The People and the Olive, a feature-length documentary about the daily joys and struggles of Palestinian olive farmers living under the occupation, and last year’s Run Across Palestine (an initiative of the Traverse City-based nonprofit On the Ground, which supports fair-trade farmers around the world), will show at The Leelanau School north of Glen Arbor on Tuesday, May 7, from 2-4 p.m. The event is free, and the public are invited to attend. The film was created by Traverse City filmmaker Aaron Dennis and journalist Jacob Wheeler (founding editor of the Glen Arbor Sun). Wheeler will attend and take part in a question-and-answer session following the screening.
“They planted so we ate. Now we plant so they eat. Past generations planted these trees that we’re eating from and are supporting our lives, and we plant trees for our future generations to support their lives.” — Palestine Fair Trade Association founder Nasser Abufarha
What do olive trees mean to Palestinian farmers? Olives are their livelihood, their source of sustenance and the way they root themselves, historically and spiritually, to the land. But Palestinians are denied access to nearly 30 percent of their beloved olive trees in the West Bank as they struggle to live under Israeli military occupation. How do they persevere? And what should the international community understand about Palestinian olive farmers, who love their land and harvest it every season to feed their families — just as farmers across the world do?
To raise awareness about the struggles of Palestinian fair trade olive farmers — and to replant uprooted olive trees — six Americans set out in February 2012 to run 129 miles in five days across the West Bank of Palestine. The Run Across Palestine was organized by the Traverse City, Michigan-based nonprofit On the Ground, which works to support sustainable community development in farming regions across the world. Joining them was a media team comprised of a filmmaker, two journalists and a musical ambassador.
The runners faced many barriers in the endeavor – barriers that represented a microcosm of what their Palestinian friends face every day. Along the way, they forged deep bonds with their hosts while witnessing the harsh political reality and uplifting beauty of life in the West Bank.
When you read about El Salvador being one of the top places on the State Department’s list of places not to visit, you need to buy a pack of cigarettes in Miami just before you get on the plane, even if you don’t smoke. That was my thinking, anyway.
Going through Customs in El Salvador was a breeze. The school had sent a former army guy to usher us through and then into a black van which sped through the midnight streets to our school’s housing compound.
I could smell camillias and see palm trees.
It must have been about 4 a.m., gray light, when I was awakened by a pesky mosquito. Moonlight was coming in through the windows. This was an ideal time to have a cigarette. I rummaged in my purse and as I was rummaging realized I had no matches.
From my balcony I could see the little guard house by the gate. I appeared to be in a quiet, walled compound about four acres in size, surrounded by 30-foot-high walls topped with razor wire and broken glass. Surely the guard would have a light. Guards were often smokers.
I spoke no Spanish but showed the man my unlit cigarette and pantomimed striking a match. Alas, he was not a smoker and had no matches. I thought, in a city the size of San Salvador there must be an all-night corner store. To the guard’s consternation, I unlatched the small door beside the gate. I looked first left, where I saw at the end of the street, half a dozen men with AK-47s, and then right, toward the other end of the street, where there was another group, similarly armed.
El Salvador is the only place I’ve ever lived where there was literally blood on the money. Every two weeks one of the guards would take us in the school van to the bank to cash our paychecks. The currency in El Salvador is the U.S. dollar. The banks had armed guards, of course; it was that way all over Latin America. When we would get our money there would be blood on some of it. Not fresh blood, but dried blood. I found it depressing, so I would take the money home and wash it.
A representative from the American Embassy came and spoke to us during our first week and told us never to leave the compound unless we were with one of the school’s guards. This made perfect sense to all of us. It made less sense later when I learned that there were Peace Corps volunteers all over the country in isolated sites.
El Salvador had had a civil war, the one where Bishop Romero was assassinated in 1980. The war had officially ended in 1992 and the country was safer than it had been, but it was still unsafe. People didn’t stop at stop signs because it made them vulnerable to robbery. A previous teacher at the school had been killed by a stray bullet. The word among the teachers was that this teacher had given a student from a prominent family a grade below a C. There was no way to verify this. I decided to give nothing below a B. And I could always change that to an A.
As it always does in the first few weeks, the teaching required all of my time and attention and so I only got to know the young man teaching in the classroom next to me. He was from Wisconsin. We shared a wall. Through the wall I could tell his students adored him. One weekend he took his students on a field trip to the museum of the revolution at the Catholic University in San Salvador.
The next week he was observed every day by the school’s headmaster, a petite and beautiful blonde who’d grown up in California. She had to be at least 50 but she held her age well. The students liked her. She amazed me because she could wear panty hose in the tropical heat.
One night as I was fixing supper, the young teacher from the adjacent classroom showed up at my door with his pillow and two wine glasses. “I wanted you to have these,” he said. He was crying. He told me that he was leaving the next day. He was being fired, they’d told him, because he’d been using Pictionary to teach vocabulary.
After he left, I went out on my balcony and gazed over at one of the director’s homes, a lavish five-bedroom place with vaulted ceilings and a fountain in the garden. His Salvadoran maid was out watering the flowers. She was a girl from the mountains. She had given away her child in order to take this job.
Our school was a private school for the very wealthiest families in El Salvador, 14 ruling families called the Quatorze, whom the Spanish had installed back in the 1500s. To keep the money and power in the family they had been intermarrying ever since; now, like the Habsburgs, they were suffering the consequences and the school had an unusually high percentage of retarded students. They hired Americans to run the school, and paid them handsomely, but the Quatorze were always somewhere in the background.
