June 30, 2005
What is probably needed...
My time with Ruth and the kids staying in her mother's apartment was meant to help me determine what some of the immediate needs might be. Here's a rough list of the needs so far.
As of today, Ruth will need has a monthly bus pass for July. She expressed this need to me last month as well and to be honest, I don't know how she managed to get one. So it seems like a very important immediate need to me, but I might be missing something and it might get taken care of by someone else. The idea I've had is to talk with Tri-Met or my employer about subsidizing the cost of a pass, in essence sponsoring an annual pass for Ruth. I think that might be a more sensible solution.
Twin bunk beds, of the non-bulky material variety. In the kids' bedroom is a 3-bed bunk bed where the boys sleep. Apparently the 2 girls' bed (beds?) broke. Since the room already has a 3-bed bunk and a kids bed (thanks to Stephanie and Traci), there is a little bit of room (and I mean a very little) left to squeeze in a twin bunk. I don't know if you guys know anyone with a twin bunk bed in their attic or garage that is ideally easy to assemble, but if you do, let me know. I'd like to have these girls off the floor.
Shoes shoes shoes. Kids grow fast. Even though I spent some time sizing the kids feet, they'll grow so fast, my mom mentioned, as any mom would know, that having a variety of sizes of shoes is the best way to go. So if you have boys and girls shoes fitting kids aged 1-10, that would be superb. I will also try and determine from my tracings what current sizes are needed; I'll post those soon as well.
That's a start. There's more, of course. But this is good for starters. I know some of you have been waiting for this list so I wanted to get it up. A huge thanks to those of you who have already donated items. You rock.
June 29, 2005
Straight Lines Are For Sissies
Before I went to Ruth's house on Monday to deliver the bed, distribute clothes and take a general assessment of the kids' needs as far as bedding, clothes, and shoes, I pictured myself, clipboard in hand, lined paper, methodically and neatly taking down the kids' measurements. What actually occurred was quite a different story, a glimpse of which I've captured in the images you see here: scans of my notes (with helpful contributions from the kids!), to be deciphered, databased, and developed for the use of the generous and compassionate in the near future.
Note: images are not at a true-to-life scale. Also, you may click on a thumbnail to pop up a larger image.
The Big "C"
I experienced a big "C" evening on Monday. "Huh?" you say? Well, some of you are familiar with naming conventions for the word "church". Believe it or not, there's style guide for the Christian subculture. (Official website: unknown. Any takers?) It is generally accepted that lowercase "church" refers to the local church, as in physical location and attenders. So my church (little "c") is Village Baptist Church (big "C" because of proper nounage; but imagine "Village Baptist church", illustrative of my point.) When used in a non-proper noun sense, the word "Church," capitalized, refers to, literally, the Big Church, the whole, global, universal, "we are all brothers and sisters" Church. This is the Church I experienced in a small, but significant way on Monday evening.
Before I experienced The Big "C", I tried out the little one. That was tolerated by the Big "G" (sorry, I couldn't resist) for approximately 16 minutes.
I sent an e-mail to VBC's (Village Baptist church's) classfieds person at 4:31 pm on Monday. The ad I was placing requested a crib mattress. At 4:47 pm, I received e-mail notifcation of Traci's comment indicating that she had a crib mattress that she would be glad to give. (I've seen immediate answers to prayer in my time, but they never cease to amaze me.)
Earlier that day, my friend Stephanie called to cancel our dinner/hang-out time we had scheduled for that evening. (I now had the evening free.) Her sister was coming over to help her price items for her upcoming yard sale. One of the items she said I could have was a toddler bed, which was of course in want of a crib mattress. I called Stephanie back to let her know I would be around her house that evening after all to get the bed, because now I was going to have a crib mattress to go with it.
Called Mom and Dad's house and left a message: Could I borrow the Explorer to transport the bed? Answer was, of course, "yes."
Talking with Traci, she brought up my proposed method for finding out the kids' sizes. (Ruth lives in an apartment complex and in this apartment complex are several other families from Somalia and lots of kids.) She suggested that I bring some clothes with me for them to try on; that would be a better way of determing what would fit. I called Stephanie to relay the idea. I collected the 3 bags of clothes, a kids bed with a mattress, a scale, measuring tape, a clipboard with paper and pen, and the Explorer from Stephanie's, Traci's, and my parents' houses. I was off to Ruth's apartment.
