Two Ladies Step into the Slums of India . . . and Find Stories to Tell

October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Here’s my entry for the “first-world problems” meme: I accidentally left my copy of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers outside overnight. The next morning the pages were swollen from getting wet and I had to throw the dust jacket away.

Woe is me.

If you’ve read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, you’d recognize the irony.

Katherine Boo

Boo’s National Book Award-winning work, published in 2012, is the true story of the people of Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, India, where ruined dust jackets are the least of their worries. Most of the characters barely scratch out their livings, many by sorting through trash and selling what they can. All are struggling against the surrounds they’ve inherited. There’s Abdul, a teenage garbage picker who supports his family. There’s Asha, who aspires to be a slumlord, and her daughter, Manju, who hopes to become Annawadi’s first female to graduate from college. There’s Abdul’s neighbor, Fatima, a one-legged woman who sets herself on fire, blaming Abdul and his family for her pain. Abdul, his father, and sister are arrested.

Sometimes trying to scratch out a living isn’t enough. Fatima dies from her injuries. Kalu, a young scrap-metal thief is murdered. And Meena, the first girl born in the slum, commits suicide by drinking rat poison.

Boo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her work in the Washington Post, was introduced to India by her Indian husband. As she writes in her “Author’s Note,” “I fell in love with an Indian man and gained a country. He urged me not to take it at face value.”

That she did not do. Instead, she moved to India and chose to dive into the gritty life of Anawadi, asking questions of what and why and how and what now . . . and listening to the many answers.

Before her move, she wondered if she could handle life in India, particularly spending time in the slums. During one night alone in Washington, D.C., she made up her mind:

Tripping over an unabridged dictionary, I found myself on the floor with a punctured lung and three broken ribs in a spreading pool of Diet Dr Pepper, unable to slither to a phone. In the hours that passed, I arrived at a certain clarity. Having proved myself ill-suited to safe cohabitation with an unabridged dictionary, I had little to lose by pursuing my interests in another quarter—a place beyond my so-called expertise, where the risk of failure would be great but the interactions somewhat more meaningful.

Listen to how she begins the story of what she found in Annawadi:

Lana Šlezić

Lana Šlezić is an award-winning freelance photographer who was born in Canada to Croatian parents. For two years she lived in Afghanistan, documenting with her camera the abuse of women there. The result is the book, Forsaken: Afghan Women.

But, she writes at lanaslezic.com, living in Afghanistan “was peanuts compared to raising kids.”

She says the birth of her first child brought an “emotional upheaval” that was “extraordinary.” When her son was just six weeks old, mom, dad, and baby boy moved to New Delhi. Then, less than two years later, their daughter arrived.

[E]very time I left our home in Delhi to drive across the city—my own children singing or crying or screaming in the back seat—without fail, I would see street kids while waiting at a traffic light. They were everywhere on every street corner and in every neighbourhood. At car windows they knocked relentlessly and if not asking directly for money then offering something in exchange—a dance, balloons, matches, plastic flowers, inflated airplanes, anything for a few rupees. It nagged at me but I had not the emotional nor physical energy to do anything but sigh and lean back into my seat. An inexplicable feeling of impossibility sat like vinegar in my stomach and started to turn me inside out so that my heart actually became visible. Friends told me I was grumpy.

So in December 2011 when I was wandering around Old Delhi—eyes wide open, conflicted heart in hand, mother of two with all the love that brings and a little less exhausted—I walked through a gate and onto a dirt field. It was a park, though not like any park I had known as a child. . . .

Šlezić was captured by what she experienced . . . children playing in the dirt, children showing her their homes amid the squalor, children talking about life and death. She returned again and again, listening to their stories, playing with them, and taking photos, lots of photos. Out of this she produced “A Walk in the Park,” a collection of striking documentary-style photographs as well as portraits of the children. You can see a gallery of her photos online, and you can view a set of nine portraits as well, each accompanied by a short story told in the child’s own words.

