weekly photo challenge: culture

I grew up in the southern United States; food is a tremendous part of my culture. Thanks to family, friends and spending years with a second family (my “North Carolina Grandma“, a.k.a. my babysitter) after school I am too familiar with some pretty tasty foods: macaroni and cheese, fried okra, ham biscuits, green beans and collard greens (or any vegetable) cooked for hours with some sort of ham, fried chicken, potato salad, sweet iced tea, butter on everything, dessert after every dinner. I would watch my friends snack on a livermush sandwich or crunch on a handful of fried pork rinds (two things I just could not bring myself to eat). Most likely, I am still alive because I stopped eating those lovely foods on a regular basis before I turned ten years old. My family tried to eat healthier and I still attempt to do the same.

Food is still a big part of my life. I try to disconnect it from love and care and to see it solely as nutrition for my body but I don’t think I will ever be able to separate it from my roots, my tradition, my culture. The older I get the more I see that my food, our foods—seem to be connected. My husband is Sri Lankan and our home towns are quite a distance from each other but we both grew up with spicy food and drinking very sweet tea to combat the heat. In both families, love was communicated to the family through food and the cook(s) felt love in return depending how much a meal was enjoyed.

The best meal I ate in Liberia was a ‘green soup’ at a tiny stand in a small village. The taste so clearly reminded me of my Grandmother’s greens that I fought back tears and the urge to go back to the kitchen to see if she was there (she passed away in 2001, so of course she wasn’t…). The soup wasn’t pretty but the best meals rarely are.

In Rwanda, the same connection occurred. One of the best soups I have ever tasted took me back to sweltering summers, in a hot kitchen and the distinct taste of fresh vegetables cooked for a late dinner after a long day of harvesting them from the back yard garden.

It happened again in DRC as I filled my plate with vegetables at a lunch buffet. The same hostess who urged me to take the varied meats, and looked incredulous as I declined all meat offered, later stopped by and nodded in approval as she noticed my cleaned plate. The potatoes, cabbage, beans, greens and carrots were all gone. Again, each dish could have come from that steamy summer kitchen where we had to speak up to be heard over the crickets and cicadas loudly chirping through the screen windows and doors.

How could I be pulled back to my childhood memories when I was so far away from those places? How could these meals seem so familiar to me when I had not been here before? I considered historical connections and recipes passed along generations but those connections seemed too impossible, the links were too thin. Riding in a bus over the “hills” of the Rwandan countryside, seeing the crowded farmland that covered every bit of space on the steep mountainsides, made me recall my Grandmother’s childhood home. She grew up on the side of a rocky mountaintop and her family farmed tobacco on that steep, stone covered land.

The food connections I experienced, for which I am grateful, were from a shared culture of poverty, resourcefulness, creativity and love.



If students could understand that we all are floating along, showing everyone just a small part of who we are, that we too struggle with fear and uncertainty, that there is so much left below the surface that we hide…they may feel better. It’s not just them.
We all ache and feel discomfort and question our purpose and this pushes us into the next decision, the next success or failure and into our next day. We are motivated by the promise of something better which, eventually, does come.

We lost another one of our students to suicide and the student body was stunned into silence today. In contrast our community is loud and has started to blame. “There is something wrong with the school.”  ‘The school’ doesn’t refer to the building. The community blames the administration, the counselors and the teachers. All of us. Nevermind there are other issues below the surface for anyone who makes that choice. Nevermind that mental health issues will rarely receive as much treatment and attention as a broken bone or a case of the flu. What cannot be seen must not be there.
Nevermind that no one knows how many students we help and ‘save’ each week, month and year. No one counts the kids who come back to us, the ones who become safe after long, long periods of very hard work.

We are all hurt. Today we all hold the blame and wonder what could have been done better while knowing, not one of us made that choice for him.


1. Today is Friday

2. “Cat” is doing well.

3. Monday is a teacher workday which means all the work I would normally bring home is sitting on and around my desk. It all really can wait until Monday.

4. I have only met one person (ever) who shares my birthday. I recently found out one of my students also shares my birthday. When we discovered this fact we both turned, looked each other in the eyes, simultaneously raised our eyebrows and couldn’t stop laughing. I know we were both thinking the same thing: “THAT person is crazy!
We have come a long way since September.

5. I have received a scholarship (briefly mentioned here) from the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine and will be attending a week-long workshop on turning this summer!



reminder on a sunday

Sunday morning I received a reminder of just how much my pet, a true family member, means to me. I am part of a married couple. We met a bit later in life when things were already going quite well… so there are no kids, just us, and my cat. “Cat” (who does have a real name…but no one else’s has been used here so I will give him the same consideration) is a fixture at home, sleeping in the bay window, impressively reminding us when it is exactly time for 6am and 6pm feedings, going a little cat-crazy some evenings just as we have settled into bed, sometimes ignoring us and doing his own thing. He’s good at being a cat.

Sunday morning we awoke early and his head was tilted sideways, one eye was dilated and he was pacing in circles (sometimes figure eights) and unstable on his feet. Did he have a stroke, is there anything he could have possibly gotten into, will he be all right…?
I took longer than usual to get ready just in case I was about to say goodbye at the animal hospital. Logically, I have been preparing for this. When I adopted him, I was his third home and now he is 16 years old. Emotionally, I am absolutely not ready. I kept trying to see if he was in pain but he seemed happy, just confused. After a couple of hours he was still pacing, very tired and not eating— we left for the hospital.

In acknowledging I may have to say goodbye to my friend I first wanted to make sure he wasn’t suffering. That is my biggest fear. My family loves its animals but sometimes too much and more than once we have unknowingly prolonged suffering more than necessary because we could not bear to part ways. I am determined, no matter how difficult, to not do this to him.

Some see cats as aloof or cold or not as loving as dogs (which are great too) but I don’t agree. Cat has stuck by me longer than a few friendships, he outlasted a marriage, has been a fixture at grrl’s nights, he tested potential dates for me (sometimes showing better judgement than I did) and he has been with me longer than my husband. Cat is the one who waits on the bathroom rug for me to wake in the morning, he paces at my feet while I make coffee and sometimes sits on the toilet seat waiting for me to get ready. He greets me at the door at the end of the day and stays a little closer when I am sick and a lot closer if it’s just the two of us at home. I can’t imagine him not being around but I know at some point I will have to.

Many hours later… after all the talk of medical history, lab tests run, worst-case scenarios and  possible neurological appointments discussed, my anti-vet, very angry, wobbly cat was returned to me yesterday afternoon and we were able to go home. He is on an antibiotic just in case of a deep inner ear infection. He has been diagnosed with vestibular disease which in many cases goes away on it’s own and, lucky for us, it looks like that is what is happening.
I am very thankful to know we have some more time.