Libby snoring

Libby snoring

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Earl of Harlem

 Marcus Samuelsson's newest endeavor is the Ambessa line of teas.  Ambessa is Ethiopian for "lion" according to Samuelsson's website explaining his latest offering. The chef is "Ethiopian-born" but lived in Sweden during his childhood, and has since traveled throughout the world.

I chanced on his tea while looking for Harney & Sons Earl Grey Supreme, and discovered they are also carrying Samuelsson's new line of teas.  Loving coffee, tea, and spice from Ethiopia, this lovely tin design, and the intriguing name, The Earl of Harlem, I had to try it.  It is supposed to be a slightly different take on Earl Grey, carrying the citrus and bergamot flavors, but with a "smoky" undernote.

They got me on the smoky.  Two things I love are red wine with the smoky notes, and lapsang souchong tea--smoky, smoky, smoky.
I do not detect the bergamot or citrus in this blend, but the smokiness is just perfect.  Perhaps it is one of those subtleties that while you don't "taste" it, it adds to the overall composition.  Regardless, I love this tea.

It comes in sachets, which brew a better cup of tea than a bag, though not quite as perfect as loose tea in an infuser.  The little mesh bags are in a pyramidal shape, and contain long-leaf tea, so there is room for the leaves to unfurl without being crowded, which results in a better tasting cup of tea.

I've just finished my first pot, and I do believe on this sunny morning whilst I am working on research, it calls for the brewing of a second.  The Earl might stop by for all I know.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cultural Humility or Cultural Competence?

I have been thinking about writing this post since Friday evening when I got home from a workshop.  While to a great extent, my thoughts and emotions on it are quite clear to me, another part of me just felt like it was too daunting to attempt.  It won't let go of me.

The session was "cultural competence" and the presenter/facilitator, who is African American, began by relating her experience with her students: They say "why do we have to keep talking about this again" (emphasis mine).  Cultural competence is the current "buzz word" in helping professions.  I don't think the term is really the best one to use, because it does not convey the idea that becoming competent at working with people from cultures other than one's own is a process, not an outcome.  It is not like going from Mississippi to New York, and at some point, you get there and you are done. 

You could actually kind of sense the people in the session reflecting the students' experience: yeah, you are going to tell us something we have all already been told...again.  (Now granted, there were 2 other sessions people could have opted to attend during that hour, so one might think that there was an interest in the topic, and there might have been.  However, it is important to note also that social workers are required to now have a minimum number of hours of continuing education in cultural diversity and in ethics, so the truth is that folks have to go sometimes in order to meet that requirement.)  My point is not to talk about the cultural competence, however that might be defined, but rather, the cultural denial in the room.

The facilitator said she hoped to have a conversation around this issue, and why it was important, not just present some more factual information.  Competence--in any area--does not result from just absorbing facts and having knowledge, but in developing skills of doing.  While a laudable goal (having a conversation), it would be one difficult to pull off in a diverse and public group of folks, some of whom know each other and some of whom do not.  Whatever your background, we have all been in those "conversations" where 2 or 3 people do all the talking, and it was no different here. 

In Mississippi, the conversation is often around the issue of relationships between black and white.  That is not to imply that other people who are marginalized are not deserving to be in the conversation, but that so much of the deeply damaging history of the state is tied up in the reality of slavery and Jim Crow, and its continued outcomes.  At one point, the facilitator mentioned the recent act of two white students who hung a noose around the neck of the James Meredith statue on campus, and what that communicated, and the university response to it.  A white woman said, "I think Ole Miss just gets unfair attention for things like that.  It happens everywhere, but if it happens here, suddenly it's national news."  Well, yeah, it is and there is a reason for that and it is historic.  And then she followed up by saying, "I was so glad to hear that the boys who did it were from Georgia and not Mississippi."  Really, that is your take on this?  To be glad they were not from Mississippi, so now it is okay that we aren't racist around here.  It is those darned "outside agitators" all over again.

