Thursday, April 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy 4: Happy, Joyous, and Free


A happy couple in Nazret, Ethiopia. September, 2006.
A happy couple in Nazret, Ethiopia. September, 2006.


We are not a glum lot

I'm not an alcoholic, but I am in a 12-step fellowship that uses the Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book. In that Big Book are some of my favorite phrases: 

But we aren’t a glum lot.  ... We absolutely insist on enjoying life.  We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s troubles on our shoulders. ...  So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for use­fulness.  

We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free.

This, too, shall pass

In the 12-step universe there is a slogan we lean on when we encounter one of life's storms: This, too, shall pass. 

But the slogan also applies to sunny days, when everything seems to go right. Because they, too, shall pass. 

So I'd better savor the flavor of today's sweet air.



On joy so far



Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Missouri: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 8888: A Haircut


The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.
The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.


I got my hair cut the day before my mother's funeral last week.

It was my first haircut since March 2020. Back then, the possibility of a COVID clamp-down in Tucson loomed and I thought I'd better get scissored before that happened. If that happened.

To get my hair cut this month wasn't my Plan A.

My Plan A was to wait until the beginning of May when I would visit my mom for a week. My Plan A was to walk in to my mom's house with my hair at a length it hadn't been in decades. My Plan A was to take pleasure in these three moments with my mom:

  1. Anticipation of the verdict she would render when she saw my hair
  2. The actual verdict
  3. My first flush of response to her verdict

Her judgment could go either way, and I knew it would give her a moment's pleasure, as well, to see something unexpected and to express an opinion about it. 

And then I'd get my hair cut. 

I looked forward to that May haircut - more than a year after the last - because my hair doesn't do well long. I inherited my mom's hair texture. It's fine and on the thin side, so the adjective to describe my hair when it's long is lank and not lush

But Plan A fell by the wayside.

Instead, the day before my mom's funeral I went to a hair salon in my old neighborhood. 

I arrived before the salon opened to avoid any hair cutting rushes later in the morning. There was one man already there with the same idea. 

The three stylists on duty wore masks, as did I. 

It felt safe to be there; I relaxed into the cutting experience. 

It felt good to have a fresh cut the day before I saw my mom, to say good-bye. 

My mom's shining white hair, when I saw it the next day, looked freshly cut, too. Pretty. Except there were two strands slightly askew on her forehead. I tried to guide the strands - lightly, gently - into place, but there was some sort of product on her hair that resisted movement, so I let them be. 


Monday, March 29, 2021

Rootless: The Last Monday Letter


Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.
Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.

Dear Mom, 

I've written you a letter almost every Monday since mid-December 2018. 

In that first weekly letter, I was at the end of an interregnum Missouri visit, about to depart for a Christmas-New Year layover in South Louisiana before heading westward to my next tourist-in-residency --> Tucson.  

When I wrote you that letter, I still had my 1995 Toyota Camry. When I wrote you that letter, I didn't know that, two weeks later, I would say good-bye forever to that sturdy stalwart of my rootless life.

It looks like this will be my last Monday letter to you, and I'm putting it here, seeing as how you don't live at Carol Cottage anymore, seeing as how you've died, of course. You, too, were a sturdy stalwart in my life. I think you'd chuckle at being compared to a car. Or you'd be annoyed. 

Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.
Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.

So let me tell you about your funeral and burial.  It was everything you'd asked for.

You lay in your casket in a long-sleeved, white cotton nightgown. White-thread embroidery just below the neckline, a band of hand-stitched eyelets below the neckline, a pleated bodice. Pretty details, yet still in the range one can call simple. Exactly your style.

The James Lee Burke book, Pegasus Descending, featuring our mutual hero, Dave Robicheaux, rested on your belly, propped against the open half-lid of the casket. You had a perverse fondness for Dave's violent, psychopathic side-kick, Clete Purvis. 

As you'd asked, we ordered your casket from an online supplier and had it shipped to the funeral home to side-step the markup costs assessed by funeral homes for their caskets. We selected a poplar casket in a cherry finish that, like your nightgown, had pleasing details of interest, but overall, evoked the comfortable warmth and intimacy of your living room. And, gosh, did you know you can buy a casket at Costco? We chose yours from a different company, but knowing Costco's got caskets is something to tuck away for future reference.

As for how you looked in the casket, you didn't just "look good" like in the cliche about such things. You were beautiful. Astonishingly so. I'm serious, Mom. Even your nails were manicured and polished (with the barest of pink blush), just as you would like. And you wore the exact right shade of lipstick for your complexion. I'm not saying you looked beautiful "for your age," a woman of 91. No, you were beautiful in that casket irrespective of age. 

You wanted Ave Maria sung at your funeral. The soloist, a young woman, sang it to you, to us, in a clear, warm, mezzo-soprano voice, from the balcony behind us. The notes of that transcendent song washed over me.

Your Ave Maria was gorgeous. But when the young singer began to serenade you with Amazing Grace while your descendants escorted you from the altar to the waiting funeral car, well, that took my breath away.   



The car procession that followed you to the cemetery ... an unremarkable journey. 

No Fellini-esque plot twists on the way, as happened after your brother, Clement's, funeral. Remember? When dozens of us, including you and Dad, idled outside the church, seemingly forever, waiting for the priest to lead the vehicular cavalry? And when you asked the funeral director what was taking so long for us to get started, he conjectured that maybe the priest was eating a sandwich. 

We eventually did get going, one car following another, as they do in a funeral procession. We seemed to drive a long time, first on a congested arterial road, then on the highway, then off the highway onto another arterial road and then, oddly, the funeral car took a right turn onto a small side street. A dead-end, in fact. We followed, of course, only to understand that the funeral car driver had taken a wrong turn somewhere and he'd only entered this street so he could turn around (turn all of us around) and get onto the right path. Remember how we all poked our vehicles' noses into residents' driveways so we could then back up and restore our places in line behind the retreating funeral car?