As I was driving from house to house, collecting the generosity of the Big C (Stephanie, Traci, Dale, Martha) to redistribute to a tiny community in need, it started to rain. Six blocks from Stephanie's house, it downpoured. I stopped in front of her house, stopped the car, opened the door: the rain stopped. I walked up the steps to the covered porch, rang the doorbell, and the downpour resumed. When I brought the mattress out, the rain had paused once again.
At Traci's, the same thing: no rain during loading.
On the way to Ruth's, a giant full rainbow filled the sky.
And at Ruth's, the rain stopped just as I arrived.
The combination of the other big "C", the Creator working in and through the Church that evening in small but significant ways put a smile upon my face. I laughed and laughed with joy at the little things that came together that evening.
He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.Colossians 1:17, The Message
The thing is, I know Steph and Traci from the little "c", but they don't go there anymore. Now we are connected in more significant way, at the Creator's bidding, as part of the Big C. Combine that with the fact that my relationship with Ruth has nothing to do with a program at little "c" but has everything to do with my membership in the Big C; Monday night truly was a good night for the Church to shine. And all praise goes to the original Big "C", that is the Creator (hey, that's Jesus), for all the good and amazing things came together and were held together that night.
Go Big C.
I've been getting some "who's Ruth?" questions from some of you lately, partly because I've created a little confusion by not using her real name, which some of you know.
"Ruth" is an alias for the woman I'm tutoring in English. I am not using her real name in order to protect her privacy. She is part of a group of refugees from Africa and might be prone to exploitation. You never know who's reading, even though my blog has as very small audience. So I'm just trying to be a little careful.
She is "pre-literate", that is, not literate in her 1st language and so reading and writing has been an entirely new experience for her, at age 23. She was married at age 16 and is now a single mom of one daughter, age 4.
She is a refugee from Somalia, belonging to a people group known as Somali Bantu (or Bantu Somali—I've seen both), who have been enslaved by other dominant groups in Africa for generations. They have been given refugee status and were approved for relocation to the United States. (I'll have to check my documentation for the exact time period; I think around 2 years ago.) Once living in Kenya, now she lives about 7 minutes from my house on the west side of Portland, in Beaverton.
I met Ruth through a volunteer opportunity with a nonprofit community organization called IRCO, Immigration and Refugee Community Organization. I was interviewed by the volunteer coordinator, helped teach one pre-literacy class at their facility in Portland as part of training, and received a manual, a workbook of exercises, and some background articles on the Somali Bantu. I write up a report once a month to the volunteer coordinator. The whole ESL tutoring thing is brand new to me, but it's been a fun and supportive environment and I've enjoyed the challenges.
So that's "Ruth" in a nutshell. If I talk to you in person, I'll use her real name and you can be confused all over again.
June 21, 2005
When the good things happen...
Saturday was a lazy day. Very lazy. Sloth-like, even. Coming down from 24 marathon, not easy, in a very pathetic kind of way. Went to church to teach 4 and 5 year olds about Joseph storing grain for 7 years, an act of God's provision for the people for the 7 years of famine. The activity sheets had a picture of the grain storage units. Admittedly, I don't know what an ancient Egyptian grain storage unit looks like, but the kids in my class didn't think what was pictured on the activity sheet was even close. No, in their minds, it was a tornado, a bee hive, something to be shot down and blown up (not joking). It was funny but the thought did occur to me that I had been ineffective in my teaching of the grain storage unit, so on the suggestion of the girls in class, we built a giant fort out of kids' kitchen furniture and had snack on bean bags, behind rocking chairs, on a play picnic table, surrounded by play kitchen stoves, refrigerators, sinks, and ovens. Some disappointment was expressed at the lack of giant blankets (how are you supposed to make a fort without blankets???) but we managed.
From there, attended worship service for the first time in 6 or 7 weeks; it was really good. In the meantime missed 2 calls: Mom (are you coming over?) and Ruth (are you coming over?) To Mom: (no, tomorrow). To Ruth: (busy signal). I started down Murray Blvd. Ruth's apartment is only 5 minutes from the church.
