Tuesday, October 31, 2006


It's amazing the positive effect of electricity on my mood. We've been having transformer problems in our electricity zone. We didn't have any city power at all on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. (Well, we did get about half an hour on Saturday afternoon.) Then yesterday afternoon it came on again, and we got probably eight hours.

My whole outlook on life improves when the power comes back on. It's funny, because we now have a couple of backups, and we weren't actually sitting in the dark, the way we used to when we first came to Tecwil. (We'd grade papers by candlelight, which isn't much fun. I know, it worked for Abraham Lincoln, but it doesn't work for me.) But it's so much work keeping the backups going. When I got home yesterday, I was handed a piece that had fallen off the generator. The generator isn't even ours; it belongs to our landlady. We've put enough money into it to buy a new one, I think.

But now, city power again! (Well, not NOW - it's been off for several hours. But the potential is there that it will come on again. The transformer is fixed!) Hooray!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poetry site

Here's a poetry site I hadn't seen before.

And here's an essay on high school students as poetry critics. I love this teacher's point of view, and will keep it in mind the next time my students dismiss a poem I read with them.

Nadine Gordimer

I was sad to read this story about one of my favorite writers, Nadine Gordimer, being attacked in her home in Johannesburg.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Nigerians Face Tough Times with Laughter

I loved this essay about how Nigerians, in spite of all their problems, consider themselves "the happiest country in Africa."

Is Vegemite Banned?

In case this question has been keeping you up at night, Slate magazine has the answer. My Dad sent me this article, and ever since I read it I've had Men at Work's song "Down Under" running through my head. That's the first song you'll find at that link. I also found this funny site that lists various ways people have misheard the lyrics, followed by the correct version.

And yes, I like Vegemite. And Marmite too. So there.

Scott Adams Hacks His Brain

Very interesting article courtesy of the ads on my Gmail account.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Boat People

Debbie Woodmansey writes about the boat people who arrive every day in her small village in the Canary Islands. I find it hard to imagine putting to sea in one of these boats, in search of a better life which may or may not materialize.

There are boats, equally unseaworthy, that leave Tecwil, too, full of people who want more than what they can find here. Will they find what they are looking for? Some, maybe. Many will be repatriated. Some will drown.

Literary Mama

Here's a blog I just discovered, and here's the magazine that goes with it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Doctors and Writing

One of my fellow teachers sent me this interesting article, from here.

Creative writing may make doctors better

By Amy Norton Fri Oct 20, 12:27 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Some doctors might improve their bedside manner by honing their creative writing skills, a small study suggests.

Yale University researchers found that medical residents who completed a creative writing workshop felt the experience helped them better view their patients as people, and not just medical cases.

The effect, according to the researchers, seems to stem from the fact that the residents not only reflected on their own emotions and the experiences of their patients, but also wrote it down as a story.

Many residency programs have support groups where young doctors can discuss their concerns, lead study author Dr. Anna Reisman noted in an interview. However, the process of writing a narrative may help residents examine their experiences in a more thoughtful way, according to Reisman, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.

"Focusing on the craft of writing, in other words, provides a means of increasing one's powers of observation and improving one's understanding of both self and others," she and her colleagues write in the Journal of General of Internal Medicine.

Their study included 15 residents at Yale-New Haven Medical Center who took part in a 2.5-day writing workshop with well-known doctor/author Abraham Verghese.

No residency program had ever offered a creative writing course before, Reisman noted, and "no one knew what to expect."

In focus groups held after the workshop, residents said that writing helped them process their own emotions and better understand those of their patients. Their stories' themes included their own insecurity and feelings of powerlessness, breaking bad news, burnout and awareness of "how little physicians know their patients."

In the focus groups, Reisman's team notes, one resident said, "I didn't realize some of the emotions I was feeling until writing it down." Another said, "The act of writing changes the way you look at patients."

One of the goals in starting the writing workshop, Reisman said, was to help residents "cultivate a curiosity about patients beyond their disease."

Though the study couldn't assess whether the workshop changed participants' medical practice, one of the hopes, Reisman said, is that it will help them better communicate with patients.

"Ultimately, the hope is to make them better doctors," she said.

SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, October 2006.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Radio, by A.S.J. Tessimond

Though lots of Tessimond's poems are available on the web, I couldn't find this one. Ever since I quoted it the other day, I have been thinking about it. I thought I had written it down somewhere, and I just found it in a book I've been writing down poems in since high school. I hope I'm not violating copyright, but here it is.


