Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘English’

To Be or Not To Be

41SUqh9JdSLNobody In the Box – A Poem by Soodabeh Saeidnia. Illustrated by Seyedeh Masoumeh Hosseini. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Nobody In the Box is completely outside the box (in English and Farsi). In fact, it is neither in nor out, of any sense of containment. The illustrations, by Ms. Hosseini, which accompany each section of the poem, brilliantly and beautifully compliment the words, and stand on their own as exquisite works of art. Ms. Saeidnia writes about emptiness within emptiness, and the friction between being and not being, with just a whiff of Persian poets Hafiz and Rumi’s insight into being something greater than ourselves, yet also completely within us.

Expecting no assistance
From the ocean, the sky, and the earth,
Even from the box itself,
I can only turn into an invisible Wish
Waiting for a special event,
A phenomenan, a moment,
In which “nothing” may turn into “something”

Reading this poetry is like hearing a melody, and reminds us that everything is nothing and nobody, until we give it (or them) labels and meaning. Dr. Saeidnia’s work in various countries around the world, with pharmacology and an array of compounds, informs her understanding of how interdependent things (and people) are and how they can appear and disappear.

The box’s sigh penetrated space,
Bent the contours of time,
Surged forward and touched the nothingness
Nobody heard the box’s sigh,
Felt the pain of missing,
And for the first time Nobody wished:
“I wish I was somebody”

Nobody In the Box brings attention to desire, wishes, moments – all temporary and which may, or may not arise; and if so, from where, who and/or what? What is our reality? Are our bodies and minds like a box, wanting to be acknowledged, labeled, noticed, or have “something” happen? Are we the same as everybody else, with nothing to distinguish us from others? What is the essence of matter, and does it matter?

We Have Everything To Fear, Including Fear Itself

An excerpt from the succulent Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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A wild tiger was being itself . . . wild . . . and scaring a nearby community. They asked Master Tarantino if she could rid them of the perceived menace. Though no humans had been attacked and the tiger kept to its own area in the forest, the people lived in fear that one day it would decide to have one of them for lunch. The Master agreed to go speak with the tiger.

Upon arriving in a clearing in the middle of the forest, Master Tarantino sat on a soft anthill and waited. She waited patiently. The ants didn’t seem to mind, other than a few thousands that crawled up and down her body, underneath and on top of her garments, to investigate the strange large object that had caved in their roof. The sun set and arose and set and arose again before she heard the tiger’s footsteps.

“Well, it’s about time,” she said to the unsuspecting tiger, which stopped short in his tracks. He sniffed the air to see from which direction the sound had originated and soon saw the woman sitting atop the ant community. “The people in town are afraid of you and asked me to make you go away.”

Of course, the tiger didn’t speak English or human for that matter, so all he heard were squawking sounds that arose and fell from the mammal he assumed was trying to communicate.

“People are scared of the unknown,” Master Tarantino continued, “and do not realize that we are all one and connected. You are no different than I. We have simply been born into different looking bodies and circumstances. You cannot grow vegetables or fruit trees and thus need your fangs and claws for protection and to catch your food.” The tiger remained as still as a statue, not yet certain if this creature was friendly or foe. “Therefore, we kindly ask that you consider living somewhere else, stay away from town and promise not to eat any people.” She suddenly stood, raised her arms, and bowed. In so doing, her sleeves flapped in the wind and frightened the poor tiger out of his wits. He reared up on his hind legs, turned, and ran as fast as he could.

Master Tarantino returned to town and told the villagers that she had spoken with the tiger and he was in full agreement. He had left immediately upon her request.

The tiger returned to its mate and told her about his encounter with the strange mammal. He said they looked dangerous and made quick threatening motions. He warned her to not go into the city or anywhere near the smell of such terrifying creatures.

More phenomenal stories, & tales, at Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Grateful Interdependence Day

Yes, in 1776 we declared independence from the English, but are we really independent? The prosperity the majority of Americans now enjoy, on this day of independence, has come about because of our dependence on millions of people throughout the world. Without the continuing supply of cheap labor from a stream of immigrants and the importation of sixty percent of the worlds’ resources, much of our perceived strength and image of self-reliance would collapse into a pile of deluded dust.

The food we stuff ourselves with daily; comes from a long line of inter-related, inter-dependent actions. Most Americans buy their food at a grocery store, but before it is placed on the counter, in the freezer or on the shelf, countless hands have touched, processed and grown the product we so easily consume. There are the truckers, the farmers, the packagers, landowners, farm workers, equipment, supplies and natural resources, to name but a few.

Our families depend on one another for safety, for health, for education, entertainment, recreation and personal enrichment. Our communities use the assistance of county, state and federal support for finances and security, which come from our neighbors’ taxes, time and contributions.

