Friday, March 18, 2016

Louisiana: Departure Day: Don't Do What I Did

Pathetic. Just pathetic.

When I moved out of my Opelousas apartment, I broke all of the rules of efficient, effective, low-stress packing up and leaving.

Well, most of the rules.

Here's what I got right
  • As per my lease language, I gave my landlord my 30-day notice of leaving in writing. In this notice, I gave my landlord a time range of two or three hours for when he could inspect my apartment.
  • As a CYA in the event an issue cropped up with the return of my security deposit, I took photos of my apartment after I'd emptied and cleaned it, prior to the inspection, including the insides of the oven, refrigerator, tub, etc. (I had also taken photos when I moved in.)
  • I sold my bulky stuff a few weeks before move-out day. I priced my stuff in accordance with my priority to sell quickly, out of respect for the time and stress I was willing to invest in the process.
  • I delivered various items to second-hand stores in the days before my move. 
  • I tried to weigh these variables in deciding what to pack or not: Replacement cost versus amount of space the item takes up in my car.

Here's what I got wrong

Complacency - the enemy of efficiency and effectiveness!

When I sold my beloved - but wildly bulky - chairbed, I had a fairy-tale calculation of how much extra space its absence freed up in my car, with this cascade effect: 
  1. I miscalculated how much stuff I could take with me to the next home base;
  2. I kept more stuff than I would have otherwise;
  3. Didn't give as much thought to careful organization and packing as I might have otherwise;
  4. I ended up with more stuff than could fit into available space; and
  5. Had to ditch some things at the worst possible time - in the midst of packing my car for departure. 

In my la-la thinking mode in the last couple of weeks, I spent time with last dance and other hurrahs instead of the dull mundanity of packing the little things in advance. Boring tasks such as organizing office supplies and papers and such, corraling them into tidy spaces, ready to be put in their right places into the car. Consequently, I found myself - on the moving day! - of stashing this shit every which place I could because the other thing I did wrong was:

Somehow forget just how long it takes to pack stuff. The process of sorting and packing stacks minutes into quarter-hours into half- hours into hours of tedium. My self-congratulatory glow over selling the big things quickly and early was so bright, it obscured the necessity to knuckle down in the days before the move.

Fortunately, a buddy came over and helped me out a bit, and I sure appreciate that.

Other than that blessing, my move-out day was fraught with frustration, stress, anxiety, and moments of despair. Every tiny bit of it a result of my own poor planning and execution. Damn it.

Once I was on the road, I had to work hard to give myself a break and let it go. Had to remind myself that, hell, I accomplished my mission, not as neatly and expertly as I would have liked, but I accomplished it. Put the damn experience in perspective and enjoy the day on the road.

Just ... don't do what I did.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mississippi: The Baptists Not There

Mississippi Baptist Beginnings, Highway 61, Mississippi. February 2016.

Right before I left South Louisiana, I read the memoir by Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi. This woman was bold. Bold in life and bold in her writing. 

She's the 23 year-old woman in this iconic photo from the soda fountain counter here:

From right to left at counter: Anne Moody, Joan Trumpauer, and John Salter. 1963 at Woolworth's in Jackson, Mississippi. Credit: Fred Blackwell.

Ms. Moody grew up in Centreville and Woodville, Mississippi. I routed my departure from Louisiana through Mississippi's Highway 61 so I could pass close by these towns of her youth.

What I really would have liked to have done was find her and meet her. But Anne Moody died in February 2015. She was afflicted with dementia in her last years. Her younger sister, Ms. Adline, oversaw her care. When I read this, about her sister caring for her, I thought, holy damn, after what Ms. Moody was wont to write about her younger siblings back in the day, well, I wonder if the sisters had to walk on some prickly paths to get to a good place. In an excerpt from one of Ms. Moody's obituaries:
Adline Moody said Saturday that she admired the courage of her sister, who was two years her senior.
"We came from a very poor family, and when she joined the movement, she did it because it was something that needed to be done. She wasn't out there just to be there," Adline Moody said. "I'm very proud of her for what she did. She made it better for me."


On this day, I was driving on Highway 61, having left my Louisiana nest behind, and I saw signage indicating a historical site on my right as I flashed by. Oh. Did I want to stop? I'd have to turn around and go back, if yes. ... Probably something boring, but you never know, maybe it had something tangential to what I read in Ms. Moody's book. So I turned around and went back.

Right away I was impressed. The very first sign told me that the Baptist church has been in Mississippi since 1791. Wow, that long? 

Being raised a Roman Catholic, I don't know that much about Baptists except they generally feel confident that my kind of people are on the fast track to Hell, not being born again and all. I had thought Baptists came relatively late to the Christian buffet.

