University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium

The girls asked to go to this small aquarium on the campus of the University of Georgia’s marine education center. It was small, but focused on the local habitat. It was beautifully maintained and featured a touch tank.

The grounds had several natural trails.

It was a lovely way to experience Georgia’s wetlands, but bring your big spray. The mosquitoes feasted on us.

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Silly videos from the aquarium:

time lapse of sea turtles:https://youtu.be/wEOAza9gJTA

Striped Burrfish: https://youtu.be/WNeshXxtoFQ

sea horses: https://youtu.be/xlnhigLT0aE

Spiny Lobster: https://youtu.be/u-YtlJDupRY

Octopus: https://youtu.be/lut1QpLBm8U

Lion fish: https://youtu.be/zQ81lW0uPJM

Turtles swimming: https://youtu.be/q2KKFWRviYg

Petting the horseshoe crabs: https://youtu.be/BwF12AwPlA8

Horseshoe crabs: https://youtu.be/OsaaeohWKBE

~ all materials shot with an iPhone X

Facing modern Orientalism in Lalla Essaydi photographs at Lafayette College

This is the final week to see Lalla Essaydi’s photographs at the Williams Center for the Arts gallery at Lafayette College.

This seven photograph exhibit takes a journey into contemporary Muslim women’s space while exploring traditional Orientalist beliefs, otherwise known as Western stereotypes of the Muslim/Arab experience.

Immediately, I recognized these themes in Essaydi’s photography. My previous exposure both academically (my interest in post colonial Francophone Africa, how it intersects with the Muslim world, and the impact these topics have on contemporary international politics) and via travel in Africa and the Middle East came rushing into my head like a lost dream you fight to remember upon waking.

This exhibit features five photographs that use white/beige colors, Arabic writing, henna and women in various levels of religious covering and two photographs more steeped in color.

The seven photographs come from three different series: Converging Territories, Harem and Bullets. Just reading those titles should leave a certain taste in the mouth. I have with me an exhibit guide but I haven’t referred to it yet as I prefer to digest the works on my own first.

The first piece one encounters in the exhibit is 2004’s Converging Territories #24, featuring a woman’s face, only eyes showing, with writing on her face and the cloth covering her. The chromogenic print mounted on aluminum divides the woman’s face into four panels, each an almost even display of skin, lettering, and beige fabric.

This one did not attract or impress me. That is not to say it does not present a strong harmonious image. It is certainly a lovely piece of artwork, but artwork often speaks to the viewer in unique ways and this one seemed what one would expect from an exhibit like this.

Next came Harem #2 (2009). Instantly, I noticed the use of the term harem and the mimicry of traditional Orientalist images prevalent in I believe it was 19th century Western paintings capturing a fantasy of what Western/European artists expected the Muslim/Arab lifestyle to be.

The Harem series uses more color, more texture, and repeats the Orientalist themes of a reclining woman in exotic dress. The repetition of these stereotypical themes used by a Muslim female photography made me bristle. But this woman is propped on one arm and seated rather proudly so I sense the challenge to the age-old idea of the Middle Eastern harem.

Next, I found Bullets #3 (2003). The woman  in this photograph has a sassy shoulder turned to the camera. She is covered, but showing more flesh than normally proper throughout the arm. The backdrop is all bullets as if they were tiles on the wall, bullets also adorn her clothes. Another stunning photograph, but frankly I grow tired of the constant obsession of the Muslim identity automatically connecting with terrorism. I’m sure that’s Essaydi’s point, too.

I’m going to skip my favorite piece and turn instead to Harem Revisited #34 (2012). Perhaps this is the most colorful piece presented at Lafayette. It is three years newer than the other, and the woman’s pose in this one is not only more docile and reclined but divided into three panels, an immediate detraction from her humanity. She is reduced to pieces.

But the focal point of the exhibit (and my favorite), if I can proclaim that based on not only the fact that it was in my opinion very prominently displayed, is Converging Territories #30 (2004). [Featured image for this post.] It depicts, with the same beige clothing on beige background covered with writing and people decorated with henna, four females standing side by side in various levels of garb.

The largest woman, whom appears to be the only adult in the group, is completely covered head to toe. I can’t even refer to it as burqa as she doesn’t even have a slit or a screen for her eyes. I see them as a family, and the next one is in more traditional burqa and appears to be an adolescent. The next girl, a sweet looking pre-teen, has her scarf tied under her chin, exposing her whole face but not her hair. The last little girl has no head covering.

What I adore about this photograph is the vivid use of the progression of covering as it follows a woman through various stages of life and suggests not only the typical message of how a woman’s identity is limited by strict forms of covering, but also attaches this idea to the act of mothering and potentially makes it more universal. To me, the suggestion is that all women lose a part of their identity as they transition into a maternal role. This has nothing to do with religion.

If you miss the exhibit at Lafayette, a similar exhibit runs through May at the Trout Gallery of Dickinson College.

