Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Days, uhhh, 3 and 4?

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was, as expected, emotional and arduous. There is a lot of reading involved. It got me thinking about what makes a good museum and how I might do things differently. This museum had to cover so many aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. How does one do that withOUT making the visitors read a million plaques? The most interesting choice the museum made was structuring it so near the end of the exhibit, you realize you're standing about six feet from where Martin Luther King Jr. was when he was assassinated. You can look across the balcony and see where the assassin was hiding. The significance of this choice was felt by everyone, I believe. And they wisely protect the significance and seriousness of the museum by not allowing photography inside - much to the chagrin of these students who take A HUNDRED PHOTOS OF EVERY SINGLE THING THEY SEE. I can't blame them. If I were in Africa I'd do the same thing.

Leaving Memphis took forever. Doing anything with 19 students and three chaperones takes forever. We got to Birmingham very late and during a summer rainstorm. We watched Eve's Bayou on the drive. I guess one of the students didn't like some of the subject matter in the film and felt we needed some counteractive entertainment su as soon as it was over he put on this DVD of traditional hymns sung as the camera panned over Thomas Kinkade-esque paintings. So hilariously wrong and odd.

Yesterday we drove down to Newburn, AL to visit the Rural Studio. The students seemed to enjoy it and asked a lot of really good questions while we visited a few of their current projects. I wanted to see more, but they were getting antsy and each had needs to attend to. If someone's not throwing up in the bus toilet, then another is losing his camera in a Wal Mart in New Albany, MS. It's constant work, trying to get everyone's needs met. I think the pressure started to get to me yesterday. I'm starting to get tired of traveling like this. But we're only halfway so I'd better buck up, suck it up, and resolve to make this trip a success.

Some pictures:

Little Rock's Central High School

A painting in our hotel in Little Rock. It rendered me speechless.

Outside the Clinton Presidential Library.

Beale Street.

The "pods" where the male outreach students live at the Rural Studio.

The brick structure is the bathrooms.

Close-up of the bricks and bottles.

Tile walkway outside the pods.

Cardboard housing.

The new animal shelter for Hale County, AL.


Where the animals will be kept.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Instead of Swimming In The Guitar-Shaped Pool.

I should have gone to Al Green's church. I thought I needed "quiet time."

I can't rest even when I'm supposed to.

I miss my daughter and my boyfriend.


Do not EVER stay at the Days Inn Graceland.

Please take my word for it.

Although they do have a guitar-shaped pool and play Elvis incessantly.

But still. Trust me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Days One and Two

Day One:

Well...it was hot and exhausting. We visited Heifer Ranch, which I always love, but it was probably 145 degrees outside and we had been driving all day and we had the chiggers and mosquitoes so everyone was sweaty, itchy, and cranky by the time we left for Little Rock. But then we pulled up to Central High School where a throng, (well...pretty much) of reporters were there to meet us! We'd sent out press releases to all the cities we're visiting so it was really cool for the students to all be meeting with reporters from the AP, Dem Gazette, radio stations, tv stations, NPR, etc.
We had a fun night out on the River Market. We ate at Flying Fish seafood. One of the students came up to me with a huge bowl of salad. "I wanted chicken," He said, "But they gave me this big bowl of fresh leaves." You have to imagine it with a thick Kenyan accent. Another student wanted fish but couldn't get the guy taking his order to understand, so he drew a picture of a fish (like the Jesus fish) so he was brought an entire whole fried fish. Another funny moment of miscommunication and language barriers. Everyone had a great sense of humor about it. I fell into bed and slept like a log, a log who has depressingly vivid dreams.

Day Two:

The visit to the Clinton Library was better than I expected. One guy working there is from South Africa and is about to enter the Clinton School of Public Service to earn his Master's Degree. What an amazing program. We walked over to the Clinton School building and learned about the program, which I thought was a great idea seeing as how these students are ideal candidates for the school. You study for a year in Little Rock and then do internships all over the world working on your "capstone" project that you'll take back to your targeted area. There are people working at AIDS clinics in Uganda, in tsunami-stricken areas in Indonesia, all over the place. It made me want to go back to school to work on something similar!