My students looked Indian, or as they would have said, Mestizos. One day, looking out at this sea of Native American faces, I said, “How many people in here have any Indian ancestry?” None of them raised a hand. “Meese,” said a sweet little boy in the front row; he was from an extremely wealthy family but had severe learning disabilities. “Meese,” he repeated. Meese is what they called me instead of Miss, like the plural of mice. “We only count our ancestry on the Spanish side.”
The next week our staff meeting was devoted to the issue of “improper fraternizing” with students. After a 20-minute lecture on the dangers of this, the headmaster announced that “a certain teacher” had been asked to leave, after one of the parents had seen him drinking with the students.
No one believed this. We all knew about the field trip. We also knew not to go to the school’s recommended dentist after a new graduate from a teaching school in the states had been told by the dentist that she had several cavities; this teacher had had her teeth checked by her dentist at home just before she came and knew she had no cavities. We only spoke of these things at the swimming pool in the housing compound, and then only did so with the portable radios blaring.
My friend who was a kindergarten teacher often stopped by my room. I’d had a bad feeling about the headmaster ever since the kid from Wisconsin had been fired and this day mentioned that I didn’t think the head lady had her PhD. Putting all the pieces together from various conversations, it seemed like she must have been out of the country when she said she’d been getting her doctorate. Three days later the headmaster cornered me in the ladies’ bathroom, and started talking out of the blue about how her university alma mater’s record office had been destroyed by fire and so she could never get the original copy of her degree but only a facsimile.
I was lonely without the kid next door and so I sought out the girl he had been dating, a young Salvadoran who had gone to a prestigious Ivy League school in the states and was in charge of the school’s computer labs. In November my director invited us all to Thanksgiving dinner at his house and I was waiting for the computer lab girl who was going with me.
She showed up an hour early and said, “I’m not coming. They’ve put my father in prison in a small town near here. He did all their dirty work for years during the revolution, when they were all safe in the states, now they’re trying to get rid of him. There’s been a riot in the prison. He thinks they started it so they could have an excuse to shoot him.”
She was upset, but she wasn’t crying. Her clear, dark skin looked muddy and that was the only sign of her unhappiness. She said, “I wanted you to know. I couldn’t tell you on the phone. You shouldn’t be seen talking to me. The school will fire me next. They’ve started saying I can’t teach without a teaching certificate, but when they hired me they knew I didn’t have a teaching certificate. Tell people I’m coming down with a cold, if they ask.” She was popular with the other teachers, but no one asked where she was.
At Christmas I went on vacation in Guatemala and when I came back the computer girl was gone. The headmaster said that budget was insufficient to cover the cost of running the computer lab. Over Christmas they’d moved all the computers to the school library, a library which consisted mainly of cookbooks and biographies of Pinochet. At Easter I had dengue fever and spent three weeks recuperating on my balcony where I watched a pair of doves build a nest in the hanging basket. Doves are good parents. They carefully take turns sitting on the eggs, turning the eggs and then feeding the hatchlings.
In June I returned to Lake Leelanau. They say El Salvador is safer now, although still in the top 10 of the world’s most violent countries because of gang violence, and that the big waves on the Pacific are really good for surfing.
Kathleen Stocking is author of the acclaimed book, Letters from the Leelanau (University of Michigan Press, 1990). Her letters from Romania, London, Istanbul, Amsterdam and San Francisco appeared last year in the Glen Arbor Sun.
The first time I visited the California coast was in 1920. I know, you’re thinking, Wow, I never knew Kathleen was that old. So, let me explain.
My father gave me a book for my 10th birthday called, Keeper of the Bees, by Gene Stratton-Porter. The story is set on the California coast of the 1920s where a First World War soldier is in a veterans’ hospital. Told he’s going to be moved to a rehabilitation center, one rumored to be infested with tuberculosis, he leaves the hospital, thinking that if he’s going to die he wants to be surrounded by flowers and the sound of the ocean.
Living on Sleeping Bear Bay it wasn’t hard to imagine the Pacific. The sound of Lake Michigan pounding the shore and the fragrant hoary puccoon and cries of the seagulls are not that different.
Gene Stratton-Porter had a gift for capturing the way a delicious tomato, hot from the vine, can engender healing; how the hum of the bees in the hives can be soothing at the deepest level of one’s being; and how taking care of something — in this case, bees — can bring back the desire to live that war may have damaged.
The next time I visited California was in the late 1960s when I went to see some friends. We crossed the majestic Golden Gate Bridge at midnight, all lit up like a magical harp, and drove out to Muir Beach. California was the Otis Redding song, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” the Woody Guthrie song, “California’s a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in and see …” and, the classic, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
For years in my Michigan kitchen, I had a tea tin where I kept the crayons used by my growing children. The tea tin had a Maxfield Parish print on it and the words, “California Dreaming”. My two oldest children, perhaps influenced by subliminal messages, found their way to the Bay Area and established themselves.
After my last child left home for Connecticut in 1999, I accepted an invitation from the William James Foundation in Palo Alto to be a member of their Artists in the Prisons program. My room was in a 1950s-era motel on the edge of the Pacific. I slept on an air mattress on a concrete slab, lulled to sleep by the reassuring thrum of the ocean.
One night, after driving up Highway 101 from Soledad under a full moon, much of it along a coast awash in the scent of wild fennel, I finally wended my way down to my room, in past the calla lilies and night blooming jasmine, falling instantly asleep, only to awaken in the morning and see that all of my neighbors had piled their belongings up in the parking lot. They told me we had just missed a full moon tide that could have floated me and my air mattress right over to Japan.
There was an ocean lagoon near my room and I used to walk around it in the mornings to see the river otters. Otters have big, beautiful, brown, soulful eyes and are quite tame. They like to eat lying on their backs in the water, cracking open clams or crabs and nibbling as they float. California and Michigan both became states relatively late, Michigan in 1837 and California in 1848, and there are still places in both states where it can feel suddenly almost like a wilderness and that’s what that lagoon was like in the early morning. One morning there was a giant whale, the size of a bus, washed up on the beach.
