Sunday, November 29, 2009

War and Peace Update

This weekend I passed the 800th page of War and Peace. This is notable chiefly because on my last War and Peace post a commenter informed me:

"Like they say, the first 800 pages are pretty slow, but after that it picks up.

Actually, no, it doesn't."

I am enjoying the book, but I have to admit that there are many parts which are quite slow, particularly the digressions on nineteenth century Russian politics. However, I do want to find out what will happen to Natasha. What was she thinking?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Greg Boyd Series

I have been listening to the sermons here. I don't know how to link you directly to the one I listened to today, but if you scroll down you can click on various ways of watching or listening to it. It's called "A Touch of Reality." I haven't listened to all the ones in this series yet but so far I am enjoying them very much. They are part of a series on God's heart for the poor, but "A Touch of Reality" is about people who are invisible - people who don't feel real because nobody ever notices them - and how we can reach out to them. There are lots of ways of being poor.

Saturday Review of Books

Today's Saturday Review of Books is here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Poetry Friday: E-Mails from Scheherazad

After I read The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf, I had to read more from this author. (I wrote here about how much I loved that novel, and how I felt a sisterhood with Kahf in spite of our different backgrounds and different religions.)

I was not disappointed by her book of poetry, E-mails from Scheherazad. From the first poem, "Voyager Dust," Kahf writes beautifully about what it is like to be from more than one place, describing helping her mother wash her scarves:

She'd hold one end, my brother or I the other,
and we'd stretch the wet georgette and shake it out
We'd dash, my brother or I, under the canopy,
its soft spray on our faces like the ash
of debris after the destruction of a city,
its citizens driven out across the earth.
We never knew
it was voyager dust.

Some of the poems are funny, such as "My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears," or the title poem, "E-mail from Scheherezad," in which we learn that she and Shahrayar aren't together any more, but that she is still telling stories; after all...

You must remember: Where I come from,
Words are to die for.

In a couple of other funny poems, she imagines the Odalisques from all the paintings in the museums of the world jumping down and expressing their views about the Orientalism they represent.

Others of the poems made me cry, such as "Snowfall on the Colossal Ruins," where Kahf describes snow falling in Amman on thousands of Iraqi refugees sleeping in the Roman amphitheater

nightly, this winter of the year 2000,
this tenth winter of the sanctions.
The proud, the dignified,
the ones you might have met in gracious homes
by appointment, bringing with you flowers,
fruit, or any small token,
to avoid arriving empty-handed...

In "The Fork in the Road" Kahf explores the idea that the immigrant has to choose between her two homes, either going to Syria to find the memories of her grandfather or to a graveyard near Indianapolis to look for

the little white coffin,
the boy with the blue
Mediterranean eyes,
the one we lost in the new world

and could not stop to find.

She ends this poem with a two-line stanza: "Which do you want, choose./ You only get one journey."

In "The Passing There," she tells about being chased out of an Indiana field by a farmer as she was playing there with her brother.

The man who owned the field was no Robert Frost
although he spoke colloquial. "Git
off my property," he shouted, "Or I'll-"
The rest of what he said I do not care
to repeat. It expressed his concerns
about our religion and ethnic origin.
He had a rifle. We went on home.

She goes on to imagine a watchman back in Syria chasing children out of a vineyard, yelling at them using their names, and

our parallel-universe Syrian selves among them,
hearing their names called among the others,
Yaman and Mohja, running home
and getting there, skin bright, panting,
getting home.

I read this poem aloud to my family and had to stop several times because the tears were choking me, so perfect is the description of being from two places:

My brother knows this song:
How we have been running
to leap the gulch between two worlds, each
with its claim. Impossible for us
to choose one over the other,
and the passing there
makes all the difference.

I think, though, that in spite of all these poems that I love, my favorite is "Finding Poems for My Students," in which she describes choosing poems to read in class:

I run to you, pockets full of poems.
I select: This poem will help you pass a test.
Here is one that is no help at all,
but is beautiful; take it, take it.

She doesn't mind that her students don't always appreciate the offerings she has worked so hard to bring them, because she imagines one day that those poems may resurface for them, and be exactly what they need. As Mohja Kahf's poems have been for me.

