Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last Blog Maybe

I've been negligent, but no more. Today I will manage to completely fulfill my commitment: one last blog. I've been bad about them anyway...

Yesterday was amazing. I woke up as the deciding states reported their votes. When I turned on my computer at 5:45 Durban time, there were around 230 electoral votes for Obama. As I drank my tea--english breakfast with milk and honey--I refreshed the New York Times page over and over and over, tapping anxiously until the scales tipped and Barack Obama became our president. My South African roommate, Karina stood by, and when it happened we first double and then triple checked the confirmation (we were waiting for someone to say, "America's new president is Barack Obama" before we let go all that self-preserving doubt we've been carrying for a while) and then gave each other a huge hug.

A couple minutes later--alone again--I said a prayer for Obama and his family. I don't know if people back home are talking about Obama's safety. I don't know if it's an inappropriate subject. But honestly, I am concerned. We all keep referring to Dr. Martin Luther King's dream--we see it's fruition in this day--and yet we know the dream is not fully realized. Ignorance, fear, and hatred turn into exclusion and violence all around us. Not just at home but everywhere. Immigrants in South Africa this year have been tortured, made homeless, and killed for their difference. Ethnic warfare rages on in Congo.

I remember the day when Dad took our family to "paradise valley." We played at the foot of an awesome waterfall in a valley of the Great Smoky Mountains for hours. The creekbed and beach were made of a million broken pieces of mica, and shined like diamonds. If I'm remembering correctly, we even had tuna-fish sandwiches and cokes (my mom makes the best tuna-fish!). On our walk back to the car, we met an old man, and he and Dad struck up a pleasant conversation. ...Until he told us to be careful out there in those woods....'there's niggers out there'. My Dad asked him not to talk like that, but it was too late, Katie and I had already heard. For Katie, it was the first time she had heard someone actually verbalize such meanness. She cried and cried.

I suppose things have changed even since then, but deep in my heart, I fear those backwoods. I fear the backwoods of the human heart where ignorance and fear still so often reside. I don't know if it's uncool to voice my fear--my excuse is that I'm out of the country--but I'll go ahead and say it: I'm worried that people will try to kill our beloved new president. So I pray with gratitude for this day, and I petition God--I petition the capacity for love in all of us--to transform ignorance into understanding. Although ignorance does persist in all of us to some extent, Dr. King was a man of heavenly vision; he saw a paradise where lion and lamb lay together. It is our privilege and responsibility as human beings to always be working toward such a world. But as we work, we can also revel in the beauty of the Kingdom as it we can rest and soak in the sun!

I have two weeks left in South Africa. Today, I'm making last stops to St. Martin's Diocesan Home for Children, the Department of Vehicular Registration, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Rotary Club of Durban North. Half those people are getting the peanut-butter, oatmeal cranberry, and chocolate chip cookies I spent Tuesday afternoon baking (busy work to keep my mind off the election). Mom sent me reeses pieces, giardelli morsels, and tollhouse butterscotch chips so that I could make a real American show of gratitude for all the people who have made Durban home for me this year.

When I return homehome, it's off to Tim's wedding, then back to Atlanta for Wilson's. The holidays will culminate with the largest celebration EVER: my little sis is gettin hitched! Then, I'll be working on my thesis, looking for a job, and eating lots of lentils so that I can pay off my credit card. My last big purchase in South Africa: my upstairs roommate is a fashion designer and he is making me a silk little black dress to wear to all these wedding!!! Maybe I'll look so good I'll find my own honey to squeeze on...

Signing off, yours truly,

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I've known it all along

I will never ever claim to be a good matchmaker. I, myself, fall in love easily, frivolously, intensely, with most people I know. Needless to say, when I get "a feeling" about other people's relationships, I am usually wrong. I can only make up for being wrong so often by being a compassionate listener and willing bad-mouther.

But I swear, when Pierce Hale came down the escalator at LAX airport with Katie and Jean just over a year ago, I knew within a couple minutes. I mean I just knew it. I wanted this guy to be my brother in law. And then we all went back to da 'hood and he played Angel from Montgomery on the piano.

Katie and Pierce, too bad you will have to listen to me retell this story again and again for the rest of your wedded lives. It's not even really a story, it's just me trying to figure out how things like this the universe aligns and people come together and sisters' souls speak to each other without words or understanding.

I can't wait to get drunk at your wedding so that I can tell this story in front of lots of people, cry a helluva lot, fall in love with everyone in the room, and make some really poor matchmaking efforts, either for myself or Greg Muse.

Congratulations, my beautiful Katrinkle. Congratulations, my handsome brother-to-be Pierce. South Africa sends you a big fat virtual diamond (ooh, bad joke)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Journeys big and small

T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" has been one of my favorite poems since 12th grade when my Dad read it to me at the dinner table one night, recommending I use it for a project in my literature class. I did, and I have returned to it over and over again...the magi come to me in Advent, during Lent, in dark times and in moments of light when I am converted all over again. Tonight, the lights came on. It was a little conversion, a little reminder of why I have faith in all I do.

I was reading--just 5 minutes ago--for an assignment. My task is to choose a poverty-reduction strategy, come up with an impact evaluation and make a solid case for both. I have chosen land transfers to poor black farmers, and will frame my essay with a discussion of post-apartheid inequality. I've read many articles on the subject, but the one in particular just happened to use a phrase Eliot uses in his poem--the old dispensation--to describe the system of unjust land distribution that continues to plague South Africa. The landed rich minority and the un-landed poor majority are stratified across an uneven landscape.

At the end of their treacherous journey, the magi find the baby Jesus. They witness the miracle of birth, a birth of Eternal Life Proportions. But there is a death, also, their own death, death to former ways of being. The old dispensation has no place in this little baby's kingdom. Justice and peace require us to die to our old ways of being, and it ain't easy. But damn it's good. Even if we just practice a little bit, it's good.

That's all I'm gonna say about that. I hope the little connection speaks to you, too. If not, then connect with me. It's easy, just close your eyes and imagine me sitting in my desk, glasses on, bare feet, broccoli in my teeth, thinking of you. Thanks for reading my blog and praying with me.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Immigrant Killings

This is a strange blog, and forgive me Jean for posting an email exchange, but as I sent it to you, it occurred to me that if I have anything to say about the immigrant killings in Johannesburg right now, then this is it. I figure a few people might log on to check in on me, so ....

