"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Monday, December 31, 2007

happy new year!


from the whole fam damnly

sam


Here’s the newest member of our family, though it seems as if we have always known and loved him. In this family of ours, we have Sam-dog, Sam-friend, Sam cousin and, as of two years ago, Sam-husband. He and Abs were wed in a self-officiated ceremony in our front yard.

I used to be the master of Scrabble in the family. No longer. Also of Boggle. Also no more. But it’s OK. This type of challenge will keep me on my toes for many years to come. No senility allowed.

Sam introduced me to the music of Martin Sexton and also to the fact that a good gumbo starts with a good roux.

Sam writes really good songs and sings them well, too. When you have a few quiet moments, treat yourself to a couple of tunes by going to the Sam and Abbie song website. (“Freedom Now” and “The Pirate Song” are especially nice.)

Oh, yes, I also used to think I was pretty good at the Puzzler on NPR on Sunday mornings. You should be in the room when Sam’s brain shifts into gear, and he calls out the answers in the blink of an eye. Oh, and he's also a good dancer.

max


After a tough morning of shelling on Captiva Island, Max strikes his best “I’m too sexy for my shirt” pose.

One day when he was five, he came home from school and announced that he no longer wanted to be named Jeffrey (the name we gave him at birth) because the kids in his kindergarten class were calling him “Jeff” and he didn't particularly care for that. He told us he wanted a new name – one that couldn’t be shortened. Abbie retrieved the baby name book we still had on our shelf. Stuck inside it was a list of the other names we'd been considering for him. Max was among them - for Eddie's uncle.

By the next morning, he had indeed become his own Max. He liked it a lot because it couldn’t be truncated, and also there was no way you could make any of the letters backward. Plus, it had a "X" in it, and that was very cool.

We got a few phone calls from irate parents later that week. Frustrated moms and dads would declare, “You can’t just let your kid change his name. Now our daughter thinks she can do the same thing, and we don’t really support that kind of thing… blah, blah, blah.”

I quietly cheered him on, “You go, little one. Be your own person.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

abbie

One of the best parts of this vacation is spending time with our kiddos. Abbie, who is 27 and lives in New Orleans, is here, along with her husband, Sam, and of course, our sonny boy, Max rounds out the group.


This is Abbie, who, when small, loved to collect shells from the beach, arrange and carefully sort them.


I found this little study in shells on the dining room table this afternoon. Most certainly it was made by Abs and goes along quite well with the following photo and description of such that I found on Sam’s blog:


“And here we have an Abbie project, more or less complete. Abbie works in mysterious ways. I'm pretty sure she arranged these dropped petals while she was talking on the phone, probably unconsciously. It's nice to live with someone who beautifies things as she goes along.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

on vacation

Yes, it's true. We really are in Florida.

We've had a couple of truly raucous days here so far, as you can plainly see by the accompanying photos of us having way too much fun.

It's wonderful.




Thursday, December 27, 2007

gloria in florida


There are more posts about Uganda, Change the Truth, photography and family to come. For now let me tell you about early morning on Captiva Island. (Please indulge me while I pretend to be poetic. I think it has something to do with the sea air.)

The fog lays low and props itself up on the very tops of the palm trees. The ocean is dark and brooding, and the line where it meets the sky is mysterious to say the least. It’s a place where the sea quietly and barely edges up against the sky… sort of like an untold secret. It’s place I can’t help staring into.

Early risers are stooped along the brink of the sea. They are shell gatherers, clusters of them - their silhouettes dark and still against the rising sun. They only reach out now and then for the perfect gem to add to their collections.

There is an Osprey perched high above, surveying the scene and Great Egrets standing proudly and gracefully along the shoreline.

There’s a dolphin bobbing along and pelicans soaring toward the water to swoop on their prey. They dive fiercely, crashing against the surface of the water, then rise up with fish dangling from their bills.

There are no sounds except the constant lapping of the waves at our feet.

By the time Eddie and I finish our walk along the beach, the fog has burned off. That place where the sea and sky meet is now a bold swath. There are little kids running about, sunbathers staking out their beach chairs and umbrellas. Sounds of conversations, kids laughing, wave runners and motorboats have punctured the silence.

