Drinking water???

I like global projects that leave everyone surprised and a little more open-hearted.

I am significantThis photo is from a day when artist Stephanie Schlatter and her artist friend Aklilu decided to show kids in Ethiopia that anything can be a canvas–including YOU.

Today my neighbor was telling me about a time when he was a young man in Vietnam and talking to a farmer in a remote place. The guy wasn’t at all astonished when my neighbor hold him that Americans would soon land on the moon. Of course Americans would do that. He wasn’t fazed when my neighbor told him that when he returned home to Oregon, he was going to buy a car. But, my neighbor said, “when I told him that in America we wash our cars with drinking water, he leaped back in disbelief and shock.”

I like projects that illustrate community power–what happens when people put their skills and assets together to see what can be created.

1 empowering women through strong modelsI’ve helped raise money for school building and library planting in Ethiopia. The 2016 Maji trip will be different. I don’t yet know quite what it will look like. I do know that I’m drawn to a project of apple trees planted in the dream that some day apples can be sold to create, oh, a kindergarten, perhaps.

In my Portland neighborhood, the Woodlawn Triangle, we have a Facebook page called Foodlawn where people can arrange to trade food–last summer, for example, I traded tomatoes for duck eggs.  I also got to know a young neighbor who had a large sunny yard and neither time nor knowledge to grow vegetables. She and one of my sisters and I created a community vegetable garden with only three participants–not me, myself and I, but close.

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In my own backyard, I’m creating wildlife habitat. I don’t really have either the sun or the flat spaces for edibles except in pots.

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But three of us in the Woodlawn neighborhood putting what we have together = some new astonishment each time I got there.  This morning, for example…

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almond tree

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asparagus

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IMG_0932Abundance for all.

Catching up with myself

SEEDOn May 24, I was in Washington DC to be honored by SEED for my work in spreading literacy through my books and my volunteer work with Ethiopia Reads.  As you notice, the invitation says the ending time of the event = 12:30 a.m. That Ethiopian oration is not for the fainthearted!  And it actually went until 1:00 a.m. But what a fascinating experience.

1 Dad laughingMy sister Caroline went with me and provided my introduction, mentioning that we spent our early childhood years in Maji. Unbelievably, the daughter of the man who was governor in Maji during those years (shown here with our dad at a celebration of Mom and Dad’s 20th year of living and working in Ethiopia) was in the audience and went over to talk to Caroline. Since my sis and I have been talking and dreaming of a trip back to Maji to work on literacy and solar co-ops that would provide power for the school and new hospital, it felt like amazing threads coming together.

Seeds planted…things go wild!  Or as my sweetie said to a neighbor recently, we don’t have a yard or garden…we have UNDERSTORY.  Bring on the life force!

early May (11)Let it all bloom.

5 Ethiopian traditions that should be brought to America

Jane Kurtz:

Yes! Beautifully put and makes me miss both Ethiopia and my little bit of Ethiopia here in the US.

Originally posted on Peace Corps Passport:

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I’ve been exercising twice a day just for kicks, and when I’m lying on the floor unable to move after an Insanity session, I’ve been thinking about the things that should be brought back to America from Ethiopia. Here are my Top 5:

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Curing the Reading GERM by Jim Bailey

Jane Kurtz:

Ahhhh…this blog fills me with hope!

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

Four years ago I was ready to leave education.  I loved my school, I loved my principal, I loved my colleagues, and most of all I loved my students.  Unfortunately, I was infected with a GERM, as Pasi Sahlberg calls it, the Global Education Reform Movement.  The obsession with high stakes testing, lack of autonomy in the classroom, and general standardization of education was forcing me to reevaluate my career path.  I was most affected by this GERM in the area of teaching reading, if you could even call what I was doing teaching reading.  It would have been better titled, “Accelerated Reader time,” or “Over teaching a novel class,” or “Everyone read the same boring excerpt and complete workbook pages period.”  Whatever it was, it definitely was not reading.  Luckily, several people in my life had also been infected with this GERM and they knew the cure.  They had…

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Stop Making (so Much) Sense by Dev Petty

Jane Kurtz:

Thinking about this as I start getting ready to teach the picture book semester at VCFA…

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

It’s night time. We cuddle up as we always do, and I begin, “Once upon a time…”

Isn’t that funny? Why do I do that? The books I write and the books I enjoy don’t usually start with “Once upon a time” or end with “Happily ever after.” Part of it is just trying to concoct a story, bleary eyed, at the end of a long day. But conventional, fairytale storytelling, the kind with tidy endings and linear story-lines, is deeply ingrained in me and it’s a lot of work to break free from it.

This is a box I strive to think out of. A box built from once upon a times, happily ever afters, dogs that chase cats and princess movies. Even though I was raised in the 70s and had first editions of some truly experimental writing, and even though I try to write unconventional picture books…

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Family on the hot, hot savanna

It only takes me a second or two to bring back the delicious sensations of the hot, hot savanna.

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When I was speaking at an Ethiopian heritage and culture camp this summer, I showed this picture.

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Someone asked me, “But aren’t there crocodiles in some of the rivers in the warm part of Ethiopia?”

Um…yes.

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The savanna meant adventure to me when I was a kid. It meant so many ostriches and zebras that eventually I got tired of looking at them. It also meant family—letting my dad talk us into the idea that drinking hot tea was a good idea even when we were hot, hot, hot.

