Monday, July 31, 2006

Refugees Taught How to Eat American Food

from BBC News

In a classroom on Chicago's north side, nutritionist Bindi Desai points at a sign of an obese man holding a hamburger with a pained expression on his face.

"This guy is overweight," she says, explaining that this is because he eats too much fast food and drinks cola.

"And guess what happens?" she asks. "Inside his body there are lots of problems."

At a table, a dozen or so refugees - most of them from Africa - sit and nod. Some smile and chat among themselves. They appear to get the picture.

This workshop on how to eat American food responsibly is part of an Illinois state-funded programme to improve the nutrition of refugees who are being re-settled in the land of plenty.

"First we are most concerned about whether they will understand how to eat American food," says Shana Willis, with the non-profit refugee resettlement agency Heartland, one of the project co-ordinators.

"They did not only not understand how to eat American food, but they went immediately to the junk food and it was then that we realised, this is going to have a much more important impact than we anticipated."

Culture shock

One of the major challenges for organisers is to change the way the refugees think about food. Many of the new arrivals suffered from malnutrition and came from places where food was scarce.

Some want to make up for a lifetime in which they were denied meat. Others gravitate towards the fizzy orange drink and crisps, believing they are a great source of vitamins.

And there is plain culture shock.

"I have been here just a few months and its very disorientating," says one man through a translator. "Where will I find dates to break my Ramadan fasting? And, where do I get halal goat meat?"

In mid-western Chicago, the answer is not obvious.

During the workshop Ms Desai holds up a plastic prop of a piece of broccoli.

"How many vegetables do you eat in the day?" she asks the class.

One man says something quietly.

"He eats nothing!" exclaims one woman, giggling - "He eats no vegetables!"

"Oh-oh," says Ms Desai.

Shopping tips

She asks the class how much pasta is in a serving. One man puts out his whole arm and points to his wrist.

"No," she says, "one serving is a cupped hand."

"If you only eat one time, maybe the arm is okay."

Aside from presenting the workshops, Ms Desai pays home visits to help steer the refugees towards smart shopping.

"When they first come, there is a lot of hoarding," she says. "More than they need."

"So I tell them it won't run out - in fact it will spoil," she explains.

Ms Desai weeds through their cupboards, encouraging the beans, pasta and vegetables and discouraging the junk food.

But teaching shopping tips sometimes is not enough. Many of the refugees are living in Chicago's poorer neighbourhoods and they can have difficulty finding healthy food. So Ms Desai also organises grocery store tours.

She says she sees evidence in the cupboards that her lessons are making a difference.


Organisers say the project has been so successful with African populations arriving in the United States, that it will be expanded to incorporate other refugee groups, with renewed funding from the state.

Back at the workshop, Ms Desai is wrapping up.

"Did you learn anything?" she asks.

One man raises his hand. "Eat too much food and you get fat," he says.

"That's right," says Ms Desai.

Another man joins in and says: "Salt not good. Sugar not good. Oil not good. Fat not good. Blood pressure, heart problems. Yup, Yup."

Ms Desai laughs and says: "Very good. You're learning our slang."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Article on PDP

I've posted lots of plugs here for various Daily Photo blogs. Today the original, PDP (Paris Daily Photo), has posted an article from The Blog Reader about his site. Here it is.

I agree with the commenter who wrote that "cultural understanding has been heightened as a result" of the Daily Photo blogs. For me, they are a constant reminder of what a huge world this is and how little I know about most of it.

Take a look at the PDP site if you haven't already, and check out the list of links in the sidebar to DP blogs from around the world.

Friday, July 28, 2006

It's a Japanese Thing - You Wouldn't Understand

from the Japan Times

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

When muzukashii means more than 'difficult'

Special to The Japan Times

I wish I had a share of Google stock for every time I have heard a Japanese person tell me that their language is "aimai na gengo (an ambiguous language)." How did this bizarre notion originate, and why do many Japanese entertain it? And what's more, can a language itself be ambiguous, apart from the people who use it?

Consider the following situations in which seemingly ambiguous words or phrases are used.

You, a non-Japanese, are at a party with your spouse. A Japanese acquaintance is there too, and you approach and greet him. Then you ask, "Okusama wa? (Where is your wife?)."

"Aa, kanai wa chotto (Oh, my wife is a bit . . .)" he replies, nodding knowingly.

A bit what? A Japanese might tell you that there is a definite aimaisa in this answer, making it difficult for a non-Japanese to understand. Undaunted by vague replies, you persist.

