Book of Marvels
Another White Woman for Obama
Confession: I used the Picassa "glow" effect not to make myself look whiter, but to blend in the shine on the end of my nose.
I meant to write a post like this weeks ago, but never got around to it. Now, it's almost too late since the Ohio primary is in just a few days.
I began to consider Obama as a serious contender about a year ago, when I flew out to California to visit my family. My oldest brother picked me up at the airport and asked right away which candidate attracted me. I just shrugged.
"I'll tell you who I'm going to vote for," he said. "Barack Obama."
Why is this significant? Because he's a Reagan Republican who has voted the party ticket as long as he's been voting, who voted for George Bush not once, but, I fear, twice. He's certainly not a liberal, but he's been an increasingly uneasy Republican. More than that, though, he's repulsed by the endless battling and posturing and sniping in Washington, where differences along party lines mean that nothing ever gets done and when it does, it's rarely the right thing. My brother felt that Obama's natural inclination is to reach beyond party affiliation, beyond the liberal/conservative labels, beyond race and religion and all the other categories that divide us to build consensus and work on this country's problems.
I was amazed that Obama had the power to pull my big brother from the Republican orbit, and I agreed with his reasoning. I've not had any reason to rethink that part of my support for Obama.
Big Bro is still plugging away for Obama, along with (I think) all the other 30+ members of my extended family. For those who slice and dice by categories, we're mostly white with a growing Asian minority.
But I'm frankly sick to death of the slicing and dicing, although I'd plaster a bumper sticker with "Another White Woman for Obama" all over my car if there was one. I have friends who'd be happy to put "Another White Jewish Woman for Obama" on their cars-- that would really bust the categories.
Many people pose this as a historic election where we can choose to put either a black man or a woman in the White House. Many people say that sexism trumps racism in this country, that gender distorts our vision of someone's competence and character more than race does. I agree, and I think the discussion about these issues has been hugely valuable. I know I'm a lot more thoughtful about race and gender than I was just a year ago, and I was fairly thoughtful about them back then. I hope this discussion continues and sharpens, especially around sexism-- the most hidden and pernicious of the isms.
But this isn't just an election about categories; it's about individuals of merit. I think Obama is an extraordinary individual who brings not only civility and idealism but fresh, smart thinking to politics. Remember how the old Washington hacks guffawed when Obama said he would meet with dictators (at least, the ones we don't usually meet with) without preconditions? But why should they laugh? Perhaps this kind of new thinking can begin to salvage our relationship with the rest of the world.
I don't think Clinton is extraordinary. Brilliant, hard-working, adaptable, yes. Perhaps even visionary under that carapice of political machinery. But not extraordinary in her thinking or in her ability to inspire people the way Obama does, from my Republican brother to my formerly apathetic teenaged stepson.
The Bush administration has made a mess of so many things, but the thing that I worry about the most is our relationship with the rest of the world. Obama brings not only his brilliance and fresh thinking and civility to this, but also his category-shattering self: he is black and white, Christian and Muslim (on his father's side), American and Kenyan. He can put a face on America that looks something like the whole world stirred together.
Human rights lawyer Lisa Gans wrote something for The Huffington Post called, "Why I Think Obama is the Best Candidate on Foreign Policy
." It's a great piece and expresses my thoughts exactly.
I can finally wear shoes again, but only loose ones, with the thinnest of socks. So I was rooting around in my sock drawer a few minutes ago, fuming and fretting that none of the socks I wanted to wear have mates. Mateless socks are the damnedest of petty annoyances. How is it that I bought three pairs of the same socks-- hoping to eventually have at least two matching pairs-- but still have only one left?
Then something crunched at the back of the drawer. It was one of my mother's old nylons stuffed with dried bay leaves. I held it to my nose-- and it was still redolent of my last hike with my father, maybe fifteen years ago.
It may have been my first hike with my father, too-- while he exercised vigorously for his health in his later years, I don't recall any exercise for pleasure other than golf in his earlier years, when I would have been around to join him. This hike was in the aftermath of all that--after he had given up his twelve-mile morning bike rides but before he couldn't walk the three steps down to their garage without falling. I was visiting my parents in Santa Rosa and was restless and told them I was going for a walk in the state park behind their house. I asked my father if he wanted to come and was surprised when he lumbered to his feet-- his "big fat feet," as he called them. At that point, I just think he wanted to do anything to spend time with his children.