I liked the drive down to Soledad on Highway 101, the old Spanish Camino Real, the Royal Highway. This was when I would plan how to engage my students. I had a litany of things to encourage them. I told them that the pen was mightier than the sword; that America was like a dysfunctional family and they were the like the child who was “acting out” but might the sanest one in the room when the family went in for counseling; that anger and lack of awareness and bad luck had brought them to where they were but that with the power of writing they could transcend the walls, could transcend time.
Many of my students had done bad things, but I believed there was a place of true human goodness in each one and knew that we could build on that. I was open about this. I knew I sounded like a missionary but I didn’t care. I knew I was being monitored and didn’t care about that either. There was no place in the prison that there weren’t cameras, sometimes visible, often not.
The students wanted to know about my life and at first I was afraid of this but eventually I simply lied about the specifics — my address, my children’s names — and told the truth about the river otters and the tea canister. That’s what they wanted, the sense of normal life. I told them about my father’s love for roses. You might think this is boring, but they didn’t.
I praised my students often and honestly for the work they did. Sometimes the work was wonderful but even when it wasn’t it was wonderful that they did it. I gave them the gift of my attention. I found books suited to each individual, books the libraries were giving away and old Sunday New York Times. My students began to produce writing that was better every time I saw them. “You have time for thought,” I told them, “Not everyone has that.”
The El Camino sometimes went along the coast, going up the hills through the fog and the redwoods and sometimes went out into the Salinas Valley along fields of artichokes. In the early dawn I would arrive at the Soledad McDonalds for coffee and an egg McMuffin. One foggy morning there were several buses in the lot. It was a minute or two before I saw the armed guards come in and realized the busses were full of prisoners chained to each other.
That morning at the prison they wouldn’t let me bring in my teaching materials. They made me take the free books for the prisoners and the Sunday New York Times back to my car. My supervisor blew up at another artist for being late, a nice man who was not late. I decided not to have lunch with my supervisor, as I usually did, telling him I’d forgotten my coat at McDonalds and had to go get it. This was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth.
On the drive home that night I thought about the smell in the prison that day, sort of like a smell from toilets, but not exactly. It was more like the smell of copper pennies or a child with a fever. I thought that maybe the salty fog was working on the stone and metal of the building.
That night I emailed my supervisor and told him I would not be returning to work. He begged me to change my mind but I lied and said that something had come up, back in Michigan, and I needed to go home.
A few days later I learned there had been a riot in Soledad. The busses had been moving prisoners thought to be troublemakers. The reason I couldn’t take in my teaching materials was that prisoners could use them as body armor to protect themselves from beatings by the guards. The copper penny smell had been the smell of fear.
I was packing to go back to Michigan when I got a call from the San Francisco Jail’s Resolve to Stop the Violence Program (RSVP), asking if I’d be interested in working there and also with homeless children in a Saturday program in Richmond. The next 10 months were some of the best teaching of my life. So many of the students — all ages, all walks of life, all colors, all nationalities, all backgrounds — were able to become happier and more hopeful. Self-expression is about self-empowerment and doing it in a group, where there’s acceptance and encouragement, gives people stronger spirits.
The children had their work displayed in Kaiser Hospital and the RSVP students read their work in a final ceremony which was aired on National Public Radio. A few days later I visited the river otters, maybe for the last time, and my beloved children, not for the last time, and drove back across the country.
Did I leave my heart in San Francisco? Pieces of it. But that’s a good thing. Like the keeper of the bees in the story from my childhood, I had lost myself in the work of taking care of something else and learned that a good place is not about the place, but about how one lives in the place.
Kathleen Stocking is author of the acclaimed book, Letters from the Leelanau (University of Michigan Press, 1990). Her letters from Romania, London, Istanbul and Amsterdam have appeared earlier this year in the Glen Arbor Sun.
Beat the winter doldrums by joining Empire.-based Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate for a fun and educational tour to Ecuador. In March 2013 Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate founder Mimi Wheeler and experienced trip leader Jody Treter will lead a group of chocolate lovers to Ecuador for an 11-day tour focused on chocolate growing, fermenting, processing and exporting as well as indigenous entrepreneurship.
Highlights of the trip will include visiting with long-time friends, Miriam and Jaime Velasquez Perugachi, in their Kichwa community of Peguche to learn about their community, cultural heritage and entrepreneurial endeavors. In 2009, Miriam and Jaime were recipients of a small entrepreneurial grant funded by a group of women in northern Michigan. Trip participants will visit the Otavalos market, one of the largest and most important artisan markets in South America.
Taste the rare and prized Nacional cacao species. Learn about efforts to promote cultivation of this old variety from Samuel Von Rutte, a man who has dedicated 30 years to preserving this cacao variety.
Meet with cacao farmers living in the Amazon who own Kallari chocolate, one of the only chocolate companies in the world wholly owned and governed by its indigenous producer families.
Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate is proud to offer this guided tour as an extension of its love for chocolate and in celebration of the people who work hard to grow, process and export this wonderful delicacy! The trip will introduce participants to new friends and provide sight-seeing that isn’t available to the everyday tourist in Ecuador.
The trip dates are: Feb. 29 to March 11, 2013. For more information contact Jody Treter at jodytreter (AT) gmail (DOT) com or by calling (231) 342-0696.
Glen Lake summer resident Beverly Boos and her granddaughter Dani (Danielle) Boos were intrigued with a story they read in the Detroit Free Press about Rachel O’Neill of Brownstown, Mich., whose nonprofit “Little Dresses for Africa” was sending clothing and hope to children in the African nation of Malawi.