"I understand that you like Canadian films," you say. "Why is that?"

"Ma, suki desu ne. Nantonaku (Well, I do like them. Somehow.)"

Somehow? Now how would that be? Still not prepared to give up on what appears to be an exceedingly blurry-worded individual, you home in on him for the kill with a final question, determined to get at least one concrete answer out of him.

"So," you say, squinting piercingly at him, "how about that job for me? Are you going to hire me as your eikaiwa no sensei (English conversation teacher)?"

"Ya (Hmm)," he says, scratching the nape of his neck, "muzukashii desu ne (It's difficult, I think)."

What's difficult? Is English too difficult for him? Now you are so hopelessly in a gorimuchu (fog) that you throw up your arms in despair, smile (which is always a vague way to get out of sticky situation) and make a beeline for the kappamaki (a roll of cucumber-stuffed sushi) on the buffet table.

Now, not a few Japanese will tell you that you have come up against traditional, garden-party variety Japanese ambiguity. They will aver that any Japanese would understand implicitly that the man simply does not want to commit himself as to why his wife is indisposed; that his preference for Canadian cinema is a natural liking, the reason for which he cannot put his finger on; and that muzukashii doesn't really mean "difficult" in that context, it means "No way, Jose."

Be all that as it may, in the above cases it is not the language itself but rather its user that is being equivocal.

I am frequently told that Japanese people share ishin denshin, or a kind of telepathic silent communication. A wink here, a smile there, a bit of tongue sucking thrown in and you've got all the information you need to write "War and Peace." Actually, this facility exists in many cultures.

If there is a difference between Japanese and, say, most Westerners, the Japanese may be more apt to pause and remain silent. A Japanese person may typically shy away from making vehement statements of like and dislike, particularly if they think it might offend someone.

Instead of telling you that you are not going to be hired to teach English conversation, the person uses muzukashii to soften the answer.

Actually, Japanese is by no means an ambiguous language; and furthermore, when two people understand each other, no matter how vague-sounding their words may be, they are communicating in a totally concrete fashion. If non-Japanese do not pick up on the meanings, it is not because the language is ambiguous, but probably because they are unfamiliar with the customs and social conventions of Japan, where enryo (restraint) and kikubari (sensitivity to the feelings of others) are virtually considered national virtues.

A Japanese who answers like the man at the party is no doubt speaking "ambiguously" for a very solid reason. Whether you can guess that reason or not depends not primarily on your linguistic abilities but on how profoundly you understand the speaker's culture, personality and psychology.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Naomi Shihab Nye

I have been reading this wonderful Arab-American poet. I love the poem she wrote about her Palestinian grandmother, called "Stain." It ends with these words:

"What was the thing she never gave up?
The simple love of her difficult place."

Here's something else Nye wrote: a Letter from Naomi Shihab Nye to Any Would-Be Terrorists. I especially love these words:

"Sometimes I wish everyone could have parents from different countries or ethnic groups so they would be forced to cross boundaries, to believe in mixtures, every day of their lives. Because this is what the world calls us to do."

I'm not making political comments on the situation in the Middle East. I'm just saying - human beings on both sides are having their lives torn apart. And it makes me very sad.

As someone else who has a "simple love of her difficult place," I'm crying today for those people.

Americans Stuck in Lebanon Get No Sympathy

In this article, Kevin Sites tells about some Lebanese-Americans who are trapped in Lebanon. I thought it was a heart-rending story.

Then I read the comments.

I don't know if the people commenting on this story are a cross-section of Americans, but I was very surprised by some of the reactions. Many say that those people shouldn't have been in Lebanon anyway. Why not? The country has been at peace for six years. Beirut was an up-and-coming tourist destination - by all accounts a gorgeous city. (See the Beirut Daily Photo Blog for some evidence. You'll have to look back a few days because the recent photos aren't so lovely.) Some comments claim that the State Department has been telling people for years to stay out of the whole Middle East, so whatever happens to those people they just deserve.

The other thing that surprised me was the way many of these commenters assume that to visit Lebanon is to fraternize with terrorists. Some say that these people went to Lebanon, supported terrorists, and now expect the US to save them.

Few of the commenters understand that the people in the article have Lebanese heritage and they are visiting family members. That doesn't seem difficult to grasp. But apparently it is.