There was a steep, rocky baked-dirt path down a gully, then an equally steep path going up the other side. I remember turning back a few times in a panic because I'd hear scuffling. I was afraid he had fallen-- he'd had two knee replacements and had those big fat feet and was around 80-- but even though he was doing a little slipping, he didn't fall. He grinned and hummed, as he always did, and kept going. I could hear the wild turkeys that set up such a racket every time my parents opened their garage door making noise somewhere, and I worried that one of the boars that lived in the park might charge us. It was an anxious hike, and I turned us around before we got to the top of the hill. The highlight was coming upon a few bay trees. "We used to put the leaves in our drawers to keep away the moths," he told me. So we stuffed our pockets and made them into two sachets when we got back to their house, not because of the moths but because they smelled so good. After he died, my sister and I cleaned out his closet. I found his bay-leaf sachet hanging on a hook, under his bathrobe, and took it back to Ohio with me. I'm not sure if the one in my sock drawer was his or mine.
It reminds me of a good day, one of the last good days, before so much started to change with my parents.
called a few minutes ago to ask me what I was doing. It was one of those conversations we have where he pretends to be interested in what I'm doing, but I know he's angling for a ride home from work. "Did you go to church today?" he asked. I told him no. "Why didn't you go to church? I thought you went to church every Sunday." I try, I told him, but usually don't make it. And I asked why he even cares when he fulminates so often and earnestly about church, religion, and all related topics?
He doesn't have an answer for this, but I do. He looks like my father, walks like my father, laughs like my father, hums like my father, and tells a joke like my father. My father never missed church. I think that buried in some part of my son's inheritance from my father is the wish that I'd go to church, too.
(The photo is from 1953, when my parents and my siblings went on vacation to Hawaii)
I didn't like these shoes. They were pretty comfortable but not so comfortable that they negated the basic cloddish and ugly factor. I'd slip into them by default because I hadn't found a shoe in this category that I liked better, then wonder why I felt so homely. Years ago, I used to wear my husband's torn leather jacket and a pair of hideous birkenstocks with socks all the time. One day, my daughter looked at me and said, "Mom, you look like you sleep on the streets." I was afraid I was slipping backwards, sartorially speaking, and kept meaning to dump these shoes in the Goodwill bin.
Wish I had! Three weeks ago, I put them in the hallway when a group of friends were here to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As they were getting ready to leave, I got up to thrust the rest of a bag of potato chips upon my stepson so that I wouldn't finish it myself and tripped over the shoes. As I hit the floor, I heard a snap. I thought I had landed on the potato chips. But my foot hurt so much that I pretty much knew, within seconds, that I had broken it.
As a friend pointed out, "The lesson here is that you should have eaten the chips."
So I had to have surgery to screw my fifth metatarsal back together and can't put any weight on that foot for six weeks. Six weeks! I'm kind of like Miss Havisham these days, clunking around my second floor on crutches, from bed to office, with scary hair and long toenails.
So many revelations! Who would think that this tiny little bone could cause so much trouble? When I read the paper now about skirmishes in Iraq and Afghanistan, I certainly have a new appreciation for injuries. A broken foot is possibly the least of what can happen to someone there, but now I know that it can give people pain and impede their walking for life if not treated. The first thing my doctor did was strap an amazing plastic boot on me, with velco straps and padding and a hand pump that inflates parts of it so that my foot doesn't feel as if it slipped into a crack between rocks. It's a brilliant piece of medical engineering and I didn't even have to pay for it; my insurance does. My first thought was what a wonder this boot would be in Afghanistan, where so many people have either historic injuries or new ones from bombs, land mines, whatever. The boot --presented so quickly to unlucky but lucky me--seemed to highlight yet again that terrible gap between the haves and have-nots of the world. I told the people at PARSA that if I come back in the spring, I'm bringing this boot.
I have to wear it for another month. Marvelous as it is, I'll be glad to get rid of it.
See the lake? See the mountains? Or only the moon, which rose like the fin of a golden fish behind the great black wave of mountains on the other side of the lake?
But the sun is out now. The mountains are illuminated, dark where the trees are thick, lighter at the top where the trees taper away and the wildflowers take over, white where the surface is gouged by roads or rockfall. As the sun moves across the sky, the contours of the mountain will change, dimensions will be revealed-- the seemingly flat mass of land rising out of the water will reveal itself as a collection of coves and points, valleys and ridges. The lake is intensely blue, rippled by wind and the wakes of a few speedboats. A sailing school is making its way past my house--nine red, white and blue sails tipped at various unhelpful angles--and someone in a little power boat zips between them, bleating orders through a megaphone.
I just got an email from my friend Linda who was here, at this same lake, until a few days ago. She told me that on her last day, she went hiking and kayaking. That's more physical activity than I've had here in two weeks.
I'm sure that I'll get to that hike or bike ride that I plan every night when I look at the stars (those meteors keep flickering around up there like fireflies on my lawn in Cleveland, no matter what the newspaper says about peak viewing times). Now that all the activities are over--the wedding, the funeral, the family reunion--I'm sure I'll start getting up early and riding my dad's old bike along his old twelve-mile route down the lake and back.