“Little Dresses for Arica” distributes dresses for girls and pants for boys made out of used pillowcases to orphanages, churches and schools.
O’Neill first visited Malawi in 2007 and observed a poverty level higher than she had ever seen. The children wore ragged and dirty clothes and there was never enough food to keep people healthy. O’Neill decided that she would send apparel back to them.
She recruited friends to sew the clothing. First they met in her living room, but as her idea grew in popularity they moved to a larger space now called “The Love Shack”. The dresses are now distributed to 42 African nations and come from all over the United States. To date, over one million dresses have been delivered.
Why pillow cases? Because they are available in many colors and the hem and sides are already intact. The available pattern may be ordered on line at www.LittleDressesForAfrica.org.
When “Nana” Bev learned about O’Neill’s plea for pillowcases, her granddaughter Dani conducted research online and they decided to join the seamstresses in their effort to clothe the children of Malawi.
Bev and Dani have been sewing together since Dani was in first grade. Dani admits her love for sewing began then, adding, “in second grade I was really obsessed with it!” Bev was an adept teacher and the two have sewn many outfits, scarves and pillows together. Dani is now 12 years old and a seventh grader at Abbott Middle School in Orchard Lake, Mich.
Bev and Dani decided that “Little Dresses for Africa” would be their summer project. Together they sewed six dresses complete with appropriate trims and ribbons and six pairs of pants for boys. These were mailed to O’Neill’s organization and forwarded to Africa to brighten the lives of needy children.
This stitching duo decided to buy material by the yard rather than to use pillowcases because, as Nana Bev notes, “Pillow cases are more expensive and choosing appropriate material can offer a prettier and younger look.” “Nana already had most of the trims left over from our past sewing projects,” Dani adds.
Dani and her grandmother live next door to each other in Orchard Lake so working together was easy to do. “Spending time with Dani one-on-one was the best part of this project”, says Bev. Dani reports that the best thing for her is “knowing that kids in Africa are going to be wearing these. This project has a useful purpose.”
The next time that Beverly Boos’ sewing group from downstate visits the Boos’ summer home on Glen Lake to sew and chat, they’ll be required to each make a pillow case dress. Their sewing machines will be humming. Meanwhile, Bev also used remnant material to make flags for her and her husband Warren’s bike group — thus creating more advertising for the “Little Dresses for Africa” project.
Ayaka Ogawa has no idea why she went to her grandmother’s house that day. Her mother was there, maybe that’s why. Usually after school she went home to the house where she lived with her parents, her older sister, and her other grandparents. This was in the small town of Hakozaki-cho, a village of 300 with bus service only three times a day. It is near Kamaiishi City, in the Iwate Prefecture, in the state of Tohoku, Japan.
Ayaka was a senior, it was after school, she was in the house with her mother and grandmother, and it was Friday, March 11, 2011. At 2:46 p.m. the ground began to shake as a powerful earthquake (magnitude 9.0, one of the strongest ever recorded) rattled the house for five minutes. Knowing that earthquakes so strong often spawn a tsumani in the ocean, the three women jumped in Ayaka’s mother’s car meaning to drive to higher ground. But there were too many people in the road, all running uphill, so they got out and ran, too. Then the water was coming. “I was lucky,” Ayaka says. “I ran up a mountain. Everyone was running. There were maybe 30 people who ran up there.”
Further down in the village, closer to the sea, Ayaka’s father and sister were at work when the quake hit. Her father tried to get to their house. Ayaka doesn’t know what her beautiful sister did. Her sister, her father, her mother and both sets of grandparents were all swept away. The village was erased from the face of the earth, and it only exists now as a collection of prefab houses.
Ayaka is the only one in her family who survived.
The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami killed 18,000 people. We all saw the television news coverage of the huge wave moving like a sideways snake at 800 kilometers per hour toward shore, the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and graphics showing whether or not the plume of radiation would blow toward Tokyo. We have since looked at the horrific YouTube videos of floating cars, boats crashing together, black water obliterating factories and warehouses, washing away homes and whole towns. The devastation was simply too much to grasp.
After spending two weeks in a shelter, Ayaka stayed with some relatives and joined her aunt and cousin in a “temporary house” in May. (Her uncle was also lost.) In May she was also invited to the American Embassy with other tsunami survivors. U.S. Ambassador John Roos and his wife Susan hosted a gathering that featured a noted Japanese pianist, and the American teen star Justin Bieber was there. Ayaka met Bieber and he invited her to his concert the following night. In June, Ambassador Roos visited Ayaka’s school as she was graduating, and when he asked her what her plans were for the future, she replied that she just expected to get a job somewhere.
But Ayaka kept thinking about it, and on September 12, 2011 she sent Ambassador Roos a letter thanking him for visiting her school and telling him that she was interested in studying in the United States.
Many people and many travels later, Ayaka Ogawa arrived on June 24, 2012, to study English and art as a senior at the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor. An organization called Beyond Tomorrow helped Ayaka to find and to enroll at the Leelanau School, and the US/Japan Tomodachi (Friends) Fund, established to help students recovering from the disaster, funds Ayaka’s travels.
Ayaka smiles easily, she is a very hard worker, and her English improves every day. She tells me that she still can’t speak English well enough to have a real conversation, though she is increasingly understanding what she hears, so she is content to just listen for now. But you can tell that Ayaka won’t be quiet for long. She delivered a poised and articulate speech to launch the Tomodachi Fund in Japan in April, and you can see and hear Ayaka’s speech if you Google her name or visit this link.