You can also watch the two videos below, which serve as sort of “trailers” for her project. As you can see, because of privacy settings, you’ll have to click the image and then click again to start them on Vimeo. What a bummer. That’s two clicks when one really should be enough.

Woe is me.

(Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Random House, 2012; Lana Slezic, “A Walk in the Park: Artist’s Statement,” lanaslezic.com)
[photo: "Pipe Play 2," by Meena Kadri, used under a Creative Commons license]

I’ll Listen . . . in a Couple Minutes

October 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

170324255_6e79d044e5_mEver notice how skewed our sense of time is when it comes to certain things?

Sometimes our words take the low side of reality:

A missionary asks for 2-3 minutes to address the congregation.

At the end of a visit at a friend’s house, the parents tell their children that they’ll leave in 5 minutes.

A daughter texts her mom, “I’ll be out in a second.”

The progress bar on the software download reads, “2 minutes remaining.”

A husband says that fixing the faucet will take “half an hour, tops.”

Of course, it goes in the other direction, as well:

A friend reports, “When I said it, his jaw dropped and he just stared at me . . . for probably 10 minutes.”

A patient tells the doctor, “I exercise at least a half our every day.”

A worship leader announces, “Let’s take 10-12 minutes to pray silently.”

And a teacher is sure he’s waiting a good three minutes after every question he asks in front of the class.

Can you hear the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the . . . Anyone? Anyone? . . . the Great Depression, passed the . . . Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which . . . Anyone? Raised or lowered? . . . raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. (courtesy of IMDB.com)

When we’re asking questions, it’s so easy to answer ourselves rather than let others’ thoughts coalesce in the silence. When we’re listening, it’s so easy to rush others to get to the point rather than allow them to get to the heart of what they’re feeling.

Christian author Philip Yancey, somewhat more eloquent than the Ben Stein character, knows a thing or two about listening—to God and to other people. In Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? he writes:

Listening is an art, and I must learn to listen to God just as I have had to learn to listen as a journalist. When I interview people, I ask a question and they give an answer. Early on, especially when the interview subjects were nervous and halting, I would jump in and finish their sentences. I learned, though, that if I don’t interrupt or move quickly to a follow-up question, if I sit in silence for a while, they may speak again, filling in details. Counselors know this too.

We can learn a quite a bit from good, experienced teachers, theologians, journalists, and counselors. There are a lot of people who need to be heard. All we need to do is . . . Anyone? Anyone?

(Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Zondervan, 2006)

[photo: "Time Is Running Out," by Andrea Zamboni, used under a Creative Commons license]

Watching “The Dialogue”: A Cultural Bumper-Car Ride

October 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

15946836_a846e28a57_zCulture Shock.

“It’s like you’re driving in a car,” says one of the students in The Dialogue, “and the gas and the brakes switch.”

The Dialogue is German director Arnd Wächter’s feature documentary that follows eight college students traveling to Hong Kong and southwest China. As they interact with the world around them and interact with each other, they explore cultural differences and the way we communicate about those differences.

The students make up a rather diverse group: males, females, Americans seeing China for the first time, Chinese returning home, whites, an African American, and an Asian raised in the US . . . and their viewpoints are varied as well.

I got to watch The Dialogue at a screening held at the San Diego NAFSA conference in May. It was a great conference, and seeing the documentary and taking part in the discussion with Wachter afterward was a highlight for me.

My experience watching the film was—to borrow the student’s words—like driving in a car. But for me it was a bumper car. At several times throughout the documentary, I would identify with one of the students, but then something would happen to change my view: I look like him, but I don’t agree with what he just said. I agree with her, but then she went too far. I share her background, but what he said makes more sense. I identify with him, but I don’t think he’d identify with me.

My point of view kept bouncing from person to person, even country to country. It was jarring, but enjoyable. Thus the bumper-car ride. I liked the way it challenged me to think beyond stereotypes and easy answers. And that, getting viewers to think, is what Wachter’s Crossing Border Films and Michigan State University had in mind when they made the film. It’s what would make The Dialogue a great tool for cross-cultural training exercises.

