Early last week, Barry and I set out in a canoe down the Ghost River… these photos were taken before setting off – we have different ideas of canoe stability and therefore, I wasn’t about to leave my phone anywhere but a dry bag.
The Ghost River Conservancy is approximately an hour north of Oxford, MS in Tennessee – there are various put ins, but we went off on a five hour La Grange to Bateman Bridge segment involving a meandering river, a cyprus swamp, a “lake” and a hell of a lot of snakes.
The Ghost River is full of trees (and spiders, and snakes) that have to be navigated around – for people who are not great with steering canoes (ahem, Barry), this can be rather challenging. It probably also didn’t help that I found some relatively random gentleman on the internet to take us out on this expedition, who shouted relatively helpful advise from the safety of his canoe.
We have now come to the agreement that for the sake of our relationship we will not be canoeing together – you can add this to my refusal to be his buddy on a scuba diving trip. Sure, we can both be underwater at the sometime, but absolutely cannot be paired together. It’s totally possible to have an argument 30 feet under water.
I am absolutely in love with Birmingham, Alabama…It could be that I’m starved for city life, because Birmingham doesn’t have that many great options for food, grocery, or walkable neighborhoods. It was also terribly cold –
But… more than one option for decent coffee, and great beer! Incredible history that has been supported by both the city and the state! Friendly people who actually take the time to engage in conversation. It was a much needed break from small town living – I have threatened repeatedly to look for jobs in Birmingham.
Perhaps the best part of the city is how much there is to do within the city and just outside it. Some incredible hiking, and plenty of outdoor activities… moreover, most activities are free!
The only Ethiopian food we found was both mediocre and overpriced… coupled with people using forks (I’m sorry, what?) who proceeded to stare silently at me while I ate my injera and lentils. Luckily, the woman behind the counter gave me a thumbs up and complimented my eating etiquette. I find that most people I meet are baffled by my preference for, and skill at, eating with my hands. I often neglect to tell them that for the better part of two years I was reprimanded and coached over Kebsa like a small child on the floor of a Missoula apartment.
Off to Alabama for a few days this spring break… it’s 25 degrees outside, Barry is not amused by my commitment to camping out.
This fall I’ll be assigning No Knives in the Kitchens of this City by Khaled Khalifa for Honors 101 – “Self, Society and Identity.”
This is probably the best piece of literature I’ve had the chance to read in the last 6 or so months, and in my quest to assign my students readings from outside a western perspective, this is the obvious choice. My hope in assigning Khalifa’s book is that they begin to open themselves up, if even in the smallest ways, to the Syrian experience, and the reality of living under a brutal dictatorship for decades. I’ve noticed in two semesters of teaching that as much as they want to believe they’re sympathetic to refugees and aware of the Syrian crisis, there is still the tendency to lay blame and create an “other” that justifies a refugee ban.
This novel isn’t linear, and it isn’t easy – you have to give yourself over to the experience. Perhaps its easier to grasp if you’ve lived the parallel lives described by Khalifa to preserve your sanity, but university life isn’t supposed to be about easily tangible concepts and ideas – we are meant to challenge our young citizen scholars.
I’ll be pairing this with Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story, as well as two recent episodes of this American Life which explore refugee life in Greece. This semester I assigned Cities of Salt by Abdulrahman Munif, and challenged them to think of the death of a city, rather than a character, and the perils of oil discovery and American technology, rather than the glamor of it.
If you want to learn more about Khaled Khalifa’s wonderful novel click here and here.
The reality of small town living in Mississippi often catches me off guard – by most of my student’s standards, Oxford is the big city. For me, Oxford is the southern living version of the town I grew up in. The equivalent number of streets, the quaint “downtown” area, and an oddly high number of both nail salons and below average Mexican restaurants.
Yesterday I went to the good will, grabbed a book that caught my eye, got home, flipped to the front page and saw that my office mate was the book’s previous owner. Curious about this, I grabbed the other book I bought, flipped to the first page, and found the name of one of my former students.