When I was younger, yes, I admit, I would have been bummed to wake up to fog and drizzle and a chill in the air on my first morning of a beach vacation. I would have been missing out on precious sun-tanning time, after all!

Now, I prefer the low lying fog, the quiet rhythms of the early morning sea and the comforting sound that is the breathing of my long time friend and lover as he walks along the beach next to me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

for those of you who were baffled by the last photo


A longer view.

It just felt like Peter's niece had put on her very best dress, a Christmas kind of dress, if you will, for our visit to Gwembe village.

PS - Thank you for all the very nice comments.

Monday, December 24, 2007

webale


Being Jewish, I have always had sort of an awkward time at Christmas. Of course, I always wish my Gentile friends a merry day. I bake cookies for our neighbors and make sure our mail carrier, Bump, gets a little cash tucked in an envelope expressly for him. When the kids were little, we gave Christmas gifts to their friends and teachers and happily went along with all the Christmas festivities and concerts at school. Sometimes we served meals to Kansas City's homeless. Nowadays, Eddie and I usually go this one Chinese restaurant that is always open on Christmas Eve and then to the movies on Christmas day (at both places, we see enough of our Jewish friends that we could be attending services!) Well-meaning baggers always wish me “Merry Christmas!” at the grocery store, and clerks in stores send me out the door with the same lilting, gleeful expression.

I am leading up to something quite wonderful that I am gong to do on this particular Christmas Eve, something that feels anything but awkward!

Thanks to you, the amazing and generous friends of Change the Truth who have responded like angels to the needs of the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage, I will be wiring funds to Uganda.

It seems that many of you decided to give a donation to your loved ones instead of another toaster or tie. Do you have any idea how cool that is?

Because of you, I, one lucky girl indeed, get to launch close to six thousand dollars (most of which is earmarked for food) across the ocean to a very special place. The money, which totals something like 11 million Ugandan shillings, will land at the orphanage just in time for the kids to get a little something extra in their porridge during this week of Christmas. And then, of course, it will enable Rose Mary to feed the children for months to come without having to worry.

So, this Christmas turned into a not so awkward time at all for me. It’s actually one of the best ever. Thanks to you. Or, as one would say in Lugandan, “Webale!” (way-bah-lay).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

change the truth team I

The sluggish Internet service in Kampala prevented me from posting very many pictures of us working and playing, which I intend to do now. I want to thank the members of the first CTT mission; they were an engaged, enthusiastic, compassionate, untiring and joyful group. We had a lot of laughs, and we shared some tears. We got to know about pieces of ourselves that we may not have been aware of before. We held many, many hands in the process of making an abundance of new friends. We tried to keep up with the young and very expert dancers and drummers of St. Mary Kevin’s. We went through a lot of bottles of Purell, our fair share of Pepto Bismol and Immodium, and ate things we weren’t sure about. We tried our best to communicate with people who only spoke Lugandan, and Melissa succeeded in learning several words and phrases that seemed impossible for the rest of us to get our mouths around. Some of us rode boda-bodas, ate grasshoppers, stood on the Equator and marveled at the chimps; all of us fell in love with the place that is Uganda and the people who live there, especially those at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood in Kajjansi.

I am looking forward to putting together Change the Truth Team II, but for now, I would like to celebrate what Jane, Lonnie, Ann, Melissa, Carol, Lynne and I just experienced. It was a trip none of us will ever forget.

Melissa, our resident Pied Piper.


On the Saturday we weren't supposed to work, we showed up with paint, smocks and brushes and turned the "dining hall" into a colorful, joyful handprint filled place! Here are Zaberah and me - she was getting me ready for my mark-making on the wall.


Two very young artists decked out in Eddie's old shirts.


Outdoor art class.


Lynne and her little friend, Patiency. Notice the doll Patiency is holding. Ann and Melissa discovered that many of the little girls needed baby dolls to carry around and nurture. Instead of saying to me, "Gloria, let's find a toy company that would be willing to donate some dolls to the orphanage" they decided to teach the girls how to make their own. They fashioned them after dolls they had seen for sale in the market. They stripped banana fiber off some trees and helped the girls create these "banana baby" beauties. I guess they even found some fabric with which to dress them. The girls carried them around like treasures.