In spite of these realities, we cling to our separateness, our individuality, our belief that we must all “stand on our own two feet”, “pull up our bootstraps”; be different from “all the rest”.

Sickness, loss and death tend to shatter these illusions. When you’ve had a loved one die, taken care of an ill family member or needed care from others, it’s nearly impossible to remain independent, yet many, including myself, try to “go it alone” and find it difficult to accept help from others. We’ve been so ingrained with the idea of self-reliance that it feels like pulling teeth to ask for or accept help from another.

I often hear from clients that one of the most painful transitions and the most surprising, is how difficult it was for they or their loved one, to ask for or receive assistance and care. To accept someone’s help implied weakness, debt, dependency and shame. It’s OK to give to and care for others (and the sense of control that provides), but it’s not OK to receive or accept the same care from another?

I don’t wish to imply that independence, self-reliance and self-determination are not valuable or important qualities for personal and societal survival . . . they are . . . but at what cost? Must we wait until we’re so sick we can hardly move, so overwhelmed we don’t know what to do next, or in great emotional and/or physical pain, before we remember how close and inter-dependent we all are? Can we use the 4th of July as a reminder not only to celebrate our independence and sovereignty, but also our connection with and gratitude for the lands’, nations’ and peoples’ with whom’ we share this planet?

Back to School Rwanda

Excerpt from Amakuru! News from the Rwandan Orphans Project. Written by Sean Jones and Jenny Clover.

Back To School

Notebooks and pencils in hand, the children of the Rwandan Orphans Project began the 2011 school year in various schools around Rwanda.

Most of the children – those in primary school and attending the ROP’s education catch-up program, stay in the Center where our five teachers give their lessons in kinyarwanda and English. This year the ROP is also providing education for about 25 secondary school students, most of whom attend a nearby school while a handful of others attend various academies around Rwanda.

The 2010 school year was a large success for the ROP. Many of our secondary school students passed their National Exams with the honor of Distinction and High Distinction, making them eligible for government scholarships and entrance into well respected schools. Our catch-up program had the honor of having the only students in the Nyarugunga Sector who reached High Distinction in the Primary 6 National Exams. This achievement is due in no small part to the amazing work of our teachers, who not only have the laborious task of teaching dozens of students but also play the roles of mentor, parent and disciplinarian to our ex-street children. The wonderful results attained by of all of our students is a testimony to their recognition that education is their way to break free from the cycle of poverty and have a successful future for themselves.

Aside from academics, the ROP is also sponsoring vocational training for ten young adults from the Center. These are teenagers who fell too far behind in their education and have struggled academically. But they refuse to give up and are working hard in these programs so they can learn trades and skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Some of them are learning mechanics, others hotel management, and yet others have gone into carpentry and even forestry. These vocational programs, along with our support for those still in school, allow the ROP to follow through on the promise that we make to all of our children to support their education as long as they are willing to work hard themselves all the way to the end. We are not only raising children, but future citizens and potential leaders of Rwanda.

Donations can be made to the:
Rwandan Orphans Project
4671 Cass Street
San Diego, CA 92109
or online at Rwandan Orphans Project.

The English Lesson – Part 3

Conclusion of The English Lesson. An excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

After several moments of silence, Mrs. Frankel closed her eyes and whispered, “That man save my life.” Her eyelids parted slightly. “After war, our town in ruin from bombs. Many months go here and there. Much poor, much, how say, puberty?”

“Poverty,” Ruthie nodded, choking down her urge to laugh.

“We have little to eat. Most people in country same. Our haus destroyed. No verk. Father dead.” A smile caressed her lips. “Then comes Claude. He intrepoter, inturp . . . you know, talk for. He verk with Americans because he speak Deutsche, English and French,” she blushed. “I just young girl. He came in night, after verk and ask my muter if he can take out me. She say, ‘Ask her, not me.’ Of course, I say yes. He is so nice and looking good.” She smiled so broadly that Ruthie could see her scrubbed white dentures.

“He bring our family extra bread and ration coupons. I not help but fall in love with man. He very gentle and true.” She stopped and caught her breath. “One day he tell me his story. Claude’s parents were arrest by Nazis, just as he home from school in afternoon. He been told what to do if something happen, so he go hiding and join sister, who already live in château in France, where brave owner save many refugee.”

Mrs. Frankel suddenly stopped, got up stiffly and moved down the hall. “I show something,” she mumbled, then disappeared into the back bedroom. Ruthie could hear her opening drawers and struggling to close them.