The key to the documentary is the frank conversations that the students have on camera. And the key to these conversations is the work of facilitator Ana Rhodes Castro. She led the students through behind-the-scenes activities and debriefings that encouraged them to express their true feelings and talk about root issues. The result is on-camera interactions that get straight to the point and reveal topics and opinions that are normally skirted in everyday life.

Particularly interesting are discussions of how individual personalities, non-verbal communication, surroundings, and language affect how we offer and receive viewpoints. How often does the way people present themselves affect how we judge what they say? How do our expectations for non-verbal cues differ from culture to culture? Does the fact that the film’s discussions take place in China give the Chinese a disadvantage? And does using English as the mode of communication give an advantage to the native speakers?

There’s a partner education site at National Geographic that addresses these issues using clips from The Dialogue. The site also includes questions for discussion and additional resources for use in the classroom.

The Dialogue, along with two other Wachter productions, is part of a trilogy of cross-cultural films. The others are Crossing Borders, which follows the same model as The Dialogue, but this time with four Moroccan and four American students traveling to Morocco, and American Textures, which listens in on the discussions of six young Americans—Latino, Caucasian, and African-American—as they travel to three cities in the southeast United States and talk about race, class, and culture.

[photo: "Bumper Cars," by Bill Frazzetto, used under a Creative Commons license]

10 Things I’d Rather Not Hear When I’m Hurting

September 26, 2014 § 5 Comments

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“Every time there’s transition, there is loss. So when people are feeling strange about their situation I ask them, ‘What did you lose?’ Because where there’s loss, there’s grief.” —Ruth Van Reken, author of Third Culture Kids

The losses involved with cross-cultural transitions are many, and not all will be voiced as simple answers to the question “What do you miss the most?” They include relationships, dreams, purpose, status, identity, and some things that defy labels.

When someone is grieving a loss—whether of a loved one or of opportunities or of “home”—we tend to search for something to say rather than for a chance to listen. And when we speak, we too often don’t invite the person to express her sadness. Instead, we say what we hope will make the grief go away.

Why are we so uncomfortable with grief? Of course, we don’t like for our friends to be sad, but how often does our discomfort also come from not wanting to be around sad people?

At the risk of being hypocritical, I’ve made a list of things that I don’t like to hear when I’m sad and hurting. I’m afraid that I’ve said most of them myself and probably will continue to do so from time to time. But I’m trying to listen more and talk less. I’m trying to allow grief to run its course in others and not try to make it go away so that can get on with life.

I need to give credit to a small book, A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help, for it’s inspiration and validation. At just over 100 pages, this guide by Ginny Callaway is full of practical advice for what to say and what not to say, for what to do and what not to do when helping a grieving friend. From her own experience—Callaway’s ten-year-old daughter died in a car accident—and from talking with others, Callaway knows what she’s writing about. Even though the subject of her book is grief caused by the death of a loved one, her advice is valuable for dealing with people grieving other losses as well.

You may not agree with my list. Some items may seem rather picky, and some may be the things that in fact cheer you up. But if I do nothing else, I’d like to initiate an inner conversation on how our words may sound, even if they come from the best of intentions.

10 Things I’d Rather Not Hear . . . and Shouldn’t Say:

1 – I know how you feel.
(This was first on Callaway’s list, too.)

We don’t know exactly how others feel, and even if we’ve gone through something similar, it’s only similar, not exactly the same. We don’t know everything from a person’s past that has culminated in the present emotions. “I know how you feel” doesn’t invite much further sharing. You might try saying something like, “I know a little of what you’re going through,” that is, if it’s true.

“I know how you feel” often leads to . . .

2 – Let me tell you what happened to me.

This is not a time to one-up someone. We shouldn’t invalidate others’ experiences or their emotions. Maybe my friend moved three times in a year. Telling her that I’ve moved six times says, “Compared to me, you don’t have the right to feel sad.” This phrase is a close cousin to “We all have our problems.”

