Friday, December 27, 2013

I just found this Youtube reader of Chasing AllieCat

I have been cleaning out my email...because I never have time to do so!
I found an email from a librarian I know in the Des Moines area. She sent me this months ago, and somehow I missed the email.  (Thank you, Ann for sending it!)
So glad to find it today.

 A reader on Youtube--about Chasing AllieCat!

I have finished editing Slider's Son, and am sending it to my agent today.  This is exactly the push I needed to keep the faith. Writing is not the easiest business to be in, you know. I could be knitting and have something to show for my time and effort. :)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Things I learned from Nelson Mandela"

UBUNTU: A South African term meaning "I am because you are." It celebrates the connectedness of all of humanity. The speaker in this video (who came to California to do a TED Talk the very day that Mandela's death was announced) talks about how UBUNTU also transcends the animal kingdom.

I love this talk. It's only 15 minutes. I think I'm going to keep a link on my laptop so I can listen whenever I need a shot of inspiration.
Boyd Varty: What I learned from Nelson Mandela

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Things that save me

I'm soooo tired of grading. But I tell myself it's okay.
My house is a disaster by the end of finals. Always happens. I do a pile of dishes while the coffee brews, and that keeps the bigger pile from taking over the kitchen.

However, at the moment, which is a couple minutes after 5 a.m.,  I have a mug of good coffee, a fuzzy dog by my feet, a cat relishing the warm bed I just left, and a pile of papers to read. Life could be worse, right?

Actually, in spite of how down and how exhausted I've been at the end of the semester, yesterday sort of saved me. One of my students who did okay in comp but did struggle with it told me that I pushed him, and he liked that. He said he learned "so much." He actually thanked me while he did a rewrite of his research paper.

Two other guys from the same class came to my office to tell me spectacular news in their personal engaged to a girl he thought he'd lost (and a few weeks earlier, I urged him to tell his mom about it rather than protecting her from the hurt of it, which turned out to be superb advice; sometimes age has its merits), the other the father of a brand-new bouncing baby boy. 

Quite a few students thanked me after our last Comp class. Seriously? They actually said they had "a blast." Seriously? I am not as surprised when that happens in Humanities because the content is so enjoyable. But Comp? Well, that sort of saved my semester.

Somebody I flunked in that class even thanked me after we had a long talk about how I couldn't let her go on to other college classes without better college writing skills. I mean, now that thank-you is worth something.

And of my students in creative writing has seriously UNDERSTOOD revision. Her new drafts are a testament to rewriting, and smooth prose, and that is enough to make me very, very happy.

In Lit class, I got a note at the end of a student's essay question answers: "...this is probably the last paper I'll write for you. You've been here since I first started college and you have taught me so much. You're an amazing teacher, one of the best I've had. You've encouraged me to want to learn and to push myself to be the best I can be. So thank you. Thank you for opening my mind up to want to learn more."  If you're reading this, I hope you don't mind that I used it.  This made me start to cry. I wept and decided, okay, yes. Teaching is really worth all this work. Thanks, Molly, for truly saving the end of my semester. 

Now back at it. It's my life, after all. Do it, drink good coffee, play with Freya, keep at it, and be happy that I have a job that gives me such moments, right?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mourning Nelson Mandela

Photo: May this roaring lion of truth rest in gentle peace. May he continue to inspire us all to go to the edge of our conviction- not backing away because of fear or self-doubt- but going right to the edge and beyond, in our efforts to liberate this humanity from the madness that ensnares it. He was a great visionary, but not a dreamer. He grounded his vision in courageous action. May he continue to inspire all of us to stand in the fire of our truth no matter the odds, no matter the resistance. ROARING this world awake. ROAR! ROAR! ROAR!The world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela. Has the life of any other international figure caused such unity of celebration and of mourning? Princess Diana's death certainly caused international unity in mourning. This, however, is even bigger in the scope of the world's attitudes.

Our friend Nicole in South Africa told us, "Even my dad went to a party with black people last night." She said that sounds bad, but it's significant in the kind of impact Mandela continues to make.

I will share more pictures again in the next few days, but for now, I want to to share this quote:

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
--Nelson Mandela

South African news of Nelson Mandela's memorial services

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Here are my Children't Lit choices for Spring Semester.