There had been so much idling in front of the church before getting underway that your youngest child had to pull out of the funeral procession so he could gas up his truck before he ran out of fuel.

Oh, what a dramatic third act that was!

But getting back to your memorial day. It had rained earlier, but the rain abated for the final stop of our long good-bye to you. Chilly, though. If you'd been among us en vivo, at the cemetery, under the final-words canopy, you'd have been rolling your eyes and sighing while the priest used his bully pulpit to convince us of how fun it is to be in heaven. Me, I just shivered in the cold and waited impatiently for him to cut the commercial and get back to the program: you

Daughter Kit had a mission to visit Dad's grave (where you were about to join him) and her paternal grandfather's grave. She'd already obtained their grave 'addresses' and their locations on the cemetery map, and following your closing ceremony under the canopy, she and her family and I drove to Dad's cemetery neighborhood. 

So it was that we came upon the newly dug grave, into which you would be interred. We watched while the cemetery crew brought you to the grave in, let's call it a carriage, albeit a humble, utilitarian one. We watched how the crew pulled your casket from the carriage, centered you into a harness of sorts, and carefully lowered you into your grave with straps and winches, guiding your slow descent by hand. 

You would have been quite interested in watching this process. 

It felt good to be with you in your most final of final moments.

OK, then. This is my last Monday letter, Mom.




Related posts


Post office and cows, Topawa, Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. July 2019.
Post office and cows, Topawa, Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. July 2019.



Saturday, March 13, 2021

Rootless Relocation: Where Next for 2021-2022?



Paths in Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.
Paths crossing in Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.


Where will I land for 2021-2022?

As Bones said long ago: " ignorance, I await my own surprise."

At the top of my short list - today - is New Orleans. It's where I might be right now, if it weren't for COVID's rude trespass onto our planet. 

This winter's cold has me longing for balmy places next year. Consequently, warm whispers from surprising places are in my ear.

  1. Miami
  2. Pascagoula, Mississippi

The borderlands continue to call me. Specifically, the US side of Tijuana. 

Or maybe this will be the year I go international. 

Also a mystery is what I'll do during my annual relocation intermission. 

 In past times: 

Under consideration for this year's intermission, all dependent on COVID, are: 

  • A trip to a Big City with one of my descendants. New York City is our Plan A. Toronto is our Plan B.
  • A month's stay in an international location. China, Vietnam, and South Korea are on my mind, influenced by my English-learner students. From today's perspective, however, none of these destinations appear realistic for at least six months. 
  • New Mexico and El Paso.
  • Wild card - some place or activity that hasn't yet hit my imagination.

A time in Missouri with family and friends is a given, with bases at Chez Katherine and Carol Cottage

Other times when I awaited my own surprise


Monday, March 8, 2021

Alabama: De Soto State Park: Trail Markers for People Like Me


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

COVID and a cold winter has made me sluggish in Alabama. 

Although my departure from Birmingham looms in June, I have visited only two state parks. 

To have any hope of achieving my goal of visiting all of Alabama's state parks, I better get crack-a-lackin'. 


De Soto State Park

I chose De Soto State Park as my third state park destination (after Tannehill Iron Works Historic State Park and Oak Mountain State Park).

I packed my lunch - a spinach/orange/mushroom salad + roast potato + roast chicken breast - and ate it in the parking lot outside the park's country store, before walking the 2.78-mile loop hike to Laurel and Lost Falls, which traversed along sections of the blue and orange trails.


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

It was a battery-charging sort of day to spend in the woods: sunny and brisk.  

Trail markers for people like me

Oh, the glory of the oranges! The blues! The reds!

Not spring colors, but trail markers! 

No befuddlement for this hiker! No getting lost! 

'twas a magnificent thing. 

De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

In the photo above, you can see three (three!) orange trail markers! These trail builders and maintainers; they are my people. 

Before the park: my Alabama blue mask mission

Less than two hours away from my Birmingham base, De Soto State Park was so close to the Tennessee and Georgia borders, it meant that ..... yes, there could well be, also nearby, an Alabama Welcome Center with the soft, robin's egg blue masks

Screenshot, De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
Screenshot, De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

I decided to shoot up to Georgia before hitting the park, then U back into Alabama to recon the southbound I-59 Welcome Center for blue masks. 

Quarry found! I bagged a blue mask for me and a blue mask for my imaginary, strong-but-silent-type husband, who lovingly awaited me in the car. 

(I'd had a thought that maybe Georgia offered its own state mask, but after driving about 10 miles or so into Georgia, and seeing no evidence of a welcome center, I abandoned that adventure.)

Blue Alabama masks captured and contained, I headed next to the park for my picnic lunch and afternoon hike. 


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

Nearabouts De Soto State Park

Cool nature-y spots abound in Alabama's northeast sector, and Fort Payne is a touristic center of same. De Kalb County, Fort Payne's home, is "Seven Hundred and Eighty-Four Square Miles of Scenic Beauty." 

Hearkening back to my awakening to land acknowledgements, De Kalb County (and Fort Payne) specifically, had/have importance to the Cherokee peoples - their lives there, their internment, and their forced removal. (University of North Alabama in Florence, Alabama, has a land acknowledgement page here.)

But just as we recognize the indigenous people of what is now called De Kalb County, let's recognize other people who were interned as property here. Here are "Ex Slaves Tales" of De Kalb County, collected by members of the WPA Alabama Writers' Project during the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the 1860 census, enslaved women, men, and children comprised 8% of the De Kalb County population according to this map source. 

Related posts



Sunday, March 7, 2021

Alabama: COVID-19 Unfolding: Part 8888: The Alabama Welcome Mask


Alabama mask. March 2021.
Alabama mask. March 2021.