Or maybe not. I might just spend the rest of my time here doing what I did today. I took my coffee down to a chair by the lake-- in nightgown and bathrobe--and finished reading my book. Then put on the clothes I've been wearing for days and went back down to read the latest Oprah magazine. My only concern was the balance of sun and shadow. Enough sun to brighten the page, enough shadow to keep me cool. When I finish this post, I'll go back down and start reading "Jim the Boy," by Tony Earley-- a book I liked so much that I wound up giving it to my mother for a birthday two or maybe even three times.
I always feel a little guilty taking my pleasure this way when I'm on vacation. When the Lake Tahoe marketing people make their ads, they don't show pictures of people wearing their mother's bathrobe, sitting in frayed, faded, treacherous lawn chairs reading the Oprah magazine, rising only occasionally to clatter the lawnchair away from the shadow cast by the pines. They show them skiing or hiking or parasailing or rafting--the iconic vacation activities. I've done all those things (still dream about the parasailing) and I like doing them. An annoying, nagging part of me thinks I should be doing these things, since I can't do most of them in Cleveland. Isn't that what a vacation is supposed to be all about? Pushing yourself into the new?
But a few years ago, I realized that it was just fine to lie around reading, even if I'm in Paris or Kabul or Lake Tahoe. It's one of my greatest pleasures and one that I never allow myself during the day when I''m at home, when I could be working. At home, I could always be working. This is the downside of self-employment.
It's one of my perennial goals to read during the day at home--even on a weekday-- as if I were on vacation.
One last thought before I head back to my lawn chair, pehaps with a beer in hand: in addition to the ideas about daily hiking and biking and swimming that I brought to the lake, I also brought a new yoga dvd. I planned to dedicate part of every day to flexibility. My husband just dropped the dvd in my lap, still in its plastic covering. "When we get back home," he said, "you should store this next to your 'Conversational Dari' dvd-- it's in the same perfect condition."
Maybe tomorrow I'll break out the yoga before my bike ride. Maybe not.
Out of Nowhere
I was sitting here finishing up the day's work when I realized I was singing a favorite song from my youth-- probably of that particular youthfulness at the right, when I was showing off my skirt to my cousin Steven. It was "Winter Wonderland," done now in my dotage with fancy jazz stylings.
I sang the part where the song goes:In the meadow we can build a snowman
and pretend that he is Parson Brown...
But when I was a kid, I had no idea what a parson was-- never encountered the word, I think, until I started reading about the adventures of British children. So I always sang it this way:In the meadow we can build a snowman
and pretend that he is parched and brown...
It didn't make any sense to me then, either-- how could a snowman be parched and brown? He'd melt first. But, still, I have to admire my little-girl brain trying to work some kind of logic into the lyrics, inserting the only words that seemed to fit the sounds. I'm probably--we're all probably--still doing this now, encountering things that we don't understand and finding that our subconscious brains scramble to find a solution, even if it doesn't work.
I don't know if anyone still reads this blog since I've gotten so lazy about posting, but I thought it would be fun to hear other people's examples of this kind of stuff from their childhood.
A Young Afghan Man Speaks
“What is your work here?” asked M, as I was waiting for a ride that never came.
I told him that I'm a writer and that I was in Kabul to work on three magazine articles.
“Are you writing about the women here?” he asked. “Because when writers come, it seems they’re always writing about the women.”
I told him that only one of my articles was about women. And that if he was interested, I’d plug in my laptop and write about him for my blog.
“My story is very long,” he said, but agreed to try to keep it within an hour. An hour wasn't long enough, though-- I planned to sit down with him again and ask more questions, but never got around to it.
These are some of the things he said.
"I was born in Kabul, in Khair Khana. We left the country when I was two—I’m 19 now—and my family went to India. They left to get away from the war. We stayed there for one year, then we came back to Afghanistan for my uncle’s wedding. We stayed here six months, then went to Pakistan. Everyone was still fighting in Kabul. Even if boys were only fifteen, they were taking them away to fight. I stayed in Pakistan for fifteen years...
Afghan men face many problems, but the women can cry and show that they are hurt. The men don’t cry and don’t want to show anyone they’re hurt. A lot of men have lost their wives, their parents, and their children, but they don’t want to show anyone they are hurt by this. My father was hurt by having to leave this country. He loves this country. Now he’s very happy to be back and to find his county is out of war, out of danger. But he is still searching for work. He used to be in the Afghan army before we went to India, but he can’t find work now. So I’m supporting the whole family...
First, I found a job working in the parliament doing shorthand for their meetings. But after three months, they didn’t pay me any salary...then I found a job as a waiter and worked there for one year. I met X in the restaurant and we became friends. She told me my English is very good and asked me what else I had studied. I told her that I had studied MCSE—Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer—but that I hadn’t been able to find a job doing that. I tried finding a job at the NGOs but they said I didn’t have enough experience. Then she called me and told me she needs me at her NGO. Now I am happy with both jobs...
