Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A Revolutionary Document

“Shisha, what’s all this Fourth of July stuff? What is the Fourth of July?”

“It’s a birthday! It’s the birthday of the United States of America!”

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence? It is an extraordinary document.

Happy Birthday, United States of America!

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The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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July 4, 2015 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Free Speech, Law and Order, Leadership, Poetry/Literature, Quality of Life Issues, South Africa | , | 2 Comments

A Harsh Ruler

Today’s Gospel reading from The Lectionary brings up so many questions! Jesus gives a parable, a story to help explain what he is saying, but what, exactly, is the parable saying?

Luke 19:11-27

11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13 He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds,* and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” 14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” 15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” 17 He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” 18 Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” 19 He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” 20 Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” 22 He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” 24 He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” 25 (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) 26 “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’

We know, by his own words, this was a harsh man and we know many of his citizens – not slaves – did not want him to rule over them. Why did Jesus use this man to illustrate his point? What about the other seven slaves who were given the money; how did they invest or protect the money? When I look at this parable, I am not so sure I would want to be one who was given more to administer over; the master is harsh. Perhaps those who protected the talent and kept their heads down fared better in the long run under this harsh man’s rule? What if one had taken the money and used it to make the lives of the people better – provided medical care or built a safe-haven for abused women? I shudder to think what the harsh ruler might have done with a slave who used the funds for the good of the people.

June 10, 2015 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, Experiment, Financial Issues, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Money Management, Poetry/Literature, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Isaiah: the desert shall rejoice and blossom

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The Lectionary reading in the Old Testament today is from Isaiah, one of my favorite books in the bible, and when I read it, I think of all my time in the Arabian peninsula, in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. I think of this land, on the route from the rift valley in Kenya where man is supposed to have originated, how earliest humans would have crossed through these countries as they moved slowly away from their origins.

My Qatari and Kuwaiti friends tell me that legends say that these countries were once lush, green and beautiful. They are still beautiful, but the lushness and the greeness is only in small pockets when and where the arid land has water. I think nothing is impossible for God, and how wonderful it would be to see these countries lush and green and fertile once more.

The King is coming, coming as a tiny baby in human form to live with us and turn us away from our wickedness. He sees things differently. He tells us to love one another, to love our enemies, to take care of one another. He makes the blind to see, the lame to leap, and the deaf to hear. Come! Come, Emanuel!

Isaiah 35:1-10

35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,*
but it shall be for God’s people;*
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Doha, Environment, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Kuwait, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Quality of Life Issues, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual, Weather | Leave a comment

Wooo HOOO the New Q8 Books!

Brava! Brava, Fajer! What a great gift to the children and the community, to make Q8Books more accessible and family friendly. Woooo HOOOOO!

Reading and literacy are key to civilization. Brava!

 

From the Kuwait Times:

Kuwait’s community bookshop gets new life

Spooky Books storytime

Finding quality English books in Kuwait is a challenge as any book lover here knows. Local lawyer Fajer Ahmed, 26, recently took up the challenge when she acquired the small but well-loved bookshop, Q8 Books. She moved Q8 Books from downtown Kuwait City into a renovated space in Bayt Lothan, the non-profit arts and culture center located next to Marina Mall in Salmiya. Home to more than 15,000 titles of all genres including literature, general fiction, history, romance, thrillers and mysteries, westerns, classics, cook books, true crime, self help and motivation, family and lifestyle, business and philosophy and arts and crafts, Q8 Books has something to suit every reader’s taste.

By adding sofas, tables, chairs and beanbags, Q8 Books created a cozy, relaxed atmosphere along with free WiFi that invites customers to come and hang out. “We want to encourage reading, writing and communication in Kuwait, “Fajer explained. “As one example, we provide local writers with a place to display and sell their books free of charge, we also do all the administrative work for them.”

A community bookshop
Q8 Books also holds a free weekly story time for children, offers 50% store credit for trade ins, encourages book clubs and other responsible community groups free space to hold meetings and has an outreach project to support a library in Gambia. “We thank Bayt Lothan for giving Q8 Books a home,” Fajer said. “Without them none of this would have been possible.” Q8 Books’ erudite former owner, Jacob, started the bookshop almost a decade ago with only a handful of books. During his travels, he would browse used bookstores and markets to find quality titles that would be appreciated by the book-loving community in Kuwait. Jacob continues to help out at Q8 Books along with a group of dedicated volunteers and support from the Kuwait Writing Club.