I'm in the throes of the toughest part of fall semester, but of course we've been required to order textbooks for next semester. That forced me to decide on Children's Lit books. It's always tough because there are at least eighty books I'd like my class to read. Besides that, when I took Children's Lit the first time--back in the dark ages, I had to read 125 books  and write reviews on each in order to get an A. So I require the following books as assignments, and then students have to choose others in various genres to review, for a total of 30 (7 more picture, 5 chapter/middle-grade, 3 YA, wwith various requirements attached).
  • Charlotte's Web--White
  • Goodnight Moon--Brown
  • Where the Wild Things Are--Sendak
  • Cat in the Hat--Suess
  • Frog and Toad are Friends--Lobel
  • Clementine--Pennypacker
  • Betsy-Tacy--Lovelace
  • Birchbark House--Erdrich
  • Because of Winn-Dixie--DiCamillo
  • Bud, Not Buddy--Curtis
  • Out of the Dust--Hesse
  • A Single Shard--Park
  • Bridge to Terabithia--Paterson
  • Geography Club--Hartinger
  • The Outsiders--Hinton

What do you think?


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reading Chasing AllieCat, here, there, or...


ANY place is a good place to read, if you have a good book, right? :)

I was quite thrilled to get this picture.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A little Shakespeare for this time of year...

When I look at the trees this time of year, I can't help but recite the beginning of this sonnet. This year, I memorized the rest of it, so I can say the whole thing to Freya while we walk in the woods. Lucky dog, eh? Just kidding, but I do love this sonnet.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or few, or none do hang
Upon the boughs that shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed wheron it must expire
Consumed by that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong
To love that well which thou must leave ‘ere long.

I particularly like the line "Consumed by that which it was nourished by."  It reminds me of Tennyson in "Ulysses":
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bill Durbahn

 My biking buddy Bill Durbahn was diagnosed less than two weeks ago with Acute Leukemia. He's in Rochester, has already received his week-long dose of chemo, and now awaits his bone marrow/stem cell transplant.

I went to visit him yesterday with other biking buddies Heidi, Tim, and Jeanne. We had a rollicking good visit with lots of laughs, but the awareness of the seriousness of this is always in the room. We ate pizza together in the lounge, and met another patient with a similar diagnosis. It's sobering, but if ANYBODY can lick this, it's Bill.  He's in great physical condition and has a fighter's attitude, not to mention endless humor and thoughtfulness about life in general.

His Caringbridge site is: Bill Durbahn Caringbridge site

If anyone wants to think about donating bone marrow or stem cells for such a transplant like Bill will need, go to
 Tim, Heidi, Bill, and Jeanne
Tim, Heidi, Bill, and me
Bill sporting the new gloves and balaclava Jeanne brought: he is masked, gloved, and ready for action. The Rochester Ninja!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Autumn in the country, and reminiscing

I'm home. I'm writing.
Freya is happy to have me here, but I don't think she's as happy as I am to be home.

I also have a ton of school work to do, but since I do't actually have to go teach, I might get some of everything done. I hope.

I love fall. If it didn't mean an overload of schoolwork, it might be my favorite season. If it didn't mean the onslaught of winter, it might also be my favorite season. As it is, it's packed with beauty, but there's that sense like Skakespeare says, "To love that well which thou must leave 'ere long."

Here's why:

 Okay, so the Boxelder bugs are NOT part of what I love about fall, but they are part of autumn in the country. I imagine their desperate attempt to get in my house is a last-ditch attempt to stay alive in the impending ice and snow, so I forgive them, but it doesn't mean I welcome them.
 Morning light.
 Combines remind me of Dad. Every autumn as a kid, I spent hours riding with him in the combine cab. I would don my Halloween costume and go out to show him. He was always combining on Halloween, so the only way he could see my garb was to go show him. He also quizzed me on my confirmation lessons while I rode along. All good memories. And I can still rattle off the Ten Commandments and the Lutheran version of "What does this mean? for most of them (Isn't that useful information, though).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

It's embarrassing....

Embarrassing, that is, when I just realized I haven't even blogged for a month. That might say something about how little writing I've gotten done this semester, too. I sneak in an hour here and there, and I did write one entire weekend afternoon, but that is far from enough.
I'm so glad that we have MEA (Eduation Association) days off next Thursday and Friday. I'm going to write, write, write. In fact, I am cloistering myself for my own person writing retreat. Me, Freya, my bike. Shhhhh. I'm hoping everybody will think I'm out of town, but I'm only home writing.

I should have something fun to put on here tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Life Imitates Art

While I was writing Chasing AllieCat, life kept imitating art. I wrote Sadie's crash in the MTN bike race, and later that week, I crashed. A body in the LeHillier/SouthBend woods was found in the last year...the list goes on...

Anyway, next week, I am undertaking an intentional imitation of art. I have mountain biked plenty of times in my life, but have never ridden a mountain bike race. I think I've felt like a fraud in some ways to write about mountain bike racing without actually racing.

I have raced enough and watched enough that I don't think there was any lack of authenticity in the story, but I'm finally, actually undertaking a mountain bike race next week at this ripe old age. I have hardly told anybody about it because it makes me nervous, and it's one of those fears that I have known I "need to do this sometime." It's been hanging in my brain, taunting me, but now I am going to do it.

