One in 122

One in every 122 people on earth is a refugee. Let that sink in. Some are displaced within their home countries and some are seeking asylum across borders.

Last week I went to see REFUGEE, a traveling photo exhibit by the Annenberg Foundation that was sponsored in Houston by Fotofest International. The Annenberg Space for Photography commissioned five internationally acclaimed photographers to capture the refugee experience on five different continents. It was stunning. The link above will take you to the official website of the exhibit and some of the photographs.

I’ve been hesitating to write this post because, well after all, a picture is worth 1000 words so how can I possibly describe what was contained in this photo exhibit in a 600 word post? I only took a couple of photos of the photos because it seemed weird and probably frowned upon.

Lynsey Addario photographed the Rohingya of Myanmar. Discriminated against because they are Muslims in a Buddhist state, many are forced to live in camps within Myanmar where they don’t have access to education, medical care, or legal jobs. The photographs highlighted the difficult conditions and suffering in the camps.

She also photographed a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, focusing on the life of 12-yr old Hana. Here is a picture of Hana riding to work at dawn to pick cucumbers. The photos depict a fairly ordinary seeming life, but Hana and the others are always aware that they are not really home.

Omar Victor Diop photographed portraits of refugees in camps in Cameroon. More than 850,000 residents of the Central African Republic, nearly one-fifth of the country’s population, are displaced both inside and outside the country due to power struggles between Christian and Muslims. If refugees were able to make it to the camps in Cameroon or other neighboring countries, they were able to find medical care, food, and shelter. The portraits (and their captions) revealed proud, strong men and women who were looking forward to building new lives and providing for their families. Although this section of the exhibit highlighted the future and the potential for these refugees, they have all lost so very much.

Graciela Iturbide photographed life inside the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Columbia. It is a safe zone created by 302 families trying to stand up to violent gangs. The drug trade in Central and South America has made life difficult and dangerous. Certainly we hear about people fleeing these areas and seeking asylum in the US, but imagine the other option of having to live within a compound in your city just to feel safe. How valuable is freedom?

Martin Schoeller took portraits of refugees resettled in the US in 2015. These extreme close-ups remind us of how much more alike we all are than unalike.

Tom Stoddardt documented the refugee crisis in Europe with photographs from the shores of Greece to the streets of Berlin. Mostly Syrians, but also refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria are all fleeing from armed conflicts in their home countries. His photo of the piles of life jackets and the realization that each one represents a person fleeing one life for another is the one non-human image that has really stuck with me.

There were two other series of photos in the exhibit, I apologize that I did not get the photographer’s names. One was a series of photos of Sudanese refugees showing the most important item that they brought with them.

The other was a series of photos from the town of Rigonce, Slovenia. Within a 10-day period, more than 70,000 refugees passed through this town of 176 residents on their way from Greece to Germany and Austria – an unusual route that they were forced to take when Hungary abruptly closed its border with Serbia on October 17, 2015. Here photos of the refugees were mounted side-by-side with the people of the town.

I know this post doesn’t do justice to the exhibit, but there’s a short film that comes close. I sat and watched it at the exhibit, but it is also available on Netflix. There’s a short preview of it on the website linked to above. It’s called REFUGEE and is narrated by Cate Blanchett. Personally, I don’t even know how to watch something on Netflix, but I’m confident all of you do. Next time you’re trying to decide what to watch, invest 23 minutes on REFUGEE.







Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger was my bookclub’s July selection. Here’s my Goodreads review:

I enjoyed reading this book, was appropriately moved at the appropriate times. I gave it 4 stars, but it wasn’t a great book and I’m thinking it won’t stick with me. Looking forward to the book club discussion of it. Small midwestern town setting, a coming of age tale for the narrator, a story line to keep your interest, and some observations on society to keep you thinking. Still there were times that it felt contrived and I wasn’t completely sold on the characters.

It’s probably actually more of a 3 star book for me, but I did enjoy reading it. It was the perfect companion on the flights to Seattle and back. Book club met last night, and, as usual, I wasn’t actually able to pull together my thoughts on the book in the moment. So here’s my “upon further reflection…”

Plot: The plot was fine, well-paced, very foreshadowed, yet still with some interesting twists and turns. It made for very enjoyable reading, yet it was just a little too contrived for my taste. This was my loudest and most oft-repeated analysis of the book, which hardly adds much to a book discussion. I really need to learn articulate my thoughts better.