Fajer also organizes regular events in order to build Q8 Books as a community space. On the first of November, Q8 Books hosted a Spooky Book night for kids, which included a story telling by local street artist Monstariam dressed in a bunny costume, a crafts and arts table, coloring and glitter, a costume contest and a chance for parents to browse and chat.

Kid and family friendly
“We really enjoyed Spooky Books night,” said Umm Sara, a mother of three children who attended the event all wearing ‘scary’ costumes. “The kids loved the story telling and we got several books. Much better than going to a mall and they got to draw and color and dress up.” The Kuwait Writing Club also took part, judging over 80 submissions for the writing competition. The winning submission will be published in Kuwait Times. “We also had a cover design competition for children to draw covers for the age appropriate horror story, Goosebumps, and every kid that took park received a free book of their choice,” Fajer explained.

Q8 Books will offer monthly events for children and parents with the goal of encouraging reading. “When kids come in playing games on electronic devices, we try to find books with the same characters and get them interested in reading,” Fajer noted. “Welovekuwait.com Children’s Bookshop has also donated coloring and reading books to give for free for every child that walks in.” Q8 Books encourages Kuwait’s community of readers to share their love of reading. They accept donations and offer store credit for traded in books. They also invite anyone to email ask@q8bookstore.com if they are interested in volunteering, donating or just want to talk to someone about suggestions for what to read.

Q8 Books is located in Bayt Lothan, next to Marina Mall. Store Hours: Weekdays 9am- 1pm and 5pm-9pm. Weekends 11am-9pm. Follow them on Instagram @q8bookstore

By Jamie Etheridge

 

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Books, Character, Civility, Community, Education, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Free Speech, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 3 Comments

Taliban Says Malala ‘Has Done Nothing To Earn Prize’

Mr. Taliban, did you see Jon Stewarts interview with Malala? (See below) All she wants is an education. She wants an education for herself, but also for all children in Pakistan. Your children, too! She wants them to have that opportunity, that’s all. And she has paid the price for her courage speaking out, and she bravely continues to state the obvious – there is nothing in Islam against educating women.

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: The Pakistani Taliban Thursday said teenage activist Malala Yousafzai had done “nothing” to deserve a prestigious EU rights award and vowed to try again to kill her.

The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov human rights prize to the 16-year-old, who has become a global ambassador for the right of all children to go to school since surviving a Taliban murder attempt.

Malala survived being shot in the head by a TTP gumnan on October 9 last year and is seen as a leading contender for the Nobel Peace prize, to be announced on Friday.

“She has done nothing. The enemies of Islam are awarding her because she has left Islam and has became secular,” Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“She is getting awards because she is working against Islam. Her struggle against Islam is the main reason of getting these awards.”

He repeated the TTP’s threat – made numerous times in recent months -try again to kill Malala, “even in America or the UK”.

Malala and moved to Britain in the wake of the shooting for treatment and to continue her education in safety.

Feted by world leaders and celebrities for her courage, Malala has addressed the UN, this week published an autobiography, and could become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Friday.

Her autobiography “I am Malala”, written with journalist Christina Lamb, has gone on sale in Pakistan and Shahid warned the Taliban would target bookshops stocking it.

“Malala is the enemy of Islam and Taliban and she wrote this book against Islam and Taliban,” he said. (AFP)

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Free Speech, Generational, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Pakistan, Poetry/Literature, Social Issues, Values | , , | Leave a comment

Uwem Akpan and Say You’re One of Them

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This is a very troubling book, and, for me, a difficult book to read. It has taken me weeks, and I will admit I have often interrupted the reading of it to read other, easier books. This book makes me very uncomfortable. The stories and images trouble my sleep.

Uwem Akpan is of the tribe of Annang, from Nigeria, and has committed to an even larger tribe, the Catholic Church, of which he is a priest, and this gives him a unique perspective. The stories in this book often focus on tribal differences, including religious differences, and although they are set in different African states, have parallels in lives lived elsewhere. Those tribal differences are between Moslem and Christian, but also between Pentecostal and Catholic, Tutsi and Hutu, and, most significantly, the differences between to tribe of the very poor and the very rich.

