Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We're moving the blog

Stay tuned....popular opinion swayed us (we're very impressionable) to move to WordPress.

Frankly, I'm tired of how cumbersome the photo elements of blogspot are - pages never look like the preview! So, tonight I did the FB 'yakity yak' and was sold on the move. A mere whisper of a change and Mr. SillyPants has been working this evening to download the entire blog to WordPress. I'm happy with the result!

You can now find us at http://www.blueberrybuzz.wordpress.com/

We'll notify one more time - the wordpress page isn't totally ready- but I won't be posting anything except moving business here any longer.

Wordless Wednesday

Dungeness Spit, WA 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

PNW, family style

Teaching Blueberry about tide pools and crabs on 'our island' at Lagoon Beach
We spent a day in the town in which Mr. SillyPants grew up in WA state and visited one of his special places -- Dungeness Spit DID NOT DISAPPOINT. I can't wait to get back there. When we got to the Spit, we were greeted by a cold and misty morning, an eagle perching above our heads, and a seal's head peeking out of the ocean. There was drumming, shooting faceless self portraits (hehehehe),
 log walking, and enduring some shivering when not hunkered down.
Mom's island home was built over a number of years primarily through the labor of Mr. SillyPants and his Dad. Mom lives there now - a quiet and stress free life on the edge of the ocean.
Seattle was a ferry ride away - and we made it there for a day of Children's Museum fun and the best peaches EVER at the Market. Yum.

Honestly, it was hard to drag ourselves from beach fun, but we're glad we did.
~ Fort Flagler was our last beach stop - among many...
diggin' in and lovin' Island vacation ~
See you next year!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Songbird: Excerpts from Ecuador

Songbird sends updates about once a week. They are a blast to read. I really look forward to them. I try to repay 'in kind' with videos for her - typically on my FB page featuring her little brother.

Her updates are fascinating and wonderful to read - this biggest daughter of mine is lovely. This last update had me giggling and understanding more clearly the arduousness of her work. While her updates are ALL worthy of sharing, I keep the bulk of her experience for her to share. Somehow, though, this one just yells for a wider audience.  I have deleted the names of the villages, per her request and also out of respect for the Amigos projects themselves.

Here is an excerpt from her latest update:

Hello back home!


Week 3 on route brought some COLD wet weather my way (shout out to mom and dad for getting my NICE boots and sending me off with a good sleeping bag and set of jackets!).....There is snow on all the peaks here!


Tuesday was fiesta day in ________, the volunteers were struggling to get the whole community involved in the community project and campamentos, so we decided to hold a fiesta. I baked 70 cookies and carried them, along with a child sized pinata to ________ which is a half hour walk after a 2 1/2 hour bus ride.... The volunteers are struggling a bit taking initiative and getting things done, they appointed me to run the pinata (yes!). It was a lot of fun for everyone to watch the little kids swing a broom stick at the pinata and miss wildly because I kept pulling the string so the pinata would fly out of reach (this way more people got turns). Then we danced from 7-11 to caraguay/karaway music (look it up on youtube). Its pretty much a shuffle/step dance but three hours of it can really wear a person out. It was extremely awkward because the little kids danced with me and the volunteers while most of the parents and older kids sat around and watched us. But one of the best AMIGOS lessons (and maybe  lessons) is: EMBRACE THE AWKWARD MOMENTS.

One of my vols and I and a friend of ours were also almost eaten my dogs on the way back from dinner one night. That was also quite an experience. Pitch black, foggy, cold, one flashlight and a lot of growling, barking, mean mean dogs surrounding us. We made it back home all in one piece, though I felt the adrenaline of the walk in my knees and nervous laugh. I had my bag off my shoulder ready to swing at any dog that got too close.


I also made a fire only using hot coals and damp wood and paper!



On Thursday morning I walked to _______  where my vols were eagerly awaiting my arrival hoping for letters from home. The girls there have done a great job adapting to the weather. Mornings are beautiful and sunny (in general) and by 12 or 1 it is cloudy, rainy and COLD. The girls have gone from crying to go home everyday to building a great relationship with their host family and are now being invited my more families to eat lunch at their houses. They even made pizza on sunday in a house that has an oven - unfortunately they spent that night vomiting it back up. But they said it was worth it. Nothing too exciting happened in ______  this week other than platano colada and french fries with a fired egg for breakfast...and recieving some religious magazines from a missionary because I haven't read the bible yet... :-) Oh wait...the COLD was the most exciting thing that happened. It was crazy cold. Props to my vols that are living there for 7 weeks!

Friday! I got my butt out of cold _____  and during the hike up to _______ could feel my feet and comfortably wiggle my toes for the first time in 2 days! The families and the volunteers are doing great and love each other a lot. I was able to go to the last few minutes of the campamento and see the art the kids were doing. It was pretty amazing for such little kids. We played some silly games outside after the kids were done drawing and I almost died laughing. We also provided excellent entertainment for the adults who were gathering for a community meeting. I havent heard people laugh that hard since I got here (excluding those of us that live in staff house).

And Saturday! I finally showered and do not stink like cooking fire, sheep, wet feet and whatever else I smelled and felt like.

I love you all! I'm sending hugs and kisses and will eat plenty of guacamole for you in the next three days before the next route week begins.

Here are some other fun comments:
About the bus:.....Taking the bus is always a fun adventure, especially because no one ever believes I really want to get off where I ask to get off.
About cooking:......Cooking has been an excellent way to connect with the women. I also learned to crochet (very poorly). It provides incredible amusement to all the girls and women who have been helping me along.