The Mississippi Baptist Beginnings historic site is a series of large signs arranged along a semi-circle turnabout, so it's very easy to take in the info while in your car.  When I entered the circle drive, I noticed a car parked up toward one end of the far bend. A woman inside, maybe having a picnic meal or just contemplating life. It's a pretty place.

I moseyed by each sign with my car, taking in about as much history as my brain allows in one sitting. When I got to the end, I thought, wait, something's missing. Did I overlook it? Let me go through it again. So I swung around for another turn through the exhibits.

I glanced over to the woman in the car. Opened my passenger seat window.

"Excuse me. Ma'am?" I asked.

"Yes?" she said, an African-American woman in her 30s or so.

"Is it my imagination or is there an important part of the Baptist history missing here?"

The woman looked at me without expression and without hesitation, and in a matter-of-fact voice, replied: "Yes, ma'am, there is."

In a location so close to where a woman of courage grew up, in the year 2016, was a monument to a history in which it would appear that only white people were Baptists, and only they who effected change in the society.

This is unfortunate. Not just because it fails to acknowledge the African-American contributions to Baptist history in Mississippi, but because it reinforces the stereotype of Mississippi as a backward stanchion of white rule. The historic memorial's blindness to the fuller history would seem to reflect the despair of Ms. Moody's closing passage in her 1960s Civil Rights memoir:

"I sat there listening to 'We Shall Overcome,' looking out of the window at the passing Mississippi landscape. Images of all that had happened kept crossing my mind: the Taplin burning, the Birmingham church bombing, Medgar Evers' murder, the blood gushing out of McKinley's head, and all the other murders. ...I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
"'Moody...'" it was little Gene again interrupting his singing.
"'Moody, we're gonna git things straight in Washington, huh?'" 
I didn't answer him. I knew I didn't have to. He looked as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. 

"'I wonder. I wonder.'" ...

Monday, March 14, 2016

South Louisiana: A Woman's Experience

Woman with no name of her own. Abbeville, Louisiana.

The sparkle

In South Louisiana, there's always this .... I don't know .... electrostatic charge in the air, gravitational waves, sub-atomic magnetic field, whatever .... that plays between men and women. The daily language itself is intimate, even among strangers, at check-out counters, at the auto repair shop, on the street, wherever, what with both genders infusing statements with warm "sha's" and "baby's" and for women, the amiable, comfortable "girl," said in the same way you'd say it to your sister.

There's an acknowledgement of each other as sensual human beings that is frank and natural.

I like it. As a young dancer said to me at the Feed 'n Seed one night, "Let's put a little sparkle in this waltz."

There's a sparkle in South Louisiana.

But there's a yang to every yin, and in South Louisiana, there is an historical timeline of cultural pathology against women, still burbling its oily toxin today, like an uncapped oil leak in the beautiful land of the bayous.

I've got my theories on why this is, but I'll save that for another post.

In the meantime, below are a couple of my less-sparkly experiences as a woman in South Louisiana.

The sludge

I was physically accosted twice while in South Louisiana, in both cases:
  • By men with whom I'd talked and danced a number of times;
  • With whom I'd been clear about my lack of romantic interest; and
  • In public.

With the first man, I had seen some red flags that spoke to a damaged character, but I thought the boundaries I'd set were well-defined, and I believed I could manage the situation. 

With the second man - I never saw it coming.

In the first incident, the man apparently held the belief that some women want a man to be the aggressor, like in a bodice-ripper novel. I use the word "aggressor" deliberately because this is the exact word he used to me, stating that "obviously" he was going to have to be the aggressor. In other words, this is what he told himself that I wanted him to do. The word "aggressor" is quite different from the word "initiator." One word is about force. The other is neutral - merely the idea of who will start an action. He's a smart guy. He knew exactly what he meant when he chose "aggressor."

In the second incident, I have no idea what the man was thinking. I'd been bamboozled by his self-narrative, that he was a non-drinking, non-drugging man who lived by a strong code of personal and business ethics, and who was devoted to a well-regarded profession that allowed him to serve others.

Later, I learned second-hand that the same man had allegedly sexually assaulted another woman in a far more serious way than he had me. When I say "second-hand," I mean that the other woman reported the assault to the person who told me about it.

I also learned after the fact that the first man was notorious in some circles for troubling behavior with women, details of which are still unclear to me.

The assaults I experienced were sexual assaults, make no mistake. But they joined the legions of unreported incidents because they didn't rise up to the level of what one would report to the police with any realistic expectation of ... what? And there's not a clear path on what to say - or to whom - to alert other women that these two men are unsafe. It's quite possible these two men are serial offenders against ... how many women? A handful? Dozens? Scores? A hundred?