Here is another dream, another forgetting, another doorway:
Sound, to drown the sting of the rain on the pane and the sough of the wind
And the sound of the sea:
Sound, like feathers, to muffle the sound of silence
And the beat of the heart:

Sound to go with you, through the valley of the shadow in the dashboard of the shining car:

The comfortable voice of the announcer purring the ruin of kingdoms,
The fall of cities and the fall of wickets,
The random dead and the New Year knights:

Sound like a sea to conceal the bone, the broken shell, the broken ship.

Uh oh

Now David Banda's father says he didn't understand that adoption was permanent.

BBC Correspondent Visits the Sahara

I just read this fascinating article about camel trains crossing the Sahara. I am always amazed by all the things in the world that I know nothing at all about. When I was a child I loved a poem that said, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." Sometimes I still feel that way!

Still More On Madonna

Here's an article about the children's home where Madonna found David Banda. The statistic quoted in this article is 48 million children in Africa who are vulnerable. "Vulnerable" is a pretty vague term, and I'm sure it includes all kinds of categories. But the people interviewed seem united in a belief that Madonna has done a very good thing for this one child, and that her contributions to Malawi will be a very good thing for many, many, many children. The article concludes, quoting the editor of a Lilongwe newspaper: "I don't know why she picked Malawi, but thank God she did."

In my comments, Jenny (my borrowed view) left a link to an NPR story that was written in response to the hoopla over Madonna's adoption. I very much enjoyed it and so thought I'd repost it for anybody who didn't see it in the comments. Here it is.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Book Buddies

I have a Book Buddies program with my middle schoolers. My seventh graders read every other week with Pre-K and Kindergarten students. My eighth graders read one week with first graders and the next with second graders.

In the way of students their age, some of my kids sometimes complain about this. They have to walk across the campus. They have to read with kids who squirm a lot or goof around or don't listen. (Uh, guys? Welcome to my world!)

Last year I had heard quite a bit of complaining from my eighth graders, and I asked them if they enjoyed Book Buddies time. Mmm, sort of, it's OK, we don't care. So I suggested taking a break from it. No, that's OK, it's all right, we like it OK. They aren't going to be enthusiastic, oh, no - but they like it.

Of course there are lots of reasons to spend my precious class time this way. The younger children get one-on-one time with a more proficient reader, a role-model. We all get a break from our regular routine. Sometimes we do writing activities together or play games that would be hard for one teacher to do with a room full of young children. The kids go through piles and piles of books (selected by the younger Book Buddy) that the teacher wouldn't have time to read aloud. Once the younger ones can read, sometimes they read to the older ones.

But probably the greatest benefit to me as a teacher is that I get to see my kids with new eyes. Sometimes, you may be astonished to learn, middle schoolers can be a bit trying. They are great kids, but do you remember being thirteen? Then you know what I mean. They're a bit self-absorbed sometimes, and they don't listen, and they lose their stuff and leave papers all over my floor. They constantly say things aren't fair and they make rude comments to each other and they come to class without their books and they don't turn their work in. They don't think about consequences, but just do whatever fool thing comes into their heads.

So it's really refreshing watching my kids be the responsible, caring mentors. I love the way they ask their younger Buddies questions, talk about the pictures with them, and rap the stories to them. (OK, that last one gets kind of old, but I try to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, because the kids enjoy it so much.)

I enjoy seeing them deal with behavior problems. Like the time when J grabbed a book from another child. I watched to see if I should intervene, but my eighth grader, M, took care of it just fine. He sternly but kindly told J to give back the book. J did. Later I mentioned to M how well he handled it, and he walked a little taller.

On our way back to our classroom, my kids morph back into their regular selves, but for a few minutes, I have had a glimpse of the wonderful adults they are going to be, the responsible citizens, and the fine parents.

That'll sustain me until next week.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

They're Lying to Us

Have you seen this film? It shows a rather ordinary-looking girl being transformed into a supermodel with makeup, hair, and lighting. And then it shows the technicians playing with the photo to turn her into a goddess who then appears on a billboard.

When my 9-year-old watched it, she gasped and said, "So basically they are just lying to us in ads?"

Bingo, sweetie. I'm glad you learned it young.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Today was World Food Day

Take this quiz to see how much you know about world hunger.

