walk home this afternoon I could hear a man's voice broadcasting to the city on a loudspeaker, but could only make out a few words, more due to the distance and sound quality. I think it may have been a form of protest or a call to strike (think labor not violence). I'll be checking with folks in the morning.

In better news, my kids loved the running around/practicing the alphabet game and were rewarded with a few rounds of sharks and minnows because there are few funnier things than a bunch of kids running around with there hands on their heads pretending to be sharks. I'm trying to teach them a rather complicated alphabet song, Alligators All Around, taking it apart bit by bit for them. We'll see how they do. Today we made it to D: doing dishes. My acting out the parts garnered some quizzical looks, but they did sing with me, if only to placate the crazy lady.

Made some new friends this evening on a long walk up towards the Quran Academy with Jon and Nichole. Met two very nice women in a pharmacy and an elderly man near the academy who warned us of yet another checkpoint just up the road. The road up that way is quite dark and we decided we needed to be extra careful in the area. Somehow we figured out that some of the rules for hiking in bear country could also apply to hiking in the vicinity of checkpoints: make lots of noise to alert them to your presence by speaking loudly, shouting or banging on pots and pans; if confronted, make yourself appear larger than the soldiers to scare them away; never play dead or the will eat you. O.k., I admit we're not really sure about the last two...

Our friend, the shopkeeper across the street, said there was talk of the city being closed tomorrow, but was very vague as to why. Another roommate said he'd heard from friends that a general strike had been called. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring and how or if it will effect school and our kids. We'll see...


07 July, 2008

The "battle" for Nilin

Just a too-short, but interesting article in the Guardian to show there are non-violent organizers and protesters in the West Bank.

Off to school.

Some parting thoughts on Istanbul

My final column for the Turkish Daily News was published last week. I wrote it in the midst of my first day of teaching, which I did not expect to be my first day of teaching, which is probably why I'm sort of ho-hum on the outcome. See for yourself...

I have a new class of six children who are all more or less absolute beginners and of varying ages, but who will be attending the school this fall and need to be brought up to some sort of speed in the next two weeks. We worked on the alphabet today. However, as this is "camp" and not "school" they would prefer an hour of running screaming through the gym to an hour of lesson, but I persevered and I think there was progress. Tomorrow I devised a game that incorporates running screaming through the gym while reviewing their letters and some simple vocabulary. We'll see if they're fooled by my academic cheese on the broccoli trick.


04 July, 2008

Lazy Friday Afternoon Post

Seriously, not much to report as yet. Well, I shouldn't say that...I've already made several new friends, mostly staffers at school, but a few in and around my neighborhood. Wandered through the souq yesterday with Z, R and F. Z introduced me to the best olive and cheese seller in town, who told me he wouldn't sell me the olives he had that day because he had better ones coming on Saturday.

My friend Z.'s mother cooked up a storm on Wednesday afternoon for me and my co-teacher for next year, N. It was a really lovely afternoon with a great bunch of ladies and Z.'s one-year-old nephew who is the most expressive baby I've ever seen. He and I engaged in a spirited discussion, and occasional disagreement, through a series of gestures, gurgles, clicks and intense stares. He was pretty convinced as to his side of things and an effective debater, until I blew raspberries on his forehead and he lost his concentration amid a series of mad giggles.

Everybody's gone for the weekend and I am home alone, which is actually nice this week. The city shuts down on Fridays and it is intensely and enjoyably quiet. I'll go up on the roof in a bit to enjoy the sunset. Speaking of the roof, provided we stay in this house, I'll be putting down roots, so to speak. There's a perfect spot for a garden up there, just one of my many plans for the coming months.

I'm very excited about working with N., also from the U.S. She and I are on the same wavelength about activities, projects and community involvement. I'm really looking forward to the year. For now, we have three more weeks of summer camp. My class was dissolved because too few students remained (some left for vacation) and the students were sent to the other classes. I'll be team teaching the rest of the time with N.

Other than that, I'm just trying to get sorted and settled.

01 July, 2008

A New Start in Neopolis

Arrived today with absolutely no problems.Crossed the line, past the big read sign stating that it's illegal for citizens of Israel to enter the city and two Israeli soldiers sitting in the shade, looking a bit puzzled about the woman with all the baggage being handed off from Samaritan to taxi driver. I am just trying to process at the moment: the beauty of the landscape, the spartan settlements clinging to the hilltops, my to-do list for tomorrow, the fact that I will start teaching at 9 tomorrow, the overwhelming sounds of the muezzins echoing off the valley walls tonight, speaking Arabic again, more barbed wire than I've seen in my life, the smell of Jasmin, the delicious dinner my new roommates made for me, my new roommates...Time for a quick shower - water is precious and undependable here for many reasons - and a good night's sleep. Amusingly, at least to me, while most people in Turkey thought I looked Turkish several people here have already told me they assumed I am Palestinian by the looks of me. At least one asked if I was from here or elsewhere in the area

Leyla Sayeeda.