On my way back to Birmingham from a COVID-chaste weekend in New Orleans, I stopped at the Alabama Welcome Center on Interstate 59 northeast of Meridian, Mississippi. 

My mission was to find a map of Birmingham. This was a fail.

But I spied a cozy bed of blue masks enveloped in clear plastic. "Are these free?" I asked the Welcome Center attendant? "Yes!" She replied.

I so wanted to take two because of the masks' cheery blue hue and because the friendly weave of their cotton fabric promised to be as soft as a well-loved t-shirt. 

I only took one of the pretties, which I now regret. Would taking two have been too greedy? I think not. My imaginary passenger, who waited in the car while I sought a map, surely needed one, too.

I wore the Alabama mask for the first time on Friday, my laundry day. 

It was as soft and soothingly snug as it promised it would be.

I want another one. That is my new mission.





Saturday, March 6, 2021

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 8888: Vaccination


Immunization. Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Image Gallery.
Immunization. Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Image Gallery.


A number of people in my circle have received their COVID vaccines. They live in Texas, New Mexico, and Missouri. Another, in Louisiana, has an appointment for next weekend.  

In Alabama, specifically Jefferson County (which includes Birmingham), I've found it difficult to get timely, clear, and reliable information on:

  1. How to find a vaccination source, then 
  2. How to find the route into their scheduling tool, then
  3. Discover if they've got any appointments available, which by the way, has been a no.

WBRC News: Walmart Answers to Why Birmingham Was Skipped for Vaccine Distribution 

February 21, 2021. "When the list of which Walmart vaccination locations was revealed, just one major Alabama city wasn’t on it -- Birmingham. Walmart officials said locations were picked based on federal and state input, but the state says that’s not true."

In the article below, a nearby neighborhood pharmacy evidently has or had a vaccine supply, but .... who knew? In looking at the pharmacy's website today, I see zero reference to the COVID vaccine availability. Does this mean it is out of vaccines? Does it mean only certain people get told about it, perhaps through a doctor's referral or an employer's referral or only if they are on the pharmacy's mailing list? 

Bloomberg News: A Black Neighborhood in Alabama Has Yet to Get a Single Vaccine: In a nearby wealthy White suburb, the doses flow

February 25, 2021. "More than two months into America’s vaccine rollout, a community clinic that serves the poorest of the poor on Birmingham’s majority-Black north side has yet to receive its first dose. The Alabama Regional Medical Services clinic has watched the vaccine flow elsewhere, including a pharmacy in nearby Mountain Brook, the state’s wealthiest town."

But the Alabama Regional Medical Services' (ARMS) dearth of information is no different from the Mountain Brook pharmacy's lack of actionable information re: the COVID vaccine. Which is what is so frustrating about trying to find vaccine information in Birmingham. 

Below is the ARMS so-called COVID-19 Update as of March 6, 2021: 

Screenshot, ARMS COVID Update. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, ARMS COVID Update. March 6, 2021.

It would make sense to find timely, actionable information about vaccine access on the Jefferson County Department of Health website. As of March 6, 2021, here is the mushy message one sees: 

Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health. March 6, 2021.

When I click on the Information Packet, there are more than 20 paragraphs of Messages From So-and-So...  that use such words as "challenge," "advocating," "personal responsibility," "good news," .... frankly, smarmy nothingness, until finally I arrive at the FAQ, and scroll through EIGHT pages until I reach the question: "I want to get a COVID-19 vaccine. What do I do?

Great! Actionable information! Oh, wait, no .........

Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health's Registration Form Portal. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health's Registration Form Portal. March 6, 2021.

Note that the submission form is "... not intended as a scheduler for vaccination. Scheduling information will come at a later date ...

I entered my data into the above form some weeks ago. **Crickets**

The University of Alabama-Birmingham has been a vaccine distributor. When I first visited it a few weeks ago, the site asked a bunch of intrusive questions up front, without explaining up front how the vaccine scheduling would work after one jumped through its hoops. So I skipped it, instead completing that Jefferson County Health Department form. 

But a few days ago, although loath to blindly give over so much personal info to UAB, I did finally creep into its manhole. This morning I received an email from UAB: 

"... Due to a limited amount of vaccine doses, scheduling your appointment is taking longer than we had hoped and could take up to several weeks to schedule. ... "

The surprising good-ish news is that the phone number at the Jefferson County Department of Health is active on Saturdays, and today I tried it out. Someone actually picked up within a couple of minutes! It didn't seem that my previous entry on that site from a while back had stuck, but the representative collected my info over the phone, and I received an almost-immediate confirmation email that included: 

"Your submission has been recorded and you are on the list to be contacted once you become eligible and sufficient vaccine becomes available. There is nothing else you need to do but patiently wait for further instructions from the Jefferson County Healthcare Coalition. You will be contacted once you become eligible and additional vaccine arrives in the county."
The representative told me it could be a couple of weeks. 

I'm displeased about the difficulty in finding current, clear, actionable information on how and where to schedule a vaccine. This is (or should be) a straightforward process, which has nothing to do with the shortage of the vaccines. That is an entirely different issue. I'm OK with the responses that tell me: We received your scheduling query. You are in line. We don't have enough vaccines. We estimate x weeks before we'll get a sufficient supply to reach you.We'll contact you when we're ready to schedule you.

I'll get a vaccination eventually. I'm glad to know I'm in a line today.

But I sure can't stop thinking about all the folks who don't have internet access or who aren't getting any information through any mechanism or who are without easy access to transportation. 

Fortunately, there are stories like this one: The Sororities and Fraternities Helping Black Americans get Vaccinated, particularly in rural areas.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: On Luggage: Wheeled or Not?

Although I published the original post in 2011, the conversation about wheeled versus carry is timeless.  

