Archive for the ‘Maji’ Category

Don’t leave home without it…

A team, I mean.

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Too many things go wrong on the road. People get sick or turn out to have needs or expectations that we were barely able to articulate ahead of time. Obstacles wave their tentacles until you can hardly think.  Even unexpected opportunities–like waterfalls–knock the day’s plans askew–let alone the day in Maji we suddenly got the chance to jump in the car and galumpf down the road that our family used every time we needed to meet or catch a plane when I was young.

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Ato Marcos

Ato Marcos, one of our hosts in Maji, told Caroline that he hardly notices the flowers around him, and he was surprised to see the artists taking pictures of them. “I thought, if they think this little flower is beautiful, what will they think of nifas bir?” he said to her.  Nifas bir. Gate of the wind.  A spot of childhood nightmares for me.

more nifas bir

It’s hard to capture vast landscapes…how narrow the road is in this spot…how far it drops on both sides.  Far in the distance, you can see a mountain beyond which is Kenya.  You can see down, down into the lands where the Surma roam and where Odyssey I unfolded.

We were willing to set aside our plans that day–a carful of artists–and just go. I got to see what it was like in the artists’ vehicle and how their driver was part of the team, too, used to stopping and having them all leap out and snap photos.

road to nifas bir

Just like in my childhood, the car got hung up on a rock and couldn’t move, at one point, so Stephanie Schlatter and I walked ahead.  I got to see nifas bir through the eyes of a painter for a few minutes.

nifas bir with Stephanie

amazing note

Sometimes a team is hard because everyone’s priorities have to be taken into consideration. Sometimes, though, the team spurs you on and helps you see things through new eyes and gives you courage to carpe the diem and not miss something precious.

artist car

One of the most delightful parts of being on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts is the chance to hang around with fellow writers for 10 days every residency. And in Maji, I got to hang around with painters. I wish everyone the joy of being on a team with artists.

Holding pinkies around the globe

I know to my bones how important it is to be humble and playful as we dance up to the cultural divide and stare over.  Respectful curiosity goes a long way. Calmness goes a long way.  Hubris is a good thing to leave behind.

The community of third culture kids is deep and wide with many things to separate us from each other–but I’ve never met another third culture kid who didn’t seem a lot like me.  And when we talk about respect for other cultures…well…I think that’s really important, of course. But I also think there is a culture of women around the globe. There is a culture of readers and writers and artists.  We  have lots of common ground.

This is an Ethiopia Reads school being built.  It’s a great image for how I feel as I set out for Odyssey II.  Precarious. Hanging on the edge. But aware of those holding my hand.1 foundation of support for building projects

Three writers (one who is pretty good in Amharic), two American painters, an amateur photographer who wants to help document the trip, two Ethiopian painters…we’re going to see what we can do to create our own art together but also to start creating a body of simple, playful, culturally appropriate, local language books that can go into the schools and libraries where Ethiopian kids are just learning to read.

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Stephanie Schlatter, the American artist here, has done a lot of art work with kids in Ethiopia.  As she and I have discussed, visual art dodges the language question that is so hard as we struggle with sharing books.  I believe we will find the shared language of art on this trip and we will come back changed…if nothing else from a week lived off the electric grid.

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Tough team.  Watch this space for more!

Stories circle the globe

http://www.ethiopiareads.org/ethiopian-odyssey-ii  I’m super jazzed to talk with my Vermont College of the Fine Arts students about how to think about the progression of a tale. I’m also super jazzed to see what this artistic collaboration can bring to some very simple, easy-to-read stories that can be used by Ethiopian educators, especially after they’re translated into various local languages.  I created this one from a story that’s told in Ethiopia and around the world…and Noh and Ellemae and I tried to teach ourselves a tiny bit about how illustrators work with perspective. See what you think.

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She talked about flowers.

01 turtle ants

01 turtle wanted to touch clouds

01 turtle eagle

01 turtle touch clouds

01 turtle flying

 

01 turtle last picture

01 turtle goat friend

 

 

And another simple story for Ethiopia

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01 secret what's inside

01 secret jumps01 secret thuds

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Our challenge to ourselves–a third grader, a fifth grader and me–was to think of American sayings or proverbs or idioms that we could turn into simple, easy-to-read stories.  These will be translated into various local languages. And of course part of the collection, ultimately, will be stories made from Ethiopian sayings or proverbs or idioms, too.

The swirl of travel

As my Vermont College semester winds to a close, two new adventures loom in my imagination: the January residency, where I will be leading a workshop focusing on picture books, and a trip to Ethiopia where I will be leading–am trying to invent–a workshop for creating some super simple, playful, patterned, culturally appropriate books that can be used in the Ethiopia Reads schools and libraries.  I’ve been using examples from a project with a school in Tanzania to explain what the end result might look like.  Love the really basic questions that are bubbling in my brain: what is a book; what is a story; what is a good beginning, a middle, an end?  Where do flashes of creativity come from that help us put together essential ingredients in new ways?

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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

Mid June (8)

artichoke

IMG_0932Abundance for all.

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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