Aren't you all jealous of her experience? I am!!!! Love love love this girl, and MISS HER SO MUCH!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Black Power's Gonna Get You Sucka: Right-Wing Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Modern Racism

Black Power's Gonna Get You Sucka: Right-Wing Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Modern Racism

This is for me and mine - because I'm going to need to go back to this time and time again. I can find it easily here - my
blog is like a bookmark :-)

(I don't care much about the political rhetoric, but I do care about the data that Wise provides in example after example)

Reading Racism Right to Left: Reflections on a Powerful Word and Its Applications

Reading Racism Right to Left: Reflections on a Powerful Word and Its Applications

Read this.
Worth it.
Long.
Critical thinking is necessary.
Open mind is a must.
Own it.
Change yourself.
Commit.

Ice cream sundaes just arrived in our home (Thank you Mr. Silly Pants!)- nothing like a little sweet creaminess to add to the reading experience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Blue's Boat

Blue, Clementine, and Twinkletoes on a perfect day!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday Snapshot: Black Lion Hospital Room


Mr. Silly Pants said, "this is one of the nicer rooms at Black Lion Hospital." 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The White Mind

My little boy loves to read. I'm happy about that. I have TONS of books from the biggies - our bookshelves are packed with oldies but goodies. But this go-round is different. I've allways believed it is important for my children (and all children) to read books with characters from all places and of all colors. But I gotta say, I "see" books differently with Blueberry - I "see" the images of the characters with such a keen eye. My "white eye" just won't tolerate the reality that my son is going to struggle to see himself in our literate lives.

Tonight I read this fabulous piece by Anne Sibley O'Brien. Anne is a children's book writer and illustrator. She writes a blog, too. She introduces her notion of the White Mind as  "the patterns formed by white American socialization...I do not mean conscious prejudice or racist attitudes. It is not what you believe, what you intend, the values you are committed to or how you choose to behave. I’m speaking instead of the unconscious patterns that result from social conditioning as the dominant and majority race in the U.S."

Bingo! You MUST read this piece - she really gets the ideas of white privilege, of the normativeness of white culture, and the struggles that children of color have in locating themselves in literature. I feel so lucky to be amidst people who get it - who see it - who strive to do the work to reflect ALL of our children to the world.

For real, I needed this tonight. I had a helluva day the other day chasing down a seriously ill-informed person and rallying my allies to help me respond in an instructive and gentle way - district stuff - again. So head shaking frustration welcomes Anne Sibley O'Brien into my white mind.

When you are done reading about The White Mind, follow up with this post on her blog. If I hear, "there is only one race, the human race" one more time, I might scream. Screaming doesn't work. Yeah. Not good. I'm working hard to really understand, "I don't know what I don't know." Someone shared that thought with me and it has helped me be a more patient and a more generous anti-racist advocate.

Now I'm going to buy some books, because I want Anne Sibley O'Brien to publish more and more!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Two Left Feet

This morning Blueberry ran downstairs with a plan in mind. He quickly reemerged and handed these shoes to Twinkletoes with this statement, "here, put these on and go outside with me. We play soccer?" Noone would ever accuse Twinkletoes of having two left feet (she's an amazing ballroom dancer). But, here is the proof - two left feet.

Smile.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Honduras Bound

This guy, my number one son,  left today for 7 weeks. He'll be in Honduras. You can read about the program here and here.  And, if you are a regular reader, you've already seen an update from Songbird's arrival in Ecuador with the same youth volunteer program (but in her case she's doing the job of supervisor, while kids Waffle's age are the volunteers).

I love this kid. He's got the greatest smile, a sense of humor that brings the house alive, and an openness and kind-heartedness that is...well...it's impressive. I'm excited to see this young man in 7 weeks; see him with THIS experience informing more of his "becoming." Transformative is the word I'm thinking will describe this experience for him. I can't wait for the stories and the pictures.

The sweetest parts of his departure were two-fold. First, Waffles and Blueberry had me in tears in the car as they made some iphone videos to watch during his absence. We learned this is a great trick for Blue's 'missings' - sibs and 'honorary sibs' (Schwartz from Finland and now Flower from Hungary)  come and go a lot in this household, so we try to find ways for Blueberry to make sense of our revolving door, and to trust in the permanence of his siblings in his life. So, Waffles made the videos with Blueberry and they made me cry. I'm keeping them to ourselves - Blue gets them without outside eyes. 

Then there was this discussion as Blue and I left the airport:

Blue: Where's Waffles Mommy?
Me: He went on the airplane to Honduras. Remember? We just kissed him bye-bye.
Blue: Noooooooooooo, I want to go too. I go on airplane to Honduras!
Me: I'm sorry Blue, you're going to Washington with Mommy and Daddy the next time you get on an airplane. Waffles is going to Honduras to work, just like Songbird went to Ecuador too.
Blue: What Waffles doin' in Honduras Mommy?
Me: He's going to live in the mountains and spend time with some kids and speak Spanish and help them with hard working.
Blue: Nooooooooooooooooo, I want to go Honduras too and speak Spanish!
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo, my foot hurts! Ohhhhhhhhhh noooooooo, I need Waffles here right now to kiss my foot! Ohhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo, where my Waffles? I need my foot kissing NOW! Come back here Waffles!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Hungary Addition

In late August one precious little Hungarian girl will join our family for a semester of middle school.  We are so excited to see Flower (her blog name)! In the accompanying photo she's the sweet little girl with the red star above her head.. Flower is about 8 in this picture, but she'll be 12 and in 7th grade when she arrives this August. She's our "Hungarian Addition."   There is a lot I would like to share about this little girl and her family....