After several minutes she returned with a small, torn envelope and drew out its crumbling contents. She handed the paper to Ruthie who looked blankly at the German correspondence. “I found letter going through his thinks. It is to man who survive death camp and write Claude to tell him how his parents horrible finish. He know and see Claude’s parents go into gas death. Claude’s letter back to this man is scream of anger and how you say, griefing?” The handwriting was neat and precise up to the final shaky sentence. Mrs. Frankel read it to Ruthie. “His last words say, ‘I have to stop writing . . .’”

A shadow fell upon the room, as a limb outside the window blew in the gathering wind. Ruthie folded the letter with tenderness and handed it back to Mrs. Frankel.

“He end up verking as journal speaker for Radio Free Europe, then as soldier for underground,” she said proudly. “He speak languages good.” Ruthie’s smiled. “Not like me.”

Mrs. Frankel’s smile subsided as her story continued. “It hard to think my sweet Claude as soldier boy. He live in woods and mountain caves two years until allies, how you say, ‘parasite’ vepons from sky?”

“Parachute,” Ruthie gently supplied the word, not wishing to intrude.

“Yes, parashut,” Mrs. Frankel agreed. “Then they have guns and bullets to fight. He say he lost many friend . . . many French friend. He very brave. Not only he stood his place, but run back and forth during heavy fight to bring friends bullets. He grew above self and after war was honor the la Croix de Guerre by French guvermant.”

Mrs. Frankel took a blue and white embroidered handkerchief from the pocket of her plain, neatly ironed dress and blew her nose. “‘One of happiest day in life?’ he say, when he and thousand of French people greet American soldier boys and march down Champs de Elysees.”

“What was the other?”

“Other what?”

“Happiest day of his life.”

She gazed at her husband’s picture. “When he meet me.” Her tears flowed freely. “He always say I best thing in his life.” She resorted to her hanky once again, dabbed her eyes and apologized. “I sorry. Please . . . I just old, sad woman. Not your problem.”

“It’s OK.”

Mrs. Frankel blew her nose one last time and pocketed her handkerchief. “Enough.” She picked up the pages, pointed, and demanded, “What this say!?”

***

Sy was half-asleep, lounging in the car, when Ruthie left Mrs. Frankels. The wind had picked up, blowing a multi-colored curtain of autumn leaves around her. She stopped at the front gate to wave to Mrs. Frankel, who watched through the living room window. The shades had all been opened.

She went to the car. With the English lesson resting on her lap, she looked fondly down the maple and elm-lined street.

Sy sat up slowly and turned the ignition. The old Plymouth hummed to attention.

“How goes it?” He put the transmission into drive.

“Not bad.” Ruthie’s seditious smile lit her face. “Not bad at all.”

Sy put the gear back in park. “Not bad?” he said incredulously.

Ruthie buckled her seat belt and said, more to herself then to Sy, “Not bad, once you get to know her.” She leaned over and kissed Sy, who stared at her blankly. “I’m awfully lucky to have you,” she grinned.

“What brought that on?”

“Let’s go home,” she nodded towards the street. “I’ll tell you all about it.”

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The English Lesson – Part 2

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

Ruthie approached to a respectful distance. She bent over, looked briefly at the sentence and said with all the pleasantness she could muster, “Where is the bathroom?”

Mrs. Frankel frowned and pointed. “Down there. What wrong with you? You not remember?”

Inwardly Ruthie smiled like a kid at the carnival, but kept the amusement from her face. “No. No,” she pointed at the page. “The sentence says, ‘Where is the bathroom?’”

Mrs. Frankel let the paper collapse in her lap and turned her back. Red blotches arose on the back of her neck. Was she actually blushing?

Mrs. Frankel squared her shoulders, slowly turned around and held the lesson aloft. “Let us continue,” she said, as if they had just sat down to supper.

“Over there,” Ruthie read, after clearing the tickle from her throat. She went to the next line. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Frankel repeated, with a strong guttural k on thank.

“You are welcome,” Ruthie read.

“You are welcome.”

“Very good!” Ruthie unconsciously touched the sleeve of Mrs. Frankel’s dress.

Mrs. Frankel stiffened, but perfectly copied her instructor’s speech. “Very good,” she repeated.

Ruthie giggled. “No. That’s not in the book. I mean, you are doing very well.”

Again Mrs. Frankel blushed, then rolled her eyes and nodded aggressively at the page. “Continue. No need for good good . . . how you say . . . flatternity?”

“Flattery.” Ruthie started back towards the sofa.

“No need to sit so far,” Mrs. Frankel said, “bring chair here.” She pointed at a small, round-bottomed, upholstered chair that stood nonchalantly in the corner, then wagged her finger at the adjacent space next to her own seat.

Ruthie cautiously moved the chair next to her unpredictable student.

“Now,” Mrs. Frankel almost whispered, “please help me read next sentence.”

Ruthie almost fell off her seat at hearing the word “please”.