3 – Do you mind if I take this call?

When we’re having deep, important conversations with others, a you’re-important-enough-to-me-that-I’ve-set-aside-this-time-for-you talk, we shouldn’t even have our phones out, ringing, beeping, or buzzing. Just being able to see a cell phone during a conversation distracts from building relationships. We shouldn’t acknowledge a ring unless it’s to silence the phone. And we shouldn’t answer our phones unless we’re on call for an emergency situation. It’s not always possible to escape distractions, but that means we need to do a better job of choosing our times and places.

4 – Everything happens for a reason. (It’s all part of God’s plan.)

I actually don’t believe this to be true. Maybe you do. Either way, it’s not a cure-all that makes the pain go away, even though that’s often how it’s used. It’s become something that too many people say with little thought to the theology behind it. This often sounds like “Why are you sad? This is the way it’s supposed to be.” But if the things that have occurred happen not to feel like good things, then remember . . .

5 – When one door closes, another one opens.

A more spiritualized version of this is “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” I haven’t figured out which chapter of the Bible this verse comes from. It’s one of the many platitudes that people say to make everything OK. Feel-good sayings tell the listener just that: “Feel good.” They are often used to tie problems up in a bow and to do the same for many a conversation: Now that we’ve solved that problem, we can talk about something else.

6 – Let me know if you need anything.

Many people who are huting emotionally feel as if they’re burdening others and can be embarrassed by how needy they’ve become. Saying “Let me know if you need anything” puts the ball in their court to ask for help. And even though we’ve made the offer sincerely, when someone considers sharing a need, it’s very easy for him to feel as if he’s imposing. Instead, we should continue to ask what his needs are . . . and also help without an invitation.

7 – It could be worse. (You have so much to be thankful for.)

Of course it could be worse. But that’s not the point. It’s bad enough. Words saying that a person’s problems don’t deserve the grief being expressed can lead that person to hide his sorrow, convinced that his feelings aren’t justified. Hidden sorrow doesn’t go away, it just shows up later as unexplained despair, anger, physical ailments, and the like.

8 – You need to move on.

It’s no fun to be stuck in a difficult place, but that place may seem like the only option. When the routines of the past are gone, and the future is frighteningly unsettled, what does progress look like? It’s not simply putting on a smile so that others feel more comfortable.

9 – I want the old you back.

There’s a good chance the grieving person wants her old self back, too. It may seem as if the grief is the cause of the change, but often, one of the losses that the person is grieving is the loss of the person she used to be. That loss wasn’t chosen. It wasn’t planned, expected, or wanted. And coming “home” doesn’t mean the changes will automatically go away.

And last, but not least . . .

10 – This is just a season.

Doesn’t it seem that for Christians every period of time has become a “season”? When people tell me that my difficulties are only a season, I hear them say that they will end soon, and spring is around the corner. How do they know? What if my winter lasts for 8 years? Why don’t we call the good times “just a season”?


I Need to Listen with Grace, Too

Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I’ll step down off my rickety soapbox and look at things from another angle. As a sometime recipient of the words above, I also understand that I need to receive with grace my friends’ efforts—even when I’m hurting. I need better to hear their concern even when the words don’t feel right.

Missionary Rachel Marie Stone and her fellow authors address this in their Christianity Today article, “Go Ahead, Say the Wrong Thing.” She writes that “listicles” of “things you should never say” are all the rage but often misguided.

I’ll stand by my list, but I’ll also take her point to heart:

Just before I returned from a very difficult time as a mission worker in sub-Saharan Africa, I talked to my therapist on Skype. She’d been a mission worker herself, and understood my anxiety:

“I just can’t stand the thought of all the stupid things people at church might say to me about this experience,” I told her.

“But people will say stupid things,” she said kindly. “The question is, how will you receive those stupid remarks?”

It seemed to me then that my own sense of the importance of right words did not necessitate my hair-trigger outrage at hearing “wrong” words. I could survive thoughtless remarks, choosing to hear, beneath them, the genuine concern and impulse to connect that underlies so much of our imperfect human communication.