First, the women in this photo are among the most amazing people I know! Big sister, with the purple arrow, will accompany Flower here and stay for a delicious 3 weeks! Twinkletoes is her age mate - and believe me when I tell you these 19 year old's have plans! Other older sister is Songbird's age mate (21 years old). She won't make this trip, but I can assure you we'll be working on a way to get her here for a visit. One remaining older brother remains in Hungary too - he's 23 and busy with his University studies. I'm pretty sure his playmates from his youth now strike him as beautiful young women ... *grin*

You can guess how their relationships began 14 years ago in an elementary school classroom. Language was NO barrier for these girls....and it hasn't been ever since! While the Hungarians lived here for 2 years, we've been friends beyond the boundaries of our countries and beyond those initial 2 years. Our friendship has included a journey of my daughters solo to Hungary when they were 11 and 13, a return visit from Hungarian "daughters" at ages 15 and 17, and a very special 'all family' trip to Hungary years ago. I often claim that the wanderlust of my girls first began in earnest with that first solo trip to Hungary - they walked a lot of dogs, did a lot of babysitting, and saved a lot of allowances to make that first trip. This picture is from that trip - it's the "ice cream photo." Our family trip was son Waffle's first international journey - and I think his wanderlust rightfully began then too.

Flower was born in the USA in 1998 when her family was living here. She's a citizen - it's what is making her visit/stay with us possible. She'll attend our neighborhood middle school, enjoy the beautiful piano with Mr. SillyPants, play a little outdoor soccer, and perhaps we'll get her to our favorite vacation spot for a little California lovin'.  Flower also comes to us with loss, and it is my greatest hope to honor the memory of her mom, my beloved friend and one who I miss every single day, by being a loving and tender 'host mom' to her. Being with Flower is a gift - a way I can honor the vast and enduring ways I love her mom.

There is another little one in Hungary, Violet. She and Blueberry are age mates too! Her mom and I laughingly shared that little itty bitties were going to be in our lives well into our 40's - before we actually knew who they were.....so I imagine that Blue and Violet will grow up friends with biggie siblings and lots and lots of opportunities to know each other. 

Our lives are blessed with richness. We are so excited to welcome Flower!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ecuador - Songbird Chat

I had the chance to 'chat' with our darling Songbird tonight on Facebook. Who knew? FB is delightfully dangerous :-)
         (Ecuador 2010)
Here is some background on Songbird's connection to Ecuador: Songbird was an exchange student in Ecuador her senior year of high school. She had an amazingly challenging year - and so the 'appointment' to Ecuador for her Amigos summer was a mixed bag for her; a chance to reframe Ecuador in a new way but also a challenge because of existing connections and some emotional baggage. Going into her application, she knew there was a good chance Amigos might want her in Ecuador - she knew she has some cultural capital that would work well in their 'new' Ecuador program. She's a perfect fit there, for sure. I was already proud of the way she had sorted out her feelings and anticipated what did become a reality for her - a summer in Ecuador.

But, let me share, this kid is a warrior of the BEST KIND. Her official work with high school volunteers starts tomorrow. At the moment she has been out in the communities learning their needs, identifying their community sponsored programs, and anticipating how she can support both the communities and their youth volunteers. Here is a peek for our blog reading Songbird fans of the best parts of our FB chat --- Songbird fans, I know you're out there!

She said this about seeing her high school year host mom and dad in Quito:
"...it was really nice to see her and Manuel...he saw me and was like "Songbird que gusto - eres flaquita!"

I asked her, "are you falling in love with Ecuador anew?" She said, " Its going to be fun coming home with so many stories!  My communities are so high up! Yeah, they are awesome, sort of difficult sometimes because the culture IS so different. but I think I've figured out the ins...All I have to do is go out with the sheep and help shell ava beans :-)"

I responded: "I am so happy for your chance to reconnect and recreate a new reality for yourself there -
it makes me extra proud of how brave and courageous and forgiving you are."

She laughed and told me:  "Yeah...the sheep. I'll come back home a good shepherd!"

You know what, I bet she will! Here are a few details about her life in Ecuador:
  • The first language of her communities is Kichwa
  • She's working in 3 communities
  • Elevation is 4200 meters
  • Everyone eats lots of potatoes, ava beans and rice
  • People go to bed about 8 pm when the sun goes down and get up at 5 am when the sun comes up
  • She can buy about 6 avacadoes for $2 and is cooking some awesome local flavors
Fun. Fun. Fun.
                                                                (Ecuador 2010)
I miss this amazing daughter of mine, and I love her anywhere and everywhere
she travels and works as she  lives her lovely life.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

Mr. Sillypants, once again, taking a moment to wrap up an interesting Father's Day 2010.  Many thoughts have been bouncing around my somewhat smallish and thick skull today, many of them relating to fatherhood and my own father.

My day started out with an absolutely sublime moment when Blueberry came into our bedroom with a card in his hand, stating happily, "For *you*, Daddy."  In it was a moving bit of prose from Ms. Plum's hand, tender, powerful words which warmed that innermost part of me.  (Also a source of warmth was Blue's inability to remember the previously well-rehearsed "Happy Father's Day", even with tons of prompting from my beloved Ms. Plum.)  Watching Blueberry's quizzical look after repeated lead-in's from Ms. Plum was worth it; it is a wonderful image I won't soon forget.

However, today, in other ways, was kind of tough.  Perhaps it was the flood of memories which came to me repeatedly throughout the day, memories of my own beloved father who exited this mortal coil in 1993 at the young age of 60.  I think that Blueberry's presence in my life has certainly made me so much more aware of my own father's uniqueness, his qualities, his sacrifice and his enduring place in my heart.

