Posts Tagged ‘Maji’

Blogging for Ethiopia Reads

I’ve written a few blog posts to share the new bookmaking project with Ethiopia Reads supporters.  The second one just went up today: http://www.ethiopiareads.org/blog-date/2016/3/7/stories

Meanwhile, as I describe where the inspiration came from for these new stories, I am blown away by the powerful example of how Stephanie Schlatter as a painter gets similar flashes of inspiration from the world she sees:

The road between Tum and Maji as we returned one evening last month…acaciainspire2-3616.jpg

And one of Stephanie’s paintings.

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I also was awash with warm memories of the Ethiopia Heritage and Culture Camp near DC as I looked through pictures of the time my son and his wife and their kids joined me.

Ellemae at camp

Noey at camp

Awwwww.  So glad they worked with me on creating these new stories for Ethiopia Reads.

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

Mid June (6)

asparagus

Mid June (8)

artichoke

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.

Happy Earth Day

Ethiopia+78Earth Day seems like a good time to start my new blog thread…going from being a somewhat restless traveler to putting down roots. Literally.

It all goes back to Maji, Ethiopia.Ethiopia+77Since there was no winter in Maji, my sisters and I spent huge chunks of every day outside, exploring. This is an old picture that’s marked “4000 foot sheer drop off.” That was Maji. Breath-taking and stomach-dropping.

Ethiopia+76My sisters and I would tag along after our dad as he went to to one waterfall to check on the ram he had installed to pump water up to our house–it seemed to inevitably get clogged with leaves–or to another waterfall to check on the mill he had installed to grind grain for the community. We made up a game of Water Babies (which I wove into my novel Jakarta Missing) with the curled fern tips we’d collect on the way down and send swirling down the river on leaf or wood boats.

Ethiopia+82Except on days when fog rolled up the valley, this was the view from the back yard. We made up complicated stories using flowers and frogs and ant lions and lizards…all right there for the touching.

02420And we loved Dad’s garden. I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, and this made me laugh…and nod. “Underneath our stylish clothing it seems we are still animals, retaining some vestigial desire to sniff around the water hole and the food supply.”

Somehow in years living in the U.S., where the world around me often felt unfamiliar and distant, a lot of those outside genes had gone dormant. But when I moved to Portland, they bubbled forth.IMG_0196This spring, I’ve been digging a rain garden.

I’m going to write for a while about discovering a back yard. And yes, my writing is intertwined. Both Lanie and Anna have been along for the ride.

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Other people, Barbara Kingsolver says, “fast or walk long pilgrimages to honor the spirit of what they believe makes our world whole and lovely. If we gardeners can, in the same spirit, put our heels to the shovel, kneel before a trench holding tender roots…who’s to make the call between ridiculous ad reverent?”

 

 

 

Following the Big Duck

My dad did not love school.

Harold on Adrian farm

He did not love reading (or at least not until my mom had hold of him for many years :>)  He had a curious mind, though, and a way of grabbing hold of baffling ideas and wrestling them through and then turning his conclusions into stories.  Growing up in a homesteading family that burned sagebrush to keep warm and lived in an house dug into the ground, he was schooled to find practical solutions to overwhelming problems, and he believed solutions could be found, step step step.  Sometimes he found those solutions outdoors.  Sometimes in books.

1 dad as young thing

So I grew up watching him learn to inoculate mules against sleeping sickness.  To hold down a grass roof that seemed determined to blow away in a gale and sail down the valley.  To harness waterfall power for a mill that would grind flour for Maji and also bring running water to our house.  To fly a plane.

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It wasn’t easy when the Big Duck had something on his mind to be a little duckling paddling along behind, trying to keep up, not sure he even remembered I was there.   But from as far back as I can remember, he was always up to something interesting and engaging, always full of life.

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When he came back to Portland, he turned his back yard into a place of berries and fruit trees and compost and habitat long before those things had caught on as good ideas.  I think of him almost every time I have my fingers in the dirt.  I think of him as I find my own path as a grandparent.

Nathan

David 1

Jonathan 2

But he didn’t always have time or attention for us.  His mind was on the big world a lot of the time–and during those years he lived in Portland, he still traveled (a LOT) and asked questions and told stories all over that big world.

reindeer woman

Missing you today, Dad, and thinking about those big old footsteps walking on ahead while I ran to keep up…and mulling all the things that ripple on.  Family connections.  Ethiopia connections.  Stories.

1 Jon with Noh

girls

Inku and beach 017

 

 

 

My backyard skin

Are we inexorably drawn to the things we knew deeply and warmly when we were little?

arialIn Maji, Ethiopia, my backyard wasn’t neat or cozy.  It was full of frogs and bugs and plants that we pulled apart and stitched together in our games.  It stretched outward to that path that led to a waterfall, the one my sisters and I ran up and down telling stories abut the curled fern tips we called our water babies.  We were outside all the time.

