Leaving “Whitopia” Behind

 

During a recent trade show, one of our buyers stopped by our booth to put an order together and told me how much she appreciated the cover model we had chosen for our catalog this year. The customers that walk through her door love the Pebble Pixie Rattles, whose variety of skin tones mirror their own. She told me that America isn’t a white country anymore, and she’s right. In fact, 2042 is said to be the year when whites will be a minority in this country. The landscape of us is changing.

Does that scare you or excite you?

As a descendant of immigrants who came here to escape terrible discrimination and death because of their faith, (read more from that post here) I dream of this land being a place where people of all backgrounds can find sanctuary and freedom.

My ancestors were of Western European descent (“white”). They boarded a ship and found sanctuary in this country during the time when Africans were forced to board the slave ships and live out a hellish existence in this country.

I struggle to wrap my mind around it. The disparity of the two experiences epitomizes white privilege.

I thought, in my naive, sheltered, rural “white girl” reality, that when slavery was abolished in 1865, it and all of the injustices associated with it truly ended. I understand now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One of my earliest waking moments was when I participated in a Privilege Walk done by Mennonite Central Committee. As a stay-at-home mom with no college degree, I was not surprised to be near the back of the room when the exercise ended. What shocked me was that behind me was a black mom, who worked full time and had a college degree. I was crying by the end of it, shaken out of my comfortable white bubble, while she matter-of-factly said, “This is how it has always been.”

Nearly a decade later, I’m still listening, learning and re-educating myself on the painful realities that make up the history of this land and contribute more than we can imagine to current realities.

Books like The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson are teaching me about the migration of nearly 6 million people from 1915 to 1970, fleeing slave-like conditions and unspeakable brutality in the south, who made their way north and west to begin new lives. Yet, even in these new places, they struggled dearly, often forced to do the most menial work for a fraction of what their white counterparts made, forced to live in segregated and over-crowded sections of the cities where they had to pay double for half the space. As a result, both parents had to work, leaving the children to fend for themselves.

Today people of color are often blamed for the drug and crime problems of these cities. But what if their ancestors had been treated with equality from the start? What if they had had fair and equal pay? What if they could have lived anywhere and done anything within their skill power? What if they could have afforded one parent to stay home and care for the kids? What if equal access to education had been made available?
I listened to a Ted Talk today on Whitopia, by Rich Benjamin on his journey as a black man through the whitest towns in America. A couple of quotes stood out to me.

It’s possible for people to be in Whitopia, not for racist reasons, though it has racist outcomes.

America is as residentially and educationally segregated today as it was in 1970.

This hits me hard.

I look at the beautiful face of Kahiniwalla’s 2017 Catalog cover model, and I get all soft inside. I see what will become a strong woman of color who is not left in the back of the room, but is leading the way to a new era. We can choose to embrace 2042 today.

If we treat minorities the way we wish to be treated, we will have nothing to fear when we become the minority.

When Your Neighbor Brings You Zucchini

Now that things are pretty much back to normal after our crazy trip to the ER the other night, I decided it’s time to finish using up the zucchini my neighbor brought over earlier that day. While zucchini bread is okay, I have found there are so many other ways to eat zucchini too. We love it grilled and chopped into pasta salad, quesadillas, mixed with spicy chickpeas and eaten over rice. The options are pretty endless. Today, though, I decided to turn this giant zucchini into 2 of our favorite kinds of muffins – Chocolate Zucchini and Lemon Zucchini.

In case you want to try these yummy bits of goodness, here are the recipes.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

2 1/3 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup baking cocoa

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup yogurt – plain, unsweetened

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup milk

1 cup shredded zucchini (I used 2 cups and it turned out great)

1 cup chocolate chips

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Stir into the dry ingredients, stirring gently until mixed in. Do not over mix or the muffins will be heavy. Spoon into greased  muffin tins or tins lined with paper cups. Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Makes 18.

 

Lemon Zucchini Muffins

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup oil

2 eggs

1 cup shredded zucchini (again I used 2 cups)

Combine the dry ingredients with the zucchini,  nuts and raisins, if using. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and gently fold into the dry ingredients, stirring as little as possible. Spoon into greased muffin tins or muffin papers and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes. Muffins should be slightly golden on top. Cool completely on wire rack and drizzle with a glaze made out of 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice. Makes 12.