Louisiana's track record on violence against women

In 2010, Louisiana ranked 4th highest for femicide (murders of girls or women). Source: Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Now, I've got to tell you, I think there is an ick factor that the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence's youtube channel has exactly three videos, all of which feature men speaking out about domestic violence against women. Yes, I get that it's a man-to-man kinda thing to try and achieve a cultural change where men are on board about this. But my first reaction was that it smacks of a husband or brother or son doing the talking for "his" woman. Like a woman's voice doesn't have enough heft to deliver the message. Not to mention the political juice that the state office-holders got from being in the videos. Show me the funding money for LCADV, gentlemen.

In 2012, Louisiana ranked 14th highest for (reported) rape. Source: CNN.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Flashback: Harar, Ethiopia, March 2011

On March 16, 2011, I wrote Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach in Harar, Ethiopia, Day 6.

Damn, I loved that crazy place!

A repost below:

Ethiopia: Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach in Harar, Day 6, Wednesday

Credit: Marcus Baynes-Rock at Hyenas in Harar
Woke up still feeling a little queasy, but far better than yesterday. I popped another Cipro then went upstairs to see Irish Edith off for her return to Addis. The thought of coffee didn't send the right signals to my stomach, so I skipped that and had cold water with bread and "marmalade," the ubiquitous orange-transparent gelatin that passes nationwide in Ethiopia for something nothing like marmalade.

I had work to do online, so after a pleasant breakfast chat with Edith, I walked up to the internet cafe. By the time I finished there, it was time for lunch. This was a great day to check out that hotel/restaurant, more or less across the street from the Ras Hotel, that had caught my attention the first day I arrived in Harar.

It sat high behind a wall amidst flowering trees and shrubs. The adobe building looked immense, and was tropically pretty in its "fascist yellow" facade.

How odd, a military guardhouse at the gate. Came to find out it was a hotel owned by the Department of Defense. After checking out the bathroom, I selected a seat at one of the outside tables. No menu. I just ordered a coffee, which was very good. And for heaven's sake - only 2 birr (about 12 cents US)!

Decided to lunch instead at the reliable Fresh Touch down the street. Ordered the vegetarian pizza. When it arrived, I dressed it with their wonderfully spicy chili sauce. Oh. Wait. I did order the vegetarian pizza, right? So what's with the crispy-curled roach sitting so perkily atop a pepper? Waiter!

Just as I was waving down the waiter, in walked New York Ed and a pretty girl with an easy smile. She turned out to be Imti, from Germany via Sudan by birth.

I substituted an indifferent pasta-with-vegetables dish for the pizza. (Gonder is definitely the champion of an excellent "macaroni" with vegetables.)

After Ed, Imti, and I finished our lunches and enjoyed two delicious cups of coffee each, Ed pushed off to the internet cafe, and Imti and I continued our conversation. Interesting! She's an engineering student just finishing up an internship in Ethiopia, related to these cobblestone projects I've seen in Harar, Nazret, and Awassa. It's a German-Ethiopia partnership designed to provide jobs, training, and beautification of Ethiopian streets. Imti and her friend are in Harar doing some in-country tourist travel before she returns to Germany.

Tonight was hyena night for me, and unlike Atlanta Tom, who casually walked outside the wall over to check out the hyena man on his own, I knew I'd want a guide in the scary, hyena-riddled night. [A video about dogs and hyenas in Harar below]

I knew also that Aziz, who was to have escorted me last night (until I got sick), would probably be unavailable tonight, as his Spanish girlfriend was in town. My plan was to walk over to the cafe in the main Jugal square and locate a Plan B guide on the fly. At the same time, I had it in my mind to hire Abdellah, the guy I'd met the other day at said cafe, who is deaf. This turned out to be exactly what I did. Abdellah appeared happy as hell to be hired and we negotiated the price with the help of another local man.

Abdellah is one of those charismatic individuals who radiate good vibes and who attract goodwill in return. It was clear this local gentleman was fond of Abdellah; he made sure I really meant to hire Abdellah as my guide in the event Aziz didn't pan out.

Abdellah and I agreed to meet at the cafe at 6:30, and he dashed off while I hung out over a coffee and people-watched. A guide popped up, and joined me at my table. Did I need a guide? I explained that I was waiting for Aziz, but if he didn't show up, Abdellah was my back up guide. The guide said he doubted Aziz would be by, as his Spanish girlfriend was in town. (Harar is a typical small town - everybody knows everyone's business - heck, even the tourists know!)