I arrived at Ruth's apartment about 9:00 pm in the evening and finally got through to her on the phone ("I'm here; I'm knocking.") I got to meet her mom and 3 other women who live in the apartment complex. Ruth and I checked out her antenna-less TV and then we headed over to her mom's apartment to check out the crib situation. Sure enough, no screws for the crib. But I found out that the crib was going to be for a 4 year old (who looked 2 years old. I think some of these kids are underweight). Now, that crib would be nothing but a jungle gym for that kid (and the 10 others who hang out in that apartment). He needs a kids' bed. Last night I was over at my friend Stephanie's. She's gearing up for a yard sale and one of the items on her list is a toddler bed. Perfect. I just have to find a crib mattress and that kid will have a place to sleep of his own.
While I was over there, I started to informally find out who else needed a bed (a 6 year old girl) and if there were some kids who needed shoes (yes, a toddler). Focusing on the group of refugees living in this apartment complex, I've decided to get as concrete an idea as possible of what the clothing and bedding needs are of these kids. Armed with a notebook, a scale (fitting kids' clothes by weight is more accurate than by age), and some kind of foot measuring device, and Ruth to help me with names and ages and other particulars, I'm going to find out who needs a bed, who needs shoes, which boys need boy clothes and which girls need girl clothes (right now some of the boys are in dresses).
I also want to get my friend Nathan over there (who works with Public Health and has done Community Health Education in India) to see if he can do an assessment of the health and sanitary conditions in the apartment where all the kids hang out. Maybe then he can tailor the CHE material for them and start doing CHE classes in Ruth's living room for the women in this complex.
Eventually, I'd like to rent out an apartment in that complex and turn it into a community center for these women and their kids. Maybe I could write a grant for the lease. Hmmmm.....
The morale of this story is that I am not a morning person, or really even much of a day person, especially on a Saturday. Give me the night and let God light up the place. That's when the good things happen.
June 17, 2005
Canada Agrees to Reparations for All Residential School Students
From Cultural Survival:
On May 30, the Canadian government signed an agreement with the Assembly of First Nations pledging to pay a lump sum in compensation for former students of Indian residential schools.
The Residential School Political Agreement marks an unprecedented policy shift for Canada. Previously, only former students who were victims of sexual or physical abuses were to receive monetary reparation. Indian activists complained that the earlier plan ignored the damage the schools caused through their suppression of Native languages and cultures.
Short and sweet
Last night's meeting with Ruth was short and sweet. I couldn't quite tell why. We worked on initial consonant sounds and started in on double-consonant sounds (like "bl", "sl", "pl") when she started talking about finishing. I think (but I'm not sure) she was a little anxious about getting up at 4:30 am the next morning. But again, culturally, linguistically, I could pick up very few clues as to why she wanted to finish early. Hmm...but anyway, we checked out one piece of mail—a change in her social services agent—and she explained to me during "b is for bed" and "c is for crib" that her mom had a crib donated to her that didn't come with any screws (she didn't say "screws", she pointed to the screws on her 3 year olds kids' bed). So tomorrow I'll call over there and find out when I should come over and assemble the crib. There seem to be lots of babies in their community, so it'll definitely come in handy. (Things work pretty communally as far as child care goes.) How odd, though, that someone would donate an unassembled crib with no screws? Something's amiss. Maybe something will come to light on Saturday.
I also hope to find out that I do in fact have the capability of assembling a crib. Maybe I should bring some duct tape. Just kidding!
June 16, 2005
Here's another complete worthless, yet oddly entertaining diversion: How fast are your reactions?. Basically you shoot tranqs at sheep that dash across the screen. After shooting five, you're rated based on your reaction time.
Happy sheep tranquilizing.
June 14, 2005
I don't think I'm important enough to own one of these palmOne LifeDrive Mobile Managers, but wow, something like that would fill a gadget envy vacuum quite nicely.
June 13, 2005
Good times in the backyard
I went to Olympia on Friday and Saturday to visit with Seth and April and their girls (this week Kylia started crawling and it's really hard to see one's niece crawl over the phone!) but then they came down to Portland on Sunday to visit Mom and Dad. Good times were had by all in the backyard, spruced up for many relaxing afternoons to come this summer.