Also, my beloved Ms. Plum and I had a rough day in other ways.  As any of you in relationship know, there are days when things just get a bit off kilter and you spend the rest of the day just not quite finding a way to reconnect.  (Rest assured, we are fine - - - we just had a rough day.)  However, there were a few terse moments, as well as a few instances where teeth were gritted and heads were shaken slowly, side to side, as we worked our way through a day which all of us (I'd imagine) have experienced at one time or another.

So, it was an interesting Father's Day.

My father was a Lutheran pastor, a man of faith and warmth and smiles, quick with laughter, slow with judgement.  He was steady, loving, constant, humble, hard-working; he loved to fish like no other man I have ever met.  (If possible, he would go to his favorite steelhead stream every morning at 5am, throwing the fish in the back of his Datsun sedan as he rushed home to get cleaned up before heading to church.)

As a father, he was imperfect, like any of us.  He made mistakes, like any of us.  Yet, we never doubted his love for us, never doubted that he counted us as among his greatest blessings.

He was a preacher, of course, and loved to give "pearls" whenever he could.  Some of those have stayed with me to this day (and probably will be part of me for the rest of my life.)  Perhaps my favorite is, "It is better to err on the side of love than the side of judgement."  I think of that advice whenever I am trying to figure out my best response when I feel slighted or misunderstood or wronged.

Dad and I had the typical teenage moments, times when I was trying to stretch my wings and he was trying to rein me in.  He was fond of Mark Twain's line, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Then, when I was a bit older, in my 20's, Dad used to pull me aside everytime I traveled home.  Somehow, he and I would end up in a car or a boat together (usually the latter), alone, so he could "tell me a few things."  These "things" were always the same:  how much he loved me, how proud of me he was, how he was so happy that I was making my way, how he felt blessed to have "this family", and so on.

The first time this happened, I was so overwhelmed I could barely speak.  I mean, I *knew* my father felt this way, but hearing it somehow made it more REAL, made it a memory which I could draw upon.  (This scenario actually played out, essentially unchanged, many times over the subsequent years, so much so that my sisters and I used to laugh about it privately, saying, "I just want to tell Dad, 'OK!  I get it!  You love me!!!'.")

Then, in 1993, I came home to the news that my Dad had collapsed suddenly, without warning, while standing in line at JFK airport in NYC.  We think he died of a blood clot after he and my mom took at trans-Atlantic flight home.  He was 60 years old, and I remember thinking that I had no idea he would be gone from my life so soon.

Now, I cherish every one of those moments when he cut me away from the rest of the herd so he could tell me he loved me, and, frankly, I can even replay them in my mind whenever I am down and need a "pick me up."  What seemed awkward at the time has become a source of strength and assurance for me.  As I thought of these moments in the months after his death, I realize how brilliant he was, to make sure I never doubted how he felt about me. 

I made a vow that I would never be silent about my love for those who are close to me.

Tonight, after a somewhat bumpy day, I went into Blueberry's room (as I do every night) and pulled his covers over him, pulled the books out from underneath him, repositioned his stuffed animals and then said, "Blueberry (ok, I used his real name), I love you and am so proud to be your daddy."

I came into our bedroom and observed my beloved Ms. Plum, getting ready for a well-deserved night's sleep.  The tension of bumping heads throughout the day was still hanging in the air, and I was pretty certain that we could pick up where we left off, if given a chance.  Weighing the myriad of things which I could have said after a somewhat challenging day (for both of us), I looked her straight in the eyes and said, simply: "I love you."

In that way, my Father's Day 2010 ended well.

Dad, there are many things you have left with me.  Certainly, you taught me what it is to be a good father.  You taught me to err on the side of love rather than the side of judgement.  And, you taught me how important it is that all of the people close to me know how much I love them.  This is, perhaps, the greatest legacy, one which I will try to fulfill and also teach Blueberry as he grows up.

Thank you, my beloved Dad.  And, Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Juneteenth

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated holiday - on this day we celebrate the ending of slavery in the U.S. It is African American Emancipation Day. Let me be honest, I have not ever paid attention to Juneteenth. I haven't ever been to a Juneteenth event. I haven't ever known how it is celebrated nor have I been aware of Juneteenth celebrations in my own community. As a social studies teacher I know about Juneteenth, but I haven't ever made it my own. I'm not making a stretch saying this, but,  like many white folks, I just didn't pay attention or make this day important. Blueberry has changed this.

Today, Mr. SillyPants, Blueberry, and I headed over to a local park to celebrate Juneteenth with our community. I am going to write these next pieces with great humility and honesty - I hope I do this part justice...

When Mr. SillyPants and I were figuring out the pace of today and I mentioned the Juneteenth event, which I had read about in one of our local papers - I knew it was happening, where, when, and the outline of events. I noted the event was scheduled at a park located in the "heart of South _____" (our most diverse neighborhood in our community). How shall I say this? I felt some discomfort coming on as I was contemplating heading over to celebrate Juneteenth - and I've been training myself to recognize this discomfort (it's my racist horn blasting) and to head right into the discomfort with full awareness and action. Yeah, so the discomfort alone nailed the day's plans - we went to the Juneteenth celebration.

In our community we live in a neighborhood that is mostly white (nearly all white). Our neighborhood schools are diverse (the result of bussing), but our daily home life reflects majority/ middle upper class white. I get that - and I get the ways my son doesn't see himself reflected in our daily lives unless WE MAKE THAT HAPPEN. Part of our commitment to him, and to ourselves, is to make our way to places and spaces where he sees himself reflected around him. Music, art, food, fun, faces, dress....I want him to see himself. I want him to know he belongs everywhere in the world. (These are things I NEVER deliberately considered with the biggies/ I thought about their belonging in a different way).

