Jan 26, 2008

Mrs. Martin

Phone canvassing continues. The work is slow. Many of the numbers have changed. Or people don’t answer. Or else we don’t speak the same language. Or some say they support Obama, but you have the sense they’re merely trying to please. Perhaps, they think you're an immigration detective, one of the police tricksters from 850 Bryant Street. Officer Bizzaro calling in a strange voice to see who is there and for how long.

Or a certain kind of woman will answer. She’ll have a name like Sonya or Deirdre. “I understand what you’re doing,” they’ll say abruptly. “But I’m not interested.” As though you were peddling time-shares in Reno. They hang up. I assume they’re leaning toward Billary. Man haters, I’m wondering. But then I’m sometimes short when people call, so perhaps, this has nothing to do with politics at all.

Then once I get this. “Is Ms. Martin there?” I ask.

“Who is calling?”

“I’m a precinct captain with the Obama campaign”. TV gurgle in the background.

“My daughter is not here,” she begins. “I’m Mrs. Martin.

Mrs. Martin is mother of nine, grandmother of 14, a woman of 40 times 2, once a player in city politics, and in bad health in recent years. Heart surgery is at the top of the list. Diabetes, gout, inflammations. She names them all. But tonight for this moment, she is fine, smooth, wise and gracious.

I make my pitch. I don’t mention Billary, although I assume for some reason that Senator Obama is not her choice. She says something to distance herself from him. That seems strange and I want to say, “Mrs. Martin, I assume you are African American by your accent, and I can’t imagine you are not for Barack Obama. For God’s sake this is the time to believe if there ever was…

Of course, this is a white man’s appeal, some might argue this is modern racism. "Oh yea you like this man because he and his wife went to Harvard and she has straight hair and he's part white'." I know that. Still. Finally, I confront her. “What are you afraid of?” I ask, not a little impetuously.

“I am not afraid of anything. Not at this age, I can tell you that. There’s nothing left to be afraid of, although you probably wouldn’t understand that. It’s not that I’m afraid of anything. But you have to remember what I've seen. And they'll take him out. They always do. They won't let him go for a month in the White House. So what you are asking me to do is to choose between voting for this young man, and I like him very much, I do, I think he would make a great president, but you are asking me to choose between helping him become president and signing his death warrant.”

You hear this all the time in the black community, all the time. And what can you say..

“I’ve lived through too much she went on,” and described her first husband who came home from World War II, practically in a box he was so shot up. She stayed with him to the end, a bad end by the sound of her voice. She married again, and that man also had been in the war and was injured although he didn’t tell her until after they were married, and then he died…..

“What is your name again?” she asked. I told her. She broke away for a moment….

“Oh my God, baby. Don’t you look beautiful . I am looking at an angel. Where you goin’ baby. Saturday night I know you goin’ somewhere. You look so good baby. Now, you got any money? I didn’t think so,,,, well you go on over there, and get my purse. Right there under those things. Now bring it here. How much you gonna need? … Okay. Well, here what I got.”

“You still there,” she said to me. I nodded with a word.

“You look so good baby but don’t be home too late. You hear me? I don’t want you runnin’ around so you just come on home and I’ll still be up. Okay, baby?”

Baby said okay and Mrs. Martin came back to me. She launched into another subject and then another after that.

“It sounds like you have a lot to do,” I said.

“I do have a lot to do. And it’s all in my book.” She described it, an autobiography, and everything she knew about this city was going to be in it.

“Don’t you know how life just comes around. But you know, the worst racism I ever experienced has been in the last five years. Yes, right here in this city.”

“This city,” I said shaking my head. “Who does this?

“Samoans, Asians, Whites, Blacks. They call you “b” word. ‘F’ word. I’ve never been called a nigger more times than here. And you know who’s the worst? The worst are the Russians. They just hate black people. I hear it all the time, again and again. ‘Get outta here nigger,’ they’ll say. ‘Get off this bus, nigger.’ “

And that’s about the time she got to Him and how He was keeping her going. “I don’t know why. He must have some plan because he coulda gotten rid a me a long time ago. You know that. But He’s got some desire for me and I’m trying to find that. So I just get outta bed every mornin’ and go on about my business.”