As someone who lives in a country often described as dangerous, and a country for which the State Department has a travel advisory, and a place from which Americans have in the past been evacuated, I find these attitudes quite interesting. People have many different reasons to visit and/or live in difficult places. (One comment said, "If these are Americans why the *&^% would they want to live there?") Sometimes people feel that there is work to be done that justifies the choice to live in a place that may not be 100% safe. (Oh, and by the way, a place that is 100% safe doesn't exist on this earth.) Others have family there. Many people were in Lebanon studying Arabic - it was considered a safe, Western-friendly place to do that.

I guess it just amazes me that people have so little imagination and empathy. They see an international tragedy unfolding, and they sit and type snide little comments blaming people caught in the crossfire. This week a child died in a Wal Mart in Indianapolis when a mirror fell on him - immediately people started blaming his mother. Last year when an American family had their children kidnapped, I remember reading a comment from someone who suggested that the children's father should have remained celibate - as though by having children and living in a place where kidnappings happen, he was pretty much asking for whatever he got. Why is people's first instinct to blame the victim?

Actually, I have a pretty good answer to that last question. I've come to believe that many people want to fool themselves into thinking that in their lives they are invulnerable. When bad things happen to others, they like to figure out the reason it happened and reassure themselves that that would never apply to them. That way they can know that they and theirs will be fine.

Come on, people.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ancient Book of Psalms Found in Irish Bog

This is a great story.

Terminology Drift

I went to a teacher supply store today and didn't find much of what I was looking for. Much of what I saw made me think of this quote from the Harvey Daniels book I'm reading, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups.

"In education, we have a recurrent problem that might be called 'terminology drift.' Here's what happens. First, a new pedagogical practice - take 'writing workshop,' for example - is invented, described, and introduced to the profession. There are originators, there are definitions, there is literature specifically describing the practice. In 'writing workshop' the innovation was outlined back in the 1980s by authors like Nancie Atwell, Don Graves, and Lucy Calkins. They identified the key, defining features of a workshop: student choice of topics, a big chunk of writing practice time, teacher as mentor and coach, a process approach featuring formative conferences, using peers as editors and collaborators, helping kids develop a portfolio of ongoing work, and so forth.

Then the idea of 'writing workshop' starts to spread around the country. It gets popular. The term 'writing workshop' just trips off the tongue. It sounds good, current, with-it. Suddenly, there are teachers who call it 'writing workshop' when they assign kids to write a five-paragraph theme on the color symbolism in The Scarlet Letter or a story titled 'How It Would Feel to Be a Butterfly.' All the essential, defining ingredients of true writing workshop - student choice and responsibility, teacher mentoring - are absent; the only ingredient of writing workshop that's present is the name.

Now, I'm not saying that the above writing assignments are evil, wicked, sinful, or even wrong. But they are not writing workshop. And the same thing has happened to literature circles, big time. Today, it seems that any time you gather a group of students together for any activity involving reading, you can go right ahead and call it a literature circle. . . . I try to remember to count to ten when I see the advertisement for another thirty-dollar compendium of handy-dandy role sheets. I bite my tongue during the workshop on 'Infusing Punctuation Skills into Literature Circles.' But while letting everyone have their own meritorious adaptations and second-generation versions, I'm going to oppose severe terminology drift. If people don't know what the thing really is, they can never try the real thing."

He goes on to define, very clearly and appealingly, what the real thing is.

Lots of terminology drift at the teacher store. Lots of worksheets on the writing process and literature circles. And everything costs a fortune!

Monday, July 24, 2006

St. George Offensive?

This is old news, but I just found out about it. Apparently the Church of England is considering replacing St. George as the patron saint of England. He is too aggressive and warlike and because he fought in the crusades, he could offend Muslims. He'd be replaced by St. Alban. Read all about it here. And by the way, shouldn't that be slain, not slayed? ("Will George be slayed as England's patron saint?")

Like most people, I imagine, all I know about St. George is that he slew (slayed?!) a dragon. So I visited Wikipedia and found out more. Interestingly, Muslims have a figure associated with him called al-Khadr. I'm not quite sure what it means to be "associated with him" in this context, since clearly these two men lived in totally different times and places. I've cut and pasted the relevant section from Wikipedia below.

"In Islamic cultures, the figure of al-Khadr (or al-Khidr; according to the Qur'an a companion of the prophet Moses), is associated with St.George, who is also venerated under that name by Christians among mainly Muslim people, especially Palestinian people, and mainly around Jerusalem, where according to tradition he lived and often prayed near the Temple Mount, and is venerated as a protector in times of crisis. His main monument is the elongated mosque Qubbat al-Khadr ('The Dome of al-Khadr') which stands isolated from any close neighbors on the northwest corner of the Dome of the Rock terrace in Jerusalem."