My chameleon charms aren't so "chameleon-ish" when I'm in a space that is nearly all African American. I'm eating huge pieces of humble pie in these places. I feel my whiteness. Here's the thing, I feel my whiteness like my students of color, like my friends of color, like my colleagues of color, tell me they feel their blackness EVERY single day they leave their homes and their neighborhoods and head out into majority spaces (um...I'm talking MOST spaces). So I got a dose of this (from my place of privilege).  And I felt uncomfortable - or maybe it was aware - or maybe it was outnumbered - or maybe it was without the cultural skills I needed to make connections instantly and easily. Hear what I'm saying?

So damn good for me. But this isn't about me. It's about Blueberry. We listened to some spoken word poetry, some praise hip-hop, some hip-hop, watched some awesome double dutch, and a step competition, and then we wrapped it up with some youth hoops. My African American boy was interested. He soaked it in from the comfort of our arms and shoulders or swinging inbetween our holding hands.

Next year? We're back for more. I'm going to do better for him. One step is embracing my discomfort and heading right into it. Because he needs this and I signed up for it...with him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mulberry Friday

The annual ripening of the mulberry tree always reminds me of the biggies and their California cousins. Every summer the kids would grab buckets and walk to the park to this very tree to pick loads of mulberry's, swat at mosquitoes, and avoid the raspberry thorns. The tradition continues except that now I live right next to the mighty mulberry tree. We'll make a pie soon - mulberry and clove pie - just like Mom did for all those years. Vanilla ice cream is a mandatory addition.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Addis Ababa debrief

It's been a few days since my return from Addis Ababa and I find that my mind is still filled with a myriad of details.  As I write this "debrief" of my trip, I am hoping these remembrances of Ethiopia will stay with me indefinitely.

Mr. Sillypants here, hoping to share a few more thoughts related to my experiences at Addis Ababa University.  I've been home two days, long enough to bask in the sublime joys of Ms. Plum, Blueberry, Twinkletoes and our absolutely wild Golden Doodle, but not long enough to completely throw off my jetlag.

To say that our trip was fulfilling is a huge understatement.  I went with three other doctors, numbering two Family Physicians and one Pediatrician.  I was the sole physician from a local non-profit cooperative while the other three are faculty at University of Madison in Wisconsin.  We three Family Physicians were teach Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics (ALSO) whereas our pediatrician taught Neonatal Resuscitation for Providers (NRP).  (That's it for the accounting phase of this post, I promise.)

I've talked about the great skill of the obstetricians and midwives in Ethiopia in previous posts.  However, it really can't be understated; these providers in Ethiopia are very skilled and very dedicated.  They work amazingly long hours for days on end in surroundings which most Western physicians would refuse.  Yet, they work on, day after day, answering the call.



Frankly, the numbers are simply staggering:

- in the US, 99.5% of women delivery babies under the care of a medical professional;
- in Mexico, the percentage falls slightly to 96%;
- worldwide, women are under the care of a medical professional during childbirth about 60% of the time;
- in Ethiopia, it takes place a dismal 5% of the time.

Said another way, only 1 in 20 deliveries occur with a trained medical professional at hand.  That includes general practictioners, obstetricians or midwives.  It is no wonder why Ethiopia ranks as 6th worst in neonatal mortality.  Their training is excellent; they simply don't have enough people to meet the need.

However, the overworked, overstressed medical professionals still do what they can, putting in long hours for weeks on end to try and "stem the tide."

Frankly, I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the medical need in Ethiopia.  Yet, the people we worked with are generous, hopeful and pragmatic, doing what they can, day by day.



The physicians and midwives we worked with were very happy to have tools which they, in turn, will teach to others to help meet the need for trained medical professionals in Ethiopia.  They listened intently, eagerly participated in lectures and workshops, asked excellent and thought-provoking questions and then left AAU, returning to their communities to try again and "stem the tide."

These people are heroes.

I arrived home to gaze upon my beloved Ms. Plum, feeling my heart skip a beat as she came into view.  I felt my knees go weak as Blueberry said, "Hi Daddy!" in the happiest voice I have ever heard.  I had a moment to reflect, once again, on the mysteries and blessings that I still take for granted each and every day.

I thought about the miracle of Blueberry and countless other children who are equally miraculous, starting life and somehow surviving and even thriving against all odds.  I thought of those who are not so fortunate, who don't survive, whose families experience heartache and loss, whose suffering could possibly be averted if the world's resources and priviledge were distributed in a fair manner.

I think of the medical people in Ethiopia, who learn what they can and find a way to return to their labors, hoping they will continue to make a difference in a place of poverty and need.  And, I think that I have a lot to learn about service to others.

About Africa....the warped Western lens

Read this article for some really well researched and thoughtful discussion on the monolithic, primitivist perspective of Africa as represented by the Houston Zoo. It's worth a careful read and reflection.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Snapshots

 
Los Frailes
    
Cajas National Park
Los Frailes-"we just saw a snake face"
Ecuador June 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ALSO in Addis #4

I received this message while sitting in a HUGE traffic jam on my way to present information from the White Privilege Conference to my school board. I sat and read. What a treat. Once again, I'm copying and pasting. Mr. SillyPants is burning the candle at both ends - this gig is completely engrossing for him. Read.

We had a very emotional and fulfilling day today; this was the day that we certified instructors for the ALSO course and prepared them for their presentations tomorrow to a new group of students. It was a long and arduous day, with examinations lasting until the mid-evening. However, the success of the training was quite evident and we realized that this program we are teaching will undoubtedly make a difference.