Next Saturday: Chequamegon 40, part of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival from Hayward, Wisconsin to Cable, Wisconsin. Wish me luck. My last big training ride is tomorrow at the Jesse James ride. Then I'll ride David Hanel's mountain bike (he was so generous to loan it to me; it weighs about twenty pounds less than my mountain bike) all week to get used to it.

While we're on the subject, David is doing the Wisconsin Ironman Triathlon tomorrow, Sept. 7. So is my buddy Danielle Mitchell. So wish them luck and all the spirits of endurance.

Wish me: no broken bones and that I don't come in last. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer is zipping past

I haven't felt like much of a writer this summer. With all the traveling I've been doing, my writing energy has been focused on composing the proposal for the NEH Grant "Bridging Cultures" which we are calling "South Africa as a Metaphor for the World: Stories that Help Eliminate Apartheid of the Heart." 

I'm excited about the grant, and we are on the last legs of building it. 

However, there remains the fact that I have written almost nothing of my own fiction this summer, which is sad.

Inspired by my buddy Kirstin Cronn-Mills trek to Nebraska to gather research, and feeling as if I weren't really a writer this summer, on a whim, I went to Mitchell, South Dakota, and visited the prehistoric Mandan Indian Village dig and museum, went through the George McGovern library, and the Pipestone Monument on the way back. I sort of felt immersed in my Slider's Son story again, and can finally edit and fix, I hope. I found info about the Mandans in the first half of the 20th century that I hadn't been able to find anywhere else. Now that I know where to look, there are books I can use at MSU. But they didn't rise to the surface the way I was searching.

I do love research. And in some ways, this was a spiritual quest as much as anything. Now I'm home, and I don't want to go anywhere ever again. Just kidding, but feeling that way today.

Below is a picture of the stone "Oracle" at Pipestone. See the profile on the rockface on the right? 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The famous TABLE, the famous house

I took an illegal photo (cameras forbidden!) of this picture (imagine that--me?) in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, just so I'd have it to compare with the photo below. SEE? It's the SAME TABLE.

This is the table where Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk sat to hammer out the terms of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, and the eventual end of Apartheid!T
These two pictures probably depict the serendipitous nature of our entire trip to South Africa better than any other pictures could.

Because of winter storms, Table Bay at Cape Town was kicking up twenty-foot swells, and all boat excursions to Robben Island were canceled. As a result, we scrambled for activities to replace that long-awaited trip (and the cable car trip to the top of Table Mountain, also canceled). Our most spectacular bus driver, William, asked Scott and me if we wanted him to call his cousin, a warder at Drakenstein Prison in the Stellenbasch region.

Most people have heard of Robben Island, and Nelson Mandela's 18-year imprisonment there (the largest portion of the 27 years he spent in prison) for leading the African National Congress, and trying to undermine the system of Apartheid. Few, however, unless they are students of South African history, know that Mandela was moved from Robben Island for the last 18 months of his prison term to the prison now known as Drakenstein. There, he was imprisoned in a four-bedroom house with room to move around and a big dining room table where President de Klerk and he could sit and negotiate.

De Klerk would be spirited into the prison by an little-known back road. He was wise enough to realize Apartheid had to end. Sanctions by the United Nations and many parts of the free world were making the legalized racial oppression impossible to maintain.
Here, Edgar is pointing out the route used by the President's car coming to visit Mandela in prison.
And here in the living room of the Mandela house in Drakenstein Prison, Tyler and Logan reenact the famous de Klerk-Mandela handshake.

The amazing thing about this whole situation is that this prison is NOT open to the public. This is not a place that tourists EVER get to go. It has been maintained, but out of honor to the man, not as a public place.  The fact that we got to go inside, sit in Mandela's chairs, touch his countertops, and be in the place this great man lived inspired awe in all of us. In fact, we all decided that if he had to choose between Robben Island, that all tourists see, and this nearly hallowed place, we would do the same again.
Edgar, the warder who has been at Drakenstein since before Mandela was imprisoned here with his cousin William, our wonderful busdriver who became our dear friend. Their faces depict the way we all felt here. And we owe this amazing experience to the willingness of these two men to stick their necks out and allow a group of American college students an intimate look at the significance of South African history.

Kandi, Danielle, Taylor, and Caroline...

Flower bed outside. Thanks for this pic, Caroline K!

Edgar told us that Mandela had been in prison so long that he had never seen a microwave oven. When we walked into the kitchen in this house, he asked why there was a TV in the kitchen.