The children had so much fun in Melissa's group. I bet you could hear the singing and laughing and clapping for miles around!


Lonnie shopping at Nakasero Market in Kampala.


Yours truly having the time of my life drumming with Douglas and the boys at the final performance of dancing, drumming and singing.


Ann braved the traffic, fumes and crazy driving habits of Ugandans to get around by boda-boda, a motorcycle taxi named for once transporting passengers from "border to border."


In Gwembe village, Peter's nieces were jump roping, and Jane decided to join them!


Even Rose Mary got in on the fun.


Carol and I walking about in Gwembe village. That's Peter behind us.


Jane and friends.


Lonnie giving a demonstration on a cool art technique.


Here is where you get to see a cool demonstration about how water flows in one direction on one side of the equator, in the other on the other side and stands perfectly still right on the equator!


Ann conducted therapy with many kids on an individual basis. She usually began by having them draw pictures on a piece of fabric she called a "memory cloth." So many of the hand scrawled drawings were about helicopters, guns, busses and chaos; Ann was quickly able to begin a conversation with each child about their often terrifying past. And these kids, most of whom hailed from the northern part of Uganda, proudly wore their scarves like bandanas around their heads for days after their session with Ann.


Carol and Rose Mary. Rose Mary opened her arms and her heart to each of us.


Lynne enjoying a cold drink while our broken down van was being repaired on the way to Gulu. Fanta and Sprite catapulted to the top of some of our favorite beverages list while in Uganda.


Last, but not least, here are the secondary school aged kids Change the Truth is sponsoring. Notice the t-shirts they are wearing. We had just presented them to these hard working and determined young men and women. The t-shirt was designed by Erin Katz, a Kansas City high school senior. On the front, they say, "Open your eyes..." and on the back "to the truth." They were used to raise funds for CTT and Invisible Children at a Jewish youth rally last summer. Erin, your shirts made their way to the very kids we are helping; pretty cool connection I'd say.

Friday, December 21, 2007

medical mission anyone?


Wherever I go to speak about Change the Truth, there are folks who come up to me afterward and tell me that they would love to join me on the next trip to Uganda.

Recently, my OB-GYN told me she’d like to go; so did my dental hygienist, and so did a pediatrician I know.

You can see where this is heading.

A medical mission to St. Mary Kevin’s ??

I mentioned the possibility to Rose Mary and Joseph, and they loved the idea.

As has everything else with this project, an idea will pop into my head, brew for awhile, fester, if you will, then I bounce the idea off Eddie, then I think about it 24-7, then I get some support for the idea from a couple of friends of CTT, and then, poof! it may even begin to become a reality.

I am writing this at 3:30 AM, which should serve as warning to those who are thinking WOW! I’d love to go to Uganda and be part of the next team trip – that your world gets turned upside down (literally and figuratively) by the whole thing. And not being able to sleep when you get home is the least of it.

If you are still reading and if you yourself happen to be someone in the medical field or if you know someone who is and you or they might have an interest in finding out more about this crazy idea of mine, please email me with contact information.

Joseph told me that most of the kids at the orphanage have never had a full medical checkup or dental exam.

That seems pretty basic to me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

hands


"The hands (med./lat.: manus, pl. manūs) are the two intricate, prehensile, multi-fingered body parts normally located at the end of each arm of a human or other primate. They are the chief organs for physically manipulating the environment, using anywhere from the roughest motor skills (wielding a club) to the finest (threading a needle), and since the fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the human body, they are also the richest source of tactile feedback so that sense of touch is intimately associated with human hands. Like other paired organs (eyes, ears, legs), each hand is dominantly controlled by the opposing brain hemisphere, and thus handedness, or preferred hand choice for single-handed activities such as writing with a pen, reflects a significant individual trait." ~ From Wikipedia

Going through my images from this trip and even last year’s, I am struck by all the hands that appear in the frames. Brian, my friend from last year’s workshop who designed the logo for Change the Truth came up with the hand motif without any suggestions from me. I think the whole idea of making a connection is what this may be about. A connection to ourselves, a connection to others, a connection to the world.