I still rely on both of the bags cited in this article. I expect they will serve me 10 years from now, too.  

The only negative change re: aging that I've noticed about my wheeled bag - besides the accretion of faraway soils ground onto its skin - is that it just barely passes muster as a carry-on bag because the airlines have reduced their carry-on perimeter limits since 2011. Consequently, a shimmer of anxiety settles on me before every flight - will this be the flight that rejects my bag?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethiopia Round-up: Wheeled versus Not?

Here's what I wrote on luggage before I left for Ethiopia.  

I took this eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21" with me to Ethiopia:

eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"
eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"

Am I glad I took the wheeled bag instead of my soft-side, convertible tech Weekender [2021 note: no longer seems available], also from E-bags? 

ebags Weekender bag
ebags Weekender bag

At the end of the day, yes, I'm glad I took the wheeled bag, even though I don't love it the way I love the Weekender.

The wheels were very sturdy, the bag rarely tipped over, and with a lifetime warranty, I did not hesitate to roll it over any terrain. As a matter of fact, I had to get downright insistent about rolling it when bus or hotel staff felt the need to carry the bag rather than set it down and roll it, for fear of hurting the bag. And, I will say, it was more awkward to carry than a soft-sided, unwheeled bag. And yes, stairs necessitated carrying rather than rolling. But I didn't encounter stairs all that often. And, finally, I didn't feel the need to prove anything by hefting my own bag up the steps if there was someone at hand practically pulling it out of my hand to do it for me. That was an opportunity for me to help the local economy.

Having said all of the above, the Weekender would have done OK also.

When it came to air travel (and the lengthy treks to distant gates), it wasn't an issue, as I checked the bag. (Free because it was international travel.) If I hadn't checked the bag, the advantage of my wheeled bag over the soft-side carry would have been even clearer because of the ease in rolling it down those long gate ways.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy 3: Surprise Vista

When I think of times I've felt joy, invariably I think of the first time I saw this, and of each time afterward that I saw it: 


Highway 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.
Highway 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.

I gasped at the surprise of the drop, the opening up, the vastness, the mountain-range frame of this massive painting.

My joy - maybe that of a bird when she catches an air current that lifts her up, effortlessly, and she soars.


Photo: John Comisky/Audubon Photography Awards, found here.
Photo: John Comisky/Audubon Photography Awards, found here.

On joy so far








Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Birmingham, AL: COVID Unfolding, Part 8888: Of Masks and Earrings


Widowed earring on Alabama map. February 2021.
Widowed earring on Alabama map. February 2021.

Earrings and lipstick. If I am out, they are on me.

Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.

I suppose there are earring-wearers out there who are sufficiently mindful about removing masks to avoid losing an earring, but I am not among their number. 

After losing two earrings now since COVID began, I have surrendered to reality and my ears will henceforth go nekkid until we are a post-mask world.

I lost my green-glass dangly earring on laundry day last week. I knew I had to have lost it somewhere between my parked car and my various stops inside the laundromat: the change machine, the washing machine, the dryer, the folding table. 

I re-traced my steps twice, scanning the ground surface like a search-and-rescue spotter, to no avail. (A detour into the efficacy of search rescue eye scanning here.)

Before I left the premises, I asked the laundromat attendant if anyone had turned in an earring. "No," he replied, "but there is that homeless guy who comes around here all the time, and he was walking around holding an earring up with his hand, and talking about it being good luck for him or something, and then he left to go wherever he goes when he leaves here, still carrying it." 

So there you go. My earring, lost to me, but out in the wilderness, on a new journey. 

And I had not even been its first caretaker, as it was a rescue earring I had acquired in a Goodwill in South Louisiana. 

The day I gave up wearing earrings outside is the day I also gave up my irrational wearing of lipstick behind a mask. 


Some other thoughts on earrings, lipsticks, and masks

23 Best Mask-Proof Lipsticks

... Are Face Masks Leading Us to Kiss the Cosmetic Goodbye? 

Prevent Losing Earrings While Wearing a Mask


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: In Awassa, Ethiopia


Road from Gonder to Lalibela, Ethiopia. January 2011.
Road from Gonder to Lalibela, Ethiopia. January 2011.

Ten years ago, I published this post from my two-month, solo trip to Ethiopia. 

Revisiting the post evokes mixed feelings. 

Sadness. Confusion. About the violence and terror that some Ethiopians have been suffering since November 2020, with the Ethiopian president's military actions against certain Tigray groups. 

Is the kind university student from the Tigray city, Aksum (a site of recent violence), with whom I shared a bus ride, safe? Ten years later, he's likely married with children. Are they safe? What about his sister, also a university student, who he told me about with so much affection? Is she safe?

How do I process the reaction from an Oromo friend (the Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia), who expressed to me his satisfaction about the Tigray getting their comeuppance after the Oromo having suffered for so long under their thumb? He is a survivor of the Red Terror. An older brother was a political prisoner for many years, separated from his wife and children. Another brother, the baby of the family, almost died from starvation in prison after being captured as a soldier in an Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict. 

[This 2018 NPR article, How an Exiled Activist in Minnesota Helped Spur Big Political Changes In Ethiopia, gives some background on the Oromo experience in Ethiopia. Jawar Mohammed, the center of the story, is now imprisoned in Ethiopia and has been on a hunger strike since January 27, 2021.]

Discomfort about my ignorance, my detachment. I acknowledged this discomfort - this embarrassment - in my original post, and chose back then to leave it unedited, as I do today. So many young adults, so few opportunities. For me it was an observation; for them, a painful reality. Or as one Ethiopian told me: "We are in the prison of our country; we cannot escape. You, you can visit us, and you can leave whenever you wish."