To view larger versions of the pictures below, go to: The Homeplace Album (The Gallery at Sleepyhead City)
June 10, 2005
Lemons are not red
Ruth and I read Lemons Are Not Red last night. A great book with simple cut-outs to enhance the semantics of color. It also helps with the meaning of "is", "is not", "are", "are not"...that crazy verb "to be"; it's a troublesome creature for certain. Ruth's problem with reading the word "is" has been that she pronouces the word "in" instead...subtle but significant. By the end of our session, she was starting to recognize "is" roughly 50% more of the time than she did before. Go Ruth!
More good news for Ruth: she worked three days this week and was scheduled to work today as well. Unfortunately it's doing laundry for a hotel, but even though she was exhausted and headachey all day, she was grateful to be working. (I wish there was another way...)
And yes, Handy Teacher Amber was on hand again to fix the moody flourescent light bulb connection in the kitchen. (She was cooking in the dark for crying out loud, I had to fix it. She confirmed that her apartment manager is worthess and good-for-nothing. That makes me so mad. Arrrgh.)
June 09, 2005
I'm coding. I'm sleepy. I've got iTunes in "Party Shuffle" mode and a 12 minute schmaltz on To See You (Harry Connick, Jr.) is piping through my headphones. I'm sleepier. I look out my window and get the camera. Just to wake up.
June 08, 2005
Open Letters to the Pope
Global Perspective is featuring open letters to the new Pope from around the world. Here's an exerpt from the May 31st edition, an open letter by Fr. Francis Gonsalves, a Jesuit in Gujarat, India.
Global Perspective: An open letter to the new pope
Your Holiness, you spoke of "deserts", repeatedly: "the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, the desert of God's darkness." India is often deemed a "desert of poverty." Millions of Indians are poor, hungry, dying. Conversely, the so-called "Christian West" dies from a "poverty of desertion" as Westerners conveniently desert spouses, children, churches and seminaries leading to "spiritual poverty." Worse, powerful nations sometimes called "Christian countries" desert their responsibility towards their poor and suffering brethren. When you condemned "the powers of exploitation and destruction" we exulted because some guru, David-like, must someday stand up to global Goliaths and shout, "This is not Christianity!" We pray you will be that one.
This week, an open letter to the Pope by Joseph Adero Ngala, an African journalist based in Kenya who won the German Shalom Prize for reporting in Rwanda and Sudan: Africa knows the church's good works, not its doctrine.
Happy open letter eavesdropping.
June 06, 2005
Hangin' in the Sound
Posted pictures from brother-hang-out-time in Olympia and Seattle over Memorial Day weekend. Pictured here is my littlest niece, Kylia Praise, eating Cheerios and checkin' out the ginormous fountain in the Seattle Center at Folkfest. More pictures at The Gallery at Sleepyhead City :: Hangin' in the Sound. Enjoy.
June 03, 2005
This is a story of how being ready with prose is good but being ready for improptu can be even better, especially when entering the home of a young African refugee women living in the 'burbs of Washington County.
Yesterday evening I arrived at Ruth's front door for our tutoring appointment with...
- an OSCON bookbag filled with Lemons Are Not Red, Is A Worry Worrying You?, an early reader book (something about a picnic), a sketch pad, a drawing kit (containing pastels, colored pencils, watercolors), various office supplies (scissors, scotch tape, paper clips, etc...)
- my vacuum
- my purse, containing a checkbook, Debit card, and other miscellaneous items
Immediately upon my arrival, the vacuum1 became the focus of all in the room (including the 6 children, aged 1 through 8). I showed Ruth how it worked (one of the boys immediately took to figuring out the attachments) and soon she was vacuuming the living room floor.
Then, we entered her "apartment within an apartment": Ruth's bedroom, where she and her 3-year-old live. We sat down and I started pulling out books. As has become our weekly ritual, she pulled out the mail she had received the past week for me to look over and explain. The bank statement from B of A (her bank) was opened and upon my glance was determined to be for Frank Hernandez. Yeah, "Not at this address." Scotch tape was retrieved, envelope resealed, and put in bag to be returned to sender.
It being the day after the 1st of the month, Ruth pulled out her checkbook, the kind with the carbon copies, and asked me to write her rent check. Not having a register or a folder with the plastic flap to prevent all the carbon copies from getting an impression, I pulled out my checkbook, removed the folder (I can get another one at the bank today) and demonstrated how to use the plastic flap to create an effective carbon copy of the check. (Next week: addition and subtraction and balancing a checkbook. That should be interesting.) She could tell me the amount, but couldn't tell me who to make it out to. I asked if the manager lived onsite and told her that we could just walk over there and find out.