She said she’d had a revelation some years before. “I hear voices, someone is always talkin’ in my head, but you can tell the difference, there’s a special voice that speaks and it’s like nothing else, it’s clear as a bell and once you’ve heard that voice you never doubt again.”

I wanted her to go on, to reassure me, to send me God’s blessing, but she had to go. Baby wasn’t out the door yet. “Baby, you look like the sun just came up,” she said. “What’s your name again?” she asked me. I told her. “Well, I’ve really enjoyed talkin’ to you tonight.” I have too, I said. “I’ll think about what you said, but you think about what I said. Bye bye now.”

Jan 14, 2008

Off the Daily Telegraph

Here's a story....

A city worker who was "obsessed with money" jumped to his death from a luxury 10th-floor apartment he was viewing, as an estate agent looked on in horror.

Police were called to Discovery Dock on Tuesday afternoon

Vincent Ma was looking around the £850,000 flat in London's Canary Wharf when he leapt onto a ledge and plunged 100ft from an open window.

The day before he died, the £150,000-a-year creative director had phoned an estate agent to arrange an appointment to view one of the flats at Discovery Dock, the highest residential block in the area.

It is understood the offices of the design consultancy he worked for looked out over the building. Police sources said when the sales agent took him around the property, Mr Ma seemed disinterested in the fixtures and fittings.

But moments later he suddenly threw himself out of the window, plummeting 10 floors in full view of guests at a nearby hotel. A suicide note addressed to his parents was found in his pocket by officers from Scotland Yard, who were called to the apartments at 3.30pm on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old was declared dead at the scene. Mr Ma's devastated family said he had disowned them four years ago, after becoming obsessed with money and the trappings of wealth.

His father Yiu Ma, 60, an undertaker from Warrington, Cheshire, said: "Vincent was once a happy boy who had time for everybody.

"He was an extremely intelligent young man and a talented artist - he would always be drawing. He gained a 2:1 degree from Reading University in Graphic Design and we were very proud.

"But after university he moved to London and became increasingly obsessed with money. He would talk about nothing else, how much he was earning in his job and what cars he could buy.

"The last time we saw him was Christmas in 2003. It was a normal family celebration and there was nothing to suggest that he was about to sever all contact with us.

"Since then he has kept the same number, but never answers his phone to us and wasn't speaking to friends.

"We've tried everything - even calling the police who said he no longer wanted to have contact with us."

Mr Ma's mother Kwai Chang Ma, 57, added: "He was a loving son before he moved to London, he always had time for the family. "But even when his cousins would e-mail to say they wanted to visit him he would write back and say 'who are you? I don't know you.'"

* * * *

A man desires to be in a certain place. He can see this place every day. It's not in his imagination, it is real... The sight taunts him. It says to him, 'I am everything you need to fulfill your identity.' If he could just be in that place, he thinks, if he could just have that address, that view... Finally, he visits this place, and ends his life. It appears he did not go to inquire about how he might live there. For some reason he knew or he guessed that he could not. It is simultaneously a moral tale about desire and yet also a homely urban myth about someone who draws no sympathy. But you wonder what happened in those last say 12 hours before he goes into that building. Has he envisioned this drama for months? Or is really on the spur of the moment, a flash of inspiration, even brilliance, about how to put an exclamation on an ordinary life.... But who did he imagine would be the audience for this act?

Jan 4, 2008

Barack Obama Will Be Our Next President

Here are some reasons to consider Barack Obama for president.

1. If we can agree that the United States is, for another moment, the most powerful nation in the world, then you could argue that every person in the world should be able to vote for America's president. Failing that here is a candidate, whose father comes from Kenya, his mother from Kansas, and of course whose middle name is Hussein. Isn't the diversity inherent in this man one of the most important qualities needed in the next president? Can you imagine the sense of participation this man will give to so many people, not just in America but out....

2. He's the smartest candidate. He has a vision of the future and a vision of America. He also has plans, and whether you agree with a particular plan, for say Healthcare or Foreign Policy, there is a clear statement of purpose. That's more unusual than you might think. You begin to see that his plan for one is like his plan for another. Everything is based on the idea of including all sides. You don't isolate healthcare providers from users, you don't shun dialogue with Iran because they support Hezbollah. The goal is to move things along, get past fear and ideology, and if discussion doesn't work then you try something else. But talking to opponents is the first option not the last.