Pleasure. Awassa was one of my favorite places to be in Ethiopia. It was pretty. There were those fairy tale storks. The flying-ear bajaj. The lake. The resorts. That transcendent moment on the rooftop cafe, listening to a tizita, watching storks swooping gracefully in the sky, and the bajaj streaming down the leafy boulevard.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ethiopia: Awassa, Day 1, Monday

I am in Awassa and I think I am in heaven. After a dismal look-see at three rooms at the Beshu Hotel, I walked down the street to the Blue Nile Hotel. A shower that works! Water comes out! The toilet flushes! A TV! And God-in-heaven -- an in-room mini-refrigerator, in which I immediately popped my bottled water. What luxury. For 150 birr (about $10).

And there is purportedly an ATM in Awassa!

After kicking off my shoes, stretching out on the bed, and watching a little television, I went down to the hotel restaurant for a late lunch. Pretty courtyard. Many round tables, most shaded by palms or other trees or a woven hut roof. A sweet breeze. The fragrant smoke of frankincense wafted nearby. A cold Ambo.

The menu was pricey, but for the moment, I didn't care. A little yellow bird even landed on one of the chairs at my table and tweeted at me. The waitress welcomed me to Awassa.

So let me move back to the beginning of the day, at the Bale Mountain Hotel in Dodola.

Got up a little before 7:00 a.m. Did the usual things. "Soft" paper a bit of an issue - the hotel doled out a small, nicely-folded ration, and I had used the last of the roll I'd purchased before going on the Bale Trek, and I had only a couple of kleenexes from my last little packet of soft. Three days of shiro, albeit delicious, had had an effect on things.

Got packed up and went out to the restaurant patio for a good cup of black coffee. My plan was to take a bus from Dodola to Shashamene; numerous buses work this route in the morning, so there was no urgency to leave super-early.

I was almost finished with my coffee when three faranji men passed through the patio area. They were all from Belgium; they had flown in to Addis with their bicycles, and were on a bike trek through Ethiopia. On average, only one to two faranji come to Dodola in a day. Indeed, one of the Belgians said I was the first tourist they'd seen since they left Addis on their trek. One asked what to expect next on the road through the Bale Mountains. Easy --> rocks and dust until you get out of town. Get a bandana. The Belgians assured me they'd already eaten a lot of dust and covered a lot of rocks.

At Lake Ziway, they took a boat across the lake to a "road" that was so deep in dust they couldn't ride on (in) it. They had to push their bikes through.

I mentioned my stay in Gorgora (can't remember why) and about the British couple who fell into the hole. One of the Belgians exclaimed immediately: "An Ethiopian tourist trap!" I loved this.

Example of a typical Ethiopian tourist trap
Finished my coffee, collected a small ration of soft from the manager, and returned to my room for that final trip to the bathroom before a bus trip.

One of the restaurant men offered to escort me (and lug my bag) to the bus station, which I accepted. He got me directly to the right bus, pushed my bag up into same, and saw me on my way. A gratuity was graciously offered and accepted.

Pleasant ride to Shashamene, where I got off to pick up a connecting bus to Awassa.

Shashemene really drives home how many Ethiopian boys and men there are without enough to do. The girls and women are, generally, behind the scenes. At homes, I guess. (In the rural areas of Oromia, at least, married women do not even go to a restaurant unless accompanied by their husbands.)

Over and over I hear about students who graduate from university, but there are no jobs for them.

So there are all of these boys and men who are un- or under-employed.

I got off the bus at Shashamene and there was young man after young man after young man who hoped for money from me in exchange for carrying my bag or getting me to the bus I seek. Nobody got anything this round. One guy mentioned to me he needed money for school, but it seemed mostly out of habit that he said this and not out of any belief he'd get anything. It must be so demoralizing. All of this pent-up talent and energy, with no place to go. A bleak future of one day after another, each the same. A dangerous situation for any regime.

It ended up that some women helped me find the bus I wanted. This was one of those bus boarding situations where it was every man for himself, and I tried to get myself in front of the johnny-come-latelys, giving them the evil eye, while making way for those who were before me. I was lucky -- a friend of the bus driver saved me a seat. A completely undeserved break, merely because I was faranji (I assume). The yin and yang of faranjidom in Ethiopia.

Back to the Blue Nile Hotel, a few hours later. OK, the refrigerator light came on, but that was all the work it was able to accomplish. The electricity went off a couple of times in my room, but resumed.

Bajaj in Awassa. Photo credit: Jirenna
I took a blue bajaj (tuktuk) to the Dashen Bank in the piazza. Flush with cash from the ATM, I started walking back to the hotel and went by a supermarket. Wow! Grapefruit juice! Nescafe coffee! Cheese! (Alas, this was before I knew the refrigerator really didn't refridge

I brushed off some aggressive beggars (who grabbed my arm, a first for me in Ethiopia) on my way back to the hotel. [Given the paragraph preceding and following, I'd like to just delete this statement, as the contrast between my life and theirs is galactic. But it is the reality, so I let it stand in its discomfort. Life just plain isn't fair.]

Upon my return, I relaxed the rest of the day and evening in my hotel room. Had dinner from the hotel restaurant. As with the earlier lunch, only very ordinary.


Monday, February 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy 2: Music


Viva Las Vegas in El Paso, Texas. July 2017.
Viva Las Vegas in El Paso, Texas. July 2017.


"I'm so happy!!!!" is what the guy exclaimed to the universe, expressing the joy we all felt in that small mechanic's garage at the 2013 Lupus Chili Fest, where Todd Day Wait and the Pigpen and we, the audience, melded our energies into something transcendent.


Music brings joy. 

Music literally lights up our brains. Your Brain on Music offers cool graphics on "how music impacts brain function and human behavior, including by reducing stress, pain and symptoms of depression as well as improving cognitive and motor skills, spatial-temporal learning and neurogenesis, which is the brain’s ability to produce neurons." 

The Cat Stevens (Yusuf) song, Miles From Nowhere, is my joyful road song. To say it lifts my spirit is a figurative cliche, but it occurs to me now that it probably really does lift whatever chemical-electrical operations I've got going on upstairs.



I have a feel good playlist. It includes my power songs and even my fuck you songs, the latter also producing a satisfying, perverse joy. I'm not a saint. 

Some other folks' happy playlists

  1. Jennifer Lee's Ultimate Happy Playlist
  2. USA Today's 100 Songs to Help Lift Your Spirits During a Pandemic
  3. Amr Salama's Songs That Will Instantly Put You in a Good Mo

It is good to make a joyful noise.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Birmingham, AL: Land Acknowledgement

I first heard the term "land acknowledgement" at a November 2020 seminar called The Role of ADR in Disputes Involving Gender-Based Violence, hosted by the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution. (I learned other new language at that event, too.)

I heard the term again in Northwestern University's first event in its Dream Week series of virtual events leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King's Day. 

Mariame Kaba presented the keynote for the first event. But before she spoke, Chantay Moore presented a land acknowledgement. Ms. Moore is a member of the Navajo Nation, and is also of African-American heritage.

What is land acknowledgement? 

From Northwestern University's land acknowledgement page, I've gleaned this definition: 

"A Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. ....

.... [A land acknowledgement] is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long standing history that has brought you to reside on the land, and to seek to understand your place within that history. Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process [emphasis added], and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation."

The Native Governance Center offers a rich, reader-friendly, practical guide here for presenting a meaningful land acknowledgement.  Another good explanation is at Native Land Digital here.

Michael Redhead Champagne, author of North End MC, shares an interview he conducted in 2015 with Native Land Digital founder, Victor Temprano, about why it's important for all of us, "settlers" in particular, to educate ourselves about indigenous peoples who live(d) where we live: 

MC: Why is it important for non-indigenous people to involve themselves as respectful allies in the indigenous struggle in 2015 Canada?
Victor:  It’s important for settlers to engage with Indigenous history and nations on many levels – spiritual, physical, emotional, and more. It’s not to ‘help’ Indigenous people or cultures (at least not in the traditional sense of ‘charity’), but to help settlers get educated, to grow and to begin the hard process of decolonization. I don’t know what decolonization really looks like or feels like in our settler society, but I know it needs to happen, whether for moral, environmental, spiritual, legal, or historical reasons (or more). It is a inter-generational struggle to decolonize, and it’s already been going on, and now is a good time as any to find a way to engage one’s skills in a meaningful way.


The Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities offers a piss-poor, self-serving, so-called land acknowledgement here.


Before removal, enslavement, or extermination, what indigenous families and communities lived - and live - in what are now called Birmingham and Alabama? 


Here is an interactive map that shows us which indigenous peoples lived (live) in Birmingham and Alabama (and throughout the world).

From Encyclopedia of Alabama

Alabama's indigenous history can be traced back more than 10,000 years, to the Paleoindian Period. Cultural and technological developments brought changes to the societies that inhabited what is now Alabama, with the most visible evidence of those changes being the remarkable earthen mounds built by the Mississippian people throughout the Southeast, in Alabama most notably at Moundville. By the time European fortune hunters and colonialist explorers arrived in the sixteenth century, the Indian groups in the Southeast had coalesced into the cultural groups known from the historic period: the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and Chickasaws, and smaller groups such as the Alabama-Coushattas and the Yuchis. As more Europeans and then U.S. settlers flooded into the Southeast, these peoples were subjected to continual assaults on their land, warfare, the spread of non-native diseases, and exploitation of their resources. In the 1830s, the majority of the Native Americans in Alabama were forced from their land to make way for cotton plantations and European American expansion. Today, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians maintain their traditions on portions of their tribal homelands in the state.


Trail of Tears

  A map depicting trails from southeast US to Oklahoma.


Alabama is not only the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, it has what some called "ends" of the Trail of Tears, for example, at Waterloo Landing.

In the article, Traveling the Trail of Tears in Alabama, Joe Cuhaj notes: "During the time of the Trail of Tears, Waterloo Landing, which is located in the town of Waterloo in the extreme northwest corner of Alabama, was situated on the banks of the Tennessee River. Since that time, the river was dammed to form Pickwick Lake, and the landing was flooded over. Because it was a final departure point for Indians from the South, Waterloo Landing was known as the "End of the Trail." Now, a historical marker denotes the location, and in September of each year a commemorative Pow-Wow is held here with traditional music and more.

Alabama has five "certified sites" that acknowledge the Trail of Tears. 

Cherokee Walking the Trail of Tears, by artist Sam Kitts. Source: NPS Trail of Tears Alabama
Cherokee Walking the Trail of Tears, by artist Sam Kitts. Source: NPS Trail of Tears Alabama

A grim prĂ©cis of the Trail of Tears, and the motives that drove it, is on the History Channel's Trail of Tears page. 

In September 2020, PBS premiered a movie, DIGADOHI: Lands, Cherokee, and the Trail of Tears



Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Birmingham, AL: Roaches


Louisiana, July 2015.

Trigger alert for the squeamish. (Hell, I'm squeamish.)

They don't pay rent, take out the trash, or engage in entertaining conversation. They are squatters in my quarters.

Since being rootless, I've become familiar with these characters. Different sizes and shapes, different colorations. Some can fly, some are grounded.

But roaches, every one.

The first time I saw a roach in my Birmingham apartment was when the landlord showed the apartment to me as a prospective tenant. I gasped. The roach was big, it was fast, and it projected attitude. The landlord remarked placidly that his daughter had similar reactions as I when she encountered a roach like that. In negotiations about the apartment, the landlord agreed to one pest control application. 

