Honestly, why should you support Chicago teachers?

It’s Tuesday morning, October 22, 2019. Outside, it is raining and windy with a real feel of 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Chicago Teachers Union is STILL out on every highway bridge demonstrating to gain support.

Teachers have been on strike for about a week trying to meet demands that they initiated as proposals months ago. It took an extended strike to get any response, and they’re still negotiating to get things on paper and ensure that the capped class sizes will be enforced. (You can read more from the local news here.)

I remember when my mom was a teacher for a bit, and I was temporarily made to act as her mom because her work was round-the-clock and exhausting. That was in a private school with allegedly better resources (though no qualified nurses or counselors, if I’m being honest).

The point? Teachers deserve to be paid better. They have to live, too.

Moreover, the things CTU is asking for are for the benefit of the students, especially the students who feel the lack of resources most significantly. I’m proud of the CTU for prioritizing that.

National statistics from the ACLU.

National statistics from the ACLU.

Counseling comes to mind as a necessary resource. This summer, I tutored a boy who went to one of the best high schools in Chicago but had to leave due to severe bullying and mental illness that led to suicide attempts. His school counselor was his only safe person before he had to leave, but she was only there because it was a well-resourced school for highly intellectual students.

For those who think striking might harm the students, consider the long term benefits of having better schools. Adequate resources were not provided at the start of 2019 when teachers asked, and their proposals weren’t considered until they went on strike.

Just imagine what happens if there is an emergency but no nurse! Can the students really thrive if teachers are unable to give them the attention they need because classes are too full? And what about the kids who need counseling, the kids like the one I tutored whose lives may be at stake? I certainly don’t want to risk that over the course of years.

The Chicago Transit Authority has offered free transit to students during the strike, and school buildings are open as safe havens during the day. Students are being cared for as their teachers fight to secure better resources for them beyond this week. And that devotion is just another reason why Chicago teachers deserve increased pay.

What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)
Fred and I Photo belongs to KSB

Nairobi Moments

Some moments are nearly perfect. Resting with my housemates on our rooftop, seven stories high in Waithaka, watching the orange sun set and taking way too many silhouette selfies with Kamau, is one of them. Being in Nairobi as a whole is incredible.

The sun sets to the right of Ngong Hills, behind some trees and above a collage of sun-faded blue and reddish roofs. Birds fly in and out of sight while Sia plays from the speaker. I blink dust from my eyes as I hop around the roof and settle in a corner next to my friend Leon.

Some moments are so full of freedom. Dancing with fellow musicians on a Sunday evening in Westie while my favorite artist, Tetu Shani, croons over his acoustic guitar is one of them. Being in Nairobi, the sun lighting up the sky every day and warming my skin, does my spirit good.

My housemates and I dance in the kitchen, practicing Kenyan moves. We dance in the beige living room as the pop music continues. We dance on the roof sometimes too. I decided before I came here that I would be free.

Some moments are made of happiness. Blasting “Usipime Mwanaume” by Naiboi and bumping “Earthquake” by Family Force Five while playing a competitive card game with Kairo and Kamau and spontaneously dancing is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve laughed more than I have in ages.

That’s true.

Some moments give a person unexpected energy. A day of pillow fighting for two hours at home before hiking off the path in Ngong Hills, eating tomato flavored crisps at the summit of the third hill, and returning in the dusk, is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve seen countless stars and heard precious stories from people who make life light.

I’ve grown stronger, thanks to Kamau’s physical training and encouragement. My housemate Fred and I do planks and squats, and then Kamau squats me. Rugby season is coming up, after all.

Some moments are the backdrop of memories. Hearing the frustratingly endless barking from our neighbor’s dog business, squeezing into the back of a matatu on the way to Kawangware, taking in the aroma of onions and masala from Leon and Kamau’s cooking, hanging laundry on our windy roof while Kairo squeezes water on my burning feet because I didn’t wear shoes again, squishing between housemates on the couch to watch YouTube, these are some of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve been doing a healthy amount of hugging, and I think that’s part of why I love it so much too.

In our house, it’s not surprising to find toe nail clippers everywhere and combs nowhere or to discovering a laptop above the fridge and the salt in my bedroom. But with so many of us here, we don’t have to stress.