> Date: Mon, 19 May 2008 09:03:39 -0400
> From:
> To:
> Subject: all ok?
> Hey Anna,
> I owe you a real email, but I just wanted to check that all is alright with you and that you're safe. I know the violence has been in Johannesburg, but GOD is that terrifying. What are people around you saying/thinking/feeling? What about you? What is with the world!??
> I love you,
> Jean

my reply:

...Yes, I am ok. I am fine and safe. The violence is terrifying though. One of the most terrifying things is: I am fine, all is well here in Durban, things keep going just as they usually do, as if nothing had happened. In fact, people are hardly talking about the killings. (I don't watch the local news).

I had this thought during class today..."what the hell, in the past few weeks, a cyclone has killed thousands, an earthquake has killed thousands, hunger has killed thousands, and yet we just keep going." It doesn't make any sense. Shouldnt things just stop? But they dont. I am bewildered by this world, honestly.

But I am happy, cheerful, have been doing just fine. Going to do a Rotary presentation tonight. (see what I mean!?)

I love you,

Friday, May 16, 2008

Good Poem and Can You Please Help Me?

Does anyone know how to post photos on blogger? I can't seem to remember how!

This poem is for all the crazies out there. By crazy I mean HELLO, "alive."


It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

-Thomas R. Smith, from Waking before Dawn.

Monday, May 5, 2008

3 blogs in 2 days!!!

I cried in my Poverty and Inequality class again today. Just teared right up. On the one hand, I’m embarrassed by what a reactive and bleeding heart I have.

On the other hand, I’m glad I’m still bowled over by needless suffering in the world, by the ignorance that drives us to hurt each other and ourselves. It’s like clockwork; Julian puts up a powerpoint slide with statistics on the divergence between the rich and poor--tick--and something in my heart just goes tock--no, no nono.

As a little girl, I cried when things didn’t make sense, when my inherent expectation of fairness had been disappointed. I remember when Katie and I fought, I’d lament the unfairness of it all and Dad would say “life’s not fair, Anna. Just ignore your sister.” Life has certainly shown me that Dad was right--it’s not fair.

Now, Katie and I are upset by the same things that upset Dad; war, poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, violence, hatred, etc. And none of us can ignore them. Perhaps we could all use a good talking to, a good “life’s not fair” reminder. But I don’t think it would help. I don’t think it would stop us from being bowled over afresh each time our inherent expectation of rightness is disappointed. There are many possible explanations for this, and I’ll give the two with which I’ve recently battled: 1) We are stupid and have yet to internalize the lesson that shit happens in this godforsaken and/or godless existence or 2) God has created us with some inalienable sense of what's right at our core.

I’ll flesh out these thoughts in reverse order, but before I do, I must qualify them as thoughts, ideas..attempts to make sense of things I know I will never grasp, hence why they keep bowling me over:

2) There is some vision in us that just won’t quit. No matter how many times we encounter the “reality” that there is no sense or method or truth guiding us to the promised land--that all is absurd and meaningless and we should just stop expecting and trying for something different and to hell with it all!--no matter how familiar we should be with the territory, we can’t stop crying. People haven’t stopped being angry. Our hearts go right on bleeding and shouting and saying HEY, WHAT’s GOING ON? Yah know. Do you know what I mean? Prophets and Apostles and our own dreams keep revealing that something different is possible.

1) Yes, children get inexplicably, terminally ill, “good” things happen to “bad” people, cyclones tear through swingsets and dogs get run over. There’s a lot of suffering we can’t do anything about and will NEVER BE ABLE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT. But--B. U. T.--the “shit happens” explanation doesn’t account for all the terrible, unnecessary suffering in the world which we create. With our blind desire and greediness and fear, we expand that chasm between what should be and what is every single day. We can’t blame suffering on the universe. We are partly to blame. And so of course we want to put right what we’ve made wrong. Of course we keep striving after justice and peace.

I believe the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There must be something vital inside me which brought on those tears, something which informs my sense of what should be happening here on earth. There’s a balance to find here between 1) being disturbed by the chasm between what is and what should be 2) learning as much as one possibly can about the causes of that chasm and 3) finding some particular way to build some bridges across, or at least to do one’s best at keeping it from expanding.

This is where Jesus steps into the picture for me today (He steps in at different places depending on my mood and the biggest current question in my heart ): God created us in God’s image. And so we hunger after this vision. It’s inalienable. However, God also gave us the freedom to choose the vision that we follow; ours or God’s? Clearly, it’s a lot easier to follow our own vision of the good life (i.e. nice things and comfort and sometimes even blissful wine-induced ignorance) vs God’s vision which--besides holding some immoveable place in the dark reaches of our hearts--is SO DAMN HARD TO DISCERN and to follow...I’ll get to Jesus in a minute...God gave us the capacity to choose our vision over God’s, and in doing so, gave us the capacity to go too far in our pursuit of that vision. Bottom line, God gave us the capacity to create abominable suffering. To sin.

Enter Jesus who gives us a good talking-to, and it’s not that life isn’t fair. Rather, it’s that life is fair, on some level, after all: Humans can kill God and God will still love us cause God knew we were going to do it in the first place. How can God do anything but forgive us for our poor choices if God created us with the capacity to choose so poorly. That might be blasphemous, but a Priest whom I love once reminded me that God loves us even through our blasphemy. I mean, come on, look at how rude and presumptuous the Psalmist is!

This good news of forgiveness would work out nicely and comfortably for us if that other part--that vision of what’s right part--weren’t so woven into our very being. So we keep crying and bleeding and messing up and asking forgiveness and recommitting ourselves to loving each other better.

Definitions Matter

This is the assignment I referred to in my last blog.

Introduction and Conceptualization
Imagine that a student from outer space is “studying abroad” in Durban to learn about humanity and has an assignment to prepare dinner for a group of ten earthlings. Because our visitor has never eaten before, it logs onto Google to conceptualize dinner--but lo and behold! There are millions of stories, images, recipes, nutritional guidelines, religious texts, ethnic menus, anxious “Overeater’s Anonymous” blogs, an online version of “Where the Wild Things Are” (where Max goes without his dinner), and pictures of starving children who go without on a regular basis. The alien is overwhelmed by dinner’s dynamism; is it a late daily meal providing energy and nutrients, a social phenomenon where the host shares culinary skill and generosity with guests whose bodies and souls are nourished, or is it a family outing to McDonalds? Should there be just enough or an abundance? What is enough? Who will be dining, and what do they (need to) eat? Faced with so much complexity, the alien settles on what it considers to be an essential, utilitarian definition of dinner and its corresponding mathematical application: it divides the daily number of recommended calories (according to umpteen websites) by three (representing meals per/day) and multiplies by ten (total guests). Then, it buys a bag of maize meal from Pick’n’pay, solves for x cups, prepares a cauldron-full, and adds a dash of salt for palatability and iodine sufficiency--taste and nutrition are important, the alien has learned, so the extra effort will surely earn a high mark!
But any professor worth her salt, so to speak, will give an average or lower mark; while the alien did base its definition of dinner and therefore its preparation on the solid foundation of energy provisions using a local commodity, it was too easily seduced by a neat1 mathematical equation and short list of add-ons--it too readily overlooked the dynamic messiness of social, geographic, demographic, economic dinner quandaries and their implications--to achieve great success. Turns out that all ten guests were orphaned babies, still too young to eat cereal. Therefore, the alien’s restricted definition of dinner precipitated its limited capacity to feed the babies.