When I’m helping, I’ll do my best not to say the wrong things. When I’m being helped, I’ll do my best to hear those best intentions.

(Peter Katona, “More and More Americans Consider Themselves ‘Hidden Immigrants,’” Columbia News Service, February 27, 2007; Ginny Callaway, A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help, High Windy Press, 2011; Rachel Marie Stone, Megan Hill, and Gina Dalfonzo, “Go Ahead, Say the Wrong Thing,” Christianity Today, August 5, 2014)

[photo: "365 0127," by Tim Caynes, used under a Creative Commons license]

Pick a Name, Any Name (Well, Not Any Name)

September 18, 2014 § 4 Comments

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For two years in the late 90s, Peter Hessler taught English in Fuling, China, as part of the Peace Corps. His experiences are the subject of his best-selling River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.

In one passage, he writes about the interesting English names that his students had chosen for themselves, including a girl who was named Keller, after Helen Keller:

This was a common pattern; some of them had taken their names from people they admired, which explained why we had a Barbara (from Barbara Bush), an Armstrong (Neil Armstrong), and an idealistic second-year student called Marx. A few had translated their Chinese names directly—House, Yellow, North. There was one boy whose English name was Lazy. “My name is Lazy,” he said, on the first day of class. “I am very lazy. I do not like to play basketball or football or do many things. My hobbies are sleeping.”

Other names made less sense. There was a Soddy, a Sanlee, a Ker. Some were simply unfortunate: a very small boy called Pen, a very pretty girl named Coconut. One boy was called Daisy . . . .

Not all of the “unfortunate” names came from the students themselves. When the students asked for surnames to pair with their English given names, Adam, Hessler’s fellow teacher, gave Nancy the last name Drew. And when Mo asked Hessler for a surname, he became Mo Money.

I have some friends from Taiwan with less than mainstream English names. But who can blame them? Aren’t a lot of American names just a combination of letters, with no real meaning or heritage? And don’t people sometimes take common words and turn them into names for their children? Yes, both are true, but for some reason, some names seem to sound less right than others. Why not Mray? Why not Cabinet?

But who am I to judge? Before I moved to Taipei, I asked a friend from China for a Chinese name. He gave me Ke Lai, based on the sound of Craig. I liked it. And even after my new friends in Taiwan said it wasn’t a great name, I hung on to it, even going so far as to come up with a tortured defense for it. Ke means “overcome” and lai means “come,” so I figured that my name could match up with the first words spoken by the Master in The Analects of Confucius: “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?” (overcoming?) and “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” (come).

“Okaaaaaay . . . ,” said my my gracious friends, “but maybe it’s not quite right. It doesn’t sound Chinese.”

I didn’t want to give in—it was my name—until I realized that the Chinese for Chrysler is Ke-lai-se-le. I didn’t mind that my name sounded foreign, but sounding like a foreign car company was a little too much.

So how would you help an international friend who’s looking for an English name? Maybe you’d like to point them to the Bible as a good source for names. According to the Social Security Administration, during the first decade of the 2000s, 8 of the top 10 baby-boy names came from the Bible. But the Bible isn’t failsafe. Not every biblical name should be considered a good candidate. Some names have bad backstories (think, Judas and Jezebel), and some just don’t pass the sound test (for example, Shammua and Abishag).

To help out, below is my contribution to the cause. It’s a list of over 170 biblical names that have, over the years, often been used in the US. Following each name is its designation for males or females, its meaning (if it’s known), and some of the more well-known people (or in a few cases, places) in the Bible with that name.

By the way, this list makes up an appendix to Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English. I started in Genesis, and I’ve made it through Revelation, explaining over 150 entries along the way. If you haven’t already, please drop by. You’ll probably be surprised at how often we quote the Bible without even knowing it.

So from Aaron to Zachariah, here we go. (Sorry, Zuriel didn’t quite make the cut.)