“Would you like to go for a ride,” Ruthie read. “I can pick you up on Sunday morning.”

“Wud you like to go for a rhide? I can pike you up on Soonday morgan.”

“Sunday morning,” Ruthie corrected gently.

“Soonday mornen.”

“Better, much better.”

“Thank you.”

Ruthie glanced at the page. “No,” she said, it doesn’t say thank . . .”

“No,” Mrs. Frankel put her hand on Ruthies. “Thank you. Thank you for helping me.”

“You’re welcome.”

Mrs. Frankel turned back to read. Ruthie struggled to regain her emotional balance, after her student’s kind words. In spite of her steadfast and prudent policy to never mix personal and volunteer time, she asked, “Would you like to go for a ride with my husband and I next week?”

Mrs. Frankel looked astounded. “No. No,” she said nervously. “I not intrude on you and husband. No. No.”

“It’s no problem. We’d love to take you with us. We were thinking of going for a drive to a little winery outside town.”

Mrs. Frankel shook her head emphatically. “No. No. Too kind.”

“Please,” Ruthie insisted. “It would be my pleasure.”

The grandfather clock yawned and announced the half-hour with a raspy clang.

Mrs. Frankel glanced at the oval-framed photo on the yellowing wallpaper. “Maybe,” she said, turning back towards Ruthie. “I think of it.”

Ruthie looked at the black and white picture; a dashing young man in a three-piece suit and French beret. “Your husband?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Frankel gazed at the photo.

“What’s his name?”

Her pupil hesitated, blinked several times, then replied mournfully, “Claude.”

“French?”

“No. Born and raised Germany like me.”

“Tell me more.”

Mrs. Frankel hesitated. “You really want know?”

“Yes, I really want to know.” Ruthie took her elderly students hand to provide some solace. Mrs. Frankel turned her palm upward, squeezed back and cried quietly.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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The English Lesson – Part I

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

They stopped at 410 Stadler. Sy kept the gas guzzling, early eighties Plymouth idling, as Ruthie got her folder together and clamped her purse shut.

“Got everything?” Sy asked.

Ruthie had her lesson plan in hand. “Yep, all here.”

Ruthie thought about her student, Mrs. Frankel, a seventy-five-year old widow who had been forced to learn English since the recent death of her husband.

Only ten years younger than Mrs. Frankel, Ruthie had recently retired after a thirty-year career as secretary for the County Social Service department. She’d tried staying at home, but felt antsy and unproductive.

She’d wanted to help others, so she took classes on how to teach English and tutor people in their own homes. If she’d known her students could be as difficult as Mrs. Frankel, she might have stayed home and watched re-runs of Dick Van Dyke.

Ruthie considered herself to be in pretty good shape. She walked or swam daily, slept well and maintained a healthy diet. It gave her pause when she thought, “but by the grace of God” she could end up as bent and spiteful as Mrs. Frankel.

“She’s one of the rudest women I have ever met,” she told Sy. “Do you know what she said to me last week?” She didn’t wait for his answer. “She said, ‘Sit up! You’re not a teenager; this important class.’ She treated me like a little kid!”

Sy pecked his wife of thirty-four years on the cheek. “Come back for you in an hour?”

Ruthie closed the car door with a solid thud and blew Sy a kiss as he drove off in a cloud of white steam rising from the exhaust into the cold, fall-morning air. She tied her dark green scarf tightly around her neck, smoothed out her off-white, below-the-knee skirt and approached Mrs. Frankel’s aging home; a fortress of red brick and peeling, dirty paint that seemed to dare someone to approach or disturb its occupant. The porch had a metal grate topping off the brick base and an eight-foot, iron-bared gate. Using their secret code, Ruthie rang the doorbell three long blasts, then a short jolt, to seek permission to enter her student’s premises. She gave a start as Mrs. Frankel suddenly appeared and unlocked the rusting gate.

“Frau Ruth. You’re late!” Mrs. Frankel admonished; her small, upturned nose flaring as she turned towards the living room. Her short, curled, gray-haired wig bounced with each step, briefly revealing the dry skin on her bent neck.

“Good to see you,” Ruthie forced a smile and followed the neatly-attired, rickety old woman through the parlor, into a living room cluttered with antiquities. Mrs. Frankel plopped her spine-shrunken body into her polished maple chair of propriety, while Ruthie crossed the fraying, deep-red carpet to sit on her designated seat; an early twentieth century sofa with curled armrests and club feet.

Hilda, the fat, brown-stripped cat, lay on the rug, barely lifting an eyelid to acknowledge Ruthie’s presence. Hilda was nearly as old as the furniture and moved about as often.