Each story is told through the eyes of a child living in a different African state – Kenya, Benin, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda.

In one of my favorite segments of the book, strife has broken out in Nigeria, strife between the Moslems and the Christians, but also throw in the Pentecostals and the Pagans and really mix it up. A bus is waiting in the bus station to take people back to the southern part of Nigeria, and on this bus is a young man, half Moslem, half Christian. The bus stands idle for hours, while the bus driver seeks fuel to make the trip. During this time on the bus, many conversations take place, and what I loved was how alliances shifted with each conversation. The people on the bus were from different traditions, but came together as a community. No community is without arguments and dissensions, however, and consensus builds, diminishes, shifts – it is a microcosm of the tensions and stressors pulling apart the Nigerian nation state.

Uwem Akpan treats the children in each story lovingly, treasuring their innocent perspective and the sweetness of their hearts and vision. The adults don’t come off so well, passing their days in drug-induced stupors, drunk, selling children into slavery and prostitution, chopping off their limbs with machetes, and closing themselves off into groups which protect themselves and exploit others.

It would be an easier book to read if it were about aliens, or if these stories were confined to Africa, but the stories of these abused, neglected and exploited children echo in every continent, country and city in the world.

Uwem Akpan writes prose that is poetry; the surroundings are described with such detail that you feel in the moment, you see through the eyes of each child, and you see things that are beautiful as well as scenes you did not want to see. As you can see, I have a lot of ambiguous feelings about this book. At the same time I can admire the writing, the stories have left images in my mind that cannot be erased. Dark images. There is hope in the persistence and resilience of many of the children, but concern about their long term survival. It leaves a heavy weight on my heart.

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Africa, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Parenting, Poetry/Literature, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Al Qaeda in Maghreb Spends Last Night in Timbuktu Destroying Ancient Manuscripts

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Ignorant militants destroy ancient Islamic documents and writings; from yesterday’s BBC News:

A group of jihadis came knocking at the gate late on Wednesday night last week. But the Ahmed Baba centre in the Malian city of Timbuktu is not the kind of library that would accept visitors after dark.

The Islamist militants tricked the guard and said they were coming to secure the place. But once inside, they ransacked the centre’s reading room.

When historian Abdoulaye Cisse arrived early in the morning, the pile of ashes was still warm.

“They probably spent most of the night in there,” he said.

Dozens of empty handcrafted boxes still litter the floor of the hallway. Ashes haven’t been removed yet either.

A few people come in and out surveying the irreparable damage and lament the remains of a cultural trove kept in Timbuktu for centuries.

Treasure trove of African history
At least 2,000 manuscripts were stored in this centre that was opened in 2009, funded by the South African government.

The project was meant to catalogue and preserve the city’s historical documents, many of which continue to be held by families or smaller libraries.

Another 28,000 were due to be transferred to the Ahmed Baba premises but were instead sent to the capital after al-Qaeda militants arrived in the city last year.

Each box is tagged with a reference number and if the search is properly done, these tags should reveal the full extent of the damage.

It could also reveal how many were simply stolen.

“These fighters know too well how much these papers are valued, it’s a huge wealth that will be impossible to replace,” Mr Cisse told the BBC.

The Institute’s manuscripts date back to the 13th century (file image)
“When I surveyed the reading room, I found about 30 left so I brought them home to secure them,” he said.

The offending texts ranged from history to geography and astronomy, medicine and Islamic law; writings dating back in some cases as far as the 13th Century.

In the reading room, shelves were emptied and the desk equipped with a magnifying glass vandalised.

Named after a saint of the ancient city who wrote many manuscripts himself, the Ahmed Baba centre stands out for its modernity but was designed to echo the famous Timbuktu style of dry-mud walls.

The Islamist militants prepared to flee last week knowing that an assault by the French-led forces on their positions here was imminent.

But in their haste, they took the time to commit one last act of vengeance.

They had sparked worldwide condemnation last year when they destroyed sacred tombs and shrines designated as Unesco World Heritage sites on the pretext that they violated principles of Islamic law.

Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
700,000 manuscripts had survived in public libraries and private collections
Books on religion, law, literature and science

Elhadj Djitteye, who used to guide visitors in town, reckons that the fighters linked to al-Qaeda carried out the attack on the library in response to the French military intervention ordered earlier in January by President Francois Hollande.

Noting that the jihadis hadn’t touched the manuscripts in 10 months of occupation, Mr Djitteye sadly comments that they “hit Timbuktu straight at its heart”.

The militants’ destructive parting gesture left many residents feeling that another part of their celebrated city’s history had just been erased.

The people of Timbuktu have been anxious to return to some kind of normal life since the French and Malian troops entered they city and were hailed as “liberators”.

Reminders of the extremists, like the black banners proclaiming sharia at the city gates, are being removed.

But in just under a year, the Islamist militants have inflicted lasting damage on Mali’s most renowned cultural centre. The scars left by Timbuktu’s occupation are likely to take much longer to heal.

• Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
700,000 manuscripts survive in public libraries and private collections, books on religion, law, literature and science
• Added to Unesco world heritage list in 1988 for its three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums
• They played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa; the oldest dates from 1329
• Islamists destroyed mausoleums after seizing the city

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Values | , , | 2 Comments

Amitav Ghosh and River of Smoke

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The National Public Radio website recommended this book as one of the best historical fiction reads, and I had never heard of it, so I ordered it. I ordered it in spite of the little voice I had in my head reminding me that this was the second in a trilogy, that the first is Sea of Poppies. I was too eager. I wanted to jump right in, and the review said it could be read stand-alone. I had read Ghosh’s Glass Palace a couple years ago for book club, loved it, and was eager to read this one.

With a raging cold and no possible way I can be around humanity, it was a good time to start. Just picking up the book, it has a dense feel. Once you start, it is like being suddenly in a whirlpool, drowning in new words, characters who have more than one name and more than one identity, whirling between England, Mauritius, Hindustan, Gujerat, Hong Kong, Macau and China, whirling between cultures and professions and trades, but oh, what a ride.

CharybdisPainting

It would have been helpful to be reading River of Smoke on an iPad, where I could poke at a new word and it would give me the meaning, but in truth, you can guess a lot of the meaning of the vocabulary from the context. The seafarers all speak a language sort of like Jack Sparrow, a pidgen language filled with simplified grammar and with words from many nations and cultures. It forces you to slow down. It’s worth it. It would also be nice if you could poke on a place-name and have Google Earth show you where it is. There used to be a website called Google Books, and you could put in a book and it would show you the places in which actions in the book took place; that would be particularly handy reading this book, provide context in place-relations.

But reading slowly is it’s own reward. This book has depth, depth of character, depth of textures and senses, and depth of morality. I love a book like this where you can smell the smoke drifting over the water, where you can smell the sewer and bloated animal corpses floating outside the foreign hongs of the Canton traders, you can feel the textures of the textiles and see their colors, you can taste the exquisiteness of Macau cuisine and you can hike in a Hong Kong not yet settled by anyone, Chinese or foreign.

The scope of time covered by the major part of the story is short, although there are years of back-stories for several characters. The period is 1837-8, during which the Chinese Emperor decides to put teeth in the long established edict against opium trade to China. The edict had been in place, but not enforced, and China watched her citizens sink into opium addiction and lowered productivity. The traders were making fortunes – shiploads of money. Opium was grown in India and shipped from there to China.

When the ban against shipping opium into China is announced, many traders believe it is just another attempt to attain greater bribes on the part of the mandarins, and decline to obey. There is great debate, and while it is lively in the book, it is based on documents from that era, many of the arguments word for word. Traders stood to loose a great deal of money, in truth, it would ruin most of them to lose their shipments.

There is a side story I also like, that of the botanical trade between China and England, and the importation of many of the garden plants we take for granted today, which were unknown until sent from China. Camellia – one of which is the plant for tea, did you know that? Roses, azaleas, orchids – many many familiar plants would be missing from our gardens were it not for their introduction during this period.

Ghosh gives us disparate characters of many cultures and upbringings, and slowly weaves them together, each one tangential to all the others, some closely interwoven. It is a fascinating read, and I can’t wait for the next volume. I may have to go back and read Sea of Poppies while I am waiting.