Over-Simplified Concepts, Underutilized Capacity
Convoluted as my example may be, it illustrates a significant impediment to fulfilling human needs, humanity’s most basic yet dynamic assignment. In the context of persistent under-fulfillment, perceptions of poverty too often forsake relevance in the tension of multiple definitions for conceptual ease. Perhaps the best example is the definition of poverty commonly identified with the Millennium Development Goal to halve global poverty by 2015, a sort of international group project. The World Bank’s definition, held to be capable of coordinating international anti-poverty efforts is: living on less than US $1 per/day. Informed by this definition which allegedly accounts for deprivation from the most essential food and non-food needs vis-a-vis the poverty line, the World Bank’s policy approach to poverty consists of economic growth, access to human capital through health and education, and safety nets for those otherwise excluded (Lok-Dessallien 2001: 15). However, as Hulme and Shepherd argue, “the conceptualization of the poor as a single homogenous group whose prime problem is low monetary income [leads] search for ‘the policy’ that increases the income of ‘the poor’” at the cost of other non-income-increasing policies (2003: 403). In other words, a restricted, money-metric, “dollar a day” definition de-emphasizes policies which address human capabilities, safety nets, and other critical aspects of poverty (Lok-Dessallien 2001: 15).
Further problems with the mono-definition arise: Boltvinik argues that where poverty is widely conceived of in money-metric terms, yet social indicators figure into policy, “a sort of social schizophrenia prevails” (2001: 5); Reddy and Pogge contend the concept skews poverty measurement in that it relies on a rigid and “arbitrary international poverty line not adequately anchored in any specification of the real requirements of human beings,” uses a “concept of purchasing power equivalence” which does not translate across time and space, and “extrapolates incorrectly from limited data” (4); and so on.
In his assessment of holes in the current global consensus on poverty reduction, Michael Lipton includes similar money-metric criticisms: the Food Energy and Purchasing Power Parity methods (FEM and PPP) of deriving the poverty line are troublesome in that FEM fails to capture needs which vary according to physical characteristics, lifestyle, heredity etc, and PPP lacks a suitable index (1997: 1004). However, he holds that absolute Private Consumption Per Person (PCP) “is indeed the most useful definition of poverty” because it helps us “understand material deprivation and evaluate progress and policies against it” (ibid).
Arguing for further definitional restriction, Lipton echoes Boltvinik’s “social schizophrenia” diagnosis that muddling money-metric concepts and human capability indicators “obscures their interactions.” Rather, he contends capabilities “deserve a separate measurement and analysis” (ibid). In fact, Lipton gives “Human capital” its own section and heading, distinct from the “Definition” of poverty. Likewise, he suggests that inequality is better left out of poverty definitions, better given its own, separate conceptual space; “‘relative poverty’ remains an uneasy and arbitrary amalgam of absolute poverty and low-end inequality, arbitrarily weighed” (ibid).
Although Lipton’s proposed definition of poverty is by degrees more nuanced and complex than “a dollar a day,” his attempt to fill the holes of the alleged poverty consensus (all within the space of a neat five-page document) falls into the same conceptual hole; if definitions inform the way we perceive and struggle against poverty--if indeed our perceptions become reality--then shouldn’t inequality and low human capabilities figure into the “definition” of poverty? By compartmentalizing, by omitting essential factors from what he deems the meaning of poverty, does Lipton not emphasize a static notion of poverty and de-emphasize reduction strategies which more readily address poverty’s dynamism? 2 Since “higher inequality leads to more political instability, more uncertainty, less investment, and lower growth”--nasty conditions for poverty reduction--it’s crucial to assign inequality conceptual weight. (Stewart 2000: 8)
In his defense, Lipton does what one must to complete any assignment: narrow one’s scope from the infinite number of conceptual possibilities down to a functional framework. Certainly, there is a general and, I believe, correct consensus that an absolute definition of poverty is necessary to identify and redress certain kinds of deprivation. However, is it necessary to limit ourselves to one definition? Can we, mustn't we give ourselves room to account for the more complex nature of deprivation? If ten orphans grow up relatively impoverished--perhaps not starving but hungry for nourishing dinners with functional families--will not their sense of themselves as poor, as incapable of living valuable lives precipitate certain realities? What if they decide they’ve never been given a fair chance, steal the difference, and end up dead not from malnourishment but from gun shot wounds? By no means does Lipton argue that we should ignore such possibilities, but he does undermine the attention we give said possibilities by overly narrowing his conceptual framework to exclude inequality from his “Definition” of poverty.
The debate over inequality’s relevance to poverty is not new. In fact, it is part of a long-standing, deep-rooted, either/or argument about whether poverty is best conceived of as absolute or relative, objective or subjective, uni-dimensional or multidimensional, and universal or particular. The arguments generally look like this: Are human needs absolute and universal or socially and historically constructed? Can any conceptualization of poverty be scientific and objective, or are all definitions influenced by the experiences and beliefs of those who create them? Should poverty indicators be restricted to material satisfiers like calories and clothes, “or include social, cultural and political” satisfiers like access to education and political power? (Laderchi, Saith, and Stewart 2003: 244). Furthermore, who should determine the level of deprivation which constitutes poverty (Boltvinik 2001: 3); an expert from academia or an expert from the urban slum?
Nobel prize winning poverty theorist Amartya Sen gets at the heart of the absolute/relative question: “Should poverty be estimated with a cut-off line that reflects a level below which people are-in some sense-‘absoluetly impoverished’ of a level that reflects (minimum) standards of living ‘common to that country’ in particular?” (1984 in Boltvinik 2001: 9). Peter Townsend thinks not: “any rigorous conceptualization of the social determination of need dissolves the idea of absolute need...the necessities of life are not fixed. They are continuously being adapted and augmented as changes take place in society and in its products” (1979 in ibid).
The debate has created a proliferation of approaches to poverty. Sen’s “Capabilities” approach gives an ends-based definition of well-being as the ability for people “to enjoy long, healthy lives, to be literate and to participate freely in their society” (Lok-Dessallien 2001: 11). Criticism of the “Capabilities” and “Monetary” approaches as paternalistic have engendered a “Participatory” approach which involves the poor themselves in defining poverty (ibid). The Social Exclusion approach--defined by the European Union as “the process through which individuals or groups are wholly or partially excluded form full participation in the society in which they live”--lends to a greater emphasis on inequality in its application (Laderchi, Saith, and Stewart 2003: 257).

