Favorite reads, 2017

I just finished reading The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish. It’s one of my favorite novels of the year: history, culture, great characters, interesting ideas, good writing–a page-turner set in the 17th century London Portuguese Jewish community and current cutthroat academia. I like books that take me places.

It didn’t make it to the NY Times 100 Notable Books for 2017. The Times reviewers seem to prefer edgier fiction and memoirs. “Disturbing” is their favorite descriptor. Continue reading

Nevertheless, joy persisted

Pictures pop up from a year ago. People are sitting around a table at an open-air restaurant on a busy street in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. They are waiting for pizza. It is my birthday, but no one knows that until I tell them. The picture is taken before I tell them, and they are looking subdued. As I recall, telling them about my birthday, reluctant as I had been to do so, livened things up and it became a party. Continue reading

Calling Grandmothers

One of the first things I decided to do after the 2016 election was to stop coloring my hair. In the months that followed, the light brown I’d adopted for the past 20 years, something close to the color I was born with, gave way to snowy white. I am delighted with my new look, the result of genes inherited from my white-haired father and grandparents.

I told friends that I’d been waiting to stop coloring my hair till I was pretty sure it was growing out all white rather than gray. But there were deeper reasons for choosing to go white at that particular time, even though I couldn’t articulate them at first. Continue reading

Extravagant beauty

With full awareness of all that is ugly in the world, I am obsessing about beauty. I don’t believe these thoughts represent escapism so much as astonishment. A lesson that has unfolded for me over the past year is that nothing in this world is to be taken for granted. And so I’m trying to keep my eyes and my heart open and when I do this the beauty of life nearly overwhelms me, as does the impulse to experience, create, and extend this beauty, which represents Love. Continue reading

Look down! An eclipse!

This eclipse caught me unprepared.

I do not have eclipse glasses and didn’t think about buying them until it was probably too late.

I made no effort to get in the path of the total eclipse and didn’t think about doing that until I read (reread, it’s old) Annie Dillard’s marvelous essay on a total eclipse (different from a partial like the difference between kissing a man and marrying him, hmmm.)

And then I really wanted to experience a total. But that was about last Thursday. Continue reading

How can we help Congo? Part two

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Adolphine Tshiama. Photo by Charles Buller

A few days ago I started writing about what, if anything, we can do for that troubled country I love so much, the Democratic Republic of Congo. I put off writing Part 2 for a few days to sit with my intentions and motivations. I am very particular about asking for money, especially for things related to my own work and my church community. But I have decided to go ahead because I can’t get Adolphine out of my mind. Continue reading

How can we help Congo? Part one

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Ndjoko Punda in 2013. It is now overrun by violent militias.

I hear this question and ask it myself every time I hear or report news, often very personal, from this country that I love so much. The news is horrible. Chaos has descended on sections of the country. People are suffering dreadful loss and persecution. Thousands have fled their homes and are hiding out in the bush, homeless and starving. Unknown numbers have been slaughtered in the most gruesome way, uncanny echoes of all the worst outbreaks of violence that have plagued this part of the world in recent history. Continue reading

Broad is the way to the Kentucky Derby

 

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My husband and I went to the Kentucky Derby last Saturday. This was surprising to some people who know us. It was also surprising to us. It is not something people who grew up rural Mennonite generally put on their bucket lists.

As if to confirm how out-of-place we should feel at such an event, the last quarter-mile of the long walk from our parked car to Churchill Downs was lined with preachers shouting repentance. Continue reading

Training literacy teachers in DR Congo

I feel like I’ve been on vacation for the past week–a spa experience complete with steambaths and plenty of rest. My bum knee is recovering from the strains of the past weeks, moving house and traveling long distances. I have few responsibilities except doling out money as needed. There is plenty of time for hanging out with friends new and old.

I’m doing all this ease-taking in one of the roughest cities in the world, Kinshasa, DR Congo. Continue reading

Up in smoke

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Today I burned the contents of four file drawers. I already have bags and bags of recycle and trash so I thought why not have the fun of burning some paper? I was sorting and packing stuff in the basement in preparation for our move and I came across these files that I didn’t even remember belonged to me. They’d been there since our last move in 2008.

I guess I didn’t need anything in those files if I so totally forgot about them. Actually I did. Continue reading