Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Something Spooky

Indonesians are a superstitious bunch. There is a lot of mysticism and folklore woven into the fabric of their existence. I find it rather beautiful. Although there are some Indonesians who scoff at this part of our heritage, there are some who accept it as part of our history. The Indonesian Airline “Garuda” is named for a mythical bird, a Hindu Deity who mocks the wind with the speed of his flight and was born with a hatred for evil. I sometimes have difficulty separating the folklore of Indonesia from history. 

My Dutch father who went to church every Sunday and even taught “Sunday School” spoke of unexplainable phenomena that he witnessed while in Indonesia. Inanimate objects moving across the room on their own, whispers in the night and voices carried by the wind.

My brother Erik, told me a story about my father in their early years in Kansas. Everyone was fast asleep when my father woke the family and insisted that they seek the safety of the outdoors because of the earthquake. Once outside, he accepted that there was no earthquake and the family returned to their beds. The next morning they learned that the Indonesian Island of Java, their former home, was struck by a devastating earthquake. My life has been filled with stories like this one.

Superstition in Indonesia could be attributed to its roots in Animism. For many indigenous people, animism was the part of an early belief system. Animism, from the Latin anima translates to a current of air, wind, breath, the vital principal, life, soul. Animism is the belief that everything natural has a spirit.

Today’s craze seems to be books, movies and television series that involve vampires, werewolves, wizards, magic and oh yes… zombies. I see this as progress. I see it as an indication that society is allowing itself permission to explore another side of life, to look “outside the box”.

I often find that when life feels oppressive, when its burdens seem too heavy, a walk in nature cures that which ails me. There is something about a gentle breeze that ruffles the leaves then sweeps down to stroke my hair that comforts me. I must say I have never felt God in the sanctuary of a church but in nature, I am surrounded by God. It doesn’t seem a far reach for me to believe that the blending of animism and mainstream religion could hold some area of “truth”.

I am afraid of the dark. I don’t remember a time when I was not. I cannot watch movies about the supernatural. I wake in the middle of the night, remember scenes from movies that I saw twenty years ago and I am afraid to close my eyes.

 This is my Halloween story:

There is something a little spooky in my house. The floors creak, the beams in the attic whine in the wind and occasionally when I am home alone I hear a low, barely audible moaning which sounds almost like suppressed weeping but not like that of a child or a young woman but deeper and more sorrowful.  When I hear it, I feel it in my core and I have to go outside and stand in the daylight to “shake off” the feeling.

 I once had a dream that there was a woman in my closet. She had skin the color of caffe’ latte and wore a long, worn skirt, covered by a dingy apron. Her hair was covered by a scarf, tied at the nape of her neck. She was hiding. A few weeks later my daughter Olivia, then about age three or four had been sleeping on the floor of my bedroom. She woke me at about 5:30 in the morning to tell me that a woman was standing beside my closet. I asked her to describe the woman. The description matched that of the woman in my dream.

My theory is that she is a slave woman who might have lived on this land where our house was built.  For some reason she didn’t cross over and has adopted us. She never does anything malicious, as a matter of fact, I feel that she looks after us. It could also be that I have an active imagination and prone to embellishment, I’m not entirely certain I myself know which.

Happy Halloween! 

From Spike Lee's Rockapella

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Sweet Life

I love to fantasize about having a life in both France and in the States. In this fantasy my children are bilingual; they have French friends and American friends and go back and forth with ease.  In my French life I have a small, simple place in the south of France. I read, I cook, and I sit outside in the sun and entertain friends late into the night and the sound of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice floats through the night air. I wake in the morning drink coffee and go for a trek in the mountains or discover quaint shops in a nearby village. 

In reality I live in Blue Springs, Missouri, a suburb about 20 minutes east of Kansas City. Topographically, it is beautiful here. The soil is rich and fertile. The lay of the land is hilly and rocky. There are a lot of trees.   1/8th of very cent paid by Missouri tax payers goes to the Missouri Department of Conservation. We have outstanding outdoor resources and wildlife conservation, our lakes are breathtaking.

I often imagine that living in Europe might have been a better “fit” for me. I imagine that socially and politically I might not have felt a stronger sense of belonging.  I find that my way of life and my philosophy about life is frequently in conflict with those in my community. My learners often say, “But you are not really an American”. However, if the truth be known, I really love the life that I have in the states. When I reflect on my childhood I can’t imagine a more delightful place to have lived.

I grew up in Lone Star, Kansas.  The first settlers arrived in the Lone Star area in 1854. In its height it had a bank, a post office, a general store and a barber shop. By the time I was born the only evidence of that fact were the empty structures. The area was mostly farmland, there is a small lake built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. The land consists of rolling, wooded hills, sweet, grassy valleys and creeks and streams that babble like happy children in the spring then grow stagnant and slow in the summer. The area is far enough from city lights that the deep, dark night time sky is illuminated by stars. Wildlife is abundant, in addition to a variety of reptile and fowl, there are deer, raccoon, opossum, squirrel, skunk, coyote, fox, bobcat and rumored panther sightings.