Conclusion and Consensus
Imagine that our alien is given a new assignment to write a short essay on the current global approach to poverty. Going back to Google, it decides that hunger is the absolute core of poverty, from whence poverty lines, profiles, and policies should come--after all, those pictures of starving children always mention “poverty” in the captions. Imagine the alien’s consternation when it stumbles across a “Swaminomics” blog that explores an Indian national sample survey which “put 26% of people below the poverty line,” but counted only 3% as having described themselves as “hungry sometime in the year” (2003).
The source of that blog, an article from the Economic Times called “It’s not just calories, stupid,” gives me a mind to say to Lipton and anyone else seeking one consensual definition of poverty, “It’s not either/or, stupid!” Rather, as O. Altimir shows, “the poverty standard (threshold or line) has two components: the absolute core (universal) and the relative one (specific to each society)” (Boltvinik 2001: 10; my italics). There are holes even in this concept, for there is insurmountable, irreconcilable tension between absoluteness and relativity no matter the subject at hand. Indeed, it’s hard to hold multiple, paradoxical realities in tension. In a word, it’s dynamic. But poverty is dynamic, so any attempt to ignore this reality will result in serious consequences. Just as our alien was unable to feed babies pap, neither can we successfully address poverty when our concepts are inflexible. Hulme and Shepherd insist: we must “move beyond the study of poverty trends to the study of poverty dynamics.” (2003: 420). Lest we get too liberal, it’s helpful to remember that relativists get lost in the google clouds just as fast as reductionists get stuck in the barren mud. Thus, Lok-Desallien encourages “a middle path” to identify “different types of poverty and different policy proposals for dealing with it” (2001: 17).
Ultimately, the concept(s) we choose will depend on the assignment we’re given. For instance, I’ve narrowed the scope of this essay to the definition of poverty, leaving out measurement and policy almost altogether. I’ve forsaken breadth for depth in an attempt to make my alloted 2000 words meaningful. The point of this qualification is significant: by stating my limitations, I clarify my participation in an ongoing dialogue in which countless others have countless contributions to make, both where my own contributions are limited, and where they are erroneous. Since halving global poverty by 2015 requires daily contributions from billions of people all over the world, we best stay mindful of the dialogue’s dynamism. Perhaps only one consensus is essential: life is precious and it is our human responsibility and privilege to fulfill human needs.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Monthly bla bla blog.

Yesterday morning, I got up at 4 am to go to my friend Tasmi's dojo where friends and family were invited for an introduction to Katori, an ancient martial art of the sword. It was amazing. I was amazed at my own cheerful capacity to sit cross-legged on the floor with a straight back for two hours. Ei, Yah, Toh! Yoh, my arms hurt today.

Afterward, we had a lovely breakfast of fruit salad, greek yogurt, muesli, and sushi, yes, sushi. We ate outside the dojo, in a garden full of native South African plants, in the company of some mighty fine singing birds. It was chilly outside and we were bright eyed!

I spent the afternoon back at home in sweats, cooking black eyed peas and finishing a paper on the definition of poverty. If you want a copy of the paper, which has the answers to everything you've ever wondered about, just let me know. But if you read it, all you'll do is shake your head and say, yeah, I already knew that.

At 4, I went to a fellow Rotary scholar's digs for a Soul Food Party (hence the peas), ate some fried chicken, baked mac'n'cheese and apple cobbler. It's stuff we hardly eat at home, you know, but here it opened up that whole soul dynamic in revolutionary ways. I talked about the south to anyone who would listen. If I'da had some beer, they'da been in trouble. I might have started talking music. Well anyways, they all said the fried chicken was way better than KFC (there's one on every corner here in South Africa), which fulfilled Valerie's (the hostesses's) ambition.

This morning, after arriving home from passing out energy drinks and water to 2000 cyclists at a Rotary sponsored bike-race (woke up again at 5), I played ultimate frisbee with some folk I met at the dojo. Two more hours in the zone! My legs are already sore. We had such a good time, we went out afterwards to a Middle eastern place for tea, honey and halva smoothies, and a piece of apple-date cake. The conversation was music, development, meaning, God, books, life. People are so amazing. It's such a privilege to see people, to be seen, to listen and be heard. A conversation is enough, just in itself. A Sunday evening conversation. We're playing again next weekend, and might go skiing in Lesotho sometime soon.

Now I am home and I have lots of reading to do for class tomorrow, but all I can do is listen to music on my computer and write this blog. I don't have much to say, just that I am in the thick of life here, experiencing so many new and different things. Internal, external, all at the same time, and I can't make much sense of any of it just yet. Like this evening's conversation over tea and cake: I encountered some hugely new ideas...big new spiritual ones that made me excited and uncomfortable. Almost everything inspires some level of discomfort. It's hard work to stay grounded when it feels like the earth is shifting underfoot. All humans know this. You don't have to go to another continent, but it definitely heightens one's awareness. Yebo.

So this is my monthly blog. Not all that interesting, I'm afraid. I just wanted to check in and say, Hi, Hello, to any of you readers out there. I love you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Think Piece

I'm posting my favorite "think piece" I've written for Comparitive Development Policies and Problems. I left out the sources for easier reading, but if you want them, comment below and I will post. Also, email me, Katie and Jean, if you don't agree with my family assessment. It's long, but I thought you might like to skim through some of what I'm learning...

My father’s father studied business at Yale, flew a bomber jet over Japan during WWII, and returned home a “hero” to marry my beautiful grandmother, raise four kids, and find great success as a businessman. For my Papa, the Golden Age was just that: golden. Having grown up during the depression, he believed that progress had been made (for good) and that it was replicable the world over. He had seen the shift and was certain that if people worked as hard and subscribed to the same values as he did, then they could achieve the gold/good life.