The sitting arrangement was, to say the least, a bit awkward. It was quite a feat to explain the lesson from across the room to the hard-of-hearing learner. Inevitably, Ruthie would have to rise, cross the room and repeat her self several times, then return to her preordained position.

“You think I am a stupid, not?!” Mrs. Frankel shouted.

“What?” Ruthie replied meekly.

“You heard me! You think I stupid?!”

“Stupid, no, stubborn, yes!” replied Ruthie, surprising herself.

“Stewburn?” Mrs. Frankel said awkwardly. “Is stewburn good or bad?”

“I mean,” Ruthie shouted. “You are one hard nut to crack.”

“A cracked nut?”

Mrs. Frankel looked like a deer caught in headlights. Ruthie laughed, in spite of her best intention to the contrary. Obviously insulted, Mrs. Frankel’s pale blue eyes narrowed like two tiny laser beams on an enemy target.

Ruthie took a deep breath for reinforcement and put a lid on her natural reaction. “It’s an expression. It means you are hard to figure out,” she explained, “difficult to know.”

Mrs. Frankel looked down at her wrinkled, spotted hands, then sighed and said, “You think I like this?” She raised her head and looked directly at Ruthie. “I am proud woman. I never want to be in this crazy country. I come because I need to follow husband.” She looked at the cat and sighed. “Now, it just Hilda and me.”

“I’m sorry,” Ruthie said sincerely, not sure if her condolence would be received or accepted.

Mrs. Frankel suddenly sat up as straight as her crooked body would allow and turned to her present endeavor. Holding up the learning sheet and turning it slightly towards Ruthie, she pointed at the first line with renewed obstinacy and demanded, “Now . . . what this?!”
Ruthie started to rise and move closer, but was frowned at fiercely. She squinted in the dimly lit room and tried to decipher the line from where she sat.

“I say, What this?!” Mrs. Frankel held the page aloft, shaking it like some offending piece of evidence. “I not understand!”
Ruthie strained to see.

“Come here!” Exasperation clung to Mrs. Frankel’s command.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Neighbor to Neighbor

If there hadn’t been a gigantic sign on the street saying “C.E.L.P.A.R. Polyclinique”, the house within which it resides would have been indistinguishable from the other small dwellings crammed side by side along the road in East Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. We had only driven for about 15 minutes from central Kigali and it was like night and day. The French spelling for the center is a result of the association Rwanda had with Belgian after they were colonized in the last century and the close connection they maintained with France, until the last decade. They are now focusing on English as their second language of choice and teaching it in place of French in the schools.

There was a crowd of people waiting for us on the street and others quickly joined, as they saw a mini-bus of muzungas (white people) stepping foot in their neighborhood, an area of town seldom visited by foreigners or aid agencies. It took us several minutes to say our hellos, take the obligatory photos of children and show them their image in the camera (to their unquenchable delight) and head towards the sounds of music we were hearing from somewhere in the near distance. Someone standing next to me said she was hearing the sound of angels and kept looking up, even though she wasn’t religious in the least. We soon discovered where the heavenly music was coming from.

The clinic’s doctor, Fred Ndatimana, led us over the ditch on a slanted path up to the entrance where we were warmly greeted by the director, Abel Sekabarati, his assistant, Fabien Musabyinana, the nurse, Ndayifluga Bizinana and a choir of patients (men, women and children) singing their hearts out. Some of them were sitting (too tired or sick to stand) and the rest were swaying side to side clapping their hands and looking upward as they harmonized. There was one older woman with a baby in her arms that immediately caught my attention. They looked like an African version of a cover from The Saturday Evening Post and had that Norman Rockwell vibe, even though their reality was far from idealistic or serene.

In the last ten years, Rwanda got a jump start on HIV education and treatment with a comprehensive array of support from the President’s wife, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, multiple governmental organizations and national health plans, as well as funding from numerous international aid agencies and foundations. Mrs. Kagame has gone beyond the efforts of most governments in other countries to address the AIDS pandemic, let alone as First Lady. In 2001, she hosted the African First Ladies at the Kigali Summit on Children and HIV/AIDS Prevention gathering, which was the first of its kind. This meeting provided recommendations and suggestions that each First Lady in attendance would implement in their own region and country. Mrs. Kagame developed a national plan of action for Rwanda, which catalyzed the creation of PACFA, which means Protection and Care of Families against HIV/AIDS. Another program that has been somewhat successful is called Unite for Children, Unite Against Aids. The health department has this campaign in all the provinces. Its priority is making treatment and testing available to all children, as young as possible.