1 bek751All too soon, my kids were young gardeners and our back yard had a big vegetable garden that gobbled up hours of spring and summer.

1 weeds (1)When I moved to Portland, I was less interested in a big vegetable garden than in plant choices that would support the lives of bees and butterflies and birds. I turned a patch of grass in front into ground cover and started looking around the scruffy back yard and trying to identify weeds.  This one, I thought, was a charmer.  That was before it started sending its roots crawling and its seeds flinging everywhere.  Oops!

(I must say I haven’t given up vegetables completely.  I’ve grown tomatoes and lettuce and rhubarb and some champion kale here.  This year it’s flowering–still good to eat.)

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Last year, I was a weed dabbler.  This year, I’m obsessed.

In my quest to identify the Big Bad Bully weeds, I found a form on the web and filled it out.  This week, the Columbia Land Trust and Portland Audubon Society will send a volunteer to look at my back yard, help me identify the worst invaders, and come up with a plan for better backyard habitat.

???????????????????????????????I do already have BETTER backyard habitat than I once did.  But one of the big offenders–ivy–sprawls over the fence between our neighbors and us and climbs the neighbor’s trees.  I’d have to take care of that to even have a Silver Certified Backyard Habitat.  A Gold or Platinum means people have “taken heroic measures to remove invasive weeds, increased stormwater management on-site, and created beautiful habitat for local wildlife.”

???????????????????????????????(What is this weed??  I’ll find out!)

I am YEARS from silver.  Now I know Lanie was probably years from silver, too, even if I did give her a great yard.  But my outside genes pull me into the back yard almost every day identifying all kinds of weeds–and looking at them in my neighbors’ yards, too.  Alas.

???????????????????????????????I now know bindweed and toadflax (sigh…I thought it was snapdragon and had welcomed it) and pokeweed (can’t believe we let two specimens get HUGE and grow fat, fleshy roots), and weedy fennel (I proudly asked a master gardener at the farmers’ market what this aromatic herb was) and henbane and chickweed and a bunch of others.

???????????????????????????????And here’s the hopeful thing.  I spaded up a bunch of crabgrass and other scruff in this spot by the street and planted a few steppables last year.  (Have I said how much I love steppables??)

???????????????????????????????A year later, it already looks like this.  Friends of Trees also planted that tree, by the way.

maji514The best thing is that I feel like that shirtless kid again, loving the feel of the earth on my skin.

Brave mothers

Long plane trips between continents…learning how to manage life in Addis Ababa and then in the countryside where (at first) water arrived at our house on the backs of donkeys and cooking was done on and in a wood-burning stove…landing on the hot savannah and standing under the wing of an airplane for shade…creeping up the mountain road squashed together in a lumpy, bumpy Jeep…creating school in a bedroom…like all kids, I never questioned the elements of my childhood.  These things were what families did.  They were what MY family did.

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It wasn’t until much later, when I was working on my book JANE KURTZ AND YOU, that I even thought to ask my mom how all of those adventures felt to her.

small JK&U“What was that first trip like?” I asked.  “You’d never even been outside the country before and here you were with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old taking a ship and then airplanes all the way to Ethiopia.”

She said that the airlines gave her a questionnaire to fill out because they wanted to encourage more families to travel.  What did she suggest?  “A bigger size of diaper.”

She handled each adventure with calm practicality–living in a house with a grass roof and a pole in the middle of the living room–having more babies–figuring out how to bake bread with flour milled down the path at the waterfall.  Adventure after adventure.  She wrestled solutions out and never stopped making puns and wry, truthful comments along the way.

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But why not?  She grew up in a world of clothes made from feed sacks and unending hard work and poverty.  She left home at fourteen so she could finish high school and eventually go to college.  She always knew life wasn’t going to hand her any smooth, clean solutions to any of her dilemmas.   Her younger sister in this photo looks dreamy.  My mom looks wary–and ready for anything.  Not easily swayed.  Not easily bowled over.

Mom with Ruth

She passed on that tough survivor spirit and gave her children lives of adventure, conversation, laughter, and books.

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I’m surrounded these days by more moms making tough, practical choices, including my students in the Vermont College MFA program determined to have artistic lives in the middle of domestic demands or including the moms out there raising money for Ethiopia Reads so that all mothers’ kids will have a shot at education and dreams, including the Ethiopian moms I’ve seen–like this one–determined and hopeful in spite of tough and terrible odds.

kindergarten Feruza at home

Thanks, Mom.  Happy Mother’s Day.

Harold and Polly