Aaron (m), possibly “teacher, lofty, mountain of strength”—Moses’ brother, first high priest

Abigail (f), “father’s joy”—King David’s wife

Abraham (m), “father of a great multitude”—father of the Hebrew people

Adam (m), “earthy, red, human”—the first man

Alexander (m), “defender of man”—member of the Jewish ruling council; man expelled from the church

Amos (m), “carried, burden, weighty”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Amos

Andrew (m), “manly, strong man”—Jesus’ apostle

Anna (f), “grace”—New Testament prophetess

Bartholomew (m), “son of Tolmai”—Jesus’ apostle

Benjamin (m), “son of the right hand”—Jacob’s son

Bethany (f), “house of dates, house of misery”—village east of Jerusalem

Caleb (m), “dog”—one of the Israelite spies sent to bring back a report about Canaan

Candace (f) possibly “one who is contrite”—queen of Ethiopia

Claudia (f) possibly “lame”—follower of Jesus in Rome

Dan (m), “judge, judgment”—son of Jacob

Daniel (m), “judgment of God” —Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Daniel

David (m), “beloved”—king of Israel who wrote many of the Psalms

Deborah (f), “bee”—nurse of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife; prophetess and judge of Israel

Eli (m), “lifting up”—Old Testament high priest

Elisabeth (Elizabeth) (f), “God is her oath”—John the Baptist’s mother

Ethan (m), “enduring, strong”—descendant of Judah; descendant of Levi

Eve (f), possibly “life, giver of life”—first woman

Gabriel (m), “God is my strength, champion of God”—angel

Hannah (f), “grace”—mother of Samuel, the Old Testament prophet

Isaac (m), “laughter”—Abraham’s son

Jacob (m), “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, deceiver“—son of Isaac, father of the Israelites

James (m), “supplanter”—Jesus’ apostle, brother of John; Jesus’ apostle, son of Alphaeus; Jesus’ brother and writer of the Book of James

Jared (m), “descent”—ancestor of Noah

Jason (m), “one who heals”—Thessalonian Christian; Paul’s relative

Jeremiah (m) “raised up by God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations (and possibly 1 and 2 Kings); Old Testament priest

Jesse (f/m) possibly “gift, wealthy”—King David’s father

Joel (m), “the Lord is his God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Joel

Joanna (f) “the Lord’s grace”—manager of King Herod’s household and follower of Jesus

John (m), “the Lord’s grace”—”John the Baptist,” prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus and baptized him; Jesus’ apostle and writer of the Gospel of John, Revelation,  and 1, 2, and 3 John; “John Mark,” companion of Paul and Barnabas, writer of the Gospel of Mark

Jonathan (m), “the Lord’s gift”—son of King Saul and friend of David

Jordan (m/f), “descender”—river in Israel

Joseph (m), “increase”—Jacob’s son who was sold as a slave by his brothers and who gained great authority in Egypt; husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother; Jesus’ brother; “Joseph of Arimathea” in whose grave Jesus was buried; one of two Christians presented as possible replacements for Judas as an apostle

Joshua (m), “the Lord saves”—leader of the Israelites after Moses died, writer of the Book of Joshua

Judith (f), “of Judea”—Esau’s wife

Julia (f), “downy, soft hair”—Christian in Rome

Leah (f), possibly “weary”—Jacob’s wife

Lois (f), possibly “better”—grandmother of Timothy, who was Paul’s companion

Luke (m), “light giving”—a physician and Paul’s companion who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts

Lydia (f), possibly “woman of the province of Lydia”—the first European to become a Christian

Mark (Marcus) (m), possibly “polite, shining”—companion of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter and writer of the Gospel of Mark

Martha (f), “lady, bitterness”—sister of Mary and Lazarus

Mary (f), possibly “rebellion”—Jesus’ mother; Martha and Lazarus’ sister who anointed Jesus feet with perfume; “Mary Magdalene,” follower of Jesus who was first to see him after the resurrection

Matthew (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote the Gospel of Matthew

Micah (m), “who is like God?”—Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Micah