My friend Wendy Leonard, who is the director of an AIDS education and health treatment organization in Rwanda, called The Ihangane Project, was in a small town (Ruli) in the northern part of Rwanda four years ago, working as a physician with a program connected to the Clinton Foundation. She discovered that one of the most challenging issues was making sure everyone was getting the same information and protocols from the various government offices, committees, NGO’s and countrywide initiatives. She also found that the best way to connect with adults was to first focus on and get treatment for their children, thus the importance of programs like Unite for Children, Unite Against Aids. She concurs that there has been a lot of progress, but that much remains to be accomplished.

Though these programs and policies have made great strides, they have not completely reached small community clinics such as C.E.L.P.A.R.’s Polyclinique, which is overseen by a local church organization and gets by on pins and needles, literally. There supplies are minimal, medical staff scarce and funding almost non-existent. In spite of these realities they have hope, education and community support beyond the expected.

As the singing and dancing continued, we were led by Dr. Ndatimana through the facility, which consisted of a small room containing the lab equipment (a few items for testing blood, including an old hand crank egg beater turned upside down (which was used as a centrifuge), two brightly painted “sick rooms”, a toilet closet and the front living room, from which we had entered. Their medicine cabinet, in the same room as the “lab”, contained about 30 medications (antibiotics, Tylenol and a few antiviral meds). That was the extent of their high technology laboratory and pharmacy; a far cry from the equipment at the hospital. There are 2 hospitals in Kigali. One is public and the other private. There are also numerous health clinics run by government and religious organizations and departments.

Dr. Ndatimana filled us in on the details. “We have two doctors. One is here and the other is in school in Belgium.” There is only one medical school in Rwanda, which is of course a very expensive expenditure. “We see many people that are HIV positive and others with AIDS,” the doctor continued. “The government helps a lot, but it can take a long time to see a doctor or get treatment at the hospital. We help them here through the church. The medicine is from the government, who pays for the drugs. If people have good support they can live for 15 years or longer, if not, they usually die within 2 years. This is an outpatient clinic, but sometimes if they are real sick they stay overnight in 1 of our 2 beds.” The doctor couldn’t recall exactly how many people had died from AIDS over the years and didn’t want to guess. He said, “It is sad, but it is part of my job. I’m a doctor”.

Even with the help of the clinic, fellow patients, the church and the government, it is unlikely that many people have the “good support” which Dr. Ndatimana speaks of as a necessity of living longer, since the country (and surviving family members) is still struggling to regroup after the shattering 1994 genocide. Many families were decimated, leaving few relatives or next of kin, let alone the financial or material whereabouts to recover. Top that off with the thousands upon thousands of orphaned children and you have an overwhelming, though not insurmountable, landscape of suffering and struggle.

When asked about the attitude of Rwandans’ towards those with HIV and AIDS, Dr. Ndatimana said, “Many organizations have worked on educating people about the disease. Now they are treated just like friends, like any other sickness. They are not stigmatized as they once were. Now they know we care. We have a team of counselors that help talk with people and teach them to not be afraid.” Mr. Sekabarati (the director) added, “We help them here through the church. “These people are our neighbors and from different churches. We want to help them, not condemn them.”

People were not always so understanding in the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of misinformation, fear and ignorance surrounded the disease and those that had it. Like most places in the world (West and East), it has taken an armada of consistent and persistent educational, governmental, health care and religious leaders to get the truth out about HIV and transform the cultures attitude from judgment to concern and support.

The fight is far from over. After another “awareness campaign” to reduce the spread of HIV, it was reported that there is still a low rate of condom use in remote areas of the country. They believe this is due to remaining stigma and lack of access to supplies. Rwanda imports about 14 million condoms per year, but that supply doesn’t meet the demand, especially in small villages outside the capital. These realities have driven the National HIV/AIDS Control Commission to increase imports for the demand and continue the Witegereza campaign, whose message is “Teach Me How To Use a Condom”. This campaign combines radio ads and over 200 billboards throughout the country. It is targeted at young people and adults.

The staff at C.E.L.P.A.R.S. Polyclinique state that all of the government programs, such as United for Children, Unite Against Aids, PACFA and Teach Me How, have made a difference, but it is neighbor to neighbor that works best. “When someone you know and have known for years, is sick, you want to help, says Mr. Sekabarati. “As Christians we are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is the right thing to do. We are not here to judge others. Anyone can get sick; it doesn’t make you a bad person.” C.E.L.P.A.R.S. has been educating people door to door, during sermons, at social events and from the example of their pastors and church elders, who not only support the clinic, but helped set it up in the first place, when they saw that not everyone’s needs were getting met.

Before leaving the clinic I spoke through a translator with one of the women singing. She said, in her birth language of Kinyarwanda, “We all support each other and are starting to understand.” She stated that patients help each other and check in on one another’s families throughout the week. They’ve developed a support system of those that are HIV positive and are not shunned, as they were in the past. Her words reminded me of one of the teachers at the ROP Center for Street Children, the orphanage in which we had been working for a number of weeks.