January 30, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Character, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Fiction, Financial Issues, Food, Friends & Friendship, India, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Psalm 55; Old Wisdom for Today

I’ve always liked this Psalm, from today’s readings in the Lectionary. It captures the worst betrayal, that of a friend, with whom you have shared meals and confidences. It captures the dichotomy of diplomacy, when one speaks with words ‘soft as butter’ which are, in truth, as steely as drawn swords. It captures the curse of the violent, those who cause strife and bloodshed and who die young.

Psalm 55

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught 3by the noise of the enemy,
because of the clamour of the wicked.
For they bring* trouble upon me,
and in anger they cherish enmity against me.

4 My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.’

9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its market-place.

12 It is not enemies who taunt me—
I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—
I could hide from them.
13 But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend,
14 with whom I kept pleasant company;
we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15 Let death come upon them;
let them go down alive to Sheol;
for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.

16 But I call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.
18 He will redeem me unharmed
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
Selah
will hear, and will humble them—
because they do not change,
and do not fear God.

20 My companion laid hands on a friend
and violated a covenant with me*
21 with speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
but in fact were drawn swords.

22 Cast your burden* on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

23 But you, O God, will cast them down
into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.

September 15, 2012 Posted by | Books, Character, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Poetry/Literature, Relationships, Values | Leave a comment

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Every now and then a book comes along that engages me so thoroughly that I don’t even want to read another book for a while after finishing it. The Night Circus was that book for me; one of the most memorable and unique books I have read in a long time. From its much quoted opening line to the very end, I was enchanted. I loved living inside this book.

And then I got a surprise. Have you heard of Good Reads? I was introduced to Good Reads by an acquaintance, a friend-of-a-friend (whose reading I still follow on Good Reads because she introduced me to a book, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness which was one of those books that come just at a time you need them; I had another friend who was off her meds, and struggling with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. I didn’t know how to help her. The book helped me understand what she was going through and why she would go off her meds.)

So when my friend invited me to join Good Reads I did. I had started notebook after notebook, trying to keep track of books I’ve read so I could look them up when I needed to recommend them to someone, and here was this wonderful spot where I could record the books I read and keep track of them. Even better, they send me little notes and recommend books they think I will like based on books I have rated – and their recommendations are GOOD!

So when I went to Good Reads to record The Night Circus, I ended up reading other reviews, and discovered that this is a book few are neutral about. Many people love it. There is also a strong contingent who heartily dislike it.

The people who love it, love it for the same reasons that the people who dislike it dislike it. That’s always a shock to me, no matter how experienced I become, no matter how long I live – what? Other people see through different eyes and have different opinions???

To me, The Night Circus is a very sensual book. It has layers and layers of things going on, and, as in real life, you catch glimpses, especially at the beginning, but you don’t really know how these glimpses connect. As you read through the book, the scenes and events you read about earlier start to form a more complete picture, the puzzle pieces start to come together, but you never really know how this puzzle is going to look when it is finished.

For me, each glimpse was a jewel. The Night Circus tackles the nature of existence, what is real, what is a trick of distraction, a manipulation of the laws of the universe or pure deception. It features a contest between two talented men who pit their student against one another in a very long contest.

Each page of the book has layers of textures, scents, flavors, sounds and visions, woven together with the eye of an artist. I love the aromas integrated into the circus, cinnamon caramel apples, hot spiced punch, buttery popcorn, all with elusive and intriguing undertones, scents that you can almost – but not quite – identify. I love the descriptions of the clothing, of the circus tent constructions (there were many) and the sharp discipline of a circus all done in black and white. I loved the music, and the feats of engineering that constructed some of the circus wonders. I loved the artistry of the clock, and the winter garden. I loved the magic of the breathtaking acts, and the humanity of the characters.

Some complain on Good Reads that the descriptions in The Night Circus overshadow the plot. OK. Maybe. The descriptions nourished my imagination, took me on circular routes, just as this novel does. As I read the complaints, I could see a sharp divide between those who want to accomplish, and those who are happy to enjoy the journey. The Night Circus is a journey, in the old tradition of “there is no frigate like a book,” a journey that will take you places you have never been before. Just as I feel when I return from many of our travel adventures, I miss this great exploration of the landscape put forth in The Night Circus.

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Cultural, Fiction, Interconnected, Poetry/Literature | 3 Comments