In his continuing disillusionment--prompted over the years not only by evening news reports of global poverty and strife, but also by my Dad and his siblings who each thought their way, via rebellion or religion, into different ideology--Papa usually decries the immorality of modern people; it’s our fault things haven’t gone well. But some days, when he’s willing to admit his disappointment with his Republican Party’s “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” argument and its contradictory policies that effectively prohibit some people from affording anything but flip-flops, Papa will listen to his family’s sharp and often nihilistic assessment of the world and then he will ask, “I hear what you are against, but what are you FOR?” The rest of us roll our eyes, partly because he hasn’t necessarily conceded the validity of our criticisms, but also because we’re not up for the challenge he has set before us: deconstruct all you want, but sooner or later, you’ve got to get creative.

Many “Development Theorists” today might not like being called as such, precisely because they are against most of what Development (Hart’s big “D”) stands for, past and present. The idea that “things are getting better all the time” has been replaced by post-structuralism’s tenet that “the ability to make things better is the main way of achieving power” by the power hungry. Although critical assessment of development--the “trenchant critique of eurocentrism and power relations implicit in mainstream development discourse” as Aram Aiai puts it--is important, we must guard against what Hart calls the “the nihilism of post-development;” since the world has gone pretty far down the path of eurocentric design, it’s hard to imagine an alternative, easier to throw one’s hands up in exasperation. As we question development in general, we must also renounce “reactionary populism” and any other ideology that ignores the complexity and even the necessity of development--little and big “D”--in the past, present, and future. After all is said and done in the name of critique, you’ve got to get creative.

The authors of this week’s readings rise to the challenge. Rejecting hopelessness and aimlessness in this post-enlightenment, post-structuralist, post-modernist, post-Marxist, post-Washington consensus, post-everything world where “many consider development dead,” they lay bare their criticisms and then ask: well, what now? They use a similar vernacular to describe the direction that takes us from old and destructive to new and potentially constructive ways of life: Liberation! Emancipation! Renewal! (more specifically, emancipation from Development, liberation from the eurocentric model, renewal of pluralistic concepts of development, Liberation Ecology and Freedom-based Development). The terms are almost religious: our Development predecessors and we have done wrong...let us be contrite, let us amend our ways, and let us know liberty! Indeed, freedom from the old ways of living and freedom to live more justly and peacefully require repentance and reform of the old system which has led to more suffering than progress. Christopher Herbert succinctly identifies the grounds for repentance particularly relevant to 1st world developers and their ideologues throughout the world: we must make a better effort at reconciling “the tensions between the desire for unfettered accumulation...and unregulated desire as the origin of misery and vice.” Liberation from the idol of mass consumption is necessary.

There are many things we’ve been liberated from this past century: colonial rule and other forms of political tyranny, economic regulation across interstate and international lines, communication barriers, etc. But as each of these freedoms has proved limited by an all-encompassing subjection to the linear, ethnocentric, modernizing, capitalist definition of development, some wonder if we need liberation from the concept of development itself. While development theorists do pine after a little liberation themselves, the good ones know that repentance is not a rejection of the past, but an application of it. Loathing history demands that we loathe where we are now (and where does that leave us but hell?), so the better option is to study the past, learn from mistakes and successes, accept the present, and move more mindfully forward.

How do our authors suggest that we move forward? Now that we’ve established that from which we need liberation, what are we searching for the freedom to do?

Peet and Watts argue for a Liberation Ecology. Since the global crisis is fundamentally tied to global economic inequality--the same “surplus extraction” machine which has made the rich richer and the poor poorer by wresting capital from cheap labor has also wrung dry ecosystems all over the world--liberation from poverty depends at its roots on liberation from environmental exploitation. Gone are the days that the third world is blamed for desperate, careless use of natural resources, gone is the idea that modernization and development will therefore alleviate poor peoples’ destruction of the land, now is the time to hold the global capitalist system accountable for its’ role, now is the time to reform.

There are many ways to repent and reform: Liberation Ecologists use eco-feminism as a lens to analyze patriarchal power structures (of penetration) and to prescribe more egalitarian, ecologically weighted policy. Environmental historians study indigenous agricultural knowledge--forgotten traditions usually seen as backward--to direct land management and stewardship of resources. Rather than looking for utopian stability in the relationship between supply and demand, theorists cite the “ecology of chaos” apparent in nature’s “disequilibria”-- its fluctuating and unstable seasons, cycles, and flukes--to inform their evaluation of economic conditions. Instead of applying abstract universals to economic and land management policy, ecologists liberate local communities to determine which policies will most benefit their particular eco-system.
What all these strategies have at their core is 1) the proliferation and “liberation of aspirations” from conventional prescriptions for development and 2) a focus on capacity building to increase the number of agents and the power they have to effect change:

"Development can only occur when the people it affects participate in the design of the proposed studies, and the model which is implemented thereby corresponds to the local people’s aspirations...the indigenous people of the amazon have always lived there; the Amazon is our home. We know its secrets, both what it can offer us, and what its limits are"

In his discussion of development as a set of freedoms, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen echoes the sentiment: the aim is not to speak for “sub-altern” people, but to uncover and disseminate existing “discourses of resistance” and encourage creation of new paradigms. Nor are people to be seen as beneficiaries of development strategies imposed from outside, but as agents who determine their own community’s well-being from within. In more general terms, Sen’s theory is that development is best measured by the degree to which people are free to live to their full potential in community with others. Implicit are a set of freedoms from sources of suffering like hunger, poverty, intolerance, tyranny, as well as a set of freedoms to engage in economic, social, and other activities. An individual’s freedom is kept from encroaching on others’ by communal values which are “in turn influenced by public discussions and social interactions, which are themselves influenced by participatory freedoms.”

Freedom here not only influences freedom there, but increases it: for example, freedom from poverty leads to freedom to learn which in turn leads to freedom to participate in the economy. Sen uses this argument to support his contention that human development is not “a luxury that countries can only aspire to once they’ve achieved other measures of success.” On the contrary, by providing supportive policy for basic freedoms like access to education and healthcare now, citizens acquire agency to cultivate greater capabilities in the future. His call for “constructive impatience” is reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr’s cry from the Birmingham jail for civil liberties today! Furthermore, liberty now demands that the means to freedom are just as vital as the end.