Ethiopia unfortunately ranks as the 6th worst in terms of infant mortality worldwide. Infants are 1000 times more likely to die in childbirth here than in the United States. This is not due to the quality of training here; in fact, the obstetricians, general practitioners and midwives here are VERY well trained. As we taught our curriculum, we could see constant nodding (not due to sleepiness but *understanding*!). These medical providers KNOW this stuff.

The problem is one of access to healthcare. There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago or Los Angeles than there are in all of Ethiopia. Stated another way, there are 2000 physicians in Ethiopia, serving 80 million people. That's one doctor for every 40,000 people (consider THAT when you think about scheduling your next doctor's appointment).

At the end of today's training, providers thanked us, with teary eyes, for presenting a system which could be easily taught in areas throughout Ethiopia; that, actually is the goal of the ALSO course - - - providing a learnable curriculum which can be used in a variety of settings. Many of the attendees voiced their plans to implement and teach this curriculum in their communities as soon as possible.

This was emotional and overwhelming to me, in fact, it took me to the point of tears. (Those who know me understand I'm a little emotional, anyway). I was so moved because I realized the enormity of the need here in Ethiopia. And, I was humbled by the fact that there is so much that I take for granted.

My hope and prayer is that these talented and committed providers here in Ethiopia will have new tools to "make a difference."

So, the other reason I'm really wound up is that Richard and I finally had a chance to meet. I didn't get back to the Hilton until 9pm, but Richard took a long cab to come to the Hilton for a drink. (He had Coke, I had a somewhat grainy and disappointing Merlot). We talked for nearly two hours and, frankly,he had me choked up a few times.

Richard, who calls himself "our son", is doing very well. I think he was initially quite worried about misleading us, in fact, he apologized again and again for saying he was in medical school when, in fact, he only qualified for nursing school. Of course, as you probably already know, my response was that you and I were so proud of him and were not angry at all. In fact, I told him that we understood why he thought we might be "disappointed" but wished, instead, that he had realized we would be as happy with his admission to nursing school as to medical school.

He was visibly relieved, but he felt the need to apologize over and over.

He was also so FUNNY - - - I think he felt the need to "prove" that he was doing well in school. When he heard I was here teaching obstetrics, he interrupted me to say, "Oh yes! We are learning about first stage, second stage and third stage of labor, plus the problems with descent of the fetus and bleeding and other complications of pregnancy." (Truthfully, he KNOWS this stuff. I have no doubt that he is doing well in his classes - - -he again demonstrated his hard work.)

Perhaps the most moving moment was when he stated that he realizes that he is "lucky to receive this gift of education"; he said that "most people in my country never have this chance - - - this is a great responsibility to me, to give back to my country in any way I can."  I responded with one of the only Amharic words I know: "Ishi". (I understand.).

I told Richard that we were "so happy to be a small part of his success"; however, I think that the major part of his success is his determination, his skill and his motivation to "do good in Ethiopia." (his words).

Through a short, two-week trip to Ethiopia, we met Richard, Getnet, Getu, Alemtsehaye, and, of course, our amazing Blueberry, and these connecttions have changed us forever. For our family,  the sponsorship of Richard, Getnet and Getu is but a small inconvenience. In fact, I doubt we ever feel the "pinch" of their requirements. (Our support of our 2 kids in college takes much more planning - - - yes?). Yet, I see what a difference this small contribution makes in the lives of our good friends here in Ethiopia.
It is late in Addis Ababa - I must say 'goodnight' and leave additional details for another e-mail/blog post.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

ALSO in Addis #3

Mr. SillyPants sent a love letter, with a promise of a blog post tomorrow. I culled some sweet details including:

... I miss our son so much. My attachment to him is so profound and so deep that I am truly experiencing a new type of longing when I am away from him. (Being in the land of his birth doesn't help alleviate that at all.)

However, this trip has been wonderful and I am so happy with how things are turning out. We finished our first class today, graduating about 80% of the class (which is a very high percentage when ALSO is taught in a developing country). I think we have a great team for teaching but the main reason for the high graduation rate is the excellence of the physicians, residents and midwives here.

Tomorrow, we begin the instructor's training then on to letting them teach a new class on Thursday and Friday.

I am also hoping we can do more shopping soon - - - I haven't yet found a 108" tablecloth and need to also look for coffee, Addis tea, berbere, and a map. I got a few nice baskets already, as well as a carved lion for Blueberry (as Ethiopia is known as the Lion of Judah). (An addition by Ms. Plum - of course I sent my A+ shopper husband a shopping list!).

I personally look forward to hearing more details from Mr. SillyPants. He's typically quite verbose, so the days must be long and intense. I am also happy to report his gastro-upset didn't last and he's feeling good. I wish him a good night's sleep and sweet dreams. I'll enjoy posting tomorrow's news!

Monday, June 7, 2010

ALSO in Addis #2

Here are some comments from a personal e-mail - I suspect Mr. SillyPants is a little too fatigued to write a formal "Day 2" post. And, he conveyed he has a little stomach ache, so I'll take the initiative and post a few of his observations:

......I'm just finished with our first day here. I am bushed after teaching two sessions (labor dystocia and third trimester bleeding) then proctered an "OB cases" session in the afternoon. Everything went really well and, let me tell you - - - these obstetricians and midwives KNOW their stuff. The OB staff who were here were right with us, no matter what we were teaching and the majority of midwives were able to assimilate the new material easily and quickly.

All in all, I'm very impressed with the knowledge level of the OB staff and midwives here. There are lots of challenges here with regards to healthcare but they don't include training or knowledge, ....