Though late, Abdellah arrived, and off we went. I realized right quick that it wasn't going to work for Abdellah to get ahead of me, as he couldn't hear me if I called out to him. I tucked my arm into his so we stayed connected. It was nice. Just about everyone knew Abdellah - and liked him - as evidenced by the constant friendly, smiley greetings between him and other passersby. We emerged through a gate I hadn't visited before. It was already dark and the hyena man was already engaged with the hyenas.

Unbelievably, I fed the hyenas three times: I held out an 18" skinny stick with a strip of meat dangling on its end and handed it right to the hyenas' mouths. Yikes! At one point, I felt a nudge at the back of my knee. I whirled around, saw that it was Abdellah, and I slapped him hard in the chest in mock outrage. Everyone laughed.

Some idiot dad (an Ethiopian tourist) had this little toddler daughter feeding the hyenas. Put me in mind of idiot American counterparts who have their young'ns feed bears by dumpsters.

Credit: Hyenas in Harar
About the hyenas, it surprised me how beautiful they are! Their faces, heads, and ears! Lovely!

Credit: Hyenas in Harar

The beautiful illusion splintered as soon as I saw them move. Their walk evoked all of these negative anthropomorphic prejudices: "tail between its legs," "slinking around," "skulking," "craven."

I never saw the beauty for the presumed ugliness of the hyenas' posture.

Abdellah escorted me to my hotel, as agreed upon. We smilingly parted, and I saw him affectionately grab the head of a nearby youngster, and the two walked away with their arms around each other's shoulders.

I walked upstairs to the restaurant, where the waiter encouraged me to order the goat, as it was very fresh. I did, and it was.

While I thoughtfully chewed the tender meat, I wondered if it came from the pretty brown and white goat I saw from my balcony window earlier today, bleating sweetly at a woman retreating from the spot where he was newly tethered.

I thanked him for his sacrifice.

Marcus Baynes-Rock, a PhD candidate, studied hyenas for some time in Harar. You can check out his two interesting blogs on his research here (for 2009 through March 2010), then here for period til April 2011. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mississippi: Coon 4 Sale

Coon for sale, Port Gibson, Mississippi. February 2016.

So I was driving up to Missouri on the last day of February, having left South Louisiana behind.

Just north of Port Gibson, Mississippi, I saw the sign on my left: COON 4 SALE.

Wasn't the first time I saw such a handwritten sign along the road that day, but this time I pulled in to see what was what.

A gentleman had a lot of raccoon meat ready to go in his cooler.

Coon for sale, Port Gibson, Mississippi. February 2016.

You get your dressed raccoon with organs intact at 5 bucks apiece.

Dressed with organs already removed at 10 bucks apiece.

Interestingly, the man gets most of his coons from Missouri trappers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Henderson, Louisiana: McGee's Landing, Terroir, and Joy

Atchafalaya Swamp from McGee's Landing, Henderson, Louisiana. February 2016.

I first heard the word "terroir" in its usual context, the description of a wine. Terroir is the character -  the overall sensory experience of a wine - contributed to by "the specificity of [birth]place, which has come to include not only the soil in a region, but also the climate, the weather, the aspect of the vineyards and anything else that can possibly differentiate one piece of land from another."

Atchafalaya Swamp from McGee's Landing, Henderson, Louisiana. February 2016.

Some South Louisianans like to say their DNA is in the dirt here. The music here - the creole, cajun, zydeco, and heck, yes, even the swamp pop - has its DNA in the dirt as well, and in the swamps and the bayous.

To be in a local place, listening to and dancing to local music, looking out the door onto the Atchafalaya Basin, in this day's example, or out onto sugar cane field in another day's example, or onto a bayou-fed pond on another day, it is to experience the terroir of this music.

It is a joyous thing.

Here is the talented Steve Adams Trio at McGee's Landing:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lafayette: African American History Parade

Princes and princesses at the 2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

The African American History Parade in Lafayette was one of my last hurrahs in South Louisiana.

Gosh darn, I do love a parade. Especially when it has marching bands. Well, truth be told, the marching bands are the best part of a parade. Marching bands trump thrown candy and beads any day of the week. Especially the drums. A parade made up solely of marching bands with strong drum corps, that would be a destination parade. OK, I guess you'd have to insert some floats or whatever between the bands just to create a space for the different songs performed by the bands.

Here's the Ocean of Soul Marching Band from Texas Southern University:

And here's the St Martinville High School band:

Before the parade, a couple of band members from a school got into a bit of trouble, resulting in the need to drop for some push ups. I believe the two boys were gawking at some pretty girls instead of paying attention to the band director.

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

There were many charmers on floats, such as this shy, smiley princess:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

There were paeans to local history makers:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

And sworded knights on horseback:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

A slide show below: