Robin Hood in the Big Apple

I love how Harjinder Singh Duggal describes America in Crossing The Boulevard: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America by Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan:
American people are the best in the world. Even the criminals are good. When I first came here I was driving a taxi cab, and one time a passenger put a gun in the back of my neck and asked me to hand over all my money. I gave him all the money from my wallet, $13. He said, "You're sure that's all you have?" I said, "Yes, sir." He made me empty my pockets, and then he (said), "Oh, you're a bloody poor fellow. I can't rob you." He handed me my $13 back, reached into his pocket and gave me a dollar. "Here," he said. "This is to buy your coffee." I let him out at the corner and thought, Wow! This is the most incredible country in the world!
Only in New York?

The Horror, The Horror

As another glorious summer begins to wane, I find myself asking (again): will a tropical transplant like me survive yet another frigid New England winter? Despite the fact that I stay warmer with insulation, I don't WANT to acquire another five pounds of avoirdupois this year. Any words of encouragement or fitness suggestions for a shivering immigrant who HATES to be cold? Please don't suggest skiiing as I'm balance-challenged, and, as a physical therapist buddy informed me, "ergnomically not designed for the sport."

Summer Reading

To prepare for our time in Maasailand, we read Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton's Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna. Given my "between cultures" perspective, I especially enjoyed the last chapter which described Lekuton's arrival in America. He hadn't eaten for days when his female hosts picked him up, but he didn't say anything about his hunger as a Maasai warrior never asks a woman for help or food. Finally, when he was about to faint, his female hosts realized he was starving and drove him to McDonald's.

I finished Harry Potter while on the plane from Boston to Nairobi. We're now reading it aloud to catch the wonderful Rowling-esque details I missed on my plot-seeking mad dash of a first read. I also read The Secret Life of Bees, which had been recommended to me about 200 times (possibly, I exaggerate.) Memorable characters, but the plot had a bit too much boomer-ish anti-male sentiment for my tastes. Did anyone else feel there was a bit of the "noble savage" stereotype going on when it came to a few of the African-American characters? No? Oh, well, maybe I'm just jealous of Sue Monk Kidd's raving success.

While in Africa, I enjoyed reading the most recent two installments in Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies' Detective Agency series. Quick, easy pleasure, like literary Hershey's Kisses. Finally, I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy, which had me scratching my head once again about the reasoning behind the Newbery awards. Spoiler: everybody dies.

So what stories have you read this summer?

Wipe Your Feet On Us

Public libraries have always served as a welcome mat at the portal of American life. Voice of America reports that in Kansas City, newcomers to America are still reacting like I did when I first stumbled into the untold wealth of a library:
Claudia Visnich says immigrants are often surprised that the North-East Branch provides so many services for free. "They're surprised when we don't charge for a library card," Ms. Visnich says. "They're surprised when we don't charge for books, and they're surprised when we let them check out as many books as they want."
In Asha Means Hope, I'm about to tap into a sweet memory and write the scene of a first-time visit to the NYPL's Flushing Branch. Now, back to work...

Becoming American Exhibit

Surviving life between cultures includes telling and listening to stories. I posted recently about advising the Newton History Museum on an upcoming immigration exhibit. The Museum reports that:
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Newton's population was 83,829. Of this number, 18 percent were born outside the U.S., and 21.2 percent reported speaking a language other than English at home. Chinese and Russian are the languages other than English reported as most commonly spoken in the home. In one Newton elementary school, about 28 percent of the children speak a language other than English at home.
They've hired six teen curators to organize and present an exhibit that will tell the stories of immigrants in this town just outside Boston. I'm looking forward with great interest to peruse the finished product...

Books That Don't Make You Blush

From the American Library Association:
The Young Adult Library Services Association's (YALSA) Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Committee is developing a list of recommended reading parents and teens can agree on: "Books that Don't Make You Blush: No Dirty Laundry Here." The booklist will feature fiction and nonfiction that is wholesome in nature, as well as popular.
"As librarians, we see teens and parents every week looking for books that are free of swearing and sex but are still interesting and relevant," said Committee Chair Walter Mayes. "One of our goals is to make sure our patrons are aware of the wide range of books available for every reader, particularly those who may not be interested in some of the edgier new releases. There are so many options for engaging young adults in reading that fits their interests and needs."
Visit the YALSA site for more information.

Hyphens and Zungu

Back out on the fire escape after three exciting weeks in Maasailand, Kikuyu, Dar Es Salaam, and Zanzibar. It took a while to realize that "Indians" in East Africa don't like to be called anything but African. Forget the hyphenation used by immigrant communities in America. Perhaps it's because "Indian" communities have been there for generations (even though they haven't intermarried or assimilated), or because they're a powerful elite who have been the target of majority resentment. Or maybe it's because all Africans live in a continent ravaged by tribal rivalries and hyphenated identities, and they're trying their best to move towards unity.

In any case, Africans called me "Zungu" which they currently translate as "white foreigner" or "European." I found myself resenting this label. I think I like the original meanings of the word better: extraordinary, peculiar, remarkable, strange, or better still, one who moves freely across borders. That last one definitely fits.