Access to healthcare, well, that's another problem.

Tomorrow is more of the same, with another lecture, two skills sessions and our testing program. Then, we meet with future instructors on Wednesday.

Speaking of Wednesday, I am meeting with Richard Wednesday night - - - we had a dinner tonight and tomorrow, so Wednesday was the first available opportunity. I called Richard and he sounded very happy to meet that night. I am truly looking forward to it. I will look forward to seeing Richard again to catch up with him and also to reassure him in his efforts.

Well, that is it for now. It is 10pm and I'm going to head off to bed. More work tomorrow.

 (Edited by Ms. Plum to add: Richard is a student we sponsor. He's enrolled at Central University, where he is studying nursing. When we started his sponsorship, we believed he was pre-med. We have since learned, through our own checks and balances system, that he is studying nursing. We haven't had a change of heart regarding our support of him, and I think we all learned a lesson, mediated through one of our doctor friends at AAU. You can read about the students we help here and how we organize that help here. I saved y'all his mushy lovin' stuff - I'm keeping that to myself).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

ALSO in Addis #1

I'm normally someone who has no difficulty with words (just ask the rest of the family), however, I'm actually having difficulty finding the right way to get this blog post started. Go figure.

Mr. Sillypants here, writing from beautiful Addis Ababa. I arrived yesterday after an extended but uneventful flight from Chicago through Frankfurt, Germany. I am here with two other physicians to teach a course in high risk obstetrics; this is part of a program through University of Wisconsin which is working to establish Emergency Medicine here in Ethiopia. And, frankly, I'm honored to be here, part of this effort.

You would think that my mind is filled with anticipation of the two lectures I'm giving tomorrow or the "skill stations" I'll be proctering; certainly, these things are part of my thoughts right now. However, the majority of my consciousness is filled with the swirling of emotions inside of me after again experiencing the richness of this country, of these people, this history, this community.

When we came to Ethiopia to adopt our beautiful Blueberry, we had a week in country to learn a bit about the land of his birth, his heritage, his people. I think I was unprepared for the powerful feelings which arose within me as we had a chance to experience the unique qualities of this land. I knew I would be overwhelmed from the moment we met our beloved Blue; I had no idea I would be so moved by the people we met and the things we experienced.

Well, things have picked up right were they left off. We did a little sightseeing today, visiting the Trinity Church in Addis which is home to Haile Selassie's tomb; we also visited a museum and a marketplace. It was a nice overview of some of the "must see" attractions here in Addis Ababa. I experienced again the glorious history of this devout land, was able to experience some amazing Ethiopian food and smiled as two youths tried (unsuccessfully) to keep their donkey out of the middle of the road on a busy thoroughfare.

However, what is again so evident to me is the sense of community which exists here in Ethiopia. There is not so much "me" as there is a "we." Our host at the Trinity Church spoke quietly and reverently about the history of the building, of their faith, of their country. Youths care for their younger siblings, playing happily in all manner of games (we saw two teenagers playing "football" with another boy who couldn't have been more than 8 - - - they exhorted and praised their younger counterpart even though they could have easily embarrased him with their superior strength and skill.)

The sense of community here is overwhelming. The people here understand what is truly important.

I'm reminded of something which Leo Buscaglia quotes in his book, 'Love': "We have never been closer yet each of us are dying of loneliness." Isn't this the case? Email, cellphones, texting, cars, planes, Skype, instant messaging . . . it has never been so easy to stay in touch. Yet, our lives are often dominated by things which give no lasting benefit.

We have much to learn from the beautiful Ethiopian people - - - prime on the list is their understanding of what is truly lasting and vitally important.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bole Bound


Mr. SillyPants left this morning for Ethiopia. He is joining a team of physicians from UW-Madison to teach the ALSO (Advanced Life Support and Obstetrics) program to some physicians at Black Lion Hospital.  They, in turn, will teach it to others. It's a classic sustainable model --- one that brings in docs from the US and then allows for teaching the program using cultural models of understanding at the local level. Thus, for 2 days Mr. SillyPants (and 3 others) will teach, and for 3 days they will shadow the newly instructed ALSO teachers. Gotta love it. The vision of this program is first rate (says the cultural anthropologist - moi!).

I'm going to let Mr. SillyPants give the details about this training and the vision this training brings to establishing an Emergency Medicine program to the Medical School in Addis Ababa. I talked a little about this program and how we became involved here on our blog. But, there is a more formal explanation here and  here.

So, today our main man left for Bole Airport. I am so proud of him. I know he brings his dynamic intellect, his sensitive spirit, and his adoration of our Ethiopian born son to the work that he is about to embark upon. I know our missing is mutual. I know this is what we do - and I know why we do it. I feel so incredibly lucky to be with this man while we do these things together as a family. This is our canvas - and we're paintin' it!

Finally, we'll have the treat of having him as our "guest blogger" for the next week, providing details arrive by e-mail as he journals his adventure (which may NOT include regular power availablity in Addis).                                   Godspeed my love!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why we do this

Mr. Sillypants here, taking a few moments away from my coffee-making duties to add a few comments to my lovely wife's description of our Apple Store experience (detailed oh so beautifully below). 

I've had a chance to reflect on today's outing, both before and after it took place.  I think it's fair to say that each of us felt that kaliedoscope of swirling emotions beforehand - - - anticipation of the upcoming experience, excitement about the chance to make a statement about Conflict Free legislation, commitment to the idea of raising awareness of the unspeakable horrors which are commonplace to those innocents living in these war-torn areas of conflict . . .