We then had an amazing time (in my opinion...I'm only slowly getting feedback from the students - they seem to need a bit more time to process and think about things before they are ready to give full opinions) today at the Davies Plantation, a fully-restored and authentic original plantation. A local woman, Barbara, prepared an entire lecture series for the students. We had a local author who writes historical fiction give a talk about slavery in the area. Then another woman who gives historical tours and who personally lived through the civil rights era in Memphis talked about her experiences going on all-day sit-ins and marches in the '60s in Memphis and Alabama. It opened up a great dialogue about how to create healing between races. Powerful stuff. A South African student came up with the idea of an American organization that could be created solely for the purpose of helping African-Americans trace their lineage back to Africa. The speakers seemed to really take to that idea. I really can't quite describe how intense and special it was to me to think about all of us, sitting in this original plantation dining room...where slaves had worked and served food to the owners, discussing the history of Africans in America with Africans, African-Americans, and white Americans. We then walked the property, looked at the cotton plants (it's a beautiful plant up close) and looked at all the original buildings.

Later we had a fun evening out on Beale Street and heard some jazz and some of the students ate fried green tomatoes for the first time....and even liked them!

Tomorrow we're going to Al Green's church for a full gospel service, the National Civil Rights Museum located at the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, seeing an underground railroad site and then driving to Birmingham, AL.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cranky Pants Deluxe

I'm tired and stressed to the max from having to work two jobs the past few weeks. But I'll get on a bus tomorrow, the den mother/bad cop/cranky pants/stupid fat American on a bus full of Africans, and just ride for a week or so. And I'll get to tool around Washington DC by myself next weekend.

Right now, though, my stomach's a knotted mess and I still have too much to do before I leave and I'll miss my daughter and my boyfriend and our cat and dog a whole whole lot.

I now believe that one of the WORST JOBS ON EARTH (right up there with independent weapons contractor and biohazard waste clean-up duty) is Group Tour Coordinator. Making reservations, figuring out schedules and budgets - what a colossal pain in the ass. NEVER AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Elections in the 21st Century!!

Did anyone else watch the Democratic candidates debate last night? With the questions asked via YouTube videos?

Watching it was torture. I was so embarrassed by America in general. The snowman asking about global warming....the rednecks....it was like the tryout tapes for America's Got Talent. I was cringing the entire time, either by the gimicky questions being asked or the slick, rote answers given by the candidates. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, John Edwards said the only thing he didn't like about Hillary was her dress. COME ON!!! Is it possible for a female in the public eye to be judged on something besides her appearance? Apparently not.

I'm beginning to think maybe we don't deserve democracy anymore.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Until I Have Time To Write - Weekend in Pictures

Stella (aka Ginny Weasly) at the Harry Potter release party at the Carnegie Library in Eureka Springs (note Hagrid in the background).

Secret Garden next to the library.

What an alley looks like in Eureka.


D. warming up.

Jessica & Robin at brunch.

What Stella looked like all weekend.

Except for when there was a kitten around.

I'm a sucker for princesses holding kittens.

Back to The Book.

Paw pads!

Cherokee name: Dances With Dogs.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Really Good News

I can't keep this in any longer.

Here's the deal. Last winter in a meeting our director told us she was working on a grant that would bring a group of exceptional students from Africa to study here. "What sort of program would we do with African student leaders?" She asked us. Immediately I thought it would be really cool if they could study the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. I remembered my friend Jessica had done something similar. Our director loved the idea so we all got the material together for the grant. We were awarded the grant in April and I started doing preliminary research on historic Civil Rights events and locations. See, one of the unique parts of this program is that it requires a trip for the students that will finalize in Washington, D.C. where the students will meet up with the other grantees who had studied in other areas of the U.S.. So I planned a rough sketch of a road trip around the South, ending in D.C.. The trip will include stops in Little Rock, Memphis, Birmingham AL, Atlanta and Greensboro, NC., and feature things like going to Al Green's church, touring The Rural Studio, and getting a preview of the International Civil Rights Center, plus most of the requisite memorials.