Wednesday, December 19, 2007

gulu: finale


One of the reasons we went to the IDP camp in Gulu was to find a child to bring back to St. Mary Kevin’s. We had discussed this with a couple of the elders shortly after our arrival and got the feeling our request would be granted. I noticed that while we guests were seated in our wooden chairs in front of the rest of the group, on the mat where the older women sat soon appeared a young girl. It seemed to me that she had now assumed a position of some prominence and that perhaps she would be the one to accompany us back to Kajjansi.

As we prepared to leave, Jonathan felt it best to tell the Camp Leader of our desire. The Camp Leader bared his teeth (what few there were) and in broken English explained that one of his daughters was hard for him to control, and that she should be the one we take to St. Mary Kevin’s. We gently reminded him that we wanted to take a child who had been orphaned. He then said, no, we hadn’t given them enough time to work on this and that we would have to come back and get a child on another day.

Everyone swarmed the van as we said our goodbyes. Lillian and Sandee’s mother walked out of the middle of the crowd with a huge bag of beans on her head and tried to transfer them to the head of Rose Mary. I got the feeling Rose Mary had never attempted to carry anything on the top of her head. The weight of it nearly brought her to her knees; she laughed, and then we all did. The bag of beans, an extremely generous gift given the situation, was thrown into the back of the van.

We decided to treat Rose Mary and ourselves to a plane ride back to Entebbe, incredible and unheard of as that seems for this white-knuckled flier. Anything to avoid the bumpy, weavy, hot, long ride in the van. (Turns out Jonathan had two flat tires on his way back. I know Carol would have been laughing her head off, but hey, after awhile the novelty wears off!)


We climbed into a 19-seater prop plane (surely, it must have been built in the 50’s or 60’s, but then, my imagination when it comes to anything air-travel related is pretty wild.)

During an especially bad stretch of turbulence, I looked over toward Carol for an “everything will be OK, Gloria” nod, and out of the corner of my eye I see Rose Mary crossing herself. Oh, man.

I did manage to uncover my eyes long enough to catch a glimpse of the Nile as we flew over it.

We arrived in Kampala in time to have dinner with the rest of the team. Digesting that was pretty easy. Digesting what we had seen in Gulu will take a much longer time.

Sandee and Lillian

Their mom

Monday, December 17, 2007

gulu: part 2

Yet another drive on another pitted, treacherous, red dirt road. We wind our way to the IDP camp just outside of Gulu town; Sandee and Lillian start seeing people they know walking along the road. They begin calling out names of old friends, waving their arms, barely able to stay in their seats in the back of the van. Once we park, they bolt and begin greeting people with unrestrained joy.

This camp into which so many have been herded is made up of hundreds of thatched roof mud huts built very close together. As soon as we arrive, a mob of little children descend upon us – a sudden wave of distended stomachs, filthy, torn clothing, dirt caked feet and legs. They are thrilled to see muzungus, especially ones with cameras in hand. They quickly fall into a routine of mugging for pictures - dancing about, jumping up and down, turning cartwheels and generally falling all over one another as they compete to get close to us.

Meanwhile, we’re running behind Sandee and Lillian so we can witness (and film) the reunion with their mom. It is a bit anticlimactic, as the greetings they receive from so many other women (darting out from this hut or that) are far warmer than the one they finally get from Mom. We learned later that she is unstable emotionally; she was probably so overwhelmed she couldn’t offer much of a reaction. We also learned later that she was upset because she knew she couldn’t afford to feed the girls and wouldn’t be able to pay for their transport back to St. Mary Kevin’s. (One of our team members jumped all over that and provided Mom with the necessary and extremely meager funds to cover both expenses.) The girls decided to stay for the duration of their school holiday, which is a month or so.

The usual formal greetings and introductions begin. (Our extraordinary guide, driver, translator and friend, Jonathan happened to speak the local dialect.) Chairs are set out for us visitors, a large audience of children and a few adults sit at our feet. Speeches are made. We meet the Camp Leader and some of the elderly women. Very few men are about. We are invited into Mom’s hut. Then she leads us to a field where her husband’s parts had been buried after he had been savagely murdered by the LRA. As soon as we have taken that in, she pulls up her shirt to show us what appears to be a huge tumor on her belly.

Trailing behind us is a long line of giddy children, still playing and laughing and trying their best to get in the line of fire of one of our cameras.