I know I was also nervous about what kind of reaction we'd receive; I wondered if the store manager would be callous or dismissive, I wondered what reaction (if any) we'd receive from patrons or passersby.  As you have likely read already, our experience was very positive, and I find myself even more energized about the chance to do more, to make the most of those opportunities which are all around me.

In the short amount of time since my lovely Ms. Plum suggested and organized this effort (and served as our cheerleader and guide), I've had a chance to reflect a bit more, some of which occurred while our amazing Blueberry was running and jumping with wild abandon at the local splash park:

(Photo courtesy of Ms. Plum)

Since our outing this morning, I've had many chances to reflect of the amazing richness which has come into my life, largely because of the efforts and passion of those of you who share this global consciousness.  Although I celebrate daily the fire, compassion and sense of social responsibility which is a way of life for Ms. Plum, those of you who carry out these good works in your daily lives, who post powerful and often heartbreaking commentary on the work which is yet to be done, who offer guidance, support and perspective, well, you should know that your passion and fire is an inspiration to us, as well.

Truly, we are better in our lives because of the things you do in yours.  Thank you for this.

When Songbird and I got in the car after our trip to the Apple Store, we wondered aloud what would become of our letter to Steve Jobs - - - would it actually be "sent on to the appropriate people," or would it end up in the recycling bin as soon as the store manager saw us leave?  (For the record, I have a sense he'll send it on, just like he promised.)  Songbird and I both discussed our hope that "something good would come out of it."

Truthfully, "something good has already happened."  This effort has given me yet another opportunity to think about something bigger than my silly little life, something much more vital than the endless chores which face me every day or even the endless joy from mornings spent kicking a soccer ball with Blueberry.  This trip to the Apple Store caused me to set my sights again on suffering, on inequality, on priviledge - - - and on my responsibility to do what I can to change it, by doing the work I can each and every day.

So, even if our letter never makes it to Steve Jobs, the impact of our effort has been felt and my life has changed.  And, my life continues to change whenever I hear of *your* efforts, *your* good works.

Mother Teresa once said, "We can do no great things.  We can only do small things with great love."  Let us all continue to search for and act on those small moments, every day, when we can make a difference.

1 penny a day to "Guarantee Conflict Free"

We're a pretty typical family. I got up this morning, urged my husband to please make coffee as quickly as possible, cuddled my little boy, sent the dog down to wake up the soccer playing biggie, and watered my hanging baskets on the front porch while wearing my bathrobe. I made pancakes for biggie boy who was heading out early for a soccer tournament, said "yes" to one daughter's request to borrow the car for the morning, and directed another daughter's efforts to find a sleeping bag for her upcoming travels. I checked my morning e-mail, ate a bowl of Puffins cereal, and filled the dishwasher. I think I probably tossed a load of laundry in the washing machine and I took the clothes off the line that had stayed there overnight. My husband did much of the same; he made the coffee, poured the coffee, repoured the coffee when I mentioned the mug he gave me had a cracked handle, took the dog out for a morning round of "catch the frisbee", filled the bird feeders, and supervised the pouring of syrup on the little one's pancake. He rinsed out a very dirty garbage can, helped our little boy put water in the wading pool, and I think he played a little soccer with our 'up and at 'em' tiniest son.

But we're also a family who has made a commitment to care about the things we care about in the fullest ways we can. We're a family fighting for social justice. We can't act on all of our cares (believe me, we have many), but we do make it a point to dedicate ourselves fully to being the best stewards we can for those things we know and care about. Sometimes we do a better job than other times. Today was one of those days we did a pretty good job.

Last year Mr. SillyPants, Blueberry, and I met the fabulous Tami in Chicago and participated in Lisa Shannon's Run for Congo Women. I wrote about the event here. Lisa Shannon has been an inspiration to families like mine all over the country--- families who work for social justice and who work to be good global neighbors.

Today we answered Lisa's call to action and visited our local APPLE store to deliver a letter to Steve Jobs asking him to support Conflict Minerals Trade Act HR.4128 AS WRITTEN (see letter). We felt like our support for Congolese women and Congolese families made this simple local action MAKE SENSE. It makes sense to end the deaths of an estimated 45,000 people per month in a country wrecked by civil war and a nation whose wealth of resources are being mined to fund death. Yeah, so we did it. We drove a mere 3 minutes to deliver what could be a lifetime to our sisters and brothers in Congo.

See it in pictures - and visit these sites to learn more:


http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/lisa   
FB friend Lisa Shannon
http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4128/show
http://www.letterstocongo.com/


HELP US GUARANTEE CONFLICT FREE!
(that is NOT my middle finger! I'm holding a jar of pennies oh so awkwardly!)




Telling the story.....

ETA: Some folks asked me about the mood of the event: it was very polite. We didn't enter the store yelling or chanting or with anger. We asked for the manager and he came right to us. We had a conversation. He listened. We left the letter for Steve Jobs with him. We asked him to assure us that he would make every effort to deliver our letter. He said he would do his best. We encouraged him to look up the legislation and we tipped him off that while folks now know about "Blood Diamonds" many don't know about "Conflict Minerals." We felt it was a very successful public action. Of course, we had rehearsed our "schtick" so that we all had something to say - and that's what we did. We delivered 300 pennies in a jar with a message that this was our family contribution to change the lives of 300 people from the Congo and to offset the costs of 1cent per product for Apple.

We'll be sending letters to our represenatives to support the Conflict Minerals Trade Act. We'll also be following Lisa Shannon's efforts to bring change to Congo families. We'll act when we can. We'll run again this fall  the Run For Congo Women .
You can e-mail your Representative here on the Amnesty International site or here at AmericanProgress site to urge their support of this legislation.

We're just an average family. You can do it too.