Well, the students, from Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, arrived earlier this month and have been really busy with their symposiums (symposia? What's the correct Latin grammar?), community development projects, and leadership training. They are quality individuals...such a joy to be around. They seem like they're always dancing, singing, and smiling. Even I feel hopeful and positive about the future when they're around.

And I never expected I would get to go on this trip because I knew I'd be busy with the other groups of students and because we hired someone specifically to coordinate the unit. But late last week our director asked if I could go along with the program director! I've been walking on air ever since. Yay!

Not only is this an incredible program that has deeply touched everyone involved, but, on a more selfish note, it gives me a chance to really appreciate the fruits of my labor. The logistics of a trip on this scale are a bitch! I'll also get to see some parts of the country for the first time, experience a part of our history that is both painful and necessary, PLUS I'll get to go through it all with these amazing students.

I'll try to post updates along the way. We leave next Friday on a chartered bus and I'll fly back on the 5th. This REALLY makes it all worthwhile.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Only Thing Worth Posting Today

Happy Birthday, Lori Mocha!

I wish I were there to watch bad action movies and listen to Olivia Newton John with you. I'd totally bake you a cake and buy you a case of beer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Non-newsy Nugget

Sting has a "grandiose ego?!" NO WAY!

What a dick.

Summer Reading

The oppressive, thick, swampy Arkansas summer is upon us. I come home from work and must immediately lie down for a nap (where's my fainting couch?).

I will report some exciting developments at work very soon. Something I've worked on for quite some time is finally coming to fruition and I'll get to participate.

Last weekend was exactly what I'd needed. I spent all day Saturday reading and finished two books! I can't remember the last time I've done that. Early in the morning I read The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (a book I'd been meaning to get around to for ages). I dunno....her writing might be a little too flippant for my tastes. It juxtaposes oddly with her often-stodgy material. But it was a quick, easy read and I didn't regret it all too much. Then I moved on to The Annunciation by Ellen Gilchrist. Angela read this last winter and had recommended it to me. It was another quick read, but more engrossing and visual. I say "visual" probably because the last half of the novel takes place here in Fayetteville and I was picturing everything as I'd remembered it years ago. She wrote about the old Fayetteville, before luxury condos and the Olive Garden and $75 haircuts moved in, but it's still recognizable. It's kind of nice to live in a place worth writing about. I'm such a sucker for her kinds of stories: wild, semi-tragic southern women and the men who love them.

I had missed reading. Hell, I miss writing. Next month my life will slow down some, but then Stella's back in school and we'll be into a whole 'nother time-sensitive routine.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

She Was Luna Lovegood, Not Hermione, In Case You Wanted To Know

I just really really love it that my daughter is still nerdy enough to dress up in character to see the new Harry Potter movie (twice) yesterday.

And I really really hate it that I am working so much that I couldn't see her in costume and take pictures.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Who Isn't At Least A Little ADD These Days?

Well, I was gonna post pictures of our July 4th dinner but there were technical difficulties and the pictures are lost and the card needed reformatting and so I got cranky about cameras and cards and card readers and USB ports and operating systems and computers and technology in general. The Snowball Annoyance Syndrome. Sort of like getting a parking ticket and then the next thing you know you're pissed at government, religion, and human nature. It happens to me all the time.

This was the weekend I took my students to Little Rock for a series of social justice-themed tours. The entire trip was fraught with fuck-ups and frustrations from the get-go. I taught the students the phrase "a comedy of errors," which best describes the whole process of just trying to get 13 international students, my boyfriend, and me out of town and on the road.

But eventually we did leave, only now with D. driving a 12-passenger van with 10 students and me driving a last-minute rental car with the other three. I try not to give personal details about my students, but I do need to mention that this group has had an extraordinarily high number of medical emergencies, physical ailments and disabilities, and circumstances requiring a lot of personal attention. It's not their fault, but this group is just really high maintenance in that way. The last group needed a lot of mediation and interpersonal kinks worked out...I just never know what I'm going to get and what the dynamics will be.

D. was beyond awesome and helpful and supportive, though. Initially I asked him to come with me because I like his company and thought it'd be fun. He had no idea he'd end up working the entire time. I think he got a real sense of why I come home sometimes and just want to lie down, alone, in a dark quiet room. My job requires me to be a translator, problem-solver, chauffeur, ambassador, and assistant. And sometimes, like this weekend, Cruise Director, Julie McCoy.

I like Little Rock. I always enjoy visiting. It's about three or four times the size of Fayetteville so that means there are about four times more things to do and interesting things to see but also that it's that much more stressful to navigate and survive in.

I do love being with the students as they learn about the Central High School Crisis, or The Heifer Ranch. They bring their experiences with bigotry, poverty, and overcoming hardships in their countries, so they pay extra close attention to how the U.S. deals with these issues. They seem alternately impressed, disgusted, confused, and dazzled by our country. "Hey," I try to relay to them, "Join the club." I watch as they process it all, comparing their countries with ours. I see how, through their eyes, we get some things right and are rather misguided about other things. It makes me feel lucky and, once in a while, proud to be an American, but also ashamed and embarrassed by our glutton, hubris, selfish intentions, etc., etc. I just try to embody the good associations....and deny and suppress the ways in which I am the typical ugly American.

On to other stuff....

Speaking of typical ugly Americans...that's pretty much what I think about Live Earth. I wonder how much waste was produced and energy used as a result of those concerts....

I don't write much about my mother. But I could and maybe I should....there's several books' (not to mention thousands of therapy dollars') worth of material in that relationship. We've been estranged for the better part of a year and I believe that's been very good for me. I will say that this particular paragraph in Cary Tennis's column struck me:
"(T)here are alarming similarities between moms and seasoned con artists. Both are brazen. Both act as if there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. They both tend to take charge in stressful situations whether they have the required expertise or not, and both are used to coming up with bogus excuses for doing things their own way. They think on their feet with blazing speed, and their complicated pseudo-logic is known to cloud the mind. Con artists and moms both have elaborate sets of rules that don't make sense. They both engage in hocus-pocus crazy talk. And they both know how to seize authority through sheer force of will, and in seizing authority paralyze the opposition."
So, you know, take from that what you will. And no, the irony that I'm of course ALSO a mother is definitely not lost on me.

Also, check it out - my hometown in the New York Times! It's a shame the article didn't mention some of the best aspects of Eureka Springs: how it's a haven for weird and unique people, the astounding natural beauty, and some indefinable energy that just makes it special....like Taos, or Key West.

Oops. I'm late for dinner. We're invited for a homecooked Thai noodles at one of the student's. Yum.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Somehow Makes It All Worthwhile

An email I received this morning:

Hello Alannah!
I congratulate you with the main American Celebration – Day of Independence.
Please transfer my intimate congratulations to all employees of your remarkable center who remembers me. I wish all of you of good luck and health.
I thank all of you for the patience shown during work with me, I know I have intolerable character, please, forgive me. I recollect your lessons and care with gratitude.
Remember me with my photo from Russia.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Time: Not On My Side

Y'all, I'm losing my mind. Whatever happened to "summertime and the livin' is easy?"

Why oh why did I say I love being busy? Can I take that back? Because I think I really love having time for myself instead. I've got episodes of The Dog Whisperer just PILING up on the DVR.

I've been eating well, though. No worries there. Sunday night was pan-seared Ahi tuna with a wasabi cream sauce served with jasmine rice and sauteed bok choy, orange, and yellow peppers. Dessert was coconut sorbet with sliced mango tangerines on top. I didn't even know that fruit existed (probably just a marketing strategy) but it's bright yellow, peachy, and delicious. I must say I'm a fan of fruit hybrids. Bring on the pluots and tangelos!