Edgar was a "coloured" warder. The coloured warders were NOT allowed to watch the day that Mandela was released.They were secured in one of the prison's other buildings, even though 10,000 people lined the streets to witness the event. How did they know about it? F.W. de Klerk said that Mandela could be released on a Friday. Mandela wanted to be in charge of his own destiny of release, and declared that instead, he would wait until Sunday. In actuality, it gave him two days to contact his underground communication system so the word spread around the world in the two days before he walked free--11 February, 1990. This day in history: Mandela walks free

As we left the home, I asked Edgar to read the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley ( the poem that supposedly buoyed Mandela's spirits during his 27-year incarceration.
Morgan Freeman reads "Invictus"

This statue, on the Boulevard leading into (or away from) Drakenstein commemorates Nelson Rohilala Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.

Did you know: Rohilala was given the name Nelson on his first day of school, by his teacher?

Can you see why I believe the stories of South Africa can inspire us all to be better human beings?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Lion Farm, a post from June in South Africa (when I had no internet)

June 15,  Glen Garriff Lion Farm near Harrisburg on the way to Barberton.

We drove through four locked gates, and in the first lion pen, we were this close...see this big guy reflected in the car?

The next day began with the pleasant sound of lions roaring at about 4 a.m. it was certainly loud enough to wake us all, and let me tell you, lying on a snug bed in Africa with the sound of lions roaring in close proximity to the guesthouse where you are staying is an experience.

I drifted back to sleep and was wakened by my alarm at 7.

One of the interesting tidbits of traveling off the beaten path is not knowing protocol and plunging ahead anyway. The bathroom which had been assigned as mine had a taxidermied  blesbok  (I think it might have been a springbok or an bontebok, but it as something very small with horns), a bathtub with a spray shower that shot water every direction except straight through the nozzle, a toilet back in a corner, and louvered glass doors through which anyone outside can see in-- and see everything but the tiniest details that goes on within.

Hence was my confusion about protocol. Should I hang a towel over the door and window? Rush through the fastest shower in history and hope nobody happens past the door? Rising at seven and heading straight to the shower seemed like the best plan. As it turned out, investigating while nobody else was awake, I discovered an exterior door that closed off the entire end of the house where my taxidermic bathroom was located. Case solved. If anyone watched me, I was blissfully unaware. It was awkward anyway, trying to steer the water over my head and body instead of all over the room, so the sooner I was finished, the better.

After breakfast and coffee, Scott, Ann, and I walked with Andi Rive, the lion farm manager, on a walking tour to see eight-week old cubs with their mom Sabrina, and on out farther to see the 860 hectares from a higher vantage point. The expanse of Glen Garriff reaches to the closest mountain.

There we saw, from a distance, a dazzle of zebras, a flock of ostriches (did you know that South African male ostriches are brilliant black and white, while the females are brownish gray?), a herd of wildebeest, and a herd of blesbok.
Also on the property, that we did not see, are meerkats, jackals, and bontebok.

Anton Leach, a South-Africa- born Australianfilm-maker, was also staying at Glen Garriff, making a documentary about the lions. Andi, along  with Traci Page Wood, whose father Patrick Shannon owns the farm, is fighting hard for the land and the lion reserve. Lions are a commodity in South Africa: for safari hunts, and for poachers who sell lion bone as a powerful aphrodisiac. How sad and ridiculous is that?

The lion farm has to provide meat for the lions, of course. There are lots of natural prey on the land, but it's illegal to let confined lions kill their food placed in the confinement for that purpose. So there are quite a few flying body parts (into the pens) when feeding time comes.

South Africans have a penchant for ending town names with "Fontein" which probably obviously, means fountain. 

When we saw a sign for a town called Blesbokfontein, we said, "That's where we just were. Blesbok fontein." Flying blesbok heads...a veritable Blesbokfontein!

 Some of the lions were very sweet and friendly. Sky, here, became my buddy. There are NO wild lions left in South Africa, by the way. All of them have been poached or hunted, as mentioned above. So a conscientious lion reserve, where lions are extremely well cared for and healthy, with room to play and run has become their ideal habitat.

From there, we got back into the car to put on some more miles.  It was tough to leave Glen Gariff. It was one of the many places in Africa where I felt like I belonged...and I felt as if I could just stay forever.
But once more, we piled in the car...
Then our drive to Barberton!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Robben Island

Robben Island.
Scott, our friend, Mzukizi, and I visited Robben Island about two weeks before PResident Obama and Michelle did. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years or the crime of being a member of the ANC (African National Congress) and protesting against the system of Apartheid. 18 of those years were spent at Robben Island, working in the stone quarry and in this cell.

Now, at 95 years of age, he has become an international icon of peace, hope, and the fight against oppression everywhere. 


Here is Scott in the stone quarry where the inmates worked. Note the small cave in front of Scott and the group? In that cave, Nelson Mandela and other imprisoned ANC members would meet or leave each other messages.  I guess you can say that small cave is partly responsible for the overthrow of the Apartheid government!