The air is fragrant with the smell of fresh cut grass and often with the dusty aroma of whatever crop was in harvest. One of my most fond scents is that of silage. Silage is made up of trimmings of the unused part of a combination of harvested crops such as oats, wheat, corn or milo. The cuttings are chopped, mixed and placed into a silo where it ferments and is then used to feed to livestock during the winter months. The smell is earthy and sweet and just short of offensive. In the late summer, as hot days end in cool evenings, I long for the smell.

The Lone Star community was made up largely of Brethren Farmers. The Church of the Brethren is the offspring of a very traditional Old Order Brethren Church that at first glance resemble the more known Amish. The Brethren, although much more modern, embrace the tradition of simplicity and pacifism. They are known for their full water immersion in baptism. They are sometimes known as Dunkards.

The people in the Lone Star community were my extended family. They accepted me into their homes, invited me to share meals and in many cases offered me a picture of the “Midwestern American family”.  The Brethren have what I now know to be a unique sense of community. They are a service oriented group of people. When I say, “service”, I mean they are “in service” to one another. If a neighbor experiences misfortune or sickness, they work as a community to help. Meals are prepared, pies are baked, work is done and clothes are offered.  If there is a natural disaster, a flood, a tornado, the Brethren are often the first to respond.  I like to think that this is a core value that I have retained in my adulthood. I believe that although I long for a bigger world I am rooted in my beginnings.

Today, my work is performed from my home. I telecommute to the offices of my learners and when they tell me about a weekend in a small village tucked into the Pyrenees, I ache with longing. My husband occasionally travels for work and it sometimes angers me when he tells me he is leaving for India, Japan, Singapore, China or Chile while I stay home and take care of the children and the dogs.

A few weeks ago when my husband traveled to Shanghai, the temperature began to change and I realized that our nine year old son needed warmer clothes. After a lot of coaxing I dragged him to the department store. He was very uncooperative and uninterested in trying on another pair of jeans. In exasperation, I surrendered.  We climbed into the car and decided to relax and take the long way home. We drove the road between two lakes as the sun was just beginning to set. The leaves had just begun to change and the setting sun and fall colors reflected in the water. Eli, the old soul, opened a Journey CD and inserted it into the CD player and turned up the volume. We put the windows down and felt the slight bite of the cool air. I turned to look at him and saw that he had leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes to listen to Steve Perry’s voice. On his face was sheer bliss.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Freedom Fries

My father loved the French, he loved the food, the music and the language. However, I had heard stories, stories that scared me. I’d heard stories about aloof, mean spirited people who hate Americans and who refuse to give direction to American tourists. My first lesson with a French client was cautious. During that lesson my learner asked if I could confirm stories of Americans pouring their French wines into the streets in response to Jacques Chirac’s refusal to support George W. Bush’s in his decision to send military to Iraq. He also asked me to explain exactly what a Freedom Fry is. I smiled and silently nodded my head in the realization that I was going to love working with the French.

The French are reserved and they are very nationalistic. I like to describe them as being hard and crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy in the center. If you can break through the outer shell they are devoted and warm and genuine. They love Americans and they hate Americans. After all, we have given them ample reason for both sentiments.

 I had a young woman as a learner who moved from the French city of Lyon to the south of France where her boyfriend works as a firefighter. The south of France is very dry and the French government is vigilant about precaution. Veronique is a woman I will always carry in my heart. Prior to her move to the south she had been in a serious motorcycle accident and the medical professionals told her parents that she would not walk again. Through sheer perseverance and will she proved them wrong and continues to enjoy the wind in her hair from the seat of a motorcycle. Veronique lived in a small, renovated, 16th century abbey. She was very content with a simple existence, shelter, food, her boyfriend and her dog. Her English lessons were paid by her the company that employed her as a point of contact for international lecturers. On the weekends Veronique, her boyfriend and her dog went on hikes in the surrounding hills and would then lovingly share the details of what she had seen during her next lesson.

As an example, one weekend the trio encountered a shepherd while walking in the nearby hills. He told them that he had been a Paris policeman and had given up the stress of crime and corruption for days filled with walking through fields tending to sheep. He and his wife managed a small farm where they would raise their soon to be born baby and never regretted giving up life in one of the most exciting cities in the world. As if this image was not enough to leave me longing, she then described walking over the next hilltop to find the ruins of a Cathar Castle neatly nestled in the valley where no one but wandering hikers or a lonely sheep herder would find it.  I had been living in a middle class suburb of Kansas City for 15 years longing for fresh landscapes, exciting adventures and new experiences. The image brought me to tears.

My lessons with Veronique ended and it is unlikely that we will work together again however, shortly after her last lesson I received an envelope in the mail. Inside the envelope I found a photo of a lovely Veronique standing in front of a red motorcycle, a postcard of an endless field of purple and a sprig of lavender picked from the fields near Montpelier.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It’s A Small World After All Or WAKE UP AMERICA!