About Lalla Essaydi: According to the exhibit guide, she grew up in Morocco, raised her family in Saudi Arabia, and lived in both France and the United States. She received her arts education from prestigious art programs in both France and the United States.

Review: A Rainbow in the Night

  This isn’t going to be an elaborate entry but I wanted to mention that I finished Dominique La Pierre’s A Rainbow in the Night: the Tumultuous Birth of South Africa. 

I found the first 150 pages gripping, but as the 20th Century dawned it seemed like a shift happened in La Pierre’s storytelling. I don’t think that is the case, but that is how my brain perceived it.

La Pierre tells his story by choosing significant figures in South African history and using their story to build a national story. The tale seems to build and reflect on apartheid, whereas the title seems broader than the interior content. 

My knowledge is somewhat limited on South Africa and I thought La Pierre’s easy style would give me a quick basic review of key items in South African history, and it did. I guess it brings up the question of how does an author or scholar deal with a topic that is heavily overshadowed by something distasteful or tragic? 

Now I’m on to a book about war in Somalia, the Sudan and Rwanda so I don’t expect anything uplifting soon…

Holiday Upheaval

The events of the last few months have rendered my life unrecognizable, even to me.I have a suspicion that 2016 may come together in ways I never imagined or be the year that leaves me bankrupt, homeless and destitute in more ways than one.

So far I’m leaning toward and working for the former, but the worrier in me can’t help but fear the latter.

Between my broken ankle and the medical bills I incurred (who knew physical therapy was THAT expensive?) and the fact that I paid for graduate school, car repairs and a euphonium on my American Express, I was forced to ponder refinancing the house. The appraiser comes Sunday, but, again, I’m nervous because the appraisers are never generous in my experience. Last time I did this, they wanted to loan me exactly what I need now. So we’ll see. This new mortgage would shorten the length of our current loan, pay off the car and the American Express AND not add to the cost of our monthly payments.

With this and winter and travel looming, I have decided to defer enrollment at West Chester until next semester. I won’t have to commute in the snow. I can get my finances in order and proceed responsibly and not worry about classes interfering with my travel schedule.

Speaking of travel: January 7 I leave for France; I believe it’s January 8 I leave for Djibouti and January 12 I arrive in Mogadishu. Plus a trip to Lebanon may be in the works for spring.

I’m also working on some book reviews in some World War II era memoirs for Hippocampus.

Now the good news…

My poem “This Paris” has been accepted by StepAway magazine. I don’t consider myself a poet, so it’s a tad funny that I’ve placed a poem.

I believe I got an A in my grad school history class and my professor would like to see me continue some of my work, specifically on the Horn of Africa. That’s the topic, not that she wants me to go far, far away.

New Beginnings: Grad School & Life in a ‘Boot’

I’ve always believed that life has a way of keeping people in balance. Some people lament that life can never be easy, or that whenever things are going well it means something must go wrong.

I believe that if you act too smug or confident, the universe will smack you.

My part-time job is in retail, working in the café for a certain retailer associated with the colors red and khaki. I have worked for them for five years. It’s the perfect job when you’re working your way through school and/or trying to raise a family and be an active part of your child’s life. And the discount and other perks rock.

That’s detail one in my current tale. Detail two relates to fitness and health. I have cerebral palsy. I’m not getting any younger. When I broke my hand last winter, I lost all strength on my right side. This scared me. I gained something ridiculous like 15 pounds. This didn’t upset me until I could no longer fit my thighs in my pants.

And finally three: I start grad school today, at West Chester University, a 90-minute drive from my home.

These items set the stage for Monday. On Monday, I was preparing for a crazy week. Work 3-8:30 Wednesday, cash office and café at work Thursday 7-3:30, then rush to a class that starts at 5:50, get home about ten, and work noon to 8:30 in the café Friday. Husband works overtime all weekend. I have a picnic and 10k hike through the woods Saturday and a potential road trip to walk on Sunday.

Then this happened:

  
This is what happened Monday.

I moved all the furniture out of the living room, scrubbed the floors and put everything back. I went to the gym for a fitness orientation. They had to keep “upping” my weights because they underestimated me– good feeling! I have a body fat percentage of 21.8 which puts me in the excellent category for the 35-39 age range. 

I came home, and in an effort to get my daughter to move more, suggested the family walk to dinner. I was hungry for a salad and didn’t have fresh greens here.

3/4 of a mile from home, I tripped and twisted my ankle. My husband went home for the car. My daughter kept me company. We took photos of my wounds.

  
We drove to the restaurant. It was closed on Mondays. So we went to the Chinese buffet. After heading to the restroom to wash the blood off my hands and arms, I gathered my food and headed to the table.

When we went to leave, my foot hurt worse but only when I moved my foot a certain way. We went to Patient First.

Turns out I had a closed lateral fracture of the malleolous. Or a broken angle. Imagine a horizontal crack across the bottom of my fibula in the front of my leg. 