Ayaka says: “I think ties between people create ties between regions, and ties between nations create ties throughout the world.” In thanking Beyond Tomorrow and the Tomodachi Fund for helping her to study in the United States, she vows, “I also hope to eventually be on the side of motivating and giving others opportunities. In the future, I hope to be active on the world stage in some field and contribute to the world.”
Despite the cultural differences, Ayaka likes it here. “In Japan, the classroom is very structured, everything is in rows, only the teacher speaks, it is very formal, and the students must clean the school every day,” Ayaka explains. “I like this school, because it is more friendly and relaxed, you get to listen to music while working on art projects, it is more American style, laid back.”
We will have Ayaka Ogawa in our community for one school year to help her learn English and get into (hopefully) the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. When you see her around the village, please make her feel welcome, for she is friendly and open, and her story is astonishing. Ask her about Justin Bieber!
Leelanau School is springing for Ayaka’s tuition. If you would like to support the school in their effort to help Ayaka realize her dream of an American education, please contact Admissions Director Brian Chatterley at (231) 334-5800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m sad to be leaving Amsterdam. Not just because I love my niece and her family and they live here, but because Amsterdam is one of the best places in the world.
People are happy here. You only need to walk down the street to feel it. On an overcast winter day with intermittent rain, the buskers in the center of town are playing great music while all around them people are laughing and talking and strolling with their families. You’d think the sun was out.
There are hot French fries for sale and cookies and coffee, as well as vast food markets, like multiple kitchens in a great castle, with steaming kettles of soup, roasting meats, fried fish, boiled lobster, endless vegetables, all kinds of salads, many desserts. The streets are immaculate. There are flower markets on every corner and one whole side of the Singel Canal, is nothing but flowers. It’s winter, but the flowers are inside sturdy little houseboat greenhouses. Carved into the stone lintel above a door to a bank are the words, “Trust is the basis of a good relationship.”
The egalitarianism in Amsterdam is real, an unquestioned sense in every interaction that everyone is different but equal: men and women, rich and poor, old and young, dark and light. In every transaction, from asking directions, to buying a book, to sitting down on the tram, there’s an openness and respect. The feeling on the streets reminds me of San Francisco because of the way people make eye contact, smile, and nod hello. It’s a place where it’s easy to imagine what Traverse City could become.
The Netherlands has good government. There’s universal health care and free education. A person can obtain the highest education level possible based on his interest and ability. Everyone works to capacity. You don’t see homeless people on the street.
It’s no accident that the Dutch are the tallest people on the planet, with men typically being about 6 feet 2 inches and women being about 5 feet 8 inches. My niece is 5 foot 10 and her husband is 6 foot 8. You might think it’s simple genetics, but it’s not: the Dutch were the same height as everyone else 150 years ago.
People in Holland started to get taller about the same time the nation formally codified a liberal democracy, according to J. W. Drukker, a professor of economic history at the University of Groningen, when the government gave every citizen access to the rule of law, individual civil liberties, free health care and free education.
Holland doesn’t have an unblemished past. Although there were many Dutch citizens who protected and hid their Jewish neighbors in the 1940s, most famously Meip Geis portrayed in “the Diary of Anne”, there were also those who collaborated with the Nazis. The Dutch were involved in the Atlantic slave trade, but they outlawed it 50 years ahead of the United States. They let go of their Indonesian and African colonies after the Second World War. Holland is a democracy and so things are discussed and people try to work through the issues.
One of the country’s top priorities is providing for the nation’s children and they have excellent post and pre-natal care and low infant mortality. My niece had a home health care nurse visit her while she was pregnant and after the baby was born. She had six months leave from her job. Everyone receives this kind of care.
When I was going to school in Glen Arbor, at the building that would became the Old School Hardware Store and is now the Glen Arbor Athletic Club, we studied Holland and learned that the Dutch were famous for tulips, windmills, wooden shoes and building dykes to reclaim land from the sea. Those things are true, but what I learned more recently is that the Dutch figured out, long before most countries, that a rising tide lifts all boats and everyone is better off when everyone is better off. They have one of the world’s highest living standards and one of the longest life expectancy rates.
There are bicycles everywhere in Amsterdam and the city has a system whereby you can leave one/take one. You buy a code for the lock and you can leave your bike for the next person, who also has a code. Later, if you need a bike somewhere else, you can do the same thing. This saves trying to haul your bike into your apartment or figuring out what to do with it when you’re at work.
The Dutch are famously sensible. They have legalized soft drugs, like marijuana and alcohol, but restricted the use to certain areas; and the same with prostitution. This way they can control the negative aspects for health and safety and they avoid the creation of an underground market which is harder to see, harder to control, and more dangerous.
Holland is a tiny country, one-fifth the size of Michigan. It is called the “lowlands” because 25 percent of the land is below sea level. To try to imagine what this looks like, picture the geographical area from Lansing, Michigan south to the Indiana border. Now picture 167 rivers crisscrossing this, plus thousands of canals. Michigan has a lot of surface area that’s water, but Holland, acre for acre, has a lot more.
The Dutch were among the first people to reclaim land from the sea; now they’re among the first to return it. The salt marshes and mud flats are important to prevent flooding along the edges of the North Sea. Building dykes to create farmland was a good idea until, with new and better information, it wasn’t; and so they changed.
Six thousand years ago the population along the North Sea was sparse. The area was tundra, barely thawed. Three thousand years ago people were living in long, low, windowless, grass huts that looked like an Iroquois long house with a low door you had to crawl through and a smoke hole at one end, but instead of being made of birch bark, they were made of thatch. So how did the Dutch get from there to where they are now?