Freedom to engage in economic activity implies the freedom not to participate, as well (all are shades of grey). If a monastic chooses to pray 10 times a day and to live a life of poverty, she should be free to do so. Likewise, if a single father of four in South Africa wants to send his children to university, he should be free to cultivate his own personal agency through education, employment, investment, etc, to make that happen!

As Arturo Escobar contends, it is time that we liberate our development discourse to allow for more a pluralistic “re-imagining of the ‘third world’ and a post-development era.” I would add the first world needs a lot of imagination, too.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Thursday, after I did a whole bunch of sweaty-making sun salutations with my roommate, Sarah, and our guest from Grahamstown (originally from Chicago), Alicia, we lay in corpse pose for a good long while. I prayed. School had been overwhelming; I was too much in my head, tense and tired. Too many big questions. Not enough being with the people around me! I couldn't imagine enjoying Easter so far from home. Waaah waah wahh.

After a few minutes of stumbling prayer--God will you do this, God will you do that (ie fix the world), God why is this hard, God, this stinks and I stink (literally and figuratively)--I remembered that Holy Week was hard last year, too. In fact, life was hard last year. Why did I expect it to be any different? And why was I blaming the difficulty on my geographic location? My prayer and mood changed then--when I remembered my faith--and I just said something like, "Hey, I'm trusting you. I don't have to engineer new life. I can't. I'll let you do your thing. Oh and I trust you to show us our part in all of it." I was a bit cheeky, almost testing, but a Priest has told me God can take anything.

Then Sarah and I walked to school for our last Econ class on the ins and outs of pro-poor growth. Is it possible? Does it necessarily require redistributive policy? It's all much more complicated than I used to think, of course. No one has a prescription for engineering equitable growth the world over. That's another cause for prayer. Big time prayer. And then lots of hard hard work.

Friday, Human Rights Day, the three of us got up at 4:30 am and went to an interdenominational Good Friday service at the Durban Convention Center. About 1500 people prayed, sang, listened, and then walked in silence in the cold rain to the Civic Center, where we flowered a cross and rededicated ourselves to loving and serving our neighbor. It was uncomfortable and lovely.

Yesterday was not difficult at all. Easter Sunday was a gift. I'll tell you a little bit, but the pictures say it better. About 15 of my new friends gathered for a "bring and share." The food was amazing, the conversation and love flowed, and I was at home. At one point in the evening, Jean from Serbia said that everywhere he goes, the conversation is about what we struggle with and all that we love--war, the ocean, starvation, anorexia, our pets, global warming, food...and then Nombulelo from South Africa said the Easter message is there in that. We finished all our wine, ate more dessert, and kissed and hugged 5 times over when it was time to go.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Measuring up.

You wake up Saturday morning and listen to the news; it’s going to be sunny, 75 F, with a gentle breeze. You lace up your trainers and go for a run. 5 solid miles and then some stretching before you hop on the scale to see that you have stayed inside your ideal 6 pound range. You shower. You eat your favorite breakfast of yogurt, granola, and fruit, which contains approximately 500 calories, 16 grams of fiber, 14 grams of protein, and a 100% of a bunch of daily vitamins to boot. Later in the afternoon, you go to the movies with a friend and buy a matinee ticket for $7, popcorn and coke for $6 (you usually don’t splurge on the expensive snacks, but you’re treating yourself today cause yesterday, your professor (or boss) gave you a 95% mark on some recent accomplishment), and you watch George Clooney be handsome for a couple hours.

Switch gears. You wake up Saturday in South Africa. It’s going to be a sunny 35 C. You gear up and run 5 hilly kilometers. The bathroom scale reads in kilos. Your favorite breakfast with muesli has 1,060 kJ per 100 grams. The yoghurt has pimarcin in it: you don’t know what that means, and you can’t decipher the daily values. At the movies, you spend R90 and watch George Clooney who is handsome as all get out. The snacks seem a bit overpriced, but you're not sure, and you can’t justify the splurge with the %70 mark you got the day before, cause you are not sure what the grade means.

Which day is better? Can you tell? Is there a measure?

I realized soon after arriving in South Africa that if I was to evaluate life the way I habitually do, then I’d need to learn all the new measures first. It was kind of annoying not to know the nutritional breakdown of every bite of food. Not to know whether the day’s high temperature exceeded the equivalent of my personal death-heat limit, 95 F. Not to know whether my grades in class were poor, average or excellent (refer to last blog). Plus, when you don’t know whether something fits your preconceived notion of good or bad, you can’t very easily categorize it as such. Nice day, awful day? Good Anna, Bad Anna?
After sitting with the irritating discomfort a few times, I felt something else--something a bit edgy, challenging. If you can’t objectively measure things up, you’ve gotta rely on something entirely different to direct your thoughts and actions. Presence, maybe?

If I’m feeling too hot to study, for example, but don’t know whether the actual temperature has surpassed my personal limit (thereby allowing me to take a break), then I’ve gotta pay attention to and trust my sensations, perceptions, and the world around me that informs them. More often than I’m accustomed to, I end up letting myself nap.

I decided about a month ago--in spite of my judgmental, perfectionist tendencies--to intentionally ignore the unessential conversion formulas for as long as possible. This is a good challenge for me, this not being able to measure myself and my surroundings against some standard of merit or demerit. I still don’t know much about my grades, the weather, or the nutritional density of my food. Well, besides that I’m working hard in my classes, I sweat a whole lot and drink gallons (glugs and glugs) of water, and that I’ve been eatin’ good.

I learned a long time ago not to step on a scale. For my own sanity, I look the other way at the Doctor’s office. Instead of relying on a number to tell me how to feel about myself, I’d rather feel how I feel and be with that. What that is teaching me (what all this teaches) is that there’s only one standard which holds up. One thing to which everything else is relative. All the ups, downs, goods, bads, hots, colds, yes’s, no’s, 100%’s .001%’s, etc are held in equanimity by this:

You know what I’m getting at.

You know where I’m headed.


There’s a poem in one of my favorite religious mystic collections that says something like: “Look what happens when love holds the scale. The scale stops working.”

Surely you’ve heard me quote this poem before. I forget and remember it as I forget and relearn--often by way of frustration, sadness, disappointment--to let love hold me and presence guide me.

It’s beautiful here. A verdant veritable tropic haven. The haw-de-daw birds are big and loud. The sun is oppressive. Beach-goers are back inside by 9 am.

I have a test this week, lots of reading, and couple big papers coming up (one on Bolivia, one on basic economics). I’ve spoken with the academic coordinator for Development Studies and he says that since I’m focusing on the 1st world for my thesis, it makes sense that I do the research and writing at home next winter (which means I might be able to complete a masters after all!).