Read the comments on the Daily Mail article and you'll see that plenty of people are not at all happy with the idea of jettisoning St. George. And it also looks as though St. Alban was a soldier as well (Roman). Won't the people fought by the Romans be offended?

Electricity Problems

Oh, guys, I know what you're going through. No fun. And at least in Tecwil, we're used to the power cuts and know how to deal with them. You folks don't have any kind of backup. I hope your electricity is fixed soon.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Reading Harvey Daniels

I experimented with Literature Circles at the end of last year and while they went pretty well, I was interested in learning more effective ways of handling things. So I'm reading Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups, by Harvey Daniels. It's a great book, and it has sparked many ideas for how I'm going to do this next year. I'm only in the 5th chapter, so I may have more to post about it when I'm further on.

Here's a quote from the first chapter: "For the schools with the lowest test scores, the test results ensure that the kids will never get what they need, which is books, experiences, conversations, ideas, interaction, and learning."

Thankfully we aren't driven by test scores in the same way as US schools, but I was struck by the list of things kids need. "Books, experiences, conversations, ideas, interaction, and learning." That's what I need to grow as a person and a reader and a thinker, and of course those are the things my kids need too.

Friday, July 21, 2006

For All Sorts and Conditions of Men

from The Book of Common Prayer

O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; [especially those for whom our prayers are desired]; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Too many bloggers? There are only 12 million!

Information Week has an interesting article about bloggers. Turns out that only 8% of adult internet users post a blog, but 39% read them. The vast majority of bloggers write about their daily lives and don't consider what they do journalism.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Salaam, Mumbai

Back in June I filed away an article I read about Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) protesting being named the world's rudest city. People in Mumbai aren't rude, the residents said. (Here's the full list of the cities surveyed.)

Since then, of course, Mumbai has been in the news for a much more tragic reason, and all the news stories I read after the bombings talked at length about how people rallied around the injured and took care of things. The next day, according to the Mumbai Daily Photo Blog, life was back to normal. July 12th's posting refers to the "spirit of Bombay."

Today, a week after the bombings, Mumbai observed two minutes of silence in honor of those who died in yet another senseless act of terrorism.

I've never been to Mumbai but my heart goes out to the people there today. And so do my prayers.

Working on my curriculum...

The spellcheck suggests that for "minilessons" I substitute "mindlessness."

Um...I hope not?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Finally! An African Daily Photo Blog!

There's now a Daily Photo Blog from Accra, Ghana. I'm hoping more will appear soon.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

No McDonald's?

This link popped up in my gmail account and I had to read it. Are there any countries in the world without McDonald's? Of course, I know the answer to that, since I live in such a country, but I was fascinated to see how long the list was. I've cut and pasted it at the end of this post.

See what a large percentage of the world's population is living without McDonald's? Kind of refreshing, isn't it? Just when you thought we were living in one big McWorld.

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Dominica, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, the Holy See, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, the Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Our summer has been busy so far; my dad has been in the hospital and we have been rushing back and forth to see him. My husband is traveling. I haven't made as much progress as I had hoped with my curriculum guide, my big project for the summer, but I have done some on it. I have been thinking about it a great deal and much of what I need to do is already thought through - now to put it on paper.

Meanwhile I'm getting updates from Tecwil on sick people and political unrest.

I always thought it sounded really cool when an author was described on a book jacket as dividing her time between two places. You know: "Ms. X. spends half the year in Cape Cod and the other half on the French Riviera." I realized a couple of years ago that I divide my time between two places as well. They aren't as impressive as those places, maybe, but it could be said of me: "Ms. H. spends the majority of her time in a developing country and several weeks each summer in mid-America." Or: "Ms. H. divides her time between the third world and the first." Or: "Ms. H. lives on one planet during the school year and another one in the summer."

In any case, I hope all of my readers (all half dozen of you, as they say on National Public Radio) have not abandoned me because of my failure to post. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July

There's nothing like the fourth of July in a small town in mid-America. We watched a wonderful parade this morning, had burgers and hot dogs at the camp ground next to the town to the accompaniment of an assortment of musical performers, and are now at home resting up for the fireworks tonight.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


This morning in church we sang two songs I love. One was Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, which the congregation sang at our wedding. The other was "How Great is Your Love." I tried to link you to those words, but every site I found says, "Lyrics can not be displayed for copyright reasons." They are good, though.

Breastfeeding Links

I'm moving my breastfeeding links from my sidebar. Here are the ones I already have there:

Common Sense
La Leche League

...and here are some more great ones:

Dr. Newman