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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