It appears to have been a gradual process. A few hundred years ago when other countries were trying to deal with the Spanish Inquisition, the Dutch started inviting the immigrants and refugees, including Jewish merchants from Portugal and English Dissenters, to come to Holland. Just like America’s policy of encouraging immigration, the got the best and the brightest.
We often forget that the Dutch were in the New World before the English. The Dutch system of laws and protection of individual rights — the humanism that was formulated by the 16th century religious scholar, Erasmus — became part of the culture in America, too. That’s one of the reasons Holland today feels so comfortable to an American: a lot of what the Dutch brought to the New World became the foundation for our own democracy.
Other than my niece and her family, the only person of Dutch extraction I’ve ever known was my neighbor in Lake Leelanau, Anneke Wegman. Her father immigrated to Canada after the Second World War and she came from there to Michigan. Her mother’s family had lived in Haarlem, about 30 miles from Amsterdam, and had a seed and bulb warehouse on a canal. The family had been there 400 years when the Nazis came to Haarlem and blew up both the warehouse and the bridge. The warehouse and bridge were in a strategic location.
Haarlem was a wealthy trading center for a thousand years. There are still some huge mansions in a forested area close to the North Sea. In the fog and rain and blue-gray Vermeer light, my niece’s husband points out the thatched roofs on some of the large, gabled homes and says that thatched roofs are the latest fashion and are very expensive because few people know how to make them and it’s difficult, dangerous work.
Thatched roofs, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the old, low grass houses from 3,000 years earlier on the edge of the North Sea, fell from favor because they were a fire hazard and have only recently come back because people find there is quaint charm in a thatched roof. Thatched roofs have to be replaced regularly. My niece’s husband said his grandfather had been a thatcher, a highly skilled trade that was traditionally passed from father to son. It went out of style, as those things do. He jokes that if his father had learned the trade, and if he had learned it from his father, he could be making a handsome living in Haarlem as a thatcher.
The North Sea has a wild and gray look, fierce and dangerous, like Lake Superior. Between the town of Haarlem and the North Sea, there are low dunes, like those in Glen Haven where we have our family reunions. The wind is blowing. Not hard, just in that constant way that you get near a large body of water, especially in the winter.
The morning I leave Amsterdam I get up at 4 a.m., moving carefully and quietly so as to not disturb my already sleep-deprived hosts and their new baby. Later my niece will tell me she woke up and saw me from the window, down on the curb. She waved, but I never looked up.
It’s raining lightly, almost snowing, as I wait for the taxi that will take me to the airport. A duck in the canal is happily floating on the slight current. Ducks like fog and cold rain. Or at least, I’m guessing they do. There are few people out at this hour: once a car; another time a man on his bicycle, peddling madly, perhaps on his way to work. Just before I get into the taxi I say hello to a family of four out for a bike ride: a mother, a father, a little girl and a little boy, all on their bicycles; clearly it’s a recreational outing, but at 4 in the morning? In the rain? Yes, but only in Holland.
The city’s new flood protection system was tested by the hurricane — and it passed.
By Codi Yeager-Kozacek
This story was originally published by CircleofBlue.org. Yeager-Kozacek is a Maple City, Michigan, native who currently lives in Enterprise, Alabama.
Hurricane Isaac produced a 2-to-3-meter (6-to-10-foot) storm surge and dropped more than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rain where it hit land near New Orleans last week. In an important post-Katrina test, the city’s new $US 14.5 billion system of beefed-up levees, flood gates, and pumps kept residents (relatively) dry. Hundreds of homes outside of the protected area faced flooding, however, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has called for an extension of the levee system.
In Alabama, we were barely tickled by the storm: a few days of heavy rain and a number of tornado warnings were the extent of my hurricane experience, for which I am grateful. (You can read about how my husband and I prepared before the storm here.) There were some flash-flood warnings in our area as well, but the lights stayed on and so did the water — two resources so readily available in the U.S. that it is easy to forget how quickly they can be taken away.
Unfortunately, much of the thirsty Midwest missed out on the hurricane, too. Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana received between five and 15 centimeters (two to six inches) of rain from the storm, easing the hold of one of the worst droughts in U.S. history, but Iowa and the Plains states are still parched, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. The area under “exceptional drought,” the highest level assigned by the Drought Monitor, expanded into northwest Iowa, southeast South Dakota, west and northeast Nebraska, and northwest Kansas.
Growing up in Northern Michigan, piles of snow, icy roads, and short-term power outages were the closest I ever came to experiencing the wrath of nature. Blizzards like the one that hit Michigan in March this year — which shut off power at my parents’ house for a full week after the region received 70 centimeters (27 inches) of snow in about 18 hours — can indeed be dangerous. But, as a kid, they just meant schools were closed for “snow days” filled with sledding and fort building.
Now an adult living in southern Alabama, I have a new perspective on storms — but instead of snow, now it’s Tropical Storm Isaac that is currently churning its way toward the Gulf Coast. Isaac is expected to reach hurricane strength by the time it makes landfall near New Orleans this evening.
And at 770 kilometers (480 miles) across, the massive storm will bring a deluge of rain and battering winds to my corner of the South.
Too little water
For the past few days, everyone here has been scrambling to prepare, and our primary concern is water. Radio and television warnings urged us to buy gallons of it, and grocery store shelves have been stripped of bottled water since this past weekend. My husband has been busy filling any container we can find with tap water, just in case the power goes out.
Too Much Water
Flooding is also a major worry. The roads in my town fill up quickly, as I learned the last time we had severe thunderstorms. A nearby stream, which normally cannot be seen from the bridge that crosses it, spilled over its banks and flooded the surrounding forest for about a mile along one road, while other roads were simply closed because they were overrun with water.
So, while I am a good safe distance from any storm surge that Isaac may bring, I’m still planning to hunker down in the hopes that he will leave my home unscathed.