Here are some more pictures. I tried and tried to include photos of the Obamas in the same places, or at least links, and this blog crashed every time. So I guess if you want to see the Preisdent and Michelle in the same places we were (only two weeks later), you'll have to google Obama in South Africa or Obama at Robben Island.


 This is the view of the the view of the bay from Robben Island.
 Mzukizi contemplating the cells, where names, pictures, and statements from the inmates were posted.
 Mzukizi and me on the boatride from the island. He was not a big fan of the rough-water ride.
 Scott and Mzukizi outside Robert Sobukwe's house. Sobukwe died in solitary confinement. He was considered one of the most dangerous brilliant minds of the resistance to Apartheid, so died in prison without ever having contact with any of his compatriots. He is immortalized in the book, How Can Man Die Better, by Benjamin Pogrund. This one has moved high on my list of "To reads."
Mzukizi and Scott as we prepare to leave the island.
A last view from the bay, looking back at Robben island.

Last reflection: Scott and I work amazingly well together. Maybe we're too much alike (on Africa time even when we're in Minnesota, not exactly the most organized folks in the world, etc.), but we made very compatible group leaders and research-fellow travelers. 

Students, take note: do as we say, not as we DO. We were admonished on the big-group tour of the prison to STAY together. Um, suffice it to say that we did not follow directions. The group exited the building where Mandela's cell was, and Scott looked at me and said, "Come on!" We ran back into the building or we would never have gotten any photos of Mandela's cell. We had the place to ourselves...for a bit. We finally got to "feel" the place and take some pictures. When we went back outside, we had lost our group. Another group joined us, however, and the new tour guide took us INTO the stone quarry (ours hadn't, and Scott had never been there on his four previous tours), and also took us into Robert Sobukwe's house. Nether of us had heard of Sobukwe before. 

Serendipity. All of our trip was laced with happy serendipity. Things would go wrong, and every single bad thing led to something better than we could have planned or anticipated. Getting lost and joining a new group was only one tiny example of that on this trip. And did I mention that Mzukizi, who has lived in the Cape Town Area his whole life had never been to Robben Island? It was one more magical picece of an unbelievable month in South Africa.

"We are not African because we live in Africa. We are African because Africa lives in us." --AfroVibe

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

South Africa, NEH Grant, Townships, the power of stories, and other dreams...

I just realized I haven't blogged since June 1. That is partly due to the fact that I could NOT blog in South Africa. I barely had internet, and when I did, the blog clogged the airwaves and crashed, so after multiple attempts, I gave up.

Let it also be known that every night now, I dream of South Africa.

My only week in Minnesota since May 18 was a bit hectic. Now I am in North Carolina at Nikki, Tom, and Alec's house, but Alec is sleeping, so here goes.

Yesterday morning, Nikki, Alec, and I had a delightful short morning at Noelle, Tony, and Maren's house in Arlington, Virginia, before we headed to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There I met Julia Nguyen, Senior Program Officer, Division of Education Programs, at the National Endowment for the Humanities Office in the historic Old Post Office complex. (Nikki and Alec went to the National Museum of Natural History).

Julia was entirely helpful and supportive of the ideas Scott Fee (Construction Management, MSU,M, now newly appointed Interim Assistant Dean in the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology) have cooked up. We want to apply for a big NEH grant for "Bridging Cultures" at Community Colleges...which also requires a Community College to be in collaboration with another institution. Seems as if this might have been written for what we are working toward.

I won't belabor all our plans here, but they do include bringing Prof Kobus van Wyk (below) to Mankato to speak at a conference at South Central College. Kobus is the endowed chair of the brand-new department of Human Settlement Development Management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This department has a focus of somehow revamping the rebuilding the townships while giving full consideration to human needs (safety, education, health, transportation, etc., etc. which all relate to Humanities).

Our approach to this grant is that stories are the medium that move information from our head to our hearts and move us to action.  Stories are what the Humanities convey--through art, music, literature, film, history, architecture, etc., etc. Stories about South Africa all end up leading us to the townships. THERE, in the townships, the Humanities converge with the Built Environment.

If you don't know, townships exist in every urban area of South Africa, and a version exists in most rural areas, too. Townships are the legacy of apartheid. Apartheid means "separateness" in Afrikaans. When segregation was forced because the Afrikaner government under the Nationalist Party believed that races could only thrive while separated (I can't even begin to comment on this outrageously horrific idea), non-white citizens were forced into specified areas and couldn't leave without passbooks...similar to passports but necessary for traveling outside the neighborhood.

Now the townships still exist, with vast overpopulation and poverty. BUT look at the joy and sense of community. As we walked through Vlei ("Swamp") Township on the edge of Cape Town, these kids were dancing their hearts out. The oldest boy drummed with amazing skill on an old washtub. The mamas were busy cooking. Joy and hope and community have NOTHING to do with affluence.