 

I still had some zucchini left so I shredded it all and put into freezer bags and stuck in the freezer. Next winter when there is snow on the ground I’ll get out a bag and throw it into another batch of muffins and I’ll remember that there is still goodness and generosity in humanity and that summer will come again.

 

Finding Gratefulness in the Midst of Suffering

I spent most of  last night in the ER with my oldest son, while medical professionals attempted to troubleshoot what was causing his 106.5F fever. He had spent most of the day sleeping, waking occasionally to down some Gatorade and painkillers and complaining of a headache that was worse than any he’s ever had. My thermometer was broken so the prompting I had to take him to STAT Care on a beautiful Saturday evening when most people were outside grilling their dinners was definitely the voice of God.

At STAT Care he shivered in a blanket, head on my lap, while we waited for an hour to be called back to a room. When the nurse took his temp, she went into a very professional panic mode and he was led immediately to see a doctor. After a negative strep test and high doses of painkillers to bring down the fever, we were sent to the ER for an IV and more testing.

On the way there, we passed a homeless couple, begging by the side of the road, same spot they had been when I passed by earlier in the day. The brief exchange we had under the quiet dark summer sky, waiting for the light to change colors, stayed with me long after we checked in to the ER. As the hours passed, they ran many more tests; an IV,  CT Scan and X-ray. The plastic chair became too hard to sit on and I paced the tiny cinder block room, with noises and beeps all around, sirens letting me know that more and more folks were being brought in until all the beds would be full with many people still left waiting. We finally received the news that I was most hoping for – he did not have bacterial meningitis. They said that it could be viral meningitis or just a really nasty virus, but either way the treatment was going to be the same, so we could go home.

Gratefulness got me through the night.

We live in a land of incredible blessing. Our hospitals are not being bombed. Kids in this country don’t have to die for lack of medical care. Tylenol and Ibuprofen could have saved my son’s life, they certainly brought his fever down nearly 7 degrees in less than an hour.

Support. I lost track of how many friends who were reaching out in the middle of the night to let me know they were praying or taking care of my youngest son.

Technology. It allowed the doctors to diagnose relatively quickly and kept me connected to my husband on the other side of the world.

Humor. My son had me laughing out loud as we waited through his pain. He joked that he was turning into a super-hero, the Human Torch. He was sure that the fever had burned up all of his calories and he was starving, searching in vain for a food option on the call button but finding only water and toilet.

Kindness. When we finally got to the ER, another mom let me turn in my paperwork ahead of her when she saw my desperation. She also happened to be a Muslim, a distinct minority in this Midwest city I live in, and she was extremely generous.

Authenticity. I saw it in the eyes of the man by the side of the road. A mixture of suffering, strength, gratefulness, humility and dignity. A window into the human soul of all of us.

Peace. I’m a worrier. Anxiety is very familiar to me. Usually it’s for things I find later I didn’t need to worry about.  But in moments like last night, when I really have reason to worry, I have discovered a peace that comes from God alone. There’s no other way to explain it.

Home. It never looked so good. The reality of life’s unfairness is not lost on me. Around the world, many other parents have no hospital to take their feverish child to, and no home to come back to after a long night.

I hold these blessings in my hands, mindfully giving thanks.

 

 

 

Soccer Mom Thoughts

He rushes out the door for a week at college film camp and suddenly I feel as if the whistle has blown and the final quarter of the game has begun. I stretch my hands towards the invisible clock, trying in vain to slow it down. A lump rises in my throat and tears haze my vision as I wash the day’s dishes that only serve to remind me of the memories we made today. I’ve had nearly 18 years of crazy moments with this man child of mine, and yet I find myself wishing for more.

This child, born in Bangladesh, who was once the lone white face in a sea of Bangladeshis, is still comfortable, actually thrives in diverse environments.

This child who threw his toys out of our apartment window now throws himself into seeking justice for the oppressed.

At one time, more comfortable in a rickshaw than a minivan, he now bikes to work on hot summer days, saving money for a good video camera some day.

This child who pushed every boundary until I was exhausted and in tears has just been honored for the 5th year in a row for being the Most Outstanding Male in his class.

When did he change from being more than I could handle to more than I could have dreamt? It’s just a week at film camp, but my heart knows it’s the beginning of the end.

He’s grown his wings. They are strong and his heart is brave and kind. He will be more okay without me than I will be without him…and that’s okay. It makes me feel like I’ve done my job. I’ll always be cheering on the sidelines with food and water and a heart that never stops loving and believing.

I’ll always be his soccer mom, screaming as he nears the goal and steps into who he was made to be.