Still Another Madonna Article

After my panegyric to the BBC yesterday, you'd think I would have posted their article first. Of course, it is the best so far, don't you think?

And here's a comment page.

More on the Madonna Adoption

Here's an article from the Guardian, which includes a quote from David Banda's father. (David Banda is the little boy Madonna wants to adopt. So apparently he isn't even an orphan. His two siblings died of malaria and his mother died in childbirth, and he was living in a children's home.)

This article reports on Madonna's purchase of a $9000 toy for the little boy.

And this one says that Malawian law requires potential adoptive parents to live in the country for 18 months. Now THAT I can't wait to see.

(I spared you the link to Boy George saying Madonna is a vile human being, but should you care to read about it, you can follow the link at the end of that last article. I mean, as long as I'm writing about aging pop stars who were shocking people when I was in high school and apparently are still around!)

This whole story promises to become quite interesting. I just hope this child benefits in the end.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Three Beautiful Things

Blogger introduced me to this "Blog of Note": Three Beautiful Things. Every day Clare blogs three things from that day that she found beautiful.

OK, so I'll try it.

1. Right at my eye level on my bathroom mirror is a note on red paper written by my 9-year-old. It says "I love you." And she means me. (And her dad.)

2. I have fresh flowers on my dining room table. We bought them from a street merchant and they make me happy.

3. At church we sang, "All Creatures of Our God and King," which is one of my favorites. St. Francis of Assisi wrote the words. Here they are. (We didn't sing all those verses. Only five. Our hymnbook left out the one about mother earth and the one about death. So I guess that's another beautiful thing - singing five verses instead of seven!)

I Love the BBC

I grew up in a former British colony in Africa. One of my most vivid childhood memories is coming down the stairs every morning at precisely 7:30 for breakfast - we were a punctual family, living in a country where punctuality wasn't much valued - and hearing the words: "Na, huu" on the radio. When I was very small I thought those words meant, "It's time for breakfast." But they didn't. They meant, "And now..." and they were the words used every morning to introduce the BBC World Service News.

That was my first experience of listening to the news. It was read calmly, clearly, in received pronunciation. It was really world news, as in, stories about the whole world. The newsreader gave the impression that he (it was usually a he) had seen everything, and wasn't too worried about any of it, so I didn't need to worry either. History would sort it all out. The BBC could make news of genocide and horror sound almost reassuring. A.S.J. Tessimond, in a poem called "Radio," writes of an announcer chronicling fallen wickets and fallen governments in the same voice. I don't think Tessimond is being complimentary, but I loved that about the BBC.

We were a family of shortwave enthusiasts, and when I was a teenager one of my prized possessions was my boombox that included a shortwave. I remember listening to the BBC World Service late at night in my room. I loved the music request show whose name I can't even remember now, and once they played something I had requested - and I also don't remember what it was! (Sometimes I listened to Voice of America, too, but it seemed more like propaganda. And yes, I knew that word as a teenager. Sometimes I listened to Radio Moscow, but in those days (early to mid 1980s), that was nothing but propaganda.)

I lived for four years in England, and there got acquainted with the home version of the BBC. I loved Radio One, as did everyone my age in the country, and would sneak upstairs in the dorm during lunchtime on - I think it was - Thursdays to listen to the newest charts. I especially loved "Mike Read, Mike Read, 275 and 285, Mike Read, Mike Read, National Radio One!" I watched BBC TV, too - no commercials! How civilized is that?

These days, when I listen to the radio, it's usually the local radio where I live, or NPR, which we listen to online. But you may have noticed, if you're a regular reader, that when I write about world news I generally reference the BBC's stories. To me, the BBC is news. I imagine, as I read, the measured tones of the newsreader on the radio. I have even noticed that I am more likely to believe something is true if it is said in a British accent (I know this is irrational, and an American I said it to once found it downright offensive). I sometimes read CNN but I find its voice rather hysterical and alarmist in comparison to the BBC. I'll always remember those days after 9/11 when their reporters and guests sat around and discussed all the ideas that the terrorists might not have had yet, but which really wouldn't be difficult to do - here's how. If the BBC's message is, "Here are some things we think you should know about, but it will all be all right," CNN's is "Here are some things we're all worked up about and we hope you will panic as well." CNN also focuses on the United States. Even the international edition is definitely geared that way, it seems to me.

In any case, nobody can compare with the BBC. I love their website. I love their helps for learning English. I just love the BBC.