Michael (m), “who is like God?”—angel

Miriam (f), possibly “rebellion”—Moses’ sister

Moriah (f)—possibly “chosen by the Lord”—region where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; “Mount Moriah” where Solomon built the temple

Naomi (f), ”lovable, my delight”—mother-in-law of Ruth

Nathan (m), “gift, given”—Old Testament prophet

Nathaniel (Nathanael) (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle

Nicolas (m), “conqueror of the people, victory of the people”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Noah (m), possibly “rest” —man who built the ark and whose family was saved from the flood

Paul (m), “little”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 13 books of the New Testament

Peter (m), “rock, stone”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 1 and 2 Peter

Philip (m), “lover of horses”—Jesus’ apostle; one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Rachel (f), “sheep, ewe”—Jacob’s wife and mother of Joseph and Benjamin

Rebekah (f), possibly “ensnarer”—Isaac’s wife and mother of Jacob and Esau

Ruth (f), possibly “friend”—non-Jewish woman who married Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus, subject of Old Testament book named after her

Samuel (m), “heard of God, asked of God”—Old Testament judge and prophet, and possible writer of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel

Sarah (f), “princess”—wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac

Seth (m), “compensation, a substitute”—son of Adam and Eve

Sharon (f), “a plain”—coastal plain in Israel

Simon (m), “he hears, hearing”—original name of Jesus’ apostle Peter; “Simon the Zealot,” Jesus’ apostle; Jesus’ brother; man who carried Jesus’ cross

Stephen (m), “crown”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem, first Christian martyr

Tabitha (f), “gazelle”—Christian woman with a reputation for helping others, she died and Peter brought her back to life

Thomas (m), “twin”—Jesus’ apostle

Timothy (m), “honored by God, honoring God”—companion of Paul, who wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him

Titus (m), “honorable”—companion of Paul, who wrote the Book of Titus to him

Zachariah (Zechariah) (m), “God remembered”—king of Israel; Old Testament prophet; father of John the Baptist

(Peter Hessler, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Harper, 2001)

[photo: "This is not my name," by Jasper Visser, used under a Creative Commons license]

From Film House to Ghost House: 8 Former Embassies around the World

September 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

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SPOT – Taipei Film House

The latest issue of Travel and Leisure includes a “Definitive Guide to Taipei.” I guess I’m a little out of touch with the magazine’s regular readership, because I lived in Taipei for 10 years and I’ve only been to one of the hot spots that they listed. I’m not talking about the general areas. I’ve been to Daan, I just haven’t sipped tea at Cha Cha Thé. And I’ve spent time at Beitou, but I’ve never experienced the hot-spring spas at Villa 32.

One place I have been, though, was mentioned as a favorite by one of their “insiders.” Designer Chrystal Wang tells readers,

Catch a movie at Spot, a colonial-style mansion turned theater that shows indie and art-house films. The charming café next door is the perfect place for afternoon tea.

While Wang’s description is accurate, it’s somewhat incomplete. The building us much more than just “a colonial-style mansion.” It’s the former US embassy.

Built in the 1920s by the occupying Japanese, the building housed ambassadors until being closed in 1979, when the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Then, after being abandoned for nearly 20 years, the renovated structure reopened in 2002. Now the ambassador’s garage has become an 88-seat movie theater; the coat room is a gift shop; and the reception room is the C25 Coffee Shop.

The embassy in Taiwan is not the only one that has been given a new identity. Many structures around the globe have shed their diplomatic functions and have taken on new roles.

Here are seven:

The US embassy in Tehran

The site of the hostage crisis that began in 1979. The building is now an anti-US-themed museum.

The French Embassy in Tokyo

Scheduled for demolition in 2010, the former French embassy to Japan opened its doors to nearly 100 French and Japanese artists for a giant art exhibit, entitled “No Man’s Land.” Arstcape Japan reports that the installations included one room with every surface covered in clay, “manga-inspired paintings that juxtapose Japanese ultranationalist and grotesque horrorshow motifs,” and “surreal photos of hermit crabs.”