It reminded me of the local attorney who was quoted in the New York Times article about the incident as saying that if you could show him where 100 people got together in a room and planned it (the noose around the neck of James Meredith's statue), then he would believe there was a 'systemic problem.'  But, instead, we can just chalk it up as the two bad apples theory and all rest assured that there is no real problem here.  Oh, and by the way, he would not be all upset if he walked into the Circle and saw where someone had hung a noose around the statue of the Confederate soldier there.  That is another one of those unbelievable take aways from a nasty and hurtful event, and the thing is, folks seem to refuse to see it for what it is--the refusal to acknowledge that someone is hurt and wounded by actions like these that serve as visible reminders of not just the past, but the present.  Because I am not wounded or hurt, you should not be either.  Just move on and get over it.  (You know, like white folks did when so many Confederate soldiers were lynched).

The second thing that stunned me in the "conversation" was when a black woman was describing the everyday microaggressions--insults at a personal level--that people who are black experience.  She referenced the things that are said about President Obama and his ethnicity in so many comments mad criticizing his actions as president.  I knew instantly what she meant, being reminded of the man in the post office in Graham who had referred to him as "that dark-skinned fella in Washington."  My friend responded when I shared it with her, "I am surprised he was that polite about it."

The same white woman who had been doing most of the talking (but not the one who made the comments about the Meredith statue) immediately said, "But to be fair, people were very disrespectful of President Bush, too.  It is just the whole air of disrespect for authority."  Yes, people were disrespectful of President Bush...but not about his ethnicity or his religious affiliation.  No one ever accused him of being Muslim because his biological father was from Africa, or accused him of purposefully trying to ruin America in vengeance for how the US treated Kenya.

In my class, the students and I have been reading Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile.  I accidentally came across it back in December.  It is three speeches he gave about his experience as a writer from Nigeria, coming to understand himself and his country and the effects of colonialism on Africa as a whole, and on how others interpret Africa through the lens of colonialism's explanations without critically thinking about it.  I was impressed with how it seemed to resonate with the expectation that social workers should consider themselves as learners and the client system as the teachers, and decided to use it in class and see if we could generate a discussion about what Achebe's understanding might bring to social work.  The students have amazed me with their interest in Achebe's work, and their grasping of the relevance to social work, to themselves, and to working with any client, not just the ones who are culturally different.  They have grasped the importance of the need to understand the person's story, and how they tell it, understand it, and claim it--not the story as the "other" defines it.

I think the problem is the difference between cultural competence and cultural humility--and I did not come up with that so I am not taking credit for it.  There have been criticisms of the concept of cultural competence as "othering" and implying, or actually saying, that those cultures that we must know about are somehow less than, not normal, or deviant.  It is that same ethnocentric lens that led to imperialism and colonizing by Europe and the US and telling "history" from the standpoint of white males and dominance.  The problem is that no amount of knowing about something is the same thing as understanding the painfulness of a lived experience.  It is not competence to know about, and to say "I will take this into consideration while I assess your lived experience."

Humility on the other hand, implies a not knowing.  It is, as Achebe put it, the allowing of people to tell their own story, and not to have to accept others' story of who they think you are.  Imagine if you can the first diary of a white European male who "discovered" Africa in the 1500s and wrote of them, "They are a people without a language, speaking only gibberish and unintelligible sounds."  While that might seem ludicrous now, the underlying message still gets carried out--judging by an inapplicable standard.  In the 1940s and 1950s when "Africa was brought to American living rooms" via Life magazine photographs or movies, it was not Africa's story, but rather the story of how others not African interpreted Africa and Africans. 

Every time people from other countries (mostly the US however) go to Africa to do "mission" work, they are carrying out that same stereotype and imposing the story on people who live there.  I can't say I have been to Africa, but I have been to one country in Africa many times, and frankly, folks there are more "Christian" than they are here for my experience, and they are doing just fine in starting and running their own churches and saving their own communities.  They don't need "us" to go over there and do it for them and to "save" them from their own cultural deficits--as we interpret them.  They have their own pastors, preachers, priests, laity who are living the experience daily who can do that with them from their lived experiences.