When I was living in Islamabad, we boys would be able to play outside until 1:00 or 2:00 at night, and no one would tell us this is bad. But in Afghanistan, people will tell you it’s too dangerous. If I finish my work at the restaurant at midnight, then I just stay in a room at the restaurant. I can’t go home because it’s too dangerous. The Taliban are still here. You can find them everywhere. I’ve never seen them, and I hope God never shows me to them. There are different types of Taliban. Talib means the one who has memorized all the Koran—so people who are just like that, they won't hurt people. The Taliban who are fighting, they are not human...
I like the people of Pakistan, but not the government. The people are really good. Whenever I go back to Pakistan, I see them and they’re happy to see me. And it’s not so expensieve in Pakistan. Clothes, shoes, everything is very expensive here. Lots of people don’t have enough food for their families—they can eat in the morning, but not at night. It’s difficult to live in Afghanistan right now...
In Kabul, there are now people who have moved here from all the provinces. They are uneducated and they don’t know how to be with other people. Because of these uneducated people, the war will not be over in Afghanistan. Always these people want to fight -- they fight with each other, with Pakistan, with India, wherever. But we can’t find anything from fighting. We have to be like brothers and sisters to each other. Everyone has mothers and sisters. We should not look at each others’ mothers and sisters with bad eyes. "
A Letter From Kandahar
Ever since I started this tenuous connection with Afghanistan at the end of 2005, I've been getting an average of 10 emails a day about what's going on here, either from people with fat distribution lists or from organizations that compile articles from newspapers and magazines around the world. I've found it hard to keep up with all these reports while I'm here because the news is often so disturbing. It's one thing to read about a gunfight among rival politicians near the airport when I'm home in Cleveland, quite another when I"m HERE.
Today, someone forwarded me this letter, below. It's so filled with hope that I wanted to post it. I wrote an article
about this woman last year for Entrepreneur magazine. She's an Afghan- American associate of Business Council for Peace
who has settled herself in Kandahar, the area often called the "home of the Taliban," where the fighting is most intense. She started and runs a business called Kandahar Treasures that employs 300 local women.
Dear Friends of Afghanistan -
Greetings from HOT Kandahar! I have not written in ages it seems, but I was very touched and inspired and so I write. Today, for the first time in Kandahar's history the women of Kandahar organized to hold a special peace prayer at the sacred Shrine of the Prophet (Kherqa Sharif) in Kandahar.
This program was organized by ordinary mothers, sisters and daughters of men who have lost their lives in these unjust times - they have realized that politics, international policies and the current leaders of the country have not been able to calm the situation in their country. They have learned to turn to God to help!
Kherqa Sharif is relatively a small shrine and Afghans believe that the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad is kept here. Every Thursday thousands of women come to pay their respect to the sacred shrine. The women wanted to hold their event at the Shrine because many women would be there anyway - no need to advertise to gather women. Initially the women did not ask the Shrine keepers to allow them in the mosque next to the Shrine so that they could use the loud speaker - but this morning when the women showed up the Mullah's of the Shrine/Mosque said to the women "you are our sisters and we want you to have a nice prayer - please go to the mosque and hold your prayer there." WHAT MORE DID WE WANT??? The only condition was "no children allowed" - which we planned on not having at any rate for the sake of spoiling the prayer rugs (no diapers in Kandahar!) -
So, the women eagerly went to the mosque and for the first time in Kandahar's history women made a presence at a very historic and public mosque and for the first time in history raised their voices through the loudspeaker that reached the open streets around the Shrine for the sake of peace. Many women were in shock and disbelief that they were allowed inside the Mosque!
I am proud of all the women here because inspite of the situation on the ground the women still gathered to show their solidarity and sisterhood in peace. After the event, my staff and I returned back to our office and I asked them what touched them the most about the event and the following are their answers:
"I have never been this happy in my life - today I read the Holy Quran for my brothers in Islam inside a sacred mosque!"
"For the first time in history we have raised our own voices!"
"After the event, I feel like my depression of life has been lifted!"
"Sitting at the mosque and praying with the women gave me courage to become more active. I know now that I too am capable of serving my people and my country!""This was the best Mother's Day gift that I have ever received!" (Today was Mother's Day in Afghanistan!)
Oh, this was an incredible event! It is indeed amazing what a group of women can do when given the chance. I hope and pray for peace for Kandahar and the rest of the world and hope that our policy makers and decision makers can listen to the cries of so many mothers who so passionately prayed from the bottom of their hearts for peace today in Kandahar. One mother said this while crying out loud " please hold these prayers often so that other mothers would not have to live through what i live through everyday after loosing my beautiful young son so innocently!"