This trip is one of those rare moments where life is almost perfect, where one could take a photo of the sunset and still feel the cooling air later because the people and times were so precious.

Just give me sunshine, hugs, good friends, some music to dance to, and a side of chips (fries), and I’ll be fine. Life doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Waithaka sunset PC: KSB

A Waithaka sunset. PC: KSB

 

Snow in Colorado, PC: Brian Lindell

Do They Know It’s Christmastime?

Every December, people around the US finally allow themselves to listen to Christmas music, joining the few of us who believes in the extension of the beautiful season. Yet with the introduction of this wondrous genre to public radios comes the airing of one particularly degrading song.

Do They Know It’s Christmastime,” a well-meaning song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure and sung by a variety of British artists in 1984 under the name BANDAID, redone several times by contemporary musicians on behalf of different causes, plays consistently on every variety Christmas station. While originally meant to address a famine in Ethiopia, it gives no further thought to the lives or beliefs of Ethiopians.

The song does not consider that maybe this country where Orthodox Christianity has existed for thousands of years, before the Anglophone world had heard the good news, does indeed know and celebrate Christmas. They follow this calendar and celebrate it on 07 January.

Perhaps if Geldof and Ure had taken time to speak with Ethiopians or the other Africans the song “covers” and ask the question in the song’s title, they could have written a better song that did not degrade so many humans while intending to help.

The original lyrics read,

…But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you

Well, that’s grim. “Dread and fear,” “doom.” Thanks for highlighting the growing African economies in nations such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, and Rwanda. Thanks for praising the countries that had gotten on their feet after colonists like Britain itself finally gave them independence a mere two decades before the release of this song. Thanks for giving a shout out to the music industries that were beginning to take hold in places like Kenya. Thanks so much.

And “thank God it’s them instead of you”? That strikes me as heartless. But let’s continue.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

You’re literally lumping what is now 55 different countries into one and saying the geography and situations are all the same. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have a lot of jungle, for example. And lakes. A massive river. An ocean port. Farms and corn and fruit trees. And mountains – with snow (though that’s the only place you’ll find it in DRC, which sits on the equator).

Also, why is snow a necessary indication of the holiday? Christmas originated as a celebration of King Jesus being born in what is now the West Bank, Palestine. Though snow plays a role in many Anglo-phonic songs about the holiday and indeed in my own life as someone originally from northeastern USA, it was not originally part of the picture.

Moreover, “they” do know it’s Christmastime. In Congo, a 95% Christian country, we don’t celebrate in the same commercialized way the US or probably Great Britain does. It is more minimal, in that we don’t tend to give gifts and don’t propagate the Santa story. But we do expect the holiday to come every December. We have our own Christmas songs that church choirs do. We go to church on the holiday to celebrate and hold all-night prayer vigils. So to answer the question once more, yes, “they” know it is Christmas.

In 1984, the songwriters were addressing the Ethiopian drought but then sweeping the rest of the continent under the mat of their ill-spoken words. You can’t do that. There’s too much diversity on the continent and even within the countries that compose it. And to only show the “dread” and “doom” of a place or places is not a healthy way to call people to your cause because it denies the humanity and life within those places.

Not to worry, though. Maybe this was just written…and sung by over 40 artists initially…and redone four times, most recently in 2014… simply because everyone was too cold and grumpy. Check out a solution for this below and consider some better ways to communicate your cause here. Finally, petition your local radio to stop playing versions of the BANDAID song and others like it. Peace.

 

PC: KSB

The sixth love language: food

An open door created a pathway between young adults laughing at the center table and napping on the back couch to Eva, the woman who made the office a home for them. A loveseat and cushioned chair encircled her table of snacks: today a full loaf of bread with a large peanut butter jar sidling up to grape jelly and some Mexican candies, the standard cheeseballs and animal crackers seated on her desk next to the Keurig and hot tea. If God is a provider, and if he has any love, he made himself clear through her food.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, giving gifts, acts of service, and quality time. The Office of Multicultural Development, described above, held conversations about this very thing. How do you give love? How do you receive it?

The OMD, as we called the earth-toned space, also taught me that our conversations were incomplete. It was Eva that taught me the sixth love language: food.

African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili PC: KSB

African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili — all in the Illinois kitchen where I hosted so many friends. PC: KSB

God gave us food for many reasons: It gives us the energy and nutrients to physically sustain our bodies. It grants us joy through its countless flavors and even touches our souls when done with excellence. It creates community when people cook or dine together. It communicates culture as well.