We walk back to the camp and get a good look at this horrible place. The extreme squalor is gut wrenching. This one, no different from any of the other camps, lacks efficient sanitation, putting the 15,000 inhabitants at risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases. It is hot and crowded. The rations are barely enough to live on.

We are told that Mom has lived there for 19 years.

I try to make photographs that are my own. It is far too easy to replicate the pictures we’ve all seen a million times - you know, the ones in Unicef ads or those we see on late night TV with Sally Struthers… flies on faces, swollen bellies, doe-like eyes.











Sunday, December 16, 2007

gulu: part one

It’s difficult to know how to begin talking about our visit to Gulu in northern Uganda. I suppose the best way to start is by giving you a little background information on what has been happening there over the past many years.

Over the past two decades, conflict between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) forced millions of people from their homes into camps or neighboring countries. As you may well know, tens of thousands of young children were abducted as child soldiers, many were forced to watch as their parents and other family members were shot, burned or maimed, and many ended up living on the street or in the bush trying their best just to survive. The LRA conducted a horrible and unimaginable war, one that included a great deal of mutilation and so much murder.

Recent talks between the two sides and a formal cessation of fighting have made peace a distinct possibility. Though there are still landmines in the area, it a relatively safe place to visit now. People have begun to go back to their homes from the IDP camps, but far too many are deterred from doing so because of the danger of the mines and the fact that others have taken over their property.

Three of us, along with Rose Mary, director of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage, and Jonathan, our driver, made the rough trip north to Gulu with two girls from the orphanage in tow. Sandee and Lillian have their own story, though, sadly, it is not unlike so many others we heard. Our goal was to reunite them with their mother, who they had not seen for four years since being plucked to go to the safe haven of St. Mary Kevin’s. Their mother still lives in a Internally Displaced Person’s camp (IDP) and has her share of emotional and physical problems. We wanted the girls to be able to see their mom and other family members and friends while they are on holiday from school in Kajjansi. We were also hoping to be able to bring a child from the IDP camp to St. Mary Kevin’s so that at least one more young person could have a shot at being safe, fed, educated and loved.

Here is Sandee and LIillian’s story, a snapshot of Lynne, Carol and me in Gulu town and some of the photographs I made in town before we headed out to the IDP camp:

"THE STORY ABOUT OUR FAMILY

One evening, our father went to town to buy food for the family, and on his way back, he found a group of men who ordered him to stop and he was ordered to lie down flat so that he is slaughtered. He resisted but to no avail. At this time the rebels ordered a small boy to cut him into pieces using a panga. As the boy started my dad screamed and started running for his life but could not make it as he was shot dead. After shooting him they cut him into pieces, gorged his eyes out and also cut his tongue and private parts, and burnt the rest of the pieces with petrol.

At the same time, the rebels started to burn houses in the village and people started to run out of their homes. As the alarm went on, our mother woke us up and told us to run and hide in the bushes, where we spent a night.

The next morning, our mother saw a certain man coming from another place and when she told him the whole story, he just run away and left the place. Eventually she told us to run into a big bush, where we found very many people (old and young) children covered with leaves, grass and reeds.

Meanwhile, a man who escaped and hid in a near by bush saw all that was happening, then he came and told our mother about the torture and death of dad. Along with many others, he was killed and the dead bodies were piled up. When our mother started to cry, we also realized that our dad was gone. Together with our elder sister and another man, our mother went and brought the remaining pieces and buried them, there in the bush.

As we were tracing our way back home, we came across a bore hole where many people were laid dead and the dogs eating them up. As we proceeded, we found another group of rebels crossing the road. So we run up to Gulu town where we found our uncle’s wife and we went with her to her home where she made us sleep with goats in their house. Our mother would move about in the neighborhood looking for food so that we may survive. Eventually she started cutting stones for a source of income and the money she earned was for buying us food. But our uncle’s wife would warn us to eat little food so that we do not dificate in the house. So our life was terrible.

Then our mother told us to go to Internally Displaced People’s Camps (IDPC) where life was very expensive. Education in the camps was partly free but we had to buy books, which money my mother would not afford, so there was no progress.

It is until one of our cousin brothers proposed to take us to another place where something better could be tried, that we came to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Home, where we have so far spent four years."