After I moved in, I discovered two populations living rent-free in my place: the American and, most likely, the German

There were two communities in my Tucson apartment also. Their skittery populations surged and receded like high and low tides of the sea, dependent on the ins and outs of adjacent tenants and regular sprayings by the apartment management. The Tucson arthropods were small and swift. I never knew when a singleton would dart out from under my dishcloth as I lifted it from the sink edge first thing in the morning. So startling. But both varieties succumbed quickly to an assertive spray from my bottle of Clorox Clean-Up All Purpose Cleaner with Bleach Spray. (I may be lethal, but I'm no sadist.)

I can deal with the Germans. The Clorox spray is effective for spontaneous responses. And in Birmingham, with a landlord who doesn't care about pests in their tenants' apartments, the Hot Shot Ultra Liquid Roach Bait seems effective for ongoing, passive (to me, not the to roaches) control. 

But the hulking Americans! They laugh at the Clorox spray! They don't fit into the roach traps because they are too big. Finding the right shoe or other blunt weapon for a more personal, shivery kill takes too long in response to a sudden assault by one of these behemoths. So I bought a can of roach spray, which, if applied with vigor, ends them almost immediately. 

Thank goodness, I've never seen an American roach up on my kitchen counter or in my cabinets. Doesn't mean they didn't (don't) go there, I've just never seen one there. Consequently, my brain can deploy the "not seen, so doesn't happen" wash, and I can move about my kitchen in blithe serenity.

The Birmingham American roach prefers to loiter in the bathtub, so I have learned to open the shower curtain briskly, look quickly for an encroacher, and be ready to jump for the spray. 

I was not ready to see what I saw one day, something my brain can never un-see. 

Be prepared to be as grossed out as I was. 

In my self-care regimen, I strive for baby-smooth heels. To aid in this, I have a foot file. It has a steel grater on one side and sandpaper on the other side. 

I kept it on the side of my tub. 

Until .... 

 .... that one morning when I walked into my bathroom and I saw a GIGANTIC AMERICAN ROACH GRAZING ON THE DEAD SKIN REMNANTS ON THE FILE!!!!!!


Gross, gross, gross. 

I killed the beast and then sanitized the file. 

These days, I wrap my file in plastic. 

But I have wondered, what else do they eat? Do they eat soap? 

Yes, apparently they do. 


Other stories about roaches and me

2011: Ethiopia: Nazret: Introduction and a Brush With Fame

Later, I walked into the bathroom just in time to see a cockroach skittering toward me, the size of which I've only seen in a museum with a pin in it. I screamed.

2011: Ethiopia: Nazret: Saturday in Nazret

Oh, and evidently Azeb's absence was noted by Those That Creep In the Dark. When I turned the bathroom light on and counted to my usual 10 to allow furtive creatures time to scoot out, I encountered TWO of the gigantic cockroaches. Furthermore, they CHALLENGED me in such a way that I got out the broom to let them know who was (sort of) boss...... I considered several lethal options.

2011: Ethiopia: Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach [on my pizza] in Harar

Decided to lunch instead at the reliable Fresh Touch down the street. Ordered the vegetarian pizza. When it arrived, I dressed it with their wonderfully spicy chili sauce. Oh. Wait. I did order the vegetarian pizza, right? So what's with the crispy-curled roach sitting so perkily atop a pepper? Waiter! 

 2012: New Mexico: Roaches and Other Unpretty Neighbors 

Now that I'm in my apartment, it seems I see one roach per evening scuttling through my place, each a different brand. I've smashed all but one of the unwanted pests.

2013: New Mexico: Insect Life


2013: New Mexico: Arthropod Museum 

There were a couple of live Madagascar hissing roaches and Graeme was willing for me to hold one in my hands. I wanted to be willing, but I couldn't guarantee that once it was placed in my hand, I wouldn't immediately fling it across the room in squealy fear. Ryan had the good idea for me to place my hand on the table and let the roach creep crawl walk on it. I did do this, all the while giggling in the way one does when one is actually scared and not amused.

2013: New Mexico: Cup o' Roaches

2014: Louisiana - A general note about the insect situation: 

"South Louisiana is a giant sponge. That's why we keep in constant motion. If you stand still, you'll either sink or be eaten alive by giant insects."  Dave Robicheaux, Pegasus Descending, by James Lee Burke

2015: Louisiana: Creepy Crawly Day at Chico State Park  

Why do I feel compelled to look at things that make me go "ewww"?

2019: New Mexico: The Jump

The first time I walked through the passageway ..., I saw the enormous, segmented exoskeleton of the arthropod above, and I jumped like a cat surprised by a cucumber. 




Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Birmingham, AL: An Annoyance of Facts


Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.
Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.

In my apartment, I have been confronted by an annoyance of facts. 

An annoyance of facts. Like a conspiracy of lemurs. A crash of rhinoceroses. A murder of crows. A deceit of lapwings. A gang of turkeys. 

An annoyance of facts. The facts are the lighthouse and I am the ship, so I'm the one who has to move.

There is no central heat in my apartment. 

Instead, I have:

  • A poorly-functioning window unit that purports to both cool and heat,
  • An oil-filled portable heater, and
  • A "ceramic element" heat fan. 
  • A whopping first-electric-bill-of-the-winter.

Furthermore, wind billows through and around the window unit. 

The front door has a gap in the upper left corner that perfectly aligns with the gap in the upper left corner of the storm door. Long fingers of cold air swoosh through between the door and its frame. The windows are single-pane relics of the 1950s held in place with leaky metal frames.

So when winter hit, I felt fucking cold. And coldly resentful. 

I  knew from experience regarding my apartment's malfunctioning refrigerator and malfunctioning stove (since addressed), that the landlord would question my definition of cold, so I bought two small room thermometers. 

Well, fuck all. 