Who would have thought that Istanbul would remind me so much of where I grew up above Sleeping Bear Bay? Everywhere you turn there’s a vista of turquoise water; and a pinkish tinge to the light, that I’ve never seen anywhere except on the Leelanau. If I don’t stop and think for a minute, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, could almost be the Manitou Passage and Pyramid Point.
What brought me to Turkey was that one day the market in Romania I saw some strange fruit and bought some just to try. I had no idea what they were. We don’t have them in Michigan. The sign said, “Smochine de Turcia.” They were figs. They did not look particularly appetizing. They were purplish-greenish, pear-shaped, but much smaller, about the size of an egg and soft to the touch, like human flesh, almost too much so. But figs are delicious. If they are ripe and fresh, you cut them open and they are ruby-colored inside.
After the figs were no longer in season, I would sometimes think about Turcia, so close to Romania. Istanbul, the gateway to Asia, formerly Constantinople, formerly Byzantium, formerly the site of the Trojan War where the great warrior Achilles was finally dragged into battle, despite his mother’s trick of dressing him in girl’s clothing. Five thousand years ago Troy was just a fishing village, like Leland in the late 1940s when I first went there with my father as he was exploring ways to ship his lumber.
And so that’s how one morning I awoke in the Sultan’s Inn on a little cobbled street above the blue-green waters of the Bosporus. I’m the kind of traveller who’s happy without maps and guided tours. So the first day, I climbed to the top of a hill so I could get a better view of the water. It had been raining lightly when I left the hotel but now, almost to the top, it was raining harder. I see something called, “The Grand Bazarre,” like a vast temple. I’m about to cross the street and enter when a man approaches and asks, “Are you from England? I want to offer you tea with my friend.” I tell him I’m from America and on my way to the Grand Bazarre. He says, “But your feet are wet. Stop for a few minutes and have tea in my friend’s shop.”
His friend was a merchant with rooms of beautiful carpets. I quickly explained that I was a Peace Corps volunteer and he should save his cup of tea for someone with money. But he said he was just offering a cup of tea because it was cold and wet outside.
I wouldn’t learn until the next day, after I’d been invited for tea several more times, that the man who had found me in the street was literally, “a finder.” The carpet merchants would send out their most gregarious friend to look for likely tourists to bring back for a cup of tea and, of course, a sales pitch. I learned that the man selling umbrellas wasn’t just selling umbrellas: he had a cousin with a carpet shop. The sixth time I was accosted, very near the doorway of the man’s shop, I went in and sat on a hassock and said to an older man and the younger man, perhaps his son, who had approached me, “No tea, thank you, I have a question.” And when they were both looking at me, I said, “Do I look rich?”
They looked somewhat taken aback and finally the son said, “Yes.”
“Okay,” I said. “Now, tell me the truth here, since I’m not rich and I don’t think I look rich, do I look rich to you because I’m old? Because I’m blonde? Because why, gentlemen?” I figured they were going out and looking for people to bring to the shop, they must know what they were looking for.
“Truth,” I said.
They exchanged glances and then the son said, “You are self-confident, proud. You would not look that way if you did not have good financial security.” He could have been sizing up a horse.
“And I’m old and blonde and speak English.”
And they both laughed and offered me tea again, and this time I accepted.
Not far down the hill was the Topkapi Palace with its 600-year-old trees. So rich was this city, that six hundred years ahead of Europe, they had public libraries. The harem, my guidebook says, means “family quarters.” The Sultan produced many sons with the ladies in the harem and, to avoid the power struggles among heirs, all males except the next designated Sultan were strangled. They all knew what was coming. It was part of the deal. One little boy said, “Could I finish my figs, and then be strangled?”
One of the harem wives, Roxelana, a lovely girl who had been kidnapped in Poland, first won the heart of Suleiman the Magnificent and then encouraged him to kill his sons by other women. Suleiman ordered his favorite son, Mustafa, a young man praised by everyone for his wisdom, to be strangled before his eyes by the eunuchs who had raised him.
Suleiman wrote many love poems to Roxelana, “my wealth, my moonlight, my most sincere friend, my very existence, my one and only love.” But what of Roxelana’s love for him? How could you love someone who had kidnapped you? It must have been that Roxelana learned how to feign love, perhaps even fooling herself, so that she could facilitate the survival of her sons. Suleiman and Roxelana’s son, Sultan Selim II, known as “the sot” and known for debauchery, precipitated the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
The efficiency that made the palace a model of fairness and order (except for the harem part and the strangling part which they don’t do anymore), means that even today everything in Istanbul works. The atmosphere everywhere is civilized, genteel.
Turkish men seem honest to me in their business dealings. Many times I would walk into a shop and no one would be there. Sometimes the men would be across the street having tea. The trust and camaraderie were like Glen Arbor when I was growing up, not what you’d expect in a city of 15 million.
Robinson Crusoe Books was where I made my biggest financial transaction. When I discovered I didn’t have enough money unless I paid in all the different currencies I’d willy-nilly acquired — the lei, the euro, the lira, the pound, the dollar — the man was kind enough to figure all the different exchange rates, first in his head, which he did so quickly I was amazed, then with a calculator, writing it on paper for my benefit. It took a few minutes, but I was the only one there except for six Turkish guys leisurely sitting around drinking tea and talking. By this time I’d come to expect that such a group would pretty much be a fixture of anywhere I went.
When you have enough books, you don’t mind the rain. I piled the pillows high behind my back and began skimming and sifting through vast tomes about ancient Persia. One of the best books was by Ogier de Busbecq, the 16th century ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from Flanders.