Next, Ruth indicated the overhead light and demonstrated at the bedroom light switch that it no longer functioned (a freestanding halogen lamp was currently in use). I hopped up on the bed and removed the light fixture's cover to determine what kind of bulb was in use. I explained that the bulb could be easily replaced.
Handy Teacher Amber, now fully identified as such, was then directed to the bathroom and the running toilet, which apparently had been continuously running for quite some time, possibly for several days. Tank cover was removed, bulb thingy lifted, handle jiggled, and toilet stopped running. (Observed toilet seat in pieces, literally. On my way out I wrote down the number that was on the "Now Renting" banner and later today I'll call them and ask them to replace the toilet seat. Good grief.)
Back in the bedroom, Ruth pointed to her eyes. They were red and irritated. I asked her if she had contacts. She said yes. I asked her if the 6 children in the house could be sent home so we could walk the 2 blocks over to the Safeway at the corner to get solution. She said yes. But first, there was more mail to deal with: food vouchers.
Ruth's son qualifies for food vouchers. The vouchers kinda look like blank checks and have a list of qualifying foods. In the envelope was a black and white table with a list of qualifying foods. Not so helpful. Also in the envelope was a full color brochure with pictures of qualifying foods and brands. Very helpful. Scissors and paper clips were retrieved from the depths of my bookbag, words were sounded out and whatever food was listed on the voucher, I cut out of the brochure and paperclipped to the voucher. Our errand run was clear: apartment manager (get name of property mangement company, deliver rent check) and Safeway, 2 blocks away (eye solution, light bulbs, food for Ruth's son).
I wasn't sure if she understood that a trip to Safeway and the apartment manager was in order. She did. Soon kids were putting on shoes (the ones who had shoes that fit). I packed up the books and we were off: a parade of Somalis and a white lady marching over to the other apartment building.
As I finished writing and delivering the check to the manager, the kids bounded up the stairs (I thought maybe they were just playing). But no, Ruth directed me up the stairs and opened the door to another apartment. Three Somali adults and maybe 10 kids were in the living room. The 6 we had with us were added to the number and the two of us headed to Safeway.
At the eye solution aisle, I asked Ruth if any of the boxes looked familiar. If she had contacts, I imagined that she would have a brand that she regularly purchased. When I asked her if she had hard or soft lenses and that that question could not possibly be understood by her, I looked into her eyes: no contacts. Picked up the $2.49 bottle of generic eye drops. Next, light bulbs were retrieved. Finally her son's food. I asked an employee how the vouchers worked. Just then Ruth realized that her Oregon Trail card was with her mom, (the card is needed as identification in order to use the vouchers). Oh well, we went around the aisles identifying qualifying foods. I found out Ruth doesn't like cheese, loves bananas, and usually buys nonfat milk. Her kid is so skinny, I suggested she buy 2% instead. I figured if my mom bought 2% for us as kids, maybe it was a good thing.
Back at the apartment, light bulb was replaced, and eye drops administered. And there was light (and it was good ;-) Redness vanished from Ruth's eyes (and it was good).
All throughout the evening, Ruth told me about all the good things that had happened that day. About how everyone was helping Ruth today. She was just overflowing with gratefulness and laughter. She explained that her social services person had called her to check in that afternoon and how she was able to answer the women's questions with ease. (I had spoken with the caseworker that afternoon as well.) When she checked in at the hotel, she saw my name and phone number on the board. She was so excited that her Teacher Amber was helping her. I was humbled and knew better. I was in awe of how Jesus went before me today and really served Ruth in a huge way. As I pulled out of the driveway, I was struck with how Ruth did know now that my name was Amber, but she still called me Teacher. I got a little choked up when I remembered how Jesus' followers called him Teacher as well. Filled with overwhelming joy, I laughed out loud at the amazing and mysterious works of God.
1. Why did I bring my vacuum? Several weeks ago, Ruth told me that her vacuum was broken and asked if she could borrow mine (in so many words). Every week since then, I've forgotten to bring it and been faced with a reminder from her of her need of it. I finally remembered to bring it.