We all know that the one thing that can break down prejudice is meeting a specific person from the group against which we hold a prejudice (Think about the movie American History X). Stories do the same thing. STORIES help us meet individual people, help us empathize,  force us to understand oppression and misfortune; stories change our attitudes about "others."

We believe that South Africa is a microcosm that is a metaphor for the world.  South Africa is the site of one (not unlike the Holocaust) of the worst legalized systems of oppression in the world. There is racism of every type, and not only black/white conflict but between the "White tribes" (Afrikaners/Boers and English) themselves, East Indians, many other Asian groups, "colored," and more. There is also some of the most joyful, colorful hope in the universe, despite oppression.

When "Madiba"--Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela retired from the South African presidency, President Clinton said the following:

"In every gnarly, knotted, distorted situation in the world where people are kept from becoming the best they can be, there is an apartheid of the heart. And if we really honor this stunning sacrifice of twenty-seven year, if we really rejoice in the infinite justice of seeing this man happily married in the autumn of his life, if we really are seeking some driven wisdom from the poser of his example, it will be to do whatever we can, however we can, wherever we can, to take the apartheid out of our own and others' hearts."

That's what we want to do with this grant. Present some opportunities to explore how learning about South Africa can help us all eliminate APARTHEID OF THE HEART.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

District 6

Today we went to District Six Museum.

I didn't have a clear idea of what District Six actually was until today. It was a Municipal District of Cape Town that was actually integrated and full of color and life. It was considered a "slum" but only because it was a lower-income area. It was a happy place where races coexisted as friends, peacefully. 

The apartheid government couldn't allow such a thing to exist. Apartheid means separation ("apartness") and the Nationalist Party government that instituted it could NOT allow such mixing of races, especially in light of the fact that it was a SUCCESSFUL area--living TOGETHER happily and peacefully. Such success flew in the face of all that apartheid stood for. SO....though Black resettlement had been in place for awhile, the blow came in 1966.

From the Museum website:
"In 1966 [District Six] was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.
The District Six Museum, established in December 1994, works with the memories of these experiences and with the history of forced removals more generally."

We had the privilege of walking through along with a tour guide for part of the time. She was taking a group of five eager twelve-ish-year-old girls and her talk was so inspiring, it moved everyone within earshot to tears.  I felt tears running down my cheeks before I realized I was crying. I looked up to see Marti Benson in the same state. 

If I can at some point post the video of her talk, I will, but the point where I started crying was something like this:
"You can write poetry. You can say whatever you want. You can sue Zuma [President] if you want, because you are free. Under apartheid, we couldn't criticize the government. If you wrote a poem against apartheid, you would go to jail. I did. I went to jail." 

Reminders are everywhere, but as the girls responded to this talk, they said "We can't ever let that happen again." 

World, are you listening? 

Shark Diving and other South Africa thoughts

So...shark diving. Yesterday.
Internet has been entirely sketchy, intermittent, and unreliable. This is the first chance I've had to write a blog post of any length.

Biology is not my strength, but Africa wildlife could inspire anyone to become a naturalist, biologist, or other related ologist.  Watching animal life is one of the sheer delights of traveling here.

I didn't realize, though I should have understood the idea, that this was not diving with caged sharks in a staged environment. This was a good-sized boat that carried us perhaps two miles out into the ocean (Atlantic since, as you saw in the pictures if you looked on Flickr, we are now east of the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic).

Shark Lady company hauled along a six foot by three foot by maybe twelve to fifteen foot  steel cage. We donned wet suits, and were allowed to enter this cage five at a time, with instructions where and how to hang on, so as not to allow fingers and toes outside the cage. We had just enough room for our heads above the water line, wore weighted belts, and held our breath (wearing goggles), pulled ourselves under water, hooked our toes under a rope to keep from floating to the surface, and watched from under water.

We could float or bob up and down until the dive master yelled something like "shark down left!" Or "shark high right" land. At that. we dropped down into the tank, hooked our toes, and breathed slowly out or held our collective breath to watch a shark swim within touching distance (and that was oh, so tempting, but strictly forbidden upon threat of being removed from the cage instantly). It took me a few tries to calm my breathing. At first, I hated having my nose shut off and nearly hyperventilated, but I calmed myself down, got the hang of it, and could have stayed there all day were it not for a slowly lowering body temperature.

The dive master guys had tuna heads at the end of a forty-foot rope, which they used to lure in the sharks. That, of course, also attracted masses of sea gulls. We saw a very rare Oyster Cracker-- all black bird with a brilliant, nearly neon orange-red beak on the shore when we pulled closer.