If you want to send me something, send me traditional medicinals teas, letters, and your prayers. I love you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

1 month already!!????

Because I can’t distill 4 weeks of life in Durban into a palatable blog—especially with the number of hours I’ve slept in the past week—I’ll just give you some random thoughts this 5th Tuesday of mine in South Africa.

Last Wednesday, Sarah, Drew, Valerie and I (the 4 current Rotary Scholars studying in Durban) went to Cape Town for our Rotary Orientation. There, we met with about 20 other scholars from the SA to build community, see Cape Town, learn about Rotary in SA, and to get the lowdown on our Rotary commitments for the year. Day 1, we piled into a bus and made our way outside the city centre to a primary school in an impoverished urban dwelling on the periphery (development term)called a “township.” I can’t remember how many of Cape Town’s 4 million residents live in the townships, but the number is astronomical.

So naturally, the students on my bus were more than apprehensive; we were doubtful of our Rotary sponsors’ judgment in bringing group of, let’s be honest here, mostly white semi-tourists—educated and privileged enough to be on full international bursary—into the child’s heart of a resource-poor place we knew very little about. Nevertheless, we got off the bus at MVula, smiled big at the children, and proceeded to have a wonderful, complicated, and at least for me, inspiring and troubling time. After the principal and the head administrator spoke passionately about their 862 children, the stunning choir and knock-you-on-your-ass-you-never-knew-kids-could-be-such-artfully-disciplined-and-soul-moving dancers (accompanied by a young girl, about eleven, on the drums) performed on their cement block stage. I wanted to dance, too--I started twitching shakira style--but instead just teared up a little bit for all the ways the experience fit and didn’t fit my prejudices (think sally struthers type images) about “Africa” with a capital “A.”

After the performances, and after school had ended for the day, we wandered around, talking to teachers, playing with kids. Wonderful, alive, happy kids. I met mPula, a 2nd grade teacher who was understandably suspicious of my motives in being "in AFRICA", who was glad to hear I love to work, love the church, and want to have a family some day, and who looked questioningly at my low-cut shirt. She asked incisive questions about not just my life but my studies. I was so glad. Strong women used to give me a scare, but now I aspire to grow stronger. She told me all about her classroom and her family.

I learned how to say “Xhosa” with the click (click it like your urge a horse to trot and then suck in the “o”). I squirmed with self and social consciousness and YES! broke joyfully into the moment. I sat back and watched my fellow scholars do the same. The kids carried on, shook our hands, laughed and petted our hair, asking if they could have a hair product to make theirs like ours. At first I thought that was just awful, but then I remembered it’s not so different from the way I look at some African women’s behinds and wish I had a product (Bloussant, anyone?) to make mine like theirs.

It was a strange afternoon. Our next visit, back in the City Centre to the Chamber of Commerce’s posh conference room, was strange. Disjointed and strange. When our host told us she rejoices at the sight of a crane because it means development, I wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Development for Whom?” but I didn’t. Besides being a wuss, I’m learning in my studies that that question and its answers are a lot more complicated than I would like them to be. Isn’t it ALL more complicated than we’d like? Thank God that God is not as lazy as I am, and that God creates richness and beauty and even simplicity out of complexity. If God were like me, this world would be a bore.

In Durban, where I live, the townships are not far outside the city, but interspersed within. There is such diversity. There is such perceived (and perhaps (therefore) real) animosity between classes and races. Security systems and barbed wire sales must constitute a large part of the local economic activity. I don’t know if the danger is all it’s cracked up to be, but I do know that just as the feeling of danger is pervasive, so is my sense of community. Just like everywhere else, people smile and greet each other. Ladies laugh at me when I mix up “Sawubona” with “Sanibonani,” which I think mean “Hi, you,” and “Hi, y’all” respectively.

Well, that’s probably enough random thinking for the day. Life is hard here, and it’s good. As to be expected for this homebody, I ask myself pretty often, “and what am I doing here????” I can’t necessarily answer the question now, besides by saying I trust the answers are revealed in a way that’s always surprising, humbling, and more graciously miraculous than I can imagine.

Next time round—and I promise it will be sooner rather than later—I’ll put up some pictures. I love you all, dearly. Oh and by the way, I made a 70% on my first think piece. This grade is noteworthy in 2 ways: I am so much more accepting of my limitations than I used to be!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND there ain’t so much grade inflation here, so 70% is really almost perfect : )

Monday, January 28, 2008

status: email not working, heart working well

Saturday, I arrived in Durban 5 hours before expected, and thank heavens, because that meant I got to eat dinner with my host family and their company. Hillary, my host mom, made roast lamb, butternut squash with cous cous, a cheesy scalloped vegetable dish, and home fries. You know me...this was a perfect welcoming feast, and I drank lots of red wine, enough to help me fall alseep even though I went to bed around 3 pm east coast time. (the time difference is 7 hours).

Woke up a few hours later, bewildered. So I read. Instead of getting angry, I read. Did the same last night, but instead of falling back to sleep, I just read until the sun came up, and then I got up, too, and jumped in the pool. Today, all I've done is fail to set up a bank account. In my continuing bewilderment, and honestly, continuing anxiety, I just pray and read. You know me, same old, same old.

I wish I had pictures to share with you now, but technically, I'm moving pretty slowly. For some reason, my email will only let me read, not send, emails. So please, send them on. I promise I will figure out a way to write you back in the near future.

Hillary and Gussie are funny and warm, their daughter Tracy will be a good friend. Last night, I met a professor from the University and two students--former Rotary scholars who decided to extend their stay in Durban. This week, I'll open a bank account, get a driver's license and car, register for classes, look for an apartment, and go to my first yoga class in Durban with the former scholars. It's hot and very humid here, so I'll be all loosy goosy after just a few good yoga sessions.

I love you all.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Poems, Advice, Goodbye for now, and check out my new haircut!

pics: Becca Atwell and me, Keri Libby and me (haircut by Cregg at Grow Salon in Decatur--he's a friend, and an awesome stylist so go see him.  Prices are very reasonable)

"To do list: Everything! Do it. Do Everything."

As she was leaving my goodbye party last night, I asked Ms. Keri Libby, "What should I do?" She answered, "Everything!"  So, I made her write it down in my little red book.  

Natalie Williams quieted my wondering soul with some words like "eternal commitment is not necessarily the pinnacle of love." (we were talking about you, Don Quixote)  She also gave me a card, which she herself admitted was a sappy vehicle for this poem:

Thirst           by Mary Oliver

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have.  I walk 
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons.  Oh Lord, 
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time.  Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a 
long conversation in my heart.  Who 
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning. 