Having coming from a multi-ethnic family I have always been fascinated with ethnicity and the role it plays in society.  My ethnicity is rather undefinable to the eye. I have been mistaken for many different ethnicities, usually the wrong one. There have been times that I have hated it but most of the time it’s a benefit. I can quietly slip into any group of “brownish” people and as long as I keep my mouth shut, I blend in.

 The most recent census in the US now indicates that Caucasian people are becoming the minority in the US.  I often ask my learners if multiculturalism and globalization are a good thing.  It’s safe to say that in 150 years everyone might look like me.  There might not be truly defined ethnicities and further down the road we might eliminate all but a few languages. Most of my learners tell me that they think this might be the best thing. They say that it might only be then that we begin to live as one race of people on this earth. I sort of doubt it. I’m sure we will find something to fight about.

In my early adulthood I would often hear about a car bomb that killed 50 people in a market place on the other side of the earth. I would hear this news and part of my brain would take in the knowledge and maybe for a minute or two, I would think about the lives that were lost, a father of four whose wife would hear the news and she would suddenly be struck by the knowledge that life is forever changed.  Those thoughts however, were brief. I wanted to care. I wanted to understand how that tragedy affected my life but it was too far away and I lived in a country where I could safely drive my car to the local supermarket or take the subway or go to my place of worship without even the most remote fear of an act of terrorism.

Today our world is changing quickly. We are very linked to our global neighbors. Our economies are very closely connected, we share an eco-system and we share fears of perceived enemies.  Some of my fellow American’s will take offense at what I am saying today but when you read this remember that anger is often a manifestation of fear. We don’t have the luxury of existing in a comfortably numb way of life any longer. We have to pay attention when we hear about a car bomb that killed 50 people in a market place on the other side of the earth. We have to open our ears and our eyes. The world "is" changing.

I like living in the most powerful country in the world. I like the civil liberties that I take for granted daily. I like going to the supermarket without the real fear that I might never see my family again. I like the freedom of walking down the street without seeing soldiers or armed personal carriers. I love the pioneer spirit that makes Americans Americans. I love the sense of innovation, the optimism and the patriotism. There are however, things we need to do to preserve this wonderful way of life. We (the people) have to adapt to the changes that are occurring as quickly as those changes are occurring. We have to wake up.

Regardless of our political leanings there are several things that we MUST do in order to maintain our strength as a nation. They are as follows:

1.) We need to pay attention to the election results in other countries. We need to know our world leaders and why and how they are elected. Countries like Spain, Italy and Greece are not a military threat to the US but their economies are currently a mess. Their economies drag down the European economy. When the Euro weakens too drastically it affects trade. If the Euro is weak they can’t afford to do business in the US. The US economy’s health is dependent upon its overseas business relationships.

2.) We need to learn languages, EARLY and fluently. English is the international language of business. I love it; it is my job to teach business English but can we really be competitive if we don’t really understand our competitors? Do you know that we are perceived as arrogant because we don’t even try? The Chinese are quickly gaining power as a nation. They are learning English.  I’ve read studies that indicate that when we speak another language we actually begin to see perceive things differently, we might actually see the color “blue” differently. I believe that it is true. We need to be more accommodating to people who speak other languages, we need to see them differently. We need to be more competitive in the international market place. Insist that your children, your grandchildren and your nephews and nieces learn a language.  Encourage your schools to begin offering language in kindergarten. If we don’t, we will fall behind.

3.) As a country we need to invest in education. Have you ever wondered why so many people that work in IT, Medicine, Research and Technology come from other countries? It’s no coincidence. We recruit and give work permits to foreign people because we aren’t producing that level of innovation ourselves.  We need to strengthen the level of public education available starting at the pre-school level. We need to recognize good teachers and pay them accordingly. We need to make higher education affordable and recognize the value of trade schools.

4.) We need to honor the religious beliefs of others. I am not a religious person, the spiritual beliefs that I do have are devout and they are personal. There is one rule that my children know is non- negotiable.  We do not disparage the religious beliefs of others. It simply is not honorable to do so. This country was founded on the belief in religious freedom. Religion does not belong in public schools and it does not belong in politics. If we don’t honor the beliefs of others, we are Un-American.  If you truly want to preserve and honor your religion, honor the religion of others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

5.) We need to reduce the outsourcing of manufacturing! The outsourcing of manufacturing robs Americans of jobs.  Manufacturing historically has offered high-paying jobs to otherwise unskilled or non-college educated people. These jobs strengthen the middle class. A healthy middle class equates to a stronger America.  The quality of products mass produced in other countries is not typically high. Have you wondered why your appliances don’t last as long as they used to? Be willing to pay a bit more for US manufactured products. You might save more money in the long run while boosting the US economy. It is a commonly held opinion in Europe that China will overtake the US as a financial superpower. In their opinion it is not a matter of “if” it is matter of “when”.

As we approach another US Election please take what I have written into consideration. I’m not attempting to tell you for whom you should vote (although I’d love to make suggestions).  I’m asking you to delve deeper into what you believe to be true. I’m asking you to research what you read. I’m asking you to look at the big picture which is the entire world.  We are really just a part of it.