The shark cage was only a small percentage of the joy. We sat on the deck or roof of the vessel while others took their turns. The waves smashing against a rocky island nearby rose and fell dozens of feet.
The swells that carried us gave us a view of a small mountain (I exaggerate but only slightly). Exactly eight of the sixteen of us got seasick. I seem to have a stomach for the sea, and have always, always loved any excursion on the ocean. I loved every second, and soaked it in. I did spend the last hour in our anchored spot basically cuddling three very seasick girls (who will remain nameless unless they want to fess up here in the comments:) and thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds.

The island where all the waves were crashing was is called Geyser Island if I am hearing the accent correctly, and it is fitting, based on the way the waves smash into the rocks and explode dozens of feet in the air.  Most amazing, however, was that the island is inhabited by some 20,000 sea lions! We could hear them clearly from time to time. I asked if any of the crew had binoculars, which they supplied. I thought the island was capped with all black rocks, but every rock turned out to grayish in color, topped with a sea lion!  They cavorted in the water, and traipsed around the rocks. Spectacular.

A kid who had just graduated from University of Connecticut was on board-- the resident researcher and marine biology expert named Chris Perkins (Sorry to call you a kid, Chris)--who had just told me about the Oyster Cracker and how lucky he had been able to see some on his excursions, and then we spotted one! Very exciting and satisfying. Stranger still, when he said he graduated from UConn, I said I had a friend who taught physics there; he asked who; he started laughing because he was a physics tutor for many of Moshe Gai's students during his time at UConn. Moshe's wife Helen Hart-Gai was a dear friend of mine for years but we lost touch. Now I must reconnect somehow.
What a small world.

The research Chris is doing, by the way, concerns dorsal fin recognition of the sharks. He said that the fins are as unique as our faces, and photographs put into an immense international database can track sharks' migratory travels without ever touching a shark. The software recognizes a fin that has already been entered into the database, and if you do this, you can get all sorts of information about where the animal has been in the world! And if we as simply interested citizens of the world ever snap a Photo of a shark, we can put on this organization 's website and be privy to all the sightings of said shark. I found that fascinating...and I vow to be on the lookout anytime I am on any ocean!

On our way home, we were privy to the most spectacular sunset I think I have ever seen in my life. The photo on flickr is sunset over Hawston Township. For those of you who aren't familiar with the lingo, a Township in South Africa is a shantytown where blacks were herded and forced to live during apartheid. The legacy goes on, with poverty and huge townships connected to most cities.

The juxtaposition of the sunset beauty over the abject poverty is heartbreaking. I hope this link works. I'll get it on flicker as soon as the iPad is recharged.

Much of this country is heartbreaking...heartbreaking beauty, heartbreaking stories and tragedies, heartbreaking resilience, strength, love, and hope.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cape Town! And we have internet...

We have internet!
We are in Cape Town!

We went today to the most southern point of Africa, where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic meet.
The coast there is rocky-rugged, and the waves crash and pound cracks in the rocks. We walked around the rocks, took pictures, and marveled that the closest landmass beyond us was Antarctica. Since my internet crashes whenever I try to load a picture here, go to Flickr.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28

I have internet as the eveing progresses at Afro Vibe, Myoli Beach, Sedgefield, ZA (South Africa).

I wanted to catch up the blog from the first day onward, but today was too important, so I am starting here.

We met Genevieve Keene from TSiBA Education, Eden Campus this morning. She and Clifford, a student from  TSiBA,  met us at a bus stop, and then we ventured into a township called Smutsville. At first, we were all a tad bit leary. Then, we picked up on the vibe of the place. It was welcoming, very much a community, and safe. We all felt at home.

We were invited to visit Clifford's home. His mother Sophie is a community activist and artist in her own right. From her home, she  sold scarves and jewelry.  I brought home a beautiful beaded necklace and matching bracelet. Other students bough scarves. She was thrilled.

Masathabane is an non-profit  (NGO--non-governmental organization) artist cooperative in Sedgefield. An amazing woman named Patricia heads up this enterprise to fund people too sick to re-enter the workplace due to TB or AIDS or other disabling diseases.

Each person expresses his or her own experience in art.

Patricia has a dream to make Sedgefield into Africa's Barcelona! The Mosaic capital of Africa, and it is fast becoming known as such. Check out some of the photos of this phenom on page

This in itself would be enough emotional interaction with the universe, but that was only the beginning.

Then...we went to Sedgefield Primer School, where the students sang and danced for us (also see the flicker page), and fed us lunch. The harmony and tone these little kids attained move many of us to tears.