Things that made me smile

It's unusual to find anything in the news that can be posted under that title, but here are two.

First of all, after tragedy, there is forgiveness and mercy. The wife of the man who killed those Amish schoolchildren thanks the community for the grace they have extended to her family.

This next one isn't in the same category at all, but it did make me smile, too. There's a town in India that has lots of problems (actually, probably all the towns in India have lots of problems, but that's another story.) They were trying to decide what they could do about the situation, and then it hit them - they could paint their town pink! So they did. Hey folks, I hope it works out for you.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

African Mum

Eric, at Paris Daily Photo, posted a wonderful picture on Thursday of an African woman in Paris carrying her baby on her back. Take a look. There was some discussion in the comments, including the obligatory remark about how uncomfortable the baby looks. I always got that when I would carry my babies in a sling or front pack. Honestly, my babies were quite capable of letting me know if they were uncomfortable. And if they were perfectly happy, calm, and contented, I assumed they were comfortable. I share the commenters' amazement at the way African women fling their babies onto their backs. I've seen it hundreds of times, and never seen one fall! But I never tried it myself, since I was pretty sure I would drop my child on the floor.

OK, Adoption Experts...

What do you think of this story?

I'm back...

I haven't posted in a while, partly because it's almost the end of the marking period and I have been grading an endless supply of student drafts, and partly because we have been suffering some fairly serious computer problems. I've been trying to keep up with email on my classroom computer but Blogger is so slow on that connection and I don't have lots of time when I'm at work, for obvious reasons. Finally things seem to be working again, though I hesitate to say that too loudly.

In any case, I'm trying to catch up on the blogs and other sites I read regularly, and as I do so I'll post some things that catch my attention.

Below is a great excerpt from an interview with Lemony Snicket. You can read the full text here.

Begin Quote:

AC: Obviously you have a sarcastic nature. The children who are reading your books are at an age bracket at which they're beginning to understand and grapple with irony, the fact that you can say something that's different from what you actually mean. Do you find that when children are talking to you that they really respond to that?

LS: I think that the demarcation of whether or not you're going to be able to understand irony -- the beginning of irony -- happens for people at different ages, for sure, and sometimes never happens, so in some ways, if you want to see whether your child has a healthy sense of irony, give them my book (laughing).

Irony is just one part of it, but I think that as you grow up you begin to look critically at the world and you note the disparity between what people are saying and how it goes. The way the books run is contrary to what everyone says all the time. In many children's books good people are rewarded and bad people are punished, and you see when you are very young that the world just doesn't go that way. I think that's something akin to irony, though it's not a textbook definition of irony. The idea that bad behavior is always punished will begin to ring false if you're actually in a schoolyard.

End Quote.

Ooh, look, there are lots of beautiful new doors over at Doorways Around the World since the last time I checked!

Jenny in Sharon, CT has been posting some fall pictures, ideal for me here in the steamy tropics, with no cool weather in sight.

Hooray for Kigali, Rwanda, which recently got its first public trash cans (or poubelles - sounds so much more appealing in French). We have lovely ones in the city where I live, helpfully installed by a foreign body, but sadly they are not emptied frequently, which somewhat limits their usefulness. Don't you love the caption on the photo of the rubbish heap? "Kigali is reported to be cleaner than other African cities." (There's nothing like being able to compare yourself to others who are doing much worse than you are.)

And finally, to end my gushing post, aren't you thrilled by the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize? I think it's terrific that the committee has chosen to honor someone who has helped make life better in a tangible way for so many people around the world. The "microcredit movement," as the article calls it, is truly a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Teacher Encouragement

This year is getting off to a slow start. Five weeks into the semester, kids are still having trouble with my basic procedures. They aren't turning their work in, and their grades show it. I work all the time and am barely keeping up. I just feel discouraged.

So I really needed to read this.

Thanks, RedKudu.

Monday, October 02, 2006

School Shooting

I've been reading this wrenching story about the school shooting today. At the end of the article there's a mention of the other two widely publicized shootings just in the past week.

I remember reading a comment made by one of the moms from Columbine. Someone told her that her daughter had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her reply was, "No, being in the school library during school time was not the wrong place." One of the articles I read on this story, which I can't find now, made the point that there are no safe places. Really, if an elementary school on a Monday morning isn't a safe place, it's hard to imagine what might be.

I'm praying for those families, for those teachers and that school, and for the family of the man who did this terrible thing.