 I discovered that the low temperatures were in the upper 60s at 8:42 in the morning (after three hours of electric heat when I arose for the day), with a low of 65 during the previous night. 

On one hand, this annoyed the hell out of me because, absent any objective data, I had felt very, very cold, and it just didn't seem possible that this could be the accurate temperature. 

But now that I had temp facts, I still felt cold, but less so.

How annoying.

Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.
Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.


Monday, January 4, 2021

Birmingham, AL: The New Abolitionism: A Birmingham Connection


Angela Davis mural, Avondale neighborhood, Birmingham, Alabama. December 2020.
Angela Davis mural, by Tim Kerr, Avondale neighborhood, Birmingham, Alabama. December 2020.

In November I attended a dispute resolution workshop hosted by the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, which featured keynote speaker, Mariame Kabe

Ms. Kabe and others in the workshop spoke a language new to me:

After the workshop, I sought more information on abolition feminism .... 

.... which led me to Angela Davis, who, until I visited the Avondale neighborhood recently, and saw her image on a mural, I had no idea was from Birmingham. 

Sidebar: Or that the Girl Scouts had played a positive role in her life as an activist, oh, let's go ahead and say it - a revolutionary. An aside from this 2019 Washington Post article

 “[Angela Davis is] someone who, from a very young age, has provoked enormous controversy over whether her ideas were good or bad,” says Jane Kamensky, director of Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. “She cast herself as a revolutionary. And we have liked our civil rights activists firmly in the reform tradition, and we have liked our revolutionaries male.”

Abolition feminism

My current understanding of what it means to be feminist has expanded beyond my introduction in the 1970s and my membership in a Women's Political Caucus chapter in the 1990s. A sampling of new-to-me influences, learned since 2010, include:

1. Audre Lorde:

"I am a lesbian woman of Color whose children eat regularly because I work in a university. If their full bellies make me fail to recognize my commonality with a woman of Color whose children do not eat because she cannot find work, or who has no children because her insides are rotted from home abortions and sterilization; if I fail to recognize the lesbian who chooses not to have children, the woman who remains closeted because her homophobic community is her only life support, the woman who chooses silence instead of another death, the woman who is terrified lest my anger trigger the explosion of hers; if I fail to recognize them as other faces of myself, then I am contributing not only to each of their oppressions but also to my own, and the anger which stands between us then must be used for clarity and mutual empowerment, not for evasion by guilt or for further separation. I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you."

Source: Black Past


2. Women's Revolutionary Law of the EZLN in Chiapas, Mexico: 

  • "First, women have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle in the place and at the level that their capacity and will dictates without any discrimination based on race, creed, color, or political affiliation.
  • Second, women have the right to work and to receive a just salary.
  • Third, women have the right to decide on the number of children they have and take care of.
  • Fourth, women have the right to participate in community affairs and hold leadership positions if they are freely and democratically elected.
  • Fifth, women have the right to primary care in terms of their health and nutrition.
  • Sixth, women have the right to education.
  • Seventh, women have the right to choose who they are with (i.e. choose their romantic/sexual partners) and should not be obligated to marry by force.
  • Eighth, no woman should be beaten or physically mistreated by either family members or strangers. Rape and attempted rape should be severely punished.
  • Ninth, women can hold leadership positions in the organization and hold military rank in the revolutionary armed forces.
  • Ten, women have all the rights and obligations set out by the revolutionary laws and regulations."  
Source: Wikipedia


3.  Criticisms of the 2017 Women's March

"The expanding dialogue about rape culture, and the indictments of patriarchy are inspiring, but they don’t change my ambivalence about organizing with White women, or my discomfort with the assumption that when White women organize for their freedom, they are organizing for mine too. They are not, and cannot, until they unpack the ways in which they have been taught to ignore the oppression of Black and Brown women – and continue to benefit from our oppression. Within hours of the March, some attendees Tweeted about how there were no arrests made that day at the major marches. Clearly, they lacked analysis or sensitivity for why peaceful protests where attendees are majority Black or Brown would be targeted for arrest.

"Fifty-four percent of White women voted for Trump. “Protecting” our borders and emboldening White supremacy were more important to them than autonomy over their own bodies and families." 

Source: Katina Parker in A Charge to White Women


4. The 1950s Mine-Mill Strike in Grant County, New Mexico

OK. So what does holistic feminism have to do with PIC abolition? 

From Angela Davis: 

1. "When we look at women in prison, we learn about the system as a whole, the nature of punishment, the very apparatus of prison." 

Source: Angela Davis in Windy City Times article by Yasmin Nair.


2. "Davis influentially condemned feminist approaches which emphasized incarcerating perpetuators, or carceral feminism Instead she and other abolitionist feminists focused on how the state mirrored intimate partner violence and abuse as it punished survivors for self defense and forcibly sterilized hundreds of thousands of women."  

Source: UCLA's Rebel Archives article, Angela Davis and Abolitionist Feminism.


3. "Confronting and abolishing the power relations embodied in PIC required a Black feminist approach that addressed the interwoven nature of state violence and people’s struggles. 

"Davis’ Black feminist theory took shape in the everyday work of organizations like the Santa Cruz Women’s Prison Project and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, which helped the voices and experiences of incarcerated women break through prison walls. Rejecting the machismo that characterized earlier prison struggles, women and their allies revealed the gendered violence and trauma both led marginalized women to prison and was exacerbated by state violence. As Californian prisons became infamously overcrowded, incarcerated people faced medical neglect and abuse even more extreme than the conditions described at Soledad years earlier. All these circumstances and the will of incarcerated women to struggle for their own survival built a new inside outside movement that continues to this day." 

Source: UCLA's Rebel Archives, Introduction to series Sisters in Struggle: The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Feminism, and Abolition

Women In Prison
Women in Prison, by Lydia Crumbley, 2009. Find it at Justseeds.

I have so much to learn.