Shortly after the Good Will visit, I went into Walmart and ran into 5 different students. All of whom had come on their own, all of whom greeted me –
The night before that, I went with a co-worker to grab a glass of wine in an empty bar. The only other group to walk in was a group of our colleagues from another department. This makes me all the more aware of going for a late night grocery run in my pajamas, or venting about my daily frustrations.
I’m working on developing a new, website!
Wait for updates!
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is an absolute must for any visitor to north Mississippi.
Barry and I have tried to make it a few times, but daunted by long lines, have opted for beers and BBQ elsewhere in Memphis. Today we ignored the lines, purchased the family pass, and spent a few hours soaking in the incredible amount of information. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried in a museum before today, but… in front of the burned Freedom Rider bus, a little girl turned to ask her mom “who burned the bus?” And her grandma replied, “people who didn’t like what we were doing.”
As a teen in the north west, racism always seemed like a southern problem – limited to geographic boundaries suggested by electoral maps, and history text books. It occurred to me when I was 16 or 17 that it wasn’t that we didn’t have a race problem, it’s that we didn’t have to deal with it… northerners could shift the blame as long as it was politely done. People were quietly racist – the way they pulled their purses away from my step brother, Royce, or followed my friends in college into the store to see if they were stealing. The quiet acceptance of a national narrative that labeled muslims and arab nationals as terrorists or radicals, African American youth as criminals, rappers or gang bangers, and the Asian students as incredibly brilliant while dangerous on the road has been the norm. We continue to perpetuate horrific, degrading stereotypes of LGBTQ communities, and to speak of hate crimes, and an uptick in anti Semitic crimes as the melodramatic ramblings of liberal snowflakes… and to default to these labels rather than describing one another by personality and character traits – allowing our everyday patterns of speech to open the door to where our neighbors are less than us.
Today, an older African American woman turned to me, and gave voice to what I was thinking “huh. We’ve come a long way, you and I standing here… but still…”
Exactly, but still…We have a long way to go before we can tackle the injustices of the past, and the present… I’d like to think it starts with sitting down to listen.
I haven’t blogged much the last 6 months – for a number of reasons including my workload, and the stress related to moving my partner and dog across the ocean. I also didn’t recognize the country I moved back to at all – confirmed by the election results in early November, and I didn’t fully prepare myself for reverse culture shock.
I forgot how hard it was to move back – especially to a different American culture. I’m still baffled by the small things like gas station dinners (ribs, potatoes and corn… not nachos and corn dogs), the limited availability of … well anything that’s not BBQ or boutique, and the general politeness that characterizes every interaction. I still struggle with the big things – lack of affordable or adequate health care, pervasive racial tension, and an economic system which punishes the poor.
Making friends was harder than I thought, so I decided to take the situation into my own hands. I started working out with a personal trainer… essentially I began paying people to talk to me – and I’m okay with that. My fitness goals are on track, and for the hardest 3 months I had weekly face to face interaction with humans who were not my students, the liquor store clerk, my friend who drank with me over FaceTime, or my mom who calmly fielded every stress ridden phone call.
I also joined a 5k running club (even though I love people, I loathe running with them) long enough to earn a friend who puts up with me, and reminds me of the goodness of people. We haven’t hit our running goals, but that’s not really what it’s about most days. It’s venting about jobs, relationship stress, and sharing TV recommendations.
I’m working out of the culture shock… literally. Returning to the U.S. has been hard – made easier by a lot of people who are looking out for me – but it’s a work in progress and we will see where it goes from here.
An hour or so north of Oxford, the Chewalla Lake trail makes for a nice morning out. This trail doesn’t seem very well kept by the Park Service, but perhaps that’s because it’s winter and everything is closed for the season. It’s beyond me how 77•F can be considered a “chilly” day… but then what do I know?