Busbecq admired the fact that a shepherd or a slave could be promoted to the highest office in the government. He was amazed by some of the advancements in animal husbandry that he saw in Istanbul. He saw partridges being herded like sheep. When the partridges were first hatched they were put inside the shirts of young boys where they were kept warm and also fed saliva from the mouths of their caretakers. Turkish farmers were a millennium ahead of Konrad Lorenz in their understanding of imprinting. Special care rendered the partridges tame enough to be called with a whistle.
There was so much to admire about Istanbul in all its incarnations: the beautiful parks, the soup kitchens for the poor, the excellent trolley. No, for me it would be about, and I’m speaking as a woman here, being able to read. Maybe I could have survived in the harem; I’ve always been a push over for the guy who offered to go kill the tiger in the village while I stayed home. And I like figs. You could eat a lot of figs before you were replaced by a younger woman. But who would I talk to? Even today in Turkey only 20% of the women are literate. Would I have to do a reversal of Achilles, and dress like a man and go sit and have tea, if I wanted to talk about the economy?
We all die sometime so it’s about how good a life you can have until they come for you. But for me it would be, “Could I finish my book and then be strangled?” But since women weren’t allowed to read, it wouldn’t have even been a question.
I like figs, but not as much as books, so I think I’d have to pass on the harem. I would have been an unlikely candidate to become the Sultan’s “one and only.” I would have probably been one of those troublesome women who always want to talk about “the relationship”. He’d be just getting back from some military campaign, ready for a little R and R, and I’d be starting in again, talking about how I couldn’t trust him, basically since the kidnapping. I’d probably be one of those sold again, to another buyer, into hard labor somewhere like Transylvania, far from the beautiful turquoise waters surrounding the golden city.
Kathleen Stocking is author of the acclaimed book, Letters from the Leelanau (University of Michigan Press, 1990). Her “Letter from Romania” and “Letter from London” appeared earlier this summer in the Glen Arbor Sun.
Locally made documentary about Run Across Palestine premiers Sept. 10 at State Theatre
By Jacob Wheeler
Traverse City filmmaker Aaron Dennis (his dad, Jerry, writes wonderful books about the Great Lakes) and I are thrilled that the State Theatre in Traverse City will host the world premier of our documentary, The People and the Olive, on Monday, Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m.
The People and the Olive follows this past February’s Run Across Palestine, an initiative by the northern Michigan nonprofit, “On the Ground”, to raise awareness about the struggles facing Palestinian fair-trade olive farmers living under occupation. The run featured six ultra-marathoners (three from Benzie County and two from Traverse City) who attempted to leg 129 miles in five days across the West Bank of Palestine, while planting olive trees in villages along the way.
Why did we make this documentary? Because the topic of Israel and Palestine is too often mired in a black-and-white, “us and them” discourse. We Americans, and our elected leaders on both sides of the political aisle routinely fall into this chasm as well, without examining who Palestinians truly are. In post-9/11 America, many of us view Palestinians as enigmas at best, and threats at worst.
Largely forgotten amidst a political debate that too often focuses on rocks and bulldozers, fear and hatred, intifadas and historical trauma, the Israeli occupation has prevented many West Bank farmers from harvesting the olive trees their grandfathers planted, and caring for the land they know and love like their own children. Nearly 60 percent of the arable land in the West Bank is used for growing olive trees, employing over 100,000 Palestinians, making it by far the most lucrative agricultural industry for an aspiring nation that suffers from a crushing unemployment rate of 30 percent.
Thus, The People and the Olive explores these questions: What do olive trees mean to Palestinian farmers? Olives are their livelihood, their source of sustenance and the way they root themselves, historically and spiritually, to the land. But Palestinians are denied access to nearly 30 percent of their beloved olive trees in the West Bank. How do they persevere? And what should the international community understand about Palestinian olive farmers, who love their land and harvest it every season to feed their families — just as farmers across the world do?
During the Run Across Palestine, the ultra-marathoners faced numerous barriers along the way — both physical and political barriers that represented a microcosm of what Palestinians face every day. They forged deep bonds with their hosts — Palestinians and Israelis alike — while witnessing the harsh political reality and uplifting beauty of life in the West Bank.
Joining the Run Across Palestine as a “cultural ambassador” was Jewish-American musician Joshua Davis (known locally as lead singer of the band “Steppin’ In It”). Davis, who overcame significant internal barriers to take part in the journey, jammed with Palestinian musicians in the Hebron Hills, Ramallah and Jenin, and broke bread with Israeli peace activists in Jerusalem. Davis will perform at the State Theatre premier and is producing an album based on his experiences in the Holy Land. For more on Joshua Davis’ personal journey, read my story published in the spiritual Jewish magazine, Tikkun.
The Run Across Palestine was supported by the Palestine Fair Trade Association, a collective of over 1,700 small-scale farmers who have embraced fair trade practices to sustain their future and to sell their products worldwide. On the Ground chose to support Palestinian olive farmers because of the political and economic hurdles they face every day. The northern Michigan nonprofit believes that when people in the developed world buy fair-trade products such as coffee or olive oil, we link ourselves to those farmers and commit to improving their economic livelihood — whether or not we personally interact with them.
“They planted so we ate. Now we plant so they eat,” Palestine Fair Trade Association founder Nasser Abufarha quoted a local proverb. “Past generations planted these trees that we’re eating from and are supporting our lives, and we plant trees for our future generations to support their lives.”
The premier begins at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 (doors open at 6). Tickets cost $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for children and students, and are available at Higher Grounds, Oryana and the State Theatre box office or online at StateTheatreTC.org. Ticket proceeds go toward scholarships for the October Bioneers conference. For more information about the film, please visit ThePeopleandTheOlive.com.