I’m thrilled to have a new book to share with kids, especially ones who have a heart connection to Ethiopia, because it celebrates both the savanna and the long connective strings of family. And especially one by Toni because she and I have shared so many adventures in writing and speaking and…well…at camp.

Toni

Your new book, My Bibi Always Remembers, is set in East Africa. What is your connection to the region?

Visting East Africa had always been a dream for my husband Ken and me. In 1995 we were able to make that dream come true for the first time. Our 12 year old son, Topher, and the two of us boarded a flight for Kenya where we spent three weeks traveling across the country, seeing its most beautiful sights—the Maasai Mara—its animals…

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…and visiting with the people there. We fell in love with East Africa and promised to return.

The next year afforded us another trip to the continent of Africa, this time a summer teaching position for me at the Casablanca American School in Morocco. Again, it was an amazing experience, filled with adventures in the sparkling white city on the Atlantic Ocean, a trip to the High Atlas mountains, and a train journey across the desert to Marakech. There we lunched on chicken tagine with lemons, olives, and couscous in the home of a rug merchant living in the medina and made connections to people who lived half a world away from us. Again, when we left, we dreamed of returning to Africa.

Two years ago, that dream came true. This time, I was invited to speak at schools in Ethiopia and Kenya. Ken and I once more boarded a plane for the African continent. What a spectacular trip it was, especially because we had the opportunity to visit a country entirely new to us. I spent a week with the students at the International Community School of Addis Ababa.

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While there, we learned the ancient and modern history of that teeming city and then had the opportunity to travel a bit–to experience the Oromia region at Lake Langano with its many playful monkeys.

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One afternoon, sitting on my balcony, I watched while one of these nimble little guys hopped through the window of the room next to ours and came out with a pilfered bar of soap. As always, we left Africa, dreaming of our return.

What about Africa calls you back?

So often, people here in North America think of “Africa” as one big place. But even in my three trips to four of Africa’s 55 countries, I have seen such diversity! There is so much more to see that I believe I will never be done returning to Africa.

The news we hear about this immense continent is often so grim, famine and disease and war. But that is not the Africa I know. The Africa I know is a continent of wonder—of many different cultures and such a variety of landscapes and animal and plant life. It’s a feast for every sense and a rich experience for the inquisitive mind to land in a place completely different from one’s home and yet to find so much in common with the people. I wish that everyone here on my continent could visit that vast continent at least once. My three African animal books, My Bibi Always Remembers, Just Like My Papa, and Stay Close to Mama allow little ones a journey to that continent on their pages.

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Why did you choose to write about elephants?

Just as I love the similarity of people all over the world, when I visited Kenya, I loved the elephants for their similarity to us humans. They live in families.

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They love their babies.

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They travel together, protect each other, grieve the loss of even one member of their family. Every individual matters. So when Bibi, the matriarch, is leading her family across the dry, parched savannah to a place she remembers from the last long drought where there is likely to be water, every member of her family matters to her, and none more than the baby, Tembo, her grandchild. Playful, curious, distractible Tembo fails to keep up with the family on their journey and three times is separated from them. But each time she calls, a family member comes to rescue her—her mama, her auntie, and finally Bibi herself.

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Elephants love each other, just as humans do, no matter where on the planet they live.

Back to School in Ethiopia and always

threegirls021Not long after we got to Ethiopia, my big sister got to go to kindergarten.  Her teacher was so fond of her, she even gave her a lovely, big doll. I was probably mildly jealous of my sister’s having such a doll, but I was REALLY jealous that she got to go to school and I didn’t. (I’m the one holding forth in the red pjs.)

Like a lot of Ethiopian kids I’ve met in the last decade, I could see perfectly well that theEBCEF025chance to sit and read books and learn was something special…and not something everybody got to do.

I wanted desperately to be in school.

determinationOnce we moved to Maji in the southwest corner of Ethiopia, my mom started to homeschool my older sister. We sisters always had great projects going on. (In this picture I’m the determined-looking one on the left.) My mom says that I would ask, “Do I have to go to school?” Since I was only four, she would say, “Only if you want to.” I’d say, “No! Mom! Say I HAVE to go to school.”

I wanted to be legit.

Right outside the fence was a school where I saw kids as old as 15-16-17 getting to to to school for the first time. Very few of them were girls.majischoolMy sisters and I would climb the cedar trees around our house and pretend they were stores. We had elaborate games around pretending that we were shopping or going to real school.

coregoneThis is the year my older sister did go off. To Real School. Boarding school in Addis Ababa. Now I was the oldest kid at home. EAL288

The next August or September, my parents put my older sister and me in a Jeep and off we went down the mountain to get on the Ethiopian Airlines airplane that would take us both to Addis Ababa. Everybody cried. I instantly learned about being homesick. But I also knew that for the first time I’d have classmates. A library. Homework.

Real school.

1 airplane748I’ll never forget standing under the shade of the airplane wing on the hot savanna waiting for the agents to finish their paperwork so we could take off. I’ll never forget the feelings of being off to school.

???????????????????????????????Now I teach writing in an MFA program. VCFA is as real as it gets (although it’s a low-residency program, so I guess it’s somewhat like the schools of my early childhood.) I’ve never stopped being a student, too. Right now, I’m a humble learner about native plants in my backyard and about crafting fiction and nonfiction at my writing desk…so glad for a world that lets me stretch my mind and never stop being curious.

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