30 June, 2008

God bless you, Bill Ford

I happened across this obituary today and am truly saddened by the news of Mr. Ford's passing. I grew up in Miami during the bloody Central American wars. I may have been young, but I absolutely remember the murder of Mr. Ford's sister, Ita, a Maryknoll sister, and her fellow Maryknoll sister Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Catholic lay worker Jean Donovan. The terrors of the death squads - some aided and financed by the U.S. - were, in many ways, local news in Miami. Growing up in a family for who watching 60 Minutes was our Sunday tradition, I was well aware early on that bad things happen. However, for a child, or for anyone I suspect, the torture, rape and murder of nuns is something altogether horribly different. I am still convinced that the murders of these women and the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at Central American University helped change my world view and played a role in making me the person I am today. I don't talk about either case much, but every now and then I think about them. Mr. Ford's determination in bringing some of those involved to justice for his sisters murder and his success should be an example to us all about not throwing up our hands in defeat in the face of overwhelming odds, that one person can make a difference. God bless, Bill.

10 June, 2008

Go Dennis!

U.S. Rep. and former Democratic candidate for president Dennis Kucinich finally took the first step many of us have been dreaming of for a long time today. Turkey has AGAIN banned YouTube meaning I can't see it for myself (shakes fist angrily). Sadly, nothing will come of it, especially with Speaker Pelosi calling impeachment "off the table". But, a girl (and many folks in the US and abroad) can dream...


09 June, 2008

The view from Greece

An interesting sign I noticed before leaving the island of Samos, Greece. The photos were from Afghanistan, Iraq and some I couldn't identify. If anybody out there knows Greek, I would love to know what it says.
This photo is the one that caught my eye:

Thanks for the buzzkill, B.

While I was in Ormos, the closest I got to news from the outside world was when Inzela, who ran one of the tavernas and had lived in the U.S. for over 20 years, mentioned that Hillary Clinton was on television as we chatted outside while I was on my way to the beach one morning.

"Did she drop out?" I asked.
"I don't know and I don't really care," she said laughing.

It was only when I'd returned to Istanbul, relaxed and restored, that I discovered she was, indeed, ending her campaign. I felt a twinge of sadness, part of me giddy at the once very real possibility of an accomplished and deserving woman president in my lifetime. However, I like Obama. I heard him speak in Atlanta early last year, when he was in his ascendancy, and it was a truly moving experience, those of us in the audience looking around at each other, giddy with hope, ready to get to work doing something to bring about the change he spoke of and wanting to hold onto the feeling, together, when he finished. I want to say I didn't expect much from him on Israel. It seems a forgone conclusion in American politics that candidates will forever work from the same script. Sadly, I did expect more from him and his comments at the AIPAC meeting stung. This is a man who wisely said we must remember that true diplomacy should be about talking to those you disagree with. And, to those of you who believe talking to your enemies equates with surrender to your enemies, there is a big difference between negotiation and capitulation. I'll still vote for him and still believe he can do great things, at least I still have hope, but I am truly disappointed. People over here are still very interested in him and generally very supportive, likely because he's not Shrub or another Republican - yes, some people now associate the whole party with him. I'll be interested to hear what people have to say now...


08 June, 2008

Watch this!

I hadn't seen this video before, only a screen cap of the "Broccoli is my jihad (struggle)" kid, which made me laugh out loud and sent me over to Google to find out what it was from. The whole thing, song included, is really lovely (and some of the messages hysterical) and well worth a few minutes of your time.


PS: Link TV is a great way to get news from the Middle East and the rest of the world. Wake up and educate yourself! I download the Middle East news briefing daily on iTunes - easy and free.

07 June, 2008

This just in...

Kalispera, ya'll. That's Greek for "Good Afternoon". I am just back this morning from an extended visa run to the Greek island of Samos, where I spent a few blissful days of near solitude in a little fishing village and mostly avoided the sun-blistered and obnoxious package tour hordes. Hung out with the locals, went barefoot everywhere, learned a little Greek and avoided invitations to coffee or drinks and "you come out on my boat" from several septuagenarian fisherman.

My soul is rejuvenated after quality time with the sea and the only man who counted this week - Homer. Read the Odyssey on my own beach, which I had to boulder and wade through the rocks to get to and was absolutely worth it. Looking around at the mountains, the sea and the islands on the horizon, the wild wind that blew in for my first two days on the island, I can really understand how this part of the world gave rise to all those Gorgons, Harpies, Sirens and shape-shifting gods and the like. Actually spent one day encamped on a tiny swath of beach between two halves of a giant, sparkling geode. The only thing to distract me from Homer was the sea, though the Aegean was a bit colder than I expected. Got to spend my last night sleeping under the stars on the deck of a fishing boat, courtesy of a German-Greek couple. One week without phone, Internet, television or news is something powerfully healing that I will endeavor to do more often from now on. It was excruciating to leave a village of 200 to come back to a city of 20 million. I believe I can say with certainty I am not a city girl.

I also thought of ways to bring the trip to my kids in Nablus. I leave Istanbul July 1, the day after I will, I hope, successfully complete the CELTA Young Learners course. Made recordings of the sounds of the surf at different beaches - rocky, sandy, pebbly - and I have some ideas to incorporate the sounds into some writing exercises later on. Collected some of the gorgeous stones off the beaches to take them, but had to stop myself from bringing a whole bag; the beaches were like treasure troves to a Wabi Sabi-loving rock hound like myself. And, of course, I took photos, which I will post as soon as I can. I just want to bring these kids everything I can to help them dream.

Thank you to all my friends in Ormos. I hope the fish come back to the nets and your town can stay as it is - a real place with real, lovely people.