Humility--not thinking that my story is the right one, but hearing, and accepting that your experience of who you are and what you have lived is one worth telling.  Not thinking that I have the answer to everything and can and should and must tell you how to feel and what to do.  Every time we discount the lived experience, and the feelings that result from it, with the admonition to move on because that was in the past, we are saying your experience does not matter.  That is what keeps the pain in the present, and the barriers in place that mean we are not only not competent, but not compassionate either.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Journey of Three Cans of Tea

I am a tea lover.  Not just any old tea, though; I have my requirements.  First, it has to be long-leaf, not that chopped up in tiny bits and containing everything but the kitchen sink.  That means you cannot get it at Kroger.  I also prefer Earl Grey, and I have come to especially love two brands.  I buy them at Fresh Market in Memphis, usually 3 cans or so at a time.  I ran out, and have not been in a position to go back to Memphis yet.

Enter Rand, ever helpful: Just order it online.  Normally, I enjoy my little jaunts over to Memphis to shop and relax and pick up things I cannot get here.  But I was out of tea now, and can't get to Memphis at the moment....or several moments into the foreseeable future.  Sure enough, you can just order it online.
Smith Teamaker, located in Portland, Oregon for the past 30 years, is the maker of Lord Bergamot.  While I love the taste of this tea, slightly bold, I simply cannot open the can or the box and not take a whiff.  Every time.  Every single time.  I don't have a clue where they source the bergamot for their Earl Grey, but it has the absolute most heavenly aroma ever.  I would love to bathe in it.

On last Thursday, March 27, I placed an order for Lord Bergamot, to be shipped USPS, first class parcel post.  Monday, March 31--for those counting, that is 4 days to be processed, shipped, and arrive on my doorstep for the small fee of $3.94, I opened my package and took a big whiff and brewed tea right that moment.  Tuesday morning, and every morning and some afternoons since, I have enjoyed this tea.
My other fave is Harney & Sons Earl Grey Supreme.  It is not as bold, a bit milder, and with a more subtle aroma.  I ordered this one on the same Thursday, March 27.  I also ordered some to be shipped to my good tea-loving friend in Unalaska.  Unalaska is an island in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska.  You can only ship things using USPS, and if you want to get it there in a reasonable amount of time, you have to ship it priority.  For the very reasonable fee of $7.50, it shipped priority mail to Unalaska, arriving in 5 days, one of which included Sunday.

My order, however, had to be shipped via UPS here in the lower 48.  It is not here yet, going on 6 days now, and according to tracking, is not scheduled for delivery until Friday, April 4, fully 8 days after the order was placed.  Wonder why?
Amazing how many stops these little tins of tea are going to have logged before they make it to my Taylor hillside.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What do you keep and what do you leave?

 I know--for someone who says she is decluttering, streamlining, and getting rid of things that (1) do not serve a purpose (whether utilitarian or aesthetic), (2) have significant value (sentimental or monetary), and (3) are family heirlooms destined to be passed down (not the same as sentimental to me), I can hold on to a lot of things that do not fit those definitions.
 I have looked at the withered and dead flowers sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks now, and not thrown them away.  This morning, I gathered the roses and the piece of greenery that I have no idea what was, and placed them in the old canning jar that belonged to my great-grandmother.  It contains rocks I picked up from Blouberg Beach in South Africa.  Normally, it sits on the shelf above my kitchen sink, and on occasion, sports live blooms.
While I will not keep these dried flowers very long (for one, dried flowers don't have a very long shelf life), they just seemed to beckon to me to keep them in view just a bit longer.  Mom, Dad, and Sis sent them to me post-surgery last month, and though I need no reminders of their love for me, it is nice to see them and feel that emotion momentarily at conscious level.


Friday, March 28, 2014

the final Friday

These days I seem to be dragging out longer and longer between posts, but then, I am dragging, although that is about to come to an end, thank goodness.  I am a hop, skip, and a jump from being back on the road again and exploring the heights and depths of Mississippi and beyond.  Since my Paddy's Day post full of green wishes, a lot of my view has looked like this:
  Although still doing great (and a great 30-day check-up yesterday that had me walking on air…almost…) I have spent a lot of time with this vantage point in the last two weeks.  Primarily, grading clinical comprehensive exams for graduate students which is tedious and time consuming.  Sitting at the desk puts pressure on the hip, and using my bed-desk I got for the knee is so much easier…and, I can ice at the same time.
After my early morning doctor visit, I stopped by the Lusa bakery to pick up some breakfast pastries--it seemed like a good day to celebrate!  A cherry turnover is a cherry turnover, although I will say this one was super flaky and the cherries were superb--not too sweet, and cherries rather than just cherry smash.  The cute little muffin in the brown paper wrapper is blueberry coffee cake, recommended by the bakery attendant.
She was so right.  I am not sure I have had anything quite so delectable in a while.  It was softer and more moist than your usual coffee cake, with a melt-in-your-mouth flavor and swirls of blueberry (sauce? preserves?) in tiny doses.  (Note: for me, a little bit of blueberry goes a long way, so this was perfect).  The whole thing was not too sweet, kind of like a muffin, only with a more moist and smooth texture.  It is a keeper and perfect with my pot of Earl Grey tea.
I sent Sis a message to update her on my check-up, and she sent back a message that Dad had been "on a roll" all morning.  He was insistent to put on his hat and boots and that he planned to go mow the grass.   The day before, he had Sis looking online to price chain saws as he decided he needed to go cut some firewood he had "stashed and curing" for my Bro.  It was in regard to raising children, but a wise person once said, "Pick your battles."  The same is true for a parent (or anyone for that matter) with dementia.  If Dad even remembered he was on his way to the barn to mow or use a chain saw--highly unlikely these days--he would not have the strength to get there, nor the strength to pick up a chain saw and start it--if he had one.  It's kind of like wearing your hat and boots in the house with your pajamas--what difference does it make?  Yes, that's right--None.  Fortunately for now, Dad is in pretty good humor most of the time, but the surest way to cross him is to tell him he "can't" do something.  It is a delicate balancing act, because no one wants to see him fall again, or injure himself in some way.  It is doubtful if he would come back as well as he has from the broken hip.  The best thing we have learned though is patience--if you wait only a few minutes, it will pass.
Meanwhile, Libby is espousing my sentiments exactly--get that light out of my eyes!  It rained and stormed last night, and I went to sleep with the sound of the rain hitting the little porch outside my window--a pleasant and soothing lullaby.  It is overcast, but pleasantly warm today.

Let's get those last two comps graded and move on to things that are more fun--like my new exercise regime the doc started me on yesterday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Different Points of View

When I started this post a week ago, I had a whole thematic thing going in my head.  I've slept since then.  I also spent hours (literally) combing through old posts trying to locate the name of the brick design on the corner of this building since I could not remember it, and google searches was not turning it up.

This morning, I had the epiphany that it was on the Preservation in Mississippi blog, not mine.  It is called "pigeonhole corner detail" in the event you are (1) thinking of building a house with this design, or (2) have a house with this design and want to know what it is.

Cyril M. Harris in the Dictionary of Architecture and Construction  described the pigeonhole corner:
…an acute angle formed in a brick wall, using square-ended bricks that have not been shaped."
As you can read from the MissPres post, there are differing points of view (not the theme I had in mind originally, which was in a philosophical vein, but sometimes, once the moment of inspiration has passed, you just need to let it go and move on) about the utility of the pigeonhole corner.  Criticisms included:

  • corners collect dirt, cobwebs, debris
  • critters nest in the corners
  • unsightly
  • cheap and structurally unsound
While the first two clearly are possible, the second two are not necessarily so.  According to Rosell in MissPres Word of the Week: Pigeonhole Corner, there are "high end" buildings with pigeonhole corners, and property executed, the brickwork can add interesting detail to a building without compromising structural soundness.