The teacher that came to mind was a woman who is Hutu, but is now teaching children who come from predominantly Tutsi backgrounds. Her husband is in jail for committing atrocities during the genocide (perhaps even against some of the parents of the orphans his wife now teaches). The teacher is HIV positive, as a result of transmission by her husband, as is their child. She continues to teach and love the children at ROP, while also visiting her husband in prison. In the past, she would have been ostracized and shunned for her illness or tribal affiliation, but now she is accepted and speaks of it freely. Her life embodies the contradictions, traumas, circumstances, transformations and ever-present hope, mixed with realistic and pragmatic solutions, which encompass the lives of most Rwandans.

After our tour was ended, we sat on a wooden bench or leaned against the wall and listened to some more songs. I don’t know how many people were not feeling well that day or had been sick for some time or how many folks in that small room had already lost family members, relatives and friends to AIDS, but the energy that radiated from their hearts and voices, seemed to transcend their circumstances. It was as if they were telling illness and death that they had no hold on them and were powerless in their presence. Children were laughing and playing outside the door, peering in, giggling and smiling before dashing off to play hide and seek. Adults entered and left quietly or stayed and joined in the singing. Dr. Ndatimana translated a verse from the last song. “We might have AIDS,” they sang, “but no matter how sick we are, it doesn’t matter. By the time we get to heaven we won’t be sick any more.” They weren’t being fatalistic. It didn’t mean they would stop taking medicine, educating others or desiring to live into old age. They were at peace with what was and what would be. Although I doubt they have ever heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or 12-step programs, they seemed to have down the serenity prayer by heart and not just in their heads. The prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

As we made our way back to the ROP Center for Street Children, we discussed the clinic and the experience. We tried to make sure that we cut short our tendencies to compare health care and HIV prevention and treatment in Rwanda with our experience back home in The States or Europe, but couldn’t resist. Some of us on the team, who had come to work at the orphanage, have also worked in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the West and dealt with the bureaucracy, setbacks, prejudice and fear that held sway in the early days of the pandemic and continue, to some degree, into the present. We were saddened by the lack of material provisions at the clinic, but also gratified by the community understanding and support. What impressed us most was the incredible dedication and lack of self-righteousness by the church, especially since it was a fundamentally conservative evangelical organization. They were actually matching their religious rhetoric with their actions. They were giving time, money and most importantly, a human touch to their faith. It was such a divergence from what we were used to with similar “Christian” bodies in the west. We were intimately familiar with people professing to be Christians, but whose rhetoric was hateful and only caused separation and pain and fanned the armies of ignorance. It was so refreshing to speak with the pastors and board of C.E.L.P.A.R.S. Some of us even began reconsidering our own faith or lack there of.

If there was no sign in front of the clinic and we’d been taken there under a different pretext, we would have thought we were simply going to meet someone’s family in a small apparently insignificant home on the outskirts of Kigali. The clinic was so inauspicious and unassuming. Some of us had expected to see a large building with modern conveniences, staff in white coats and long lines of patients sitting quietly in waiting rooms, awaiting their name to be called. As it turns out, size really doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of the place and the connection of the people that make something special. The people in this East side community of Kigali are connecting. Members from the local churches are connecting. The families in the area are communicating, educating and connecting by knocking on doors, speaking in the alleyways and markets and embracing their neighbors, one precious soul at a time.

It Doesn’t “Suck”

The way we speak drives me crazy! Well, it doesn’t really “drive me” anywhere, nor causes me to have a psychotic break, but it can be intensely frustrating. Our use of language is so flippant and unconscious that we rarely recognize the stinking sewage it can create in our immediate surroundings and the culture in which we live. Without understanding or realizing the toxicity of the words we are perpetuating we continue butchering the English language with random disregard for the consequences.

English is already limited in its capacity to adequately describe much of our experience, so why are we boxing it up into minimalist jargon and down-sizing its potential for understandable discourse? To put it bluntly, when did sucking become bad?

Sucking, a most pleasurable experience, now connotes that something or someone is not good; that they or it, is not only bad, but really awful. “That movie sucked” or “You suck” are lamely thrown around to encapsulate an entire event or individual and have nothing to do with the pleasurable sensations of sucking.

Co-mingling with this inane colloquialism is the phrase “I’m screwed.” or “Screw you.” To screw, in this context, refers to sexual intercourse, again a most pleasant and joyful experience that now insinuates being helpless, taken advantage of or without recourse, as in “I really screwed up.” or “They screwed me over.” It goes without any prerequisites that exclaiming “bad” to mean “good” makes as much sense as saying “cool” equals “hot”, “fat” is “great”, or “sweet” implies “excellent.”