At the end of their program, they mobbed us after lunch. You can also see this on flickr. 
After that, we went to TSiBA Eden campus, where we had spent the dday before

THEN, we went back to TSiBA Eden Campus, the school Scott Fee helped found. Check Flickr for more pictures. The students and our students bonded so deeply that nobody wanted to part. We sang the Star Spangled Banner, which amazingly sound pretty good. Then the TSiBA students sang the South African national anthem, which of course, blew us out of the water. We are humbled and thrilled.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We arrived in Cape Town!

Internet has been sketchy and none have my posts have worked, but we are inSouth Africa!
This is out breakfast, view in Somerset West.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

South Africa or Bust!

It's almost four a.m. and what am  I doing up? I'm leaving for South Africa!  Our flight at 3:10  p.m. which means in twelve hours, we will in the air heading for Amsterdam, and then to Cape Town!  (Maybe I need a few more exclamation points there).
In case you're interested: the flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam is eight hours. After a three-hour layover in Amsterdam, our flight to Cape Town is twelve more hours.

I've received quite a few messages in the last twenty-four hours from excited students. After all this time, all this reading, all this discussion...we are FINALLY GOING! 

All the prep time, all the hours Scott Fee and I sat together at the Coffee Hag or Wine Cafe, hammering out details, transportation, lodging, budget, proposals, plans, writing emails, answering the phone, getting paperwork all comes down to today. We are truly going to South Africa.

A year ago in the spring, I was at Joe Tougas's 50th birthday party when Scott (Construction Management, MSU,M, who has traveled to South Africa about ten times) asked me if I would ever consider taking SCC students to South Africa. Four days later, we were in my dean's office, sketching out possibilities and asking permission to pursue this interdisciplinary trip. Chris Black-Hughes from MSU,M Social Work program joined in, and we are doing this collaboratively.

I've wanted to see South Africa since I read The Power of One  nearly twenty years ago.

There have been so many added responsibilities and a few surprises this week, that my grading did NOT get done on time. I'm done now, though. I just have to enter grades. Good grief. Finally. Then I'm headed to bed for a few hours. We'll take some photos at the airport. In nine hours!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Blogging about South Africa

I'm planning to blog our trip from this stay tuned for pictures and updates on our trip to South Africa.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Big George Hincapie and South Africa to boot

Two weeks from TODAY we leave for South Africa. My stomach does funny things when I say that out loud. I am so excited. I'm not scared; it just makes me a little nervous to be responsible for a dozen people in a country I've never visited before.

After all we've studied this semester, I think we all feel it: we are just ready to BE THERE.

In the meantime, there are finals to write and grade, a few feet-high stacks of papers to grade, and I'd like to sqeeze in a bike ride here and there to stay sane.

Speaking of biking, my friend Danielle Mitchell is a sports medicine physician in Chattanooga, Tennessee (how many double letters can you get in one place? This even beats the Mississippi). The area is hosting a big pro bike race, and guess who showed up? My idol and yeah, okay, if I have a crush on a celebrity, it's on George Hincapie. So look what Danielle got for me.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

In My Country

In My Country (2004) Poster
I previewed the Movie In My Country last night with Tom. I'll be showing it in class on Tuesday. I am now carrying the story around like guilt--like the pain of awareness.

It's well-done. It's powerful. It's based on the book (which I'm embarrassed that I haven't read yet, but it's top on my pile to read), Country of My Skull.

I'm happy about the movie selections we've watched in my Culture and History of South Africa class. The most powerful ones have blown us out of the water.

The three most powerful are:

Dry White Season
Cry Freedom
and now
In My Country

The first two show apartheid in all its reality. BOTH were released while apartheid was still the law. Cry Freedom is about Steve Biko.  
In My Country shows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and aftermath.
Juliette Binoche is spectacular (I have never seen her in anything that I didn't love. I think she's brilliant. First memory of her: Unbearable Lightness of Being), and Samuel L. Jackson is always powerful. Always.

If you haven't seen them, and you are the least bit interested, watch them.
Other movies we've watched, which are also powerful include
Both of these are also set in post-apartheid South Africa, the one concentrating on Nelson Mandela and his relationship with the South African rugby team The Springboks.
Tsotsi shows what poverty can do in the townships that endure as a legacy of apartheid. I should have put both of those in the most powerful category, too.

Still to watch are
Cry, the Beloved Country (James Earl Jones, Richard Harris...can't go wrong with that, unless we should have watched it earlier)
District 9 
(Did you know that it's based on District 6 in Cape Town?)
 Disgrace (Based on the book we're watching now, starring John Malkovich).

We're also acting out/conveying/telling South African Folk Tales, taken from the book Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folk Tales.

Our reading list included:
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Africans and Americans by Joseph Mbele
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Other books I still need to read are
Country of My Skull (The Movie In My Country  is based on this book; I might substitute it for Disgrace  if I get to teach this class again)
Cry, My Beloved Country

And many, many more. But these are at the top of my list.