Honoring the Mother of our Nation

Like a moth is drawn to the light, I flutter as near as I can. Quiet soul that I am, I struggle to find the words to tell her what I see. History is wrapped in her ebony skin and in the map of her face I see that she is the daughter of a noble people. Through no fault of her own she was kidnapped, beaten, sold as property, raped again and again by white men who said they followed God. Stripped of her clothing and put on display, dignity in shreds, she stands. Forced to bear children only to have them wrenched from her, she is treated like an animal for 200+ years. Her life not her own. Hunger, exhaustion and shame her only constants.

When I see her today, I see the horror of her history and I weep. Like a sack of rocks she continues to carry it – not because she wants to but because we, the children of a not-so-noble people continue to treat her as less-than…but she is strong and brave. This country was built on her back. She cut the cane to satisfy our sweet tooth. She cleaned up the messes that no one else would. Her fingers plucked the cotton that built our economy and her womb birthed greatness. She nursed the children of her “owner”. She, more than anyone, is the mother of our nation.

Today I honor her, the unsung hero who paid a price that we were so very wrong to demand of her.

To her daughters today, wrapped in beautiful shades of ebony, cinnamon, butterscotch and caramel, I say you are not less-than. You are more-than for you have endured. You are strong and brave and beautiful.

I look in your eyes and I see your nobility still. I am not worthy to say it…that I am sorry for all you endured. Thanking you for your service to this country seems paltry and lacking but I want to honor you. So, when I see you, I see your skin and I honor you by acknowledging the story it brings with it…painful as it is.

I dream of the day when the last rock will be removed from your bag and you can walk with your head high as the equal you are without fear or discrimination. In the meantime, I won’t hold back when talking to my sons and those near me about the history of our nation, hoping to help fashion a future that is different from but doesn’t gloss over our past.

World Fair Trade Day 2017

Saturday, May 13, is World Fair Trade Day. Started by the WFTO in 2004, the second Saturday of May has been set aside as a day to not only raise awareness of Fair Trade but to celebrate the way it has impacted millions of lives.

Simply put, Fair Trade means:

Opportunities are created for the poor to have jobs.

In Fair Trade, the supply chain is accountable and transparent from start to finish. Unlike certain large chocolate chains who say they cannot know for sure where their raw cocoa comes from, Fair Trade chocolate can be traced to the source.

Fair Trade ensures prompt and fair payment for goods. For the Pebble toys we sell, it means we provide advance payment so they can purchase the raw materials and pay wages during their production period.

Fair Trade ensures safe and empowering working conditions. Not only does it insist that working conditions are physically safe, it must also be free of discrimination and harassment.

Fair Trade ensures the rights of children. This means no children are working to make the items in your shopping cart. It means the parents are making enough money to feed, cloth, protect and educate their children.

Fair Trade is kind to the earth. Environmentally sustainable practices are taught and implemented through the entire supply chain.

To sum it up, Fair Trade celebrates cultural diversity and gives a voice to the poor and marginalized. No one is forced to work in slave like conditions. Entire communities are transformed and local economies boosted. In countries that have no Job and Family Services, no Unemployment Benefits, no place to land when they are falling, this is huge. This is dignity for every person. This is loving your neighbor as yourself. This is reason to celebrate!

Lenten Rememberings – The Rohingya

The Rohingya, one of the world’s most most persecuted ethnic groups, are a Muslim people who have lived for generations in Myanmar. Denied the right to vote and given nearly impossible rules for acquiring citizenship, they are hated and looked down on by the Buddhist majority around them.

The Rohingya speak a dialect of Bangla and are seen by many as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many of them can trace their family history in Myanmar for many generations. While they represent roughly 2% of the total population, their Buddhist neighbors fear they will take over and try to make Myanmar a Muslim country. Untold numbers have been hunted down, raped and murdered in a genocide that the Myanmar Government continues to deny is happening. Many have escaped across the border into Bangladesh or by boat to Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines where again and again they are turned away.

Bangladesh, the most accessible country by land, is currently planning to house them on an uninhabited island that is immersed in water during the monsoon. Many are taking the risk of returning to Myanmar rather than lose their lives to nature. A small number have been accepted as refugees into the US, Canada and Australia but, for the most part, the Rohingyas remain an unwanted and fiercely hunted people group.

Rohingyas eat rice, fish, vegetables, milk and chilis. Meat, such as this Beef Curry is served to guests or for special occasions. We shared this meal family and prayed for a place of belonging and safety for the Rohingyas.

