HAIFA WEHBE

As there isn’t enough turmoil in the land of my ancestors — well, some of them, anyway — a popular Lebanese singer has stirred the stew by including a derogatory reference to Nubian people in the lyric of a children’s song. I won’t go into what the lyric says, but it’s described in a story in the English-language newspaper in Beirut, and that story is right HERE.

Reading that story in the Daily Star sent me on a search for the Nubians, with whom I was not familiar. I found out that the term describes more than two million black people who are concentrated in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. They are one of our links to antiquity, because they have preserved culture and tradition that dates from the beginning of civilization.

 

Photo of Nubian girl from Billy Gamb'ela's blog on wordpress.com

Stumbling across the reference to these people and the information available about them reminded me of an experience we once had while flying to California. On the plane with us were a group of people in rural dress who had coal-black skin and who spoke to each other in a language we were sure we had never heard. When we surmised that one white man was with that party, we asked him about them, and he told us they were aboriginal artists from Australia who were on a world tour with an exhibition of their work. That encounter made us so conscious of how diverse the world is and how little we know about the many kinds of people who compose what we call humanity.

So, too, now with the Nubians. The Daily Star quoted a fellow named Motez Isaaq, who represents the Committee for Nubian Issues: “We are one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. Instead, our image is constantly perpetuated as the uneducated doorman or waiter.” Isaaq gave Wahbe the benefit of the doubt by saying her lyric was offensive even though she may not have intended it to be. And he added, according to the Star’s paraphrase, “that stereotypes of minorities are so entrenched that referring to them in popular culture media is frequently done unconsciously.” How sad and how discouraging, particularly since Wahbe, whether consciously or not, addressed her bias to children.

 

A Nubian child from Billy Gamb'ela's blog on wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

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Kenyan child

KENYAN CHILD ajirifoundation.org

On an unusually warm November day on the usually friendly streets of Frenchtown we were treated to cups of delicious black tea grown in the fertile Kisii Highlands of Kenya. This tea, which is sold under the name Ajiri, is processed at the Nyansiongo Tea Factory, which is jointly owned by more than 10,000 small-scale farmers.

The tea was being dispensed by folks from Upper Black Eddy, which is across the Delaware River from Milford, a little bit north and west of Frenchtown. Sixteen tea bags were presented in a little box decorated with designs fashioned by Kenyan women using dried banana leaves from their own farms. The plastic bag inside is tied with twine – also made from banana leaves – decorated with colorful beads made from lacquered remnants of recycled magazine pages.

None of this is designed to be cute. The box top makes that clear from the outset: “100% of profits support orphan education in western Kenya.”

 

children

KENYAN CHILDREN arijifoundation.org

In addition to proving schooling for the children, Ajiri Tea creates employment for the people of that region — in fact, the group’s literature points out, “ajiri” is a Swahili word, the equivalent of the English phrase “to employ.”

Kenya, like other parts of Africa, is especially beset by HIV/AIDS. Besides costing the lives of adult men and women, the epidemic leaves many children without one or both of their parents, and those family members who are caring for those youngsters usually have no sustainable income and can’t afford to buy the uniforms and books required in Kenya’s primary schools.

The founders of Ajiri Tea and the Ajiri Foundation are trying to change that. You can read about their mission at www.ajiritea.com and www.ajirifoundation.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary’s folly?

June 24, 2009

INUIT WOMAN sciencepoles.org

INUIT WOMAN sciencepoles.org

It was always the subject of some mirth, in the heyday of the Soviet Union, that the name of the most prominent newspaper there – Pravda – meant “truth.” The paper was shut down in 1991, but the name lives on in several forms, including another daily paper and an independent web site — pravda.ru.

I have never seen the newspaper, but the web site, if anything, is worth even more laughs than the old Soviet sheet. While it carries a lot of breaking news stories, much of the content would fit in well at the supermarket checkout line. Among the headlines on the site today, for example, are “Atlantis Found Under Antarctica,” “Russian Scientists Contact Nether World,” and “U.S. Scientists Unveil Secrets About Cities on the Moon.”

GREENLAND ICE MELTING

GREENLAND ICE MELTING

There was also a headline that I found especially compelling: “Greenland to Become 51st State of the United States.” The bulk of the story was about a law passed by the Danish parliament that expands Greenland’s autonomy in a couple of ways related to management of natural resources and foreign policy. The writer was tentative about some of the facts, remarking, for example, that Greenland is “presumably populated by the Eskimos” and that “the majority of Greenlanders are presumably employed in the fish-processing industry.”

One doesn’t have to read between the lines to get the impression that the writer has a low opinion of the native people in Greenland — who prefer to be called Inuit, not Eskimos. The story reported, for example, that “Many in Denmark believe that the Greenlanders are not ready for their independence. It’s not for the high level of social problems, alcoholism and suicide rate. The majority of Greenland’s qualified specialists come from Denmark. The gap between them and the culture of hunters and fishers is too large.” Well, excuse me for living!

The only thing in the story that supports the headline is the last paragraph:

“There is another relevant reason which puts Greenland’s independence into question. The island may quickly become the 51st state of the United States if it acquires sovereignty. The White House has been showing interest in the island since the 20s of the 19th century.”

Where is William Seward when you need him?

Puffin at the westernmost point in EuropeI photographed this puffin two years ago at Latrabjarg, Iceland, which is the westernmost point in Europe. Puffins, as the photo makes clear, are cute. Too cute to live, apparently, because the Icelandic people eat them. The puffin population isn’t in any danger due to this, because the taking of puffins is controlled, and there are plenty of them.

We were talking at a dinner party the other night about the odd contradictions in the way many of us respond to food. I was a good example. I won’t eat rabbit, for instance, for which there is no rational explanation. I would eat game birds that I have not ever tasted – say, pheasant – but I wouldn’t eat a pigeon. Well, for me, puffins fall into that category.

So it didn’t set well with me to read that a visual artist named Curver Thoroddsen has opened a pizza restaurant in a lighthouse near the cliff where I took this picture, and that one of the most popular items on the menu is puffin pizza. Thoroddsen said he was inspired to open the restaurant – which he pointed out is as close as one can get to the United States and still be in Europe – while he was doing graduate work in New York, where there is a pizza joint on every block. I wonder if, while he was in the city, he took advantage of the abundant supply of pigeons.

RONALD REAGAN

RONALD REAGAN

Pretty soon, Americans visiting London will be able to stop by to see how Ronald Reagan is making out on his pedestal. An ten-foot bronze statue of the fortieth president of these United States will be erected on a six-foot stone plinth outside the United States Embassy in London. To make this possible, local authorities had to set aside a policy under which a person must be dead for ten years before being memorialized with a statue. Apparently there is a strain of skepticism in the British, but for this purpose they’re willing to concede that Reagan is not only merely dead, but—in the words of the Coroner of Oz—really most sincerely dead. At the very least, Reagan will provide some company for Dwight Eisenhower, whose effigy stands nearby.

THE CORONER

THE CORONER

This is the work of disciples of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who simplified modern world history for generations of students by declaring that Reagan had single-handedly toppled the Soviet Union. U.S. Ambassador Robert Tuttle, who was George W. Bush’s appointee, was said to have enthusiastically supported the idea before he left office in January, turning the embassy over to a diplomatic staff of the Obama stripe. When the current personnel were asked what would happen to Dutch when the embassy is removed to new quarters south of the Thames, they replied that they didn’t know, because “it isn’t our statue.”

There is no unanimity among the British about this development. David  Boothroyd, a Labour member of the local committee that waived the “sincerely dead” rule, voted in the affirmative, remarking that “you have to set aside your personal politics when you have a person of global importance like Ronald Reagan.” A little further to the left, the Green party chair of the local committee said, “What a ridiculous person to put on top of a monument. … It would be the same as putting up a statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Will they do that next?”

 

VLADIMIR LENIN

VLADIMIR LENIN

I’m not clear on this point: Was Rochelle of “Rochelle, Rochelle” a native of Milan who happened to have relatives in Minsk, or  was she a native of Minsk who had emigrated to Milan? While we’re pondering that question, there is one native of Ulyanovsk – Simbirsk to you old timers – who may be making his own trek to the capital of Belarus that became a household word thanks to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. 

Pravda is reporting that Vladimir Lenin’s mummified body may be removed from its tomb in Red Square and taken to Minsk, where it will be buried – perhaps no longer placed on public display in a crystal casket. As I mentioned here previously, Lenin – whom Pravda describes as the “leader of the world’s working class” – has already suffered the indignity of wearing the same suit for three years, and he’s not in line for a new one ITE – “in this economy.” Now, it appears from the Pravda report, the Russian government – which seems to only half-heartedly revere the old Bolshevik – may soon dispatch him to the republic from which he sprung – and the government of Belarus has said it would be glad to have him. In fact, a monument reminiscent of the tomb in Red Square is likely to be built to receive him.

 

ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO

ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO

The issue of actually burying the Hero of the Proletariat apparently is controversial: the Russian Orthodox Church, for instance, would like him out of sight and out of mind, but the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, says burying Lenin would be a crime. According to Pravda, there’s a strong nostalgia in Belarus for the glory days of the Soviet Union – no doubt among folks with medium-term memory disorder.

MARIA DONATI

MARIA DONATI

It’s only May, but I’ve already chosen my favorite political candidate of this year. It’s Maria Donati, who is running for a seat on the municipal council in Saludecio, a little town in the Italian province of Rimini. Signora Donati is 102 years old. According to a story in the newspaper “Il Resto del Carlino,” civic leaders in the town at first asked the signora if she was insane when she offered herself as a candidate, but then – by their own account – they pondered the ancient motto “Chi si ferma e perduto” – “Whoever stops is lost” – and changed their minds.

Sgna. Donati – popularly known as “Nonna Maria” – grew up in a large family in the Republic of San Marino. In fact, the elected officials in Saludecio now include many of her relatives. During World War II, the Nazis deported her husband, Poverelli Aurellio, to Germany. Although she was pregnant, and although the region was under air attack, she rode a bicycle to the headquarters of the Wehrmacht to badger authorities there about her spouse’s status. They were reunited after about a year.

SALUDECIO

SALUDECIO

The implication of the story in “Il Resto del Carlino” is that Nonna Maria never sits still as it is. She lives with her nephew and keeps busy with cooking and other chores around the house, but otherwise is likely to be off visiting neighbors – and now she will be involved in evening meetings with the other candidates.

Matteo de Angelis, who wrote the story, commented at the end that Nonna Maria’s candidacy shows that “nonostante l’età, tutto è possibile” – in spite of age, all things are possible. Stories like this  always remind me of George Abbott, who died in 1995 at the age of 107. At the time, he was in the midst of revising the second act of ”The Pajama Game,” which he had written in 1954.

“Even at my age,” Nonna Maria said, “it is possible to propose many ideas.” And she might have said, especially at her age.

Ike as in “like”

May 2, 2009

 

DWIGHT EISENHOWER

DWIGHT EISENHOWER

I just finished reading “Ike: An American Hero,” the 2007 biography of Dwight Eisenhower by Michael Korda, a former RAF pilot whose books include a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. This book seemed almost as long as the Second World War, but it provides a lot of insight into the military realities of the allied campaign for control of North Africa, Sicily, and ultimately the European mainland via the beaches of France. 

Korda, who is British, tries to sort out the conflicting judgments about Eisenhower’s military leadership, which varies in direct relationship to which side of the Atlantic it comes from. That’s an interesting point in itself, because what Korda finds to be the key to Eisenhower’s genius is that he was able to manage and manipulate the constant head-banging among allied leaders – Winston Churchill, Charles DeGaulle, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt – who seemed to have few common interests beyond defeating Nazi Germany, and – on the other hand – who had many interests that were in conflict.

Scholarly rankings of the presidents – a pointless exercise in many respects – usually place Eisenhower among the top 10. Korda – while acknowledging several embarrasments and failures in the administration – gives Eisenhower a balanced report card for his eight years in office, but devotes most of the book to Eisenhower’s military career and particularly to the war. He emphasizes a point that may be lost on later generations, namely that as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Eisenhower exercised – and successfully – what was arguably the greatest measure of military and political power ever placed in the hands of a single person, before or since. He acted in some cases – for instance, in dealings with Stalin – as though he himself were a head of state. 

Korda discusses Eisenhower’s analysis of the Korean War – namely that it couldn’t be won without an American military commitment that probably would have sparked another world conflict; his refusal to send American combat troops into what he considered the French colonial war in Vietnam, and his caution against American military involvement in the Middle East – a bitter lesson for Eisenhower himself in Lebanon.

I got to see Eisenhower in person in 1964 or 1965, when I was a graduate student at Penn State. I was working in the public information office and heard there that Eisenhower, who lived in Gettysburg at that time, was going to visit State College to address a group of high school students. Eisenhower was the first person to be protected under the Former Presidents Act, but you couldn’t tell it from his appearance at Waring Hall. I had no business there, but no one stopped me from going in and sitting in a balcony looking down on Eisenhower as he stood alone on the stage talking to those teenagers.

PORTRAIT OF EISENHOWER

PORTRAIT OF EISENHOWER

He spoke to the students about civic responsibility, about not exercising their democratic rights by standing on the sidelines of political life. He was in his late 70s then and had suffered some serious health problems, but he stood ramrod straight with the military bearing that had been drilled into his DNA.  He also had that good-natured ease of manner that Korda repeatedly argues contributed as much as anything else to Eisenhower’s success in the Army and in civilian life.

La dolce vita.

April 30, 2009

VERONICA LARIO   

VERONICA LARIO

The defection of Arlen Specter, the impending confirmation of Al Franken, and the general disarray of the Republican Party all make for absorbing political drama. But for humor, the bunch in Washington have nothing on the Italians. The latest Over There is that Veronica Lario, the wife of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has publicly repudiated what she construes as her husband’s plan to trot out a team of female TV stars and a former beauty queen as candidates in the June elections in the European Union.

Lario, a former actress who knows about such things, said her sposo was exhibiting a “lack of discretion in his exercise of power which offends the credibility of all women.”

And she’s not being selfish about this. “I want it to be quite clear that my children and I are victims and not accomplices in this situation,” she said. “We have to endure it, and it makes us suffer.” (Note to the stimatissima signora, keep a close eye on those kiddies when they’re surfing the web. Some of those photos of you senza vestiti could be counterproductive while you’re protecting their moral character.)

 

SILVIO BERLUSCONI

SILVIO BERLUSCONI

Berlusconi’s version of this is that his party wants “to renew our political class with people who are cultivated and well prepared” — unlike the “malodorous and badly dressed people who represent certain parties in Parliament.” Not that it’s all about appearances – capisce? 

According to The Times of London, this isn’t the first time the two have had – come si chiama? – “political” disagreements in public. Two years ago, it seems, la Prima Donna wrote an open letter to Berlusconi demanding an apology “after he was overheard telling Mara Carfagna, a former topless model and variety show presenter, that if he were single he would marry her straight away,” the Times reported today. Berlusconi did apologize, but he then included Carfagna as a candidate in last year’s national elections, and, when the party had won,  appointed her – no doubt to demonstrate his committment to gender equality – minister for equal opportunities. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

SANDRA DENNIS

SANDRA DENNIS

Sandra Dennis, the actress, once told me about an embarrassing moment she had when she stopped in to see how Valdimir Lenin was making out in his tomb in Red Square. Well, it would have been embarrassing if it had happened to anyone else. I’m not sure – considering the glee with which she described it – that Sandra didn’t enjoy it. She was with another actress, touring what was then the Soviet Union, when they made the obligatory stop at Lenin’s place of repose. As they descended to the crypt, Sandra said, the temperature got colder and colder, giving them a sense of formality and sobriety. That feeling ended abruptly, she said, when they first caught sight of Lenin’s body in its crystal coffin. “All I could think of was Snow White,” she told me, “and I burst out laughing. It was bad enough, but the sound was echoing all through the tomb.” Somehow, I would have expected nothing else from Sandra, who was a lot like many of the quirky characters she played on the screen.
Well, Sandra might have appreciated the following story that appeared in Pravda this week, pointing out just how tough times are:
.
THE BODY OF VLADIMIR LENIN, the leader of the Great October Revolution, will be left without a new suit this year due to the economic problems in Russia . Lenin’s clothes have not been changed after two months of prophylactic measures, although there is a strong need to have the mummy displayed in new clothes, The Trud newspaper wrote.  

LENIN IN REPOSE

LENIN IN REPOSE

Lenin has been wearing the army type jacket for 17 years as his mummified body was resting in the Mausoleum on Red Square . His clothes need to be changed once in three years. Most recent change of Lenin’s suit took place in 2003.

The funding is hardly enough for embalming activities, specialists of Lenin’s Tomb complain. “The state has not been assigning anything since 1992. We live at the expense of the Lenin’s Tomb Fund. Then there is this crisis going on,” an embalmer said.

 

Lenin’s body is dressed in expensive custom-made suits made of Swiss lustrine – the fabric, which Vladimir Lenin preferred when he was alive. The suit has a modern cut, which is still popular nowadays in men’s fashion. If specialists do not change the suit during the prophylactic works, they steam-clean and press it thoroughly: a slight speck of dirt can ruin the embalming effect.

 

Lenin’s mummy has been exposed to biochemical treatment this year. It was placed in the bathtub filled with the solution of herbs that produce the embalming effect. “This is a unique technology. It will help the body keep up its shape for some 100 years,” an embalmer said.

 

Lenin’s Tomb opened its doors for the general public again on April 18. Russia will mark the 139th anniversary of Lenin’s birthday on April 22. A visitor is first shown to the check point in the Tomb, where they will have to leave photo and video cameras, cell phones, large metal items and any types of drinks. Visitors are not allowed to either eat or drink during the viewing. Men are supposed to remove hats. It is not allowed to keep one’s hands in their pockets during the viewing either.