  
The next day, I visited my primary care physician for painkillers after the pain kept me up most of the night. Then I went to the Ortho yesterday.

He said with my reputation for clumsiness, a boot would be better than a cast because if I fall in a cast, my ankle would be fine but I’d break a knee or screw up my whole leg. So, boot it is.

  
But I can’t drive.

I had emailed my West Chester professor, and she said I could come late to class tonight. My husband has said that he’ll drive me but there’s no way he can leave work early. 

I returned to work today, in cash office, but can’t do my café duties with a broken foot. They may find me another work center if the store is busy enough… But it’s alarming to go from about 55 hours in the current pay period to ten. I am so grateful for my cash office shifts. 

So wish me luck. At school and with the ankle. 

Oops! I think I start grad school next week

  
As a former journalist, I have a passion for research, current events and packaging information. 

When I earned my second bachelors degree, I did it to show my daughter the value of education. I wanted to start grad school, but I didn’t know how feasible that would be with a job, a child, a household and several volunteer commitments. So I committed to a new undergraduate career instead. Cheaper & faster than grad school. A way to test the water. A way to increase my academic credentials to better match my professional experience.

But I do really want my Ph.D. I applied to a prestigious program last year and did not get in. The whole process taught me a lot and when I reviewed it this winter I talked more in depth with my former advisers.

Here’s the thing about advisers: you have to consider their advice within a framework of who they think you will be. I’ve discovered that my former professors have visions for me that don’t necessarily match my goals. Frankly, some of their plans are quite flattering and sometimes overwhelming.

One adviser had suggested the MA program in history at West Chester University. At first I didn’t take him seriously because they don’t have a Ph.D. program.

They sent me an email, coincidentally, advertising a grad school open house. Here’s the kicker… If you attended, they waived your application fee. 

 And then I reviewed their faculty. I noted at least five professors whose interests intersect with mine. The program was flexible, part-time or full-time, affordable and has some scholarship/graduate assistantship available.

At the same time, I was trying to contact another prestigious school about taking a class in their African studies department this fall. They had a professor who might have an interest in East Africa that might suit me.

It took two weeks to get an email that told me to call them or come to one of their “walk-in” events. The email merely asked if the class I wanted to take could be enrolled in as a non-matriculated student. 

Frustrated by the prestigious school, I emailed West Chester. I received a delightful response the next day that encouraged me to contact anyone in the department. I also got an email from the person who would be hosting for the history department at the open house.

And then the open house happened. Wednesday August 12. The graduate coordinator was enthusiastic and portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of her department. She thought I might like a class they were offering this fall, suggesting the professor would be a good fit, and indeed it was one of the people who intrigued me originally.

I came home. Thought. Chatted with friends. Worked. On Monday I entered my name into the system as a potential non-degree student in the history graduate department.

Monday night I received a student number. I also received an invitation to the history meet-and-greet today. I declined. It’s a 90-minute drive one way.

Tuesday morning I initiated my account and went into the registration system to see what I needed to do to gain approval for the class.

Nothing. Just click. So I did.

Turns out classes start next week.

I have gone from floundering to enrolled in a graduate level class in less than a week. Provided this works out, and I suppose paying tuition is the main next step, I will go from undecided about my next step to sitting in class in less than two weeks.

What have I done? Grad school sneaked up and bit me! Gulp.

Arrival in Siberia: The Pizza Pilgrimage, part 1

We left our hotel room at 4:20 am to catch a 6:45 flight to Novosibirsk in Siberia.

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I have been following the delivery pizza place, PizzasInIzza, for quite some time on Instagram. When I ended up with a Russian visa, it became a joke. I’d ask, “Can we go to this Russia pizza place?” And that’s how I discovered it was in Siberia.

But we came anyway.

I have flown more than 7,000 miles for a pizza. Of course, we flew Aeroflot domestic from Moscow to Novosibirsk. On the plane, a local woman asked why I was coming to Novosibirsk. I answered, “Pizza.” She became quite confused. She asked if I had business here, if I ran pizza restaurants, if I had friends here, if I was a student (at my age?). She got even more confused when I said I was leaving tomorrow. She thought her English was failing.

In the end, she offered to see if her son could give us a ride into the city from the airport. We declined. So she helped us get a taxi instead. She wanted to make sure we weren’t ripped off.

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On the ride in, the taxi driver tried to talk to us, but we don’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English. We passed a variety of interesting little houses, perhaps best described as colorful cabins. The only American brand I saw was a Harley Davidson dealership. If it weren’t on the other side of town, I would get my dad a t-shirt.

Gas prices appear to be ridiculously cheap, but this is Russia. They do have oil.

We passed what appeared to be a dog obedience class. And an equestrian center where people were out riding.

I also have learned a couple letters of the alphabet. The funny little O with the line down the middle makes an F sound. And it’s in the word coffee. The distorted pi that makes an L sound. The P makes an R sound. And the C makes an S sound. And there’s a lot of N’s facing all sorts of directions that make vowel sounds.