Lenten Rememberings – Syria (again)

Today my heart is full of questions and aches and tears. Not many words to share with you. Just a recipe for Toshka, a Syrian version of grilled cheese with minced meat and pita bread.

We bomb a country for killing its own people but keep the victims from that same country out of ours. Keep out, folks; no trespassing. But here, let me bomb your enemies for you. Maybe we can make peace and end suffering that way.

Really? When has violence ever stopped violence?

 

Burden or Blessing?

Fresh MangoesThere’s a small produce place I like to shop at in a nearby town. Like many others, I am drawn there because of the delightful variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and affordable prices. Located in a relatively small, mostly white town, the aisles are typically packed with a diverse crowd of shoppers. As I was checking out one day, the cashier, an older “white” woman, began to talk to me about the foreigners who shop there with their (EBT) “food stamp” cards. She told me that I would have a heart attack if I saw their balances and ended by telling me that she is so tired of supporting all “those people”. At this point I was becoming increasingly mortified, not at the balances she was freely sharing with me, but at her attitude towards those poor and foreign.

When our family went through some really tough times financially, (yes, we know what life looks like below the poverty line) I started to notice how often the word “poor” is used in Scripture. There are 446 references to the poor or poverty. I have yet to find one of those references that are about the poor needing to work harder or stop taking advantage of the rich. What I see over and over and over is this:

Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other. Zechariah 7:9&10

Mercy.

Compassion.

Don’t even think evil of the poor.

What does that look like? In a world where often the minimum wage is not enough to feed, clothe and house families, this has to mean something.

Personally, I consider it a blessing to contribute to a system that helps the poor, even if the system isn’t perfect. In an article called The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps, we see that every $5 of food stamps spent generates up to $9 in economic activity. Every $1 billion of food stamps creates 3,300 farm jobs. Food stamps improve kids’ health and allow struggling families to have more to spend on rent and other necessities. Nearly half of all adults in the US and half of all children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives.

If you’re in the half that will never need to be on food stamps, hold your tongue and your thoughts the next time you’re in line behind someone paying with food stamps. More likely than not, they’re ashamed to use it but know their kids would either be hungry or on the streets if they wouldn’t. While every system is broken and has some who will take advantage of it, there are many more who use those benefits to make the world a better place. Walk in their shoes for a moment because someday those shoes could be yours.

Lenten Rememberings – The Biharis

Bihari FoodThe year 1947 brought about the great split of India. Pakistan was born amidst great upheaval and loss of lives as Muslims and Hindus were divided up into two countries.

It was at this time that many Urdu-speaking Muslims from the Indian State of Bihar escaped into East Pakistan where they lived among the Bengali-speaking Muslims.

25 years later, when East Pakistan won independence from West Pakistan, after a bloody war over language, Bangladesh (literally the country of Bangla) was born. The Urdu-speaking Biharis again found themselves in a land that did not want them.

As Urdu speakers they had not supported this war for independence and about half a million fled into Pakistan. Pakistan, however, would only accept about a third of them so many today are living as stateless Pakistanis. Many who remained in Bangladesh were killed or lost their homes, bank accounts, lands and jobs. Today they live in slum-like, crowded camps throughout the country, where families of up to ten share a one room hovel and up to 90 families share one toilet.

In 2008, the Dhaka High Court gave citizenship and voting rights to 150,000 Bihari refugees who had been minors during the war. Children born since the war were also given citizenship. Life remains hard for them as they try to hold on to their language and customs, while living in squalid conditions in a country that still looks down on them. Many youth would like to leave and get jobs in other countries but passports are not issued to anyone who has an address inside of a camp. As of yet, the UNHCR has not addressed the statelessness of the Biharis.

During our years in Bangladesh, we were privileged to get to know one Bihari woman especially well. She would tell stories of life inside the camp while she scrubbed our dusty floors and share her dreams for her children while she washed the dishes. She was a tiny woman with a big heart and impressive strength.

The Biharis in Bangladesh are famous for their kebabs and fried snacks so tonight we had some friends over and shared Shingaras  (a deep-fried pastry filled with savory potatoes and chilis), Bihari chicken boti kebabs, Parotas (a flat bread fried in a bit of oil), and Shemai (angel-hair vermicelli cooked in a sweet milk spiced with cinnamon and cardamom).

For a glimpse at Bihari life in Bangladesh, check out this video.