cultivating & crashing

an organic collection of notes, observations, and thoughts

Tag: books

What people do together

What people do together overshadows Who They Are.

I Love Dick, Scenes from a Marriage


Temple of My Familiar

Carlotta’s heart was breaking. She felt it swell with tears and then crack. What does anyone know about anything? she thought. The scene with her mother emptied her of knowledge. Once again, as when she was a small child, she felt she knew nothing. That if the chair on which she sat suddenly became a canoe that floated out the window on the river of Zedé’s tears, she would not be surprised.

Turtle Island Reads

I attended the very first edition of Turtle Island Reads tonight at the Kahnawake Survival School, and it was really wonderful. Over the weekend I read Children of the Broken Treaty by Charlie Angus, and on Monday I found out that McGill was holding a week of events focused on First Nations people and issues, of which this event was a part.

We took the bus across Montreal, over the bridge to the South Shore, and into the Kahnawake reserve, which greated us with a painted boulder that read “THIS IS MOHAWK LAND”. We arrived at the school after driving on a road that cut through forest and was lined with stores with names like “Four Winds Trading Post”, “Little Chiefs” and “Big Bear”. A car in the parking lot of the school had a bumper sticker of some school whose sports teams were the “Mohawks”, only they actually are. The school’s insignia was an enormous line drawing of an eagle with a large circle around it that bore the school’s name.

The event felt incredibly exciting because it was the first edition of Turtle Island Reads and a historical moment for indigenous literature in Canada. It felt like a moment of recognition, validation, and appreciation for the indigenous experience in Canada was unfolding before our eyes. And while this was exciting for me to be a part of it, for some people it was far more poignant. The woman who was sitting next to me was the mother of a former student of the school. She cried quietly as she listened to the presenters speak of how pivotal it was for each of them to read books about indigenous people, to hear their own stories told, and how much they wished this could have been something they had had earlier in their lives.

While the centuries-old problems between the Canadian government and the First Nations communities are not even close to being well addressed, I think Canada is experiencing a watershed moment in its history with its indigenous people. I look forward to watching the story develop.

Turtle Island Reads

Second Person Singular

shadi jamil
sabah fakhri
egyptian pop
amr diyab
umm kulthum’s enta omri


Señales de tránsito

corazón en reparaciones
lamentamos las molestias que
puede causar. Pero es para brindar un
mejor servicio en el futuro.

Generalmente, robar es poner cosas en su sitio. (Frula)

Plástico cruel

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live.

She knew that the big house, the house of pride where the white folks lives, would come down: it was written in the Word of God. They, who walked so proudly now, had not fashioned for themselves or their children so sure a foundation as was hers.


It’s 2015!

I waver between thinking resolutions are lame and finding an excuse to tiger mom myself over another thing. I like the recommendation to meditate, stop doing inessential things, and cut everyone (and self) major slack. To that I will add:
– listen to music (Calle 13, Jorge Drexler, folclore argentino)
– have people over for dinner informally (and if the kitchen wall is hindering that, then FIX IT)
– enjoy myself
– cook out of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

Mike’s sister gave me Mountains Beyond Mountains by Kidder, and I’m rapt. I’m considering leaving for Haiti, or writing to Paul Farmer to ask of what initiatives we knows of in Argentina that I could work at.

2015 is off to a great start.

From A Grain of Wheat

I finished it last night. I really like the parallel between the two men’s loves for Mumbi and their relationship with white, colonial power. Ngũgĩ is able to communicate his own complex judgement on the issue through Mumbi’s actions at the end.

I also like the nuance Ngũgĩ introduces into the text: the characters are labelled by each other as traitors and freedom fighters, but Ngũgĩ shows us this distinction is never hard and fast.

He had gone to see Kihika hang from a tree. He had searched his heart for one has pity or sorrow for a lost friend. Instead, he found only disgust; the body was hideous; the dry lips over which a few flies played, were ugly. What is freedom? Karanja had asked himself. Was death like that freedom? Was going to detention freedom?  Was any separation from Mumbi freedom? Soon after this, he confessed the oath and joined the homeguards to save his own life. (230)

The ambiguity and anti-climactic nature of the end is powerful, because it’s more truthful. When the Wars of Independence were finally won from Spain in Latin America, initially almost nothing changed for most people. It would have been insulting to declare otherwise in either of these cases. A Grain of Wheat makes it easy to understand why decades later, countries that have won their glorious independence can still be deeply broken. A system built on gashes and wounds takes a lot of time and transformation before it can grow strong.

Surrender before Uhuru

I’m reading A Grain of Wheat, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. It which recounts the moments before Kenya’s Uhuru, independence, where the battle had been lost and the white man was packing his bags, leaving a wounded people and ravaged land in their own hardened hands.

The incident of Dr. Lynd’s dog nearly attacking the group of Africans by the research centre. Karanja has betrayed the fighters with whom he swore to struggle for a free, black Kenya to win favour in the colonial system.

They changed to the dog incident. They became angry. They sympathized with Karanja. Man! Thompson saved you. But he won’t punish her. Karanja found the smell of the boiling glue, the men’s talk and laughter, did not soothe his restless nerves. He went out and walked between the Soil Physics Laboratory and the main administrative block, affecting business-purposefulness, but really hoping to catch sight of John Thompson in the office through the window. Had the man gone, Karanja wondered? He should have asked him yesterday. Yesterday after the dog incident. Karanja recalled his terror as the dog approached him. He shuddered. Thompson had saved him from shame. Thompson. And he was going. He strolled back to his room, heavy with a sense of imminent betrayal. (158)

Thompson, a white bureaucrat, is somewhat sympathetic towards the Africans, and intervenes when Karanja is blamed for almost being attacked by a white woman’s dog. The dog is known to be dangerous and hurt workers before, and yet Thompson does not sanction Dr. Lynd, but listens to her complaints of the Africans. Karanja, who betrayed his friends and the fight for black sovereignty, is now about to be abandoned by his white oppressors. The exploitation and the futility of his seeking reward with the whites is glaring: “Thompson saved you. But he won’t punish her.” No matter what he does or whom he informs against, he is African, and they are Europeans. He will never earn equality or even acceptance from his white superiors, who will never penalize a fellow white for a wrong committed against a black. And when white reign is finally overturned, Karanja has dug his own grave, left to the justice that will be meted out by those he turned against. Ngũgĩ depicts the dynamic in which submission was the only option available to blacks, their collaboration never freeing them, but further entrenching them in servitude.


The worst thing that could happen to the inspector would be for the old man with the black eye-patch to appear, not so much for the reason you are thinking, that following a pretty young woman is obviously a more attractive prospect that trailing after an old man, but because people with only one eye see twice as much, they don’t have their other eye to distract them or to insist on looking at something else, we’ve said as much before, but truths need to be repeated many times so that they don’t, poor things, lapse into oblivion.


 He walked through the garden and stopped for a moment to study the statue of the woman with the empty water jug, They left me here, she seemed to be saying, and now I’m good for is staring into this grubby water, there was a time when the stone I’m made from was white, when a fountain flowed day and night from this jar, they never told me where all that water comes from, I was just here to tip up the jar, but now not a drop falls from it, and no one has come to tell me why it stopped. The superintendent murmured, It’s like life, my dear, we don’t know why it starts or why it ends. He dipped the fingers of his right hand into the water and raised them to his lips. It did not occur to him that the gesture could have any meaning, however, anyone watching him from afar would have sworn that he had kissed that murky water, which was green with slime and came from a muddy pong, as impure as life itself. The clock had not advanced very much, he would have had time to sit down in the shade somewhere, but he did not.

José Saramago