I want to quote pages and pages of this book, but instead, I will send you to buy your own copy.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And More Thanksgiving

The feeling sorry for myself theme continued today as I stayed home with a sick child instead of attending festivities as planned. I did get a container of food, including two pieces of pie, so I didn't go hungry. I was disappointed, though.

Still, it was fun to play a game and read with my little one, including that holiday classic Arthur's Thanksgiving, in which we learn that the turkey is "a symbol of togetherness and Thanksgiving" and that "today, when we think of Thanksgiving, we think of turkey." We do not learn much about the spiritual dimensions of the holiday.

I won't deny enjoying the turkey (what little of it I managed to scrounge), but I am glad that there's a bit more to Thanksgiving than that. I missed out on the togetherness this year, too - but God's blessings are still overwhelming, and He is always good, whether I am grumpy or grateful.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving isn't a local holiday, but we do get Thursday and Friday off at our school. That means today is the last day of school until Monday - definitely something to be thankful for.

Mostly I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself, because my family in the US is getting together and doing all kinds of fun things, and I'm not there. So to help get myself in the Thanksgiving mood, here are some things for which I'm thanking God, in no particular order.

1. My family
2. The chance to have an education
3. Plenty to eat and a safe, dry place to live
4. Work to do which, while often difficult and deeply frustrating, is seldom dull
5. My students (see #4)
6. Good health
7. Electricity and running water - not available to many people in this world, even in the sporadic form in which they are available to me
8. Leisure time
9. Friends
10. God knows my name

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Love Lunch!

A friend told me about Improv Everywhere a couple of weeks ago, but it was just this morning that I really checked it out.

Watch this. I dare you to get through it without smiling.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twilight Again

I finally saw the Twilight movie, and predictably, it was disappointing. While I find the books very funny in the way they juxtapose the strange vampire lives with the normal world of an American high school, the movie is deadly in earnest, dark, and brooding. Everyone is constantly sighing and gasping, but not speaking much, or at least not very articulately. In the book we are privy to Bella's angst-ridden thoughts, but in the movie we can only hear her gusty breathing and the occasional outburst of a few (usually inane) words.

Probably the biggest problem for me, though, was that it was much harder to suspend disbelief when the story was in front of me in full color. I could never really lose myself in the narrative. I thought the script was embarrassing in places and everything was so dark - literally dark - so that at one point when Charlie handed Bella an object, I couldn't even tell what it was. It turned out to be some pepper spray with which to protect herself, but it looked like a flashlight, which would have been more appropriate.

I did like the prom scene, one of my favorite scenes in the book because it's so funny, but the humor comes across much better in the book. I know Meyer's writing has been criticized a lot, but I thought the books were very entertaining and quite atmospheric. The movie, in spite of some nice scenery, did not come close.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why they Love Twilight

This just in, from my NCTE Inbox of the week: James Blasingame answers the question.


These are a few articles I've read recently.

Andrew Sullivan wrote an open letter to former President George Bush in the October issue of the Atlantic. You can read it here. It's about how the United States lost the moral high ground about torture. One passage that will stick with me is this one: "Every dissident in every foul tyranny on Earth, imprisoned and tortured by men and women far less scrupulous than you, now knows something he or she never knew before your presidency: America tortures too. What this will do to the march of freedom you believe in is yet unknown. But my view is that by condoning torture, by allowing it to take place, and by your vice president’s continuing defense and championing of torture as compatible with American traditions, you have done enormous damage to America’s role as a beacon of freedom and to the rule of law."

The other two are on a much less weighty topic: children's literature. Both are from the October 19th issue of the New Yorker. (I know, I'm a little behind in my magazine reading.)

The first one is about picture books, and specifically how their portrayal of kids and parents has changed, so that now parents are presented as tentative people, afraid to exercise authority over their bratty children. Most of the books that he refers to I haven't read, since my children are past the picture book stage, mostly, but this is a hugely entertaining article. You can read it here.

The second one is about how (some) YA books are "created" by committees. I found it eye-opening and a bit disheartening. Sadly the article is only available to subscribers, so check it out at the library or I'll loan you my copy if you live in the same country as I do!

Monday, November 16, 2009


Once you've been living anywhere for a while, you get the routines figured out. You have friends, a support system. You figure out how to get where you need to go, how to get your needs met, how to speak enough of the language for your purposes. Things are basically fine.