Characters: The characters were a mixed bag, but for the most part I found them believable, albeit a tad one-dimensional. The social issue subplots that I found most compelling were character-driven. PTSD, autism, race, class, and other “differences” were each conveniently ascribed to different characters. So, yes, contrived, but it worked. They were all just matter-of-factly part of the story. We could have pulled each of those “issues” out and dissected how the author dealt with them, but we didn’t.

Writing: Although one of our members found it annoyingly over-written, the rest of us didn’t feel that way. For the most part, I found that the descriptions added to the time and place of the novel. I liked the midwest feel of the novel. Anytime a book is set in Minnesota and the phrase “covered dish” is used, I am happy. I had more of an issue with a couple of plot points and character statements that I found just wrong; things that I think an editor should have caught. They weren’t glaring enough to diminish my enjoyment of the book, nor prominent enough that I could rifle thru the book and find them during the meeting.

And another thing: I always enjoy how different people like and don’t like different things about a book (yay bookclubs!). One member questioned the actual possibility of something that occurred in the book. It was confirmed that it could pretty much never happen like that in real life. Here’s the thing: the narrator of the tale says point-blank that this was “the miracle I’d been hoping for.” I’m OK with people believing in miracles. Especially in books. I mean, I don’t believe zombies are real either, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy a book about zombies. (There are other reasons why I couldn’t enjoy a book about zombies, which we somehow did talk about last night, wtf.)

Do I recommend it? Sure. But it won’t make your top books of the year list.

Hot and Cold

Summer has a vise grip on Houston. The heat and humidity are relentless, oppressive, and will not abate until sometime in October. Any rain that falls will be graciously welcomed by the plants, but will only add to human misery with mosquitos and heavy “air you can wear.”

So what better time to follow the news from Antarctica about the imminent collapse of the Larsen C Ice Shelf. I was only vaguely aware of this phenomenon, I remember hearing the odd news tidbit, but I’ve doing a little internet research.

Ice shelves are thick sheets of ice that float on the water but are connected to land. They form when a glacier reaches the sea, but the water is cold enough that the flow just continues out into the ocean. We’ve all seen videos of icebergs forming or calving off from a glacier. This is where the water isn’t cold enough to keep an ice flow from melting, so the glacial ice falls and breaks off instead of continuing to flow. Ice sheets will naturally vary in size year to year. Small pieces at the sea edge regularly calve off, and the thickness will vary with temperature and the amount of glacial flow. The largest ice sheets are around the continent of Antarctica.

Photo from the National Snow & Ice Data Center

The Larsen Ice Shelf used to be much bigger, but Larsen A disintegrated in 1995 and a section of Larsen B roughly the size of Rhode Island broke off in 2002. Last November, scientists photographed a rapidly growing rift, or crack, on Larsen C. This crack has grown at an unprecedented rate and scientists are expecting a section the size of Scotland to break off soon. (“Soon” being a very subjective term.)

By NASA photographs by John Sonntag –, Public Domain, From wikipedia

So then what happens? Well, no one is sure since this will be the largest ice shelf collapse ever observed. Since the ice is already floating on the water, there won’t be an immediate effect on sea level. Again, ice shelves do grow and shrink, but the Larsen Ice Shelf is unlikely to recover from a collapse of this size. It’s a huge compounding of effects. The rift was at least accelerated by climate change. Warmer air and water temperatures directly contribute to this type of calving. Sea ice floating near the shelf, which helps protect the shelf, continues to diminish. Once the shelf collapses, the flow of the glacier into the water will likely accelerate. All this melting ice will cause sea levels to rise. Which will further damage and reduce the size of ice shelves. Less snow and ice cover in and around Antarctica will contribute to rising air temperatures. Which cause….need I go on…and on and on and on…?

Don’t let trump’s twitter feed distract you from following the news from Antarctica. It’s interesting. It’s important. And maybe it’ll help take your mind off the temperature outside.   Love me some wikipedia.  Quick facts on ice shelves from the NSIDC. A rather dismal (tho I believe valid) take on the situation.  The latest news from MIDAS, a scientific group keeping a close eye on the rift.



Thoughts on moments

…and not momentous thoughts.