Sharing food with others could be seen as a gift – say you deliver cookies to your friends during finals or mail your best friend a box of protein bars to make sure she is eating. It could be seen as an act of service, bringing rice porridge to someone who is ill or keeping mandazi and chai on hand for your wife when she’s recently brought a new life into the world. Even quality time and the sharing of food go together like PB&J. Thus, I don’t believe it fits in any one love language; I believe it is one to itself.

Personally, I feel loved by food. I feel both taken care of and cared for. Aside from Eva’s “care days,” or grand parties to bring students into the office and show them love, she offered her regular snacks daily—one of her rules was that you had to take something from her office once you stepped foot in it, even if it was just a teabag—and kept a secret stash of almonds just for me when I had dietary limitations.

Eva was so thoughtful, and in all practicality, she and the OMD provided my lunches for much of my college career. That’s how I was sustained, and that’s part of why I felt so loved there. Eva knew her students and what they liked and could or couldn’t have. She gave food out of the love in her heart.

She’s not the only one to love through food; it’s a large part of hospitality in Congolese, Burundian, and Rwandan cultures, for example. You’re sure to be served ugali, water, chai, Fanta if it’s on hand.

Once, my Rwandan friend picked me up from an airport and took me to his family’s apartment, where, although it was at least 10 pm and perhaps closer to midnight, I was made to eat a platter of vegetables and rice before I could sleep. More food, I’m always told I need more food. Food is vital to life, central to hospitality, and part of how people love others.

I currently work at a restaurant, and I have dubbed one of my coworkers “Official Sandwich Maker of the KSB (my initials)” since he thoughtfully puts together delectable, healthy sandwiches out of foods we can no longer serve to customers. I feel loved when I see him staring at the line thinking about what I would most like after I request something to fill my breakfast-deprived stomach, or when he gives me a fresh egg that was “definitely expired,” or when he pops around the corner to hand me a brown box with his creation simply as a surprise. Whether he is aware of this or not, he loves me through food.

I’ll forever be thankful to the OMD for loving me and for teaching me how to love others a little better. As part of being hospitable, I too enjoy giving food. One of my favorite activities is cooking together with friends, dancing around the kitchen to Kenyan pop while catching up on life and testing flavors to create something excellent. Biting into something so delicious draws me closer to God, enhancing our relationship in that moment of gratitude. Finally, I am honored to serve others food when they are sad, sick, or struggling. Thus, food connects with so many love languages and yet is its own.

 

Hanging out with my young friend, eating ugali and sombe. PC: KSB

Hanging out with my young friend, sharing ugali and sombe. PC: KSB

 

What are your love languages? How can you relate to the love language of giving or receiving food?

 

Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends. PC: KSB

Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends, Ili. PC: KSB

 

 

For more posts on this subject, read “Lunchtime in the DRC (Learning How to Eat),” which mentions Mama Julienne and how she loved me through food, and “MuKappa: A Taste of Heaven,” which hits on the communal aspect of food.

 

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As MuKappa, our Sunday events were centered around dinner. This particular photo captures the surprise birthday party that Cabinet threw me, complete with homemade soft pretzels. PC: KSB

View from Panera, PC: KSB

Computer access, Global Ubuntu, and future topics

Dear friends,

I’ve missed writing for you, and I apologize for my inconsistency in posting. I haven’t had a working computer in about a year and do not have WiFi at home, so I’ve been using library computers. What a blessing public resources are! However, now that I am working full time (praise God! See cover photo for view from my workplace), I have not had the luxury of computer access but once this past month.

Thankfully, I did have the privilege of writing for Global Ubuntu, an up and coming nonprofit that focuses on cultural exchange through a variety of programs. They’re starting off their vision with a blog. I wrote about an intelligent, compassionate, resilient man named Dieum, from the beautiful city of Goma, DRC, in the post “How the piano man became my best friend.” I should be hanging out over there a bit more in the future as well. Head over there to check it out and see what else my friends at Global Ubuntu are doing!

If you have any topics you’d like me to write about here, feel free to leave me a comment. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you folks soon!

Love,

Katelyn Skye Bennett

selfie PC: KSB