Until there is an emergency.

In the United States, we're very used to having someone to call when there's an emergency. Even though I personally have never had to dial 911, I know that when I'm in that country, in the event of a fire, or a crime, or a medical crisis, I could, and a calm voice would talk me through what to do. That's not the case in many (most?) places in the world. In an emergency, you find out how very much on your own you are. Yes, we trust God to be with us and He has protected us many times, but human services are less reliable than He is.

When we first moved to this country, an expat church sponsored a seminar to help newcomers learn what they needed to know. There was a lot of useful information, but one thing that has stuck with me even as I hope I'll never need to know it is that if you call the fire department, you'd better call a water truck too, since the fire engine might not have any water. People we know had a fire, and the truck did get there eventually, but not before driving about for long enough that the flames had pretty much destroyed the whole kitchen. And really, you can't blame the fire department, since most of the roads aren't marked.

Then there was a time a friend called us in a panic because armed men were breaking into her house. We called the police again and again, but they never answered. She lived close enough to us that we could hear the shots her fiance fired outside her gate. After stealing many of her valuables, the men left.

But the medical category is the one where I have the worst stories. There is good medical care where we live but you have to pay for it up front, and if the situation is an emergency, you'd better hope you are near to the doctor, because getting anywhere fast is a challenge. I have often heard, after motorcycle or car accidents, "He wouldn't have died if he had been in the States and received care right away."

Now you have a chance to contribute to buying an ambulance for a birth center in Haiti. Although the center is staffed by midwives who are very competent to deliver babies without a hospital getting involved, many of the women are high risk; in fact, many would risk out of midwife care in the States and would have to deliver with an OB. Therefore, these midwives are likely to have to transport fairly often. They need a reliable vehicle that they can fit out with medical equipment. To this end, a team will be running a marathon in Florida in January. Pick a runner to sponsor or just send a donation to the team. You can find out much more, including beautiful birth stories and information about the runners, by clicking the button below.

In an emergency, like a high risk childbirth, these women need help. They are tough and strong and live lives I could not survive, but they need some extra care at a very vulnerable time. Please help!

running for women in haiti

Sunday, November 15, 2009

War and Peace Update

So on this, my second attempt to read War and Peace, I have reached page 505. (If you follow that link you'll find that this paperback book weighs three pounds.)

It is a bit heavy going (get it? Heavy?), mostly because of the often-remarked-upon Russian naming system. Not only does each character have multiple names, depending on who is addressing them, but there are also multiple "little princesses," "little countesses," and "princes" both old and young. I would very much like a chart of who everyone is and how they are all related, but when I began Googling in an attempt to find such an item, I encountered mostly spoilers, which I didn't want at all.

Anyway, the main characters are pretty much fixed in my mind now, and I'm moving forward. Here are some impressions so far:

* The battle descriptions are wonderful. I usually don't like reading about fights of any kind, but these accounts seem to me to have the perfect combination of fear, confusion, valor, cowardice, and noise. Then I love the way the characters later recast their experiences and turn them into tales of battlefield exploits.

* It's fascinating to read about Pierre and Andrey as each in his own way attempts to do good things for the serfs under his care. I could relate to this, not because I've ever owned legions of human beings and had power of life and death over them, or anything, but because our efforts to help the poor are so often fruitless, or bear completely different fruits from what we had intended.

* While everyone says this is a good translation, I am very much aware that I'm reading a translation and that I'm not getting the full flavor of the original. An example is the "religious pictures" which I'm assuming would be icons, and somehow "religious picture" doesn't have the same connotation at all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poetry Friday: November

When I read poems like this one, I give thanks that I live in the tropics, where November is beautiful and warm and I can go to the beach, as I did last weekend. I am happy if this is the closest I get to gloomy November chill. Yet there's something irresistible about de la Mare's melancholy.


There is wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was,
And clouds like sheep
Stream o'er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.

Nought warm where your hand was,
Nought gold where your hair was,
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.

Cold wind where your voice was,
Tears, tears where my heart was,
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.

Walter de la Mare

Here's the Poetry Friday roundup for today.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Theme Day - Doorways

It's the first day of November, and the DP Blog theme for this month is Doorways. You can see thumbnails here. As the poem I posted on Friday shows, you never can predict what will come through a door!