I love you all so much!  Thank you for being so you and for loving me so me.  Thanks for the sending off party, Becky and Sage.  Thanks for la cena on Tuesday, Justin. Thanks for the dansko's, Libby, I've been wearing them non-stop. Thanks for burning the creme de menthe brownies, Jean.  The temptation to emotionally eat vast amounts of chocolate is a bit high right now.  I drank too much wine, as it was, which thank God helped me sleep! 

I'm sooo excited, I'm literally vibrating.              

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Them good old Gilbert-Lawsons

I didn't ask Elisabeth Gilson-Lawbert and Mitch Gilawsonbert's permission to post this blog, but I will tomorrow night at my goodbye party.  The following is an email they sent out to their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members today.  I was a member a couple years back, and since we're pals, they still keep me updated. If you, like a growing number of people, wonder more and more about where your food comes from, read on.  I think it's plum beautiful!
A little context: Lizzy and Mitch are in the process of moving to new land outside of Rome, Georgia.  They have been married just over 2 years now, and are the proud parents of two bouncing baby puppies, Lou Lou and Smokey. 
January 22,2008
As the hard freezes are rolling over the Chickamauga farm, we are watching the last of the fall crop wilt away. The move has distracted our attention from the old veggie patch as we turn our attention to the new farm. We are sad to say goodbye to this beautiful place that has grown so many vegetables and friendships for us and so many other people in this area, but we welcome a place we can call our own.

Mitch purchased a new (new to us) manure spreader this winter to start piling up the compost on the new land. Watching this manure spreader in action is quite
amazing, and beautiful if you think seeing thick black old cow poop flung into the air is beautiful. Our goal has been to spread 30-50 tons per acre of compost onto our new land;
however, we have met some challenges along the way. Turns out it's not too hard to get the manure spreader stuck during this wet winter! But we've still got our goal in mind. 

We almost have the growing field cleared of the 10-year-old Sweet Gum trees. The field has opened up
a lot since we purchased the land and Mitch has had some great new experiences with a bulldozer. The
strawberries, garlic and spinach are in and making themselves cozy under a blanket of mulch. John's
Creek runs a long border along the field semi-circling the veggies. This new place is on its way to feeling like a working farm and our new home.

Thanks to the help of Billy and Sandra Morris, their kids and plenty of family help, we've almost completed our barn/shed/workshop. All that's left to do is hang the doors! 

As for Mitch and I, well, we're swinging back and forth between the old and new farms, packing up piles and piles of boxes, furniture and LOADS of farm stuff.
We have a little RV that we're staying in while in Rome (nice and cozy) until we can start working on our little house. We're expecting that the house could
take 8 months or more, so we're making ourselves at home in the camper for awhile. Thankfully, Mike Brown offered to give us his camper trailer that is quite
bigger than the one we're in now, so we'll have a bit more elbowroom and can maybe still be talking to each other when it's time to move out! 

We're so excited, though. The new farm is beginning to take shape and we are visualizing our dreams
constantly. We hope to get some berries and fruit trees planted this winter, but with everything else, it may be hard to get the land properly prepped. Next step is to build the chickens a house, the tractor and implements a barn and then start farming (and a house at some point)! 

We hope all of you are having a great winter and had a wonderful holiday season. Keep in touch and we hope to fill your homes and refrigerators full of wonderful
vegetables this year! 

Mitch and Elisabeth

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thoughts, 4 days before departure for Durban!!!!!!

Last night at Sunday dinner, I asked my family and friends to suggest a gift to take to my Rotary host family and club in Durban, South Africa.  I'd been thinking along the lines of Georgia pecans or peach preserves, but Granny had a better idea: "take something of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's, " she said.  Everyone oohed and ahhed in agreement.  I'm not exaggerating--people made noises--that man's commitment to non-violent social change is heart-quickeningly spectacular.  The soul knows a friend like him immediately.  What better way to show gratitude for hospitality, what better way to begin a friendship, than to invoke the spirit of one so devoted to understanding?

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  This morning's Atlanta Journal Constitution remembered King with some quotes and a reminder that "as inspiring as his language could be, [MLK] is revered today because his was a life of deeds, not rhetoric."

"We have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve.  But unless we abdicate our humanity altogether and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we ourselves have created, it is as possible and as urgent to put an end to war and to violence between nations as it is to put an end to poverty and racial injustice."  MLK, Jr. 

I can't imagine the disappointment and disillusionment in humanity that King must have suffered.  He lived in the thick of hate, in the midst of all our worst human habits born of fear and smallness.  But he never abdicated.  Even if he seriously doubted our ability to deal with those habits and structures of power--and who doesn't?--he never ever stopped working to liberate us from them.  His was a life of deeds.

I share King's dreams.  They are big dreams.  Yes, yes they sure as hell are.  I don't know what actions we shall take each day, each moment, to dismantle power structures and redirect our habit-energies of hate and greed toward compassion and generosity, but I do know that constant prayer guides us.  Prayer gets ya meditating on the things you yearn for in the quiet, humble space of your soul.  God finds and gives you strength there.  

You know what I want?  You know what I want most?  For all families, everywhere, to be able to sit down to the kind of meal we did last night.  It was good, really good.  My beloveds, vegetarian shepherd's pie, salad (with hearts of palm!!!), bread, wine, chocolate, cheese, fruit, my great-grandmother's ice-box cookies, and miracles of understanding at every turn in the conversation. I want everyone everywhere to be free, to have the resources, to know the love and understanding and support that allows such a holy/earthly human experience.  

The vision of an abundant table guides me.  I lose sight all the time.  I am disappointed and overwhelmed by the sad realities of poverty, oppression, and war that rob people of security and abundance which allow for nourishment and development.  But OH WELL-- disappointment is just a part of life.  We can't let ourselves be deterred. I'll tolerate most anything, but not abdication.  I won't tolerate it, but I'll do so non-violently.  

Tomorrow, after my pre-departure haircut, I'll head over to the King Center and buy some books and cd's to take to my host family.  As I move through all my pre-departure errands this week, I pray to keep sight of the big dreams.

Holy Creator and Sustainer, thank you for Martin Luther King, thank you for Thich Nhat Hanh (had to get him in there), Charlotte Walters Erickson, and all the millions of teachers--human, animal, spirit, plant, etc--who are constantly pointing to you.