The Iraqi Embassy in Berlin

Abandoned since 1990 when East Germany became no more, the “Ghost Embassy” is open for anyone to wander through. The United Arab Emirates’ newspaper The National, reports that the rooms of the crumbling building are littered with broken glass and abandoned files. Owned by Germany but leased perpetually to Iraq, the property seems to belong to no one. Desolate and available, the embassy became the setting for a music video made by Irish composer Eutechnik (Brian Smith).

The Somali Embassy in Rome

In 2011, the dilapidated building was home to over 100 Somali refugees waiting to receive asylum status. The compound has been abandoned since the Somali government collapsed in the 1990s. “Rats are our neighbors,” Mohammed, one of the refugees, tells Radio Netherlands Worldwide. “No, our friend,” says Ibrahim.

The Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The Neo-Renaissance building is going to get an 8-story addition and will hold over 100 upscale condos. The Washington Post quotes the zoning commission as calling the finished product “a modernist ‘hyphen’ connecting the old with the new.” It will include six residences set aside at “affordable” rates for people who earn 80% or less of D.C.’s median income.

The Canadian High Commission in London

In 1961 the Canadian diplomatic mission moved into the former US embassy on Grosvenor Square, in London, naming it MacDonald House. The Canadians have since left, and last year, the Indian Lodha Group bought the seven-storey building for over half a billion dollars. Of the location, Abhishek Lodha, the group’s managing director, tells The Guardian, “1 Grosvenor Square is the best address in the world and we will create a world-class development which befits the status of this address.” The newspaper calls the planned residential project “another super-luxe enclave for the world’s super-rich.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.

If you’re in the market for a move-in ready space that’s cat friendly, here are some of the salient points from an ad for the Historic Chinese Embassy Luxury Condos on 19th Street in D.C.

Price Range: $515,000 – $995,000
Sq Ft Range: 1,030 – 2,314 sq ft
Year Built: 1902
Style: Repurposed
Private Outdoor Space: Yes
Doorman/Concierge: No
Pets: Cats Only

(“T+L’s Definitive Guide to Taipei,” Travel and Leisure,” September 2014; “SPOT-Taipei Film House,” Taiwan Ministry of Culture; Alan Gleason, “No Man’s Land: Artists Amok in an Abandoned Embassy,” artscape Japan; David Crossland, “Iraq’s ‘Ghost Embassy’ in East Berlin,” The National, May 10, 2010; Angelo van Schaik, “120 Somalis Stuck in Former Embassy in Rome,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, January 5, 2011; Christine MacDonald, “Developers to Convert Former Italian Embassy into Upscale Condos,” The Washington Post, February 5, 2014; Jennifer Rankin, “Indian Developer Pays 306m for Canadian High Commission Building,” The Guardian, November 29, 2013)

[photo: "The Spot aka the Taiwan Film House," by ctsnow, used under a Creative Commons license]

When I Was Eleven . . . No One Made a Movie about Me

September 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

6878794757_82b564e1a2_mWhen I was eleven . . . no one made a movie about me.

The same cannot be said of Jiter, Goh, Siham, Giorgi, Jack, Oliver, Billy, Obey, Remya, Rika, Vandana, Priya, Dagan, Sree Kutty, Sam, Sahin, Luca, Fang, Osama, Kim, Grace, and Sharif. They are the subjects of a documentary, filmed over a period of six years by Australian Genevieve Bailey, called I Am Eleven.  The children, all (of course) eleven years old, are from India, Thailand, Morocco, France, Bulgaria, England, the US, Australia, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, China, and the Czech Republic.

When I was eleven . . . I was trying to figure out the world. And I’d guess that the words that came out of my mouth were sometimes ridiculous and sometimes profound.

Sounds like these kids.

What about when you were eleven? Let everybody know at wheniwaseleven.com.

[photo: "Aluminium Tag Bingo Number 11," by Leo Reynolds, used under a Creative Commons license]

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