3. Barack Obama is also healthy and you see that particularly in comparison to Hillary and Bill, still playing out their family drama in public. How could Hillary every say, "and I want to thank the great love of my life"?

As an aside, can't you see Bill listening to Obama's speech and thinking how much it sounded like something he would have written, and how much more visionary it was than what his wife was saying. And can't you see Bill at the nominating convention, forever more black than white, secretly wishing Obama wins the nomination. And after all, he stands a much better chance of some plum job, say this country's representative to the UN, than what he's like to get from his wife.

1. The endless argument is that Barack Obama lacks experience. But one could argue that if experience is what we've had for the last eight years, and maybe longer, then something else is required. The brain trove of experience imbedded in the Bush dynasty has lead to every kind of disaster but, most of all, a growing sense of hopelessness. Which is why Obama's speech last night was so inspiring: he know how to express the desire for hope, he understands how to dispell cynicism. Meanwhile, he's splattered as an idealist, partly because he wants to bring people to the table to talk. "Yes, but you can't simply say, 'let's talk' and assume that solves the problem." Of course not, but the lessons from Camp David have always been that you get opponents together and, using your imprimatur as president, you get them to agree to something. That's not idealism, it's pragmatic. Obama lacks experience? Perhaps, depending on your define it, but certainly intelligence, principle and the ability to provoke hope is worth more than some familiarity with the political passageways of the White House.

5. B said a true thing last night after listening to the speech. It was that Barack Obama speaks to the soul of America in a new way. it's partly because there's so much substance in his style, and because he has taken on, subconciously or not, the role of that Black preacher who really believes his message and through that conviction, convinces others. He offers a unique sense of security, a deep down trust in the rhythmic mantras of those people like Martin Luther King. It's that American lullaby that appeals even to whites who've never been to the south. It's that assurance that 'you know what, I guess everything can be okay after all, that with a fresh effort we really can succeed.'

Here is the part of his speech following his win in Iowa....

Jan 2, 2008

News From Eldoret

Marina received this email today from friends in northwest Kenya....

Dear Friends,

I find comfort as I take a moment amid the madness here to catch you up a bit on what we see on the ground.

First, let me assure you that Sarah Ellen and I are safe and fine. We feel fortunate in getting the US community out of here for the time being. Our British friends will fly out on a charter today if we can find fuel for the plane.

As far as I know, we have not lost a single AMPATH staff member or patient. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to run clinics since there are no matatus [van-taxi] running. It took almost three hours for one of our pharmacist to walk by foot to give us access to drugs. Most staff are busy securing safety of loved ones and most patients are either afraid or can’t travel. We will have some fairly unique decisions to make if we can’t move supplies around safely and soon.

I took heart in an ER this morning when I no longer needed to step over a body.

Eldoret is quiet today but all roads in and out remain blocked by unpredictable gangs. Many residential areas of Eldoret are insecure and many of our friends are simply scared to death. We are doing all we can to help with the food and shelter needs of our Kenyan friends seeking safety.

We can find food as of today since a few markets reopened. And we have our farms. Can’t get the food out to patients so will harvest food to help feed our compound and the many refugee centers that have popped up in churches and jails.

We have seen some things over the last few days that cannot be described in this note. We have witnessed sad evidence that we as a human family have a lot of growing yet to do. When you think a moment, you realize the IU-Kenya Program is at its core symbolizes what is so critically needed by Kenyan leadership. This is not a program dedicated to building medical schools or even stamping out a pandemic. At its heart, it is a program that screams “Yes” in a world to ready to say “No”. This program puts love and compassion front and center. Those values build the rest. When that message is embraced here, we can go home. We are unable to stop what is now happening, but we are rock solid in keeping to our core message.

Deep in our heart, Sarah Ellen and I believe Kenya will find a way to move back from the abyss now staring them in the face. As they reclaim their lives, programs and pride the IU-Kenya program will be there for them. Please do not be discouraged. Stay with us as we stay with our Kenyan family. Shortly they will need us all more than ever.

Pray for each other as we go forward with hope one day at a time.