Moving towards the basement of horrific vocabulary is “shut up”, which should be banned from use when used to convey “This can’t be true!” or “You’re kidding?” People who use “shut up” in that context should just shut up!

The proverbial “Boy!” or “Man!” when speaking of something astounding, exciting or unbelievable, such as “Man that was close! Man, you are amazing! Oh boy, let’s go!” is another constant source of verbal annoyance. Why don’t people say, “Oh, girl!” or “Woman, that was awesome!”?

Along these same illogical lines, when did both genders become “guys”? It appears to be used completely out of context and without regard to those who are being addressed. “Hi guys; what would you like for dinner?” the waitress asks a table of men, women and children. “What did you guys do today?” a father asks his daughter.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Take it like a woman! Quit acting like a boy.” or “Be a woman!”? When did being female become a bad thing? What is so threatening about women that men (and women) will use such language in a derogatory manner when they want boys or men to behave differently or to put them down?

And everyone knows the World Series is anything but. A competition that excludes ninety-five percent of the global population and includes only American and a few Canadian teams is not “The World”. American football is not “football”; it is hand and foot ball. Football is what Americans and English call soccer and consists of a REAL world series (World Cup) with countries from almost every nation on the planet.

There are some words that should just be banned, period. “Fine” for instance, as in “I’m fine.” The definition of fine is “finished; perfected; superior in quality; better than average.” When we greet one another and are asked, “How are you?” do we really intend to say “I am finished” “I am perfected” or “I am superior in quality; how are you?” Some psychotherapist friends tell me that “FINE” should stand for “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional”, but what do they know seeing that “psycho” is short for psychotic and “therapist” comes from therapeutes, which means attendant or servant; thus my counseling friends are nothing but psychotic servants.

No word is used more inanely or often in English than the word “love”. We use it for everything – I love this movie; I love that song; I love you; I love me; I love baseball; I love Fred; I love Julia; I love food; I love God; I love my dog. It is used so casually and with such consistent disregard for its complexities, that it can end up meaning nothing more than an over-cooked adjective that has loved itself to death.

You may beg to differ with these observations about our idiosyncratic attempts to communicate; though I am still waiting to see someone actually get on their knees and plead or beg to disagree with something I have said. The old adage of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” must have originated with people who didn’t have to listen to someone saying, “this sucks” a thousand times a day or been told “screw you” and never been able to actually do so with the person who said it.

America’s Backbone

Raphael and Enedina are true Americans. They have lived in California for most of their lives and raised five wonderful children, who are all excellent students or have graduated and are now working themselves. Raphael has labored long hours in the strawberry fields, picking the delicious fruit we take for granted in this part of the world. Enedina, in spite of numerous health problems, has worked at home raising the children.

This family is like countless others who have immigrated to this country, dug deep roots and made a better life for their children. They are also unlike most of us who were born here. In the midst of everything else they have done to survive, they have also been studying English and practicing to take their exams to become US citizens, which is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.

I can attest to the painful experience of trying to learn another language as an adult, let alone another country’s history and government. I took Spanish in High School. I took Spanish in College. I attended a class at the Santa Cruz Adult School. I listened to tapes and tried speaking with Spanish-speaking friends. All these attempts ended in dismal failure. Other than rudimentary Spanish, I still can not retain or speak the language.

Raphael and Enedina, on the other hand, not only continued working while studying English, but they also had to memorize and learn more about our country than any native-born American has ever had to do. Not knowing which questions would be asked on their citizenship exams, they had to learn the answers in English and Spanish to more than one-hundred and fifty questions (many with multiple answers, such as the Bill of Rights, The Pledge of Allegiance and the thirteen original colonies)!

How many of us (those who were born and raised in the US) know the answers to these questions? What does the red, white and blue stand for in the American flag? How old must one be to run for the US Senate? What can the Senate do that the House of Representatives cannot do? How many amendments do we now have in the Constitution? What is the Fourth Amendment? What is the Eighth Amendment? Name ten cabinet positions that advise the president. What is the purpose of the United Nations? What are the three ways that bills become laws?

Raphael and Enedina studied year after year for this exam and recently passed on their first attempt! They can now apply for federal jobs, petition for relatives to join them in the U.S. and most importantly, vote. They will now have a say in the country they have made their home, in the country in which they have lived, worked and paid taxes for decades.

Their presence has made this country a better nation. Their presence and accomplishments should inspire us all. They are true Americans. Americans who deeply understand our democratic republic and the constant vigilance and hard work required to keep it a land of freedom and opportunity. They know what it truly takes to be an American citizen.

If you would like to help other hard working individuals and families learn English and/or study for citizenship, contact your local literacy program. Along with Native Americans, immigrants are the backbone that keeps America standing.

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