I stumbled across the blog “one small sentence” which gives one small explanation of itself:

You know how one small sentence can make a difference in a day, a week, a month, a year? We do. Each week we take one small sentence from a book we’re currently reading and share how it changed the world for us – sometimes for just a moment and sometimes forever. A photograph, a few paragraphs, a hint at the scene beyond the curtains.

Yeah, I get that.

Last weekend the husband and I flew to Seattle to surprise my sister for her 60th birthday. It’s the kind of trip that deserves it’s own post, but it somehow just felt like a moment. I just want to quietly internalize the quick yet heartfelt re-connection with my sister, my nieces, and some nearly sisters (dear friends of my own sister.) Just one quick moment in one amazing life that I am fortunate enough to be a part of.

There was a line in a book that I read in the past year (maybe Mister Monkey, but I’m not sure), something to the effect of, “you never have to remind him how much older he is than his father was at the end of his life, it is now x years/months/days.” It’s hard not to project your parents lifetime as being what you can expect for your own.

60 is just a number, but it looms large in my family. My mother, a grandmother I barely remember, and a grandfather I never knew all died at 60 or thereabouts.

Moments come at you unexpected. A former neighbor and fellow high school band parent is fighting cancer and had a health scare last week. He always used to buy a pack of peanuts at the high school football games and he was always excited to find three-peanuts-in-a-shell. They were like a four-leaf clovers to him. Last night at the baseball game, my bag of peanuts contained several three-peanuts-in-a-shell. Hadn’t thought of that quirk of his in years. A moment to remember and send some extra thoughts his way.

Driving onto Whidbey Island last weekend, we crossed over the bridge at Deception Pass. It’s a beautiful spot that I had visited before and wanted to share with the husband. The tide was coming in and the water was rushing through the pass so quickly that it looked like a river and not the ocean. On our way off the island the following day, the tide was going out, like a river reversing course. Two moments.

I enjoy the meditative exercise of walking a labyrinth. There’s one path, no wrong turns, you spiral into the center and back out again. I interpret the center as the now. Walking in is your entire past. Walking out is your entire future. Your present is always the half way point. It’s not a matter of time or years; it’s a matter of one moment with a before and an after.

Take a moment today. To read, to sing, to listen. To find one small sentence that can make a difference. To celebrate just this moment.

The Dig

The Dig by John Preston is a character driven gem of a novel. Here’s what I said about it on my Goodreads page:

In the summer of 1939, on the eve of WWII, an astonishing archaeological find is made on a farm in Suffolk, England. This is a fictional recreation of the Sutton Hoo dig, and my personal archaeologist assures me that the details Preston uses to describe the dig are credible. But really, the book is a character study, the story being told thru different viewpoints and it is done very, very well. Not for those who want a thrilling, fast-moving plot, but I loved this one.

I was aware that the Sutton Hoo dig and ship burial was a real thing, but this book didn’t leave me feeling like I knew any more facts after reading it than before. I actually wasn’t even curious about it until I started writing this post. I checked it out on google and Wikipedia, mostly just to see if the characters in the book were real people. Not only were the people real, but the author is the nephew of Peggy Piggott, one of the archaeologists on the dig and one of the “voices” of the book. Wikipedia was a far better source of information about Sutton Hoo than The Dig.

The Sutton Hoo Helmet, photo from Wikipedia.

Here’s the thing. I can only assume that Preston wasn’t trying to write a Wikipedia entry on the Sutton Hoo ship burial, that he was trying to write about people. And what an interesting group of people! Basil Brown was a local, self-taught archaeologist who first undertook the excavations on the property of Edith Pretty. Pretty was a widow with a young son named Robert. She and her late husband had often wondered about the mounds on their property, but it was the threat of war that made Edith decide to hire someone to investigate. When word of the findings got out, a more professional team of archaeologists was brought in, including Stuart Piggott and his new wife. Peggy Piggott was trying to prove herself in a profession dominated by men and well as embracing her life as a woman and wife.

The book wasn’t a lot of things. It wasn’t a scholarly work about the Sutton Hoo ship burial. It wasn’t a biography. It didn’t even really read as historical fiction. It wasn’t an adventure or a mystery or anything more than a simple story. Still, if you don’t ask this book to be all those things that it isn’t, it is sure to exceed your expectations. What can I say? This is my kind of book and I gave it 5 stars.