Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Every day should be this much fun!

Yesterday was one of those really incredible days that just don't come along often enough.  While those of us involved in the day are who made it incredible, it was also just a day when everything aligned in such a way that I could experience joy in simple things--like arriving at the bus stop at just moments before the bus...instead of my usual watching it pull away while I am half a block distant and have to wait 15-20 minutes for the next one.

That is not a complaint--I have come to savor those 15 minutes, sitting on the bench, my face turned up toward the sun, eyes closed, taking respite.  This is about the most hectic time of the year, what with not only the typical end-of-semester tasks, but also giving comprehensive clinicals and doing graduate applicant review all in the same 2 week span.

Yesterday after a particularly long and busy week, we culminated with our first Child Welfare Symposium for graduate students and child welfare professionals from our region.  My colleague did an outstanding facilitation of addiction and recovery for the child welfare professional.  It succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.  I had said my role for the workshop was to be Vanna White, minus the evening gown ensemble.  I was in charge of support and logistics, which is a role I sometimes really enjoy.  While I was in the process of managing the environment that nurtures and supports--coffee, water, fruit, pastries, I could also enjoy the interaction of getting folks settled, and so forth.  It was a nice systems approach, and then I got to settle back and enjoy the presentation/interaction.  We ran out of time before we ran out of material, interest from the participants, and food--always a good place to be.

Afterward, we had a retirement celebration for one of our colleagues who is leaving at the end of the semester, and it was one of those rare times when all the faculty were present, the food was simple and delicious, and the interaction among those of us who work together and strive to form a team from disparate individuals was on the mark.

Afterwards, more celebration!  I was elated to walk all the way across campus (I am still reveling daily, moment by moment at my new found joy and pleasure in the simplicity of being able to enjoy walking again) with several of my colleagues to attend the official retirement celebration for our department chair.  It was a time to see people I don't regularly see, and do a little catching up, along with joining with my department colleagues to express our appreciation for the wonderful leadership and support our chair has provided for us for the past 10 years.

I do celebrate her accomplishments, and what she helped us to accomplish.  I celebrate the difficult times we all went through in forging relationships, because in that difficulty, we learned and refined our roles in our common mission.  I listened as the provost used words he would describe her, and listened as the faculty and friends gathered expressed agreement and confirmation: fair, honest, reliable..and many others that characterized her person and her leadership.

As I walked back to my office, alone this time, I marveled not only at the ease of walking across the campus at all, but at the ability to see difficult and challenging things as opportunities, for growth, to step into leadership and followship, and as moments to embrace.  I completed the task of entering the recommendations for applicants to our graduate program, thinking about beginning a new class of students, developing new relationships and helping to facilitate new learning and skills for those social workers who will continue the work that is winding to a close for me--not an immediate close, but there are fewer years left in front of me to work than there are of those behind me.

I walked to the bus stop, thinking about how often in my life I have experienced a time of difficulty, only to have the breakthrough occur when I said, "I embrace this!  I welcome this!  I face this!"  And that is what someone once called Choosing what you got.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Super Texican

I know its pretty early in the morning, but we're just writing about wine here, not drinking it, so it's okay.  When I was home in Texas back in December, I stopped off in my long-time favorite wine store.  I picked up this bottle, intrigued by the label.  Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards--a pine tree.  Sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon blend--with a spicy finish...what could go wrong? I flipped the bottle to read the back label...produced and bottled in Pittsburg, Texas.  Pittsburg, Texas?  Are you kidding me?  What does Pittsburg, Texas know about wine?

Teddy ambled over and said, "it's actually pretty good and we are selling a lot of it."  I love sangiovese.  She said, "It has a nice spicy finish--like you like."  Okay, I am feeling like taking the risk.  Besides, it would not be the first bottle of wine I poured out because I did not like it.

I finally opened it a week ago, and was beyond surprised.  It was really good,  The winemaker invoked the Super Tuscans, but their play on the muscular fruity red blend was the Super Texican.  I personally don't know a lot of cowboy wine drinkers, other than the one I sat next to on a plane from St. Paul, Minnesota to Anchorage, Alaska one year who pulled off his boots, put his feet up on the back of the seat, and drank red wine all the way to Anchorage.  And, you have to wonder about a wine that is billed as being made "the cowboy way" with old world tradition.  I have no idea what that means, but all in all, it was a very good bottle of wine, and for a Texas wine, it was superb!

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.