August 24, 2009

Bhutanese Atlantans kick off the Teej festival!



Sister-dancers Bhima and SanitaThapa-Magar sway and strut to Nepalese music in a dance they choreographed and performed for their community and guests

I loved that my new Bhutanese friends asked me to join them and a host of guests in dancing, singing, and sumptuous feasting on the first day of Teej. The festival of religious and cultural significance to Hindu women commemorates the reunion of the Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Celebrants believe that observing Teej helps strengthen the relationship between husband and wife.

My instant makeover
When I arrived at the Odari home to help transport people to the Clarkston Community Center, the celebration venue, Mrs. Odari and her friends performed my instant makeover: They showered gifts of red bangle bracelets and a Nepalese yellow blouse that Mrs. Odari had purchased just days before they left the refugee camp last year.

Being fussed over (and loving it)
I relished my new Bhutanese friends' careful watch all day. Bishnu, Nirmala, Madhavi, Bhima, Tilchand, and Kamal hovered closely, making sure that I was enjoying myself and ate enough. (At evening's end, Bhima fixed a heaping plate for me to extend my feasting into the night!). My hosts explained the goings-on, translated speeches, and introduced me to their families — parents, grandmothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews plus families of their families, friends, and neighbors. I met fellow volunteers, resettlement agency workers, teachers, and other guests, and I caught up with Eve Calhoun, RN, of the DeKalb County Board of Health, and McKenzie Wren of the Refugee Women’s Network.

At day’s end, my camera battery was drained capturing the festive energy and infectious joy of the crowd as they sang, clapped, and swerved to the music, the Thapa-Magar sisters dancing in their specially-ordered Buddhist costumes, and the red-sari-clad Hindu women swirling while children bounced and spun — human tops in steady motion.

More about Teej
Hi Tamar,

We Bhutanese family are glad to know you, and we want u to come and enjoy with us Teej, the festival of Hindu women in August or early September [the Hindu month of Bhadrapad or Bhado].

Married women observe Teej to honour Lord Shiva and for longevity of their husbands and married life. Unmarried girls observe Teej for good husbands. Traditional dances and songs are features. Red is considered auspicious so most women dress up in red saris and wear glass bangles and heavy ornaments.
  • FIRST DAY: Dar Khane Din (special food). Celebrations continue till midnight after which a 24-hour fast begins.
  • SECOND DAY: Fasting. Women visit temples to offer prayers to Lord Shiva and pray to the Lingum (phallic symbol of the Lord), offering flowers, sweets, and coins, and seeking blessings of divine spirits. They light an oil lamp… and [keep it] lit all night to avoid a bad omen if it goes out.
  • THIRD DAY: Rishi Panchami. Hindu Gods are worshipped to cleanse all sins of the previous year. Women take a holy bath with red mud on the roots of the sacred tree and with the leaves. They come out purified and absolved from all sins. After, they sit in a semicircle and chant devotional prayers.
The program starts 11:30 am but we want you to come at 10:00 am at Biren's house. Bishnu and Nirmala will ride with you to . Thank you very much.

— Madhavi Regmi

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August 21, 2009

It's Elders For Health Care Reform Day

One hand rests on my dad's Israeli cousin Drora, and
the other holds a grapefruit from her garden.
Israeli citrus and
affordable universal health care
are helping
Drora to keep well. Americans need such care.

For more than five years, from the Portland, Oregon, condominium she shares with Ollie the Cat, Ronni Bennett has been championing sanity, honesty, integrity, fairness, fun, and bold-faced facts on her blog, Time Goes By: what it's really like to get older.

Today, Ronni, this American "evangelist for old people, intent on challenging the status quo in regard to elders, and to show what’s out of whack with our cultural attitudes toward aging," has done something special, even by her standards.

She has declared it Elders For Health Care Reform Day, and called all elderbloggers and allies to showcase essays by elders who have followed the American health care reform debate, who have informed themselves, and want to make a thoughtful contribution.

Visit the post, It's Elders For Health Care Reform Day, and from there, link to the essays. You'll find here a portal to facts, not myths, and access to real people's narratives, not special interest groups' marketing tactics and disinformation campaign slogans.

Then, bookmark Time Goes By, and come back for all this:

TGB is a complex mix of reporting on every aspect of aging: health and medical issues, ageism and age discrimination, media, technology, politics and public policy, culture, marketing to elders, the importance of language, love and sex, friendship, post-career careers, retirement, family, the prospect of death and, certainly, humor.
— Ronni Bennett

August 04, 2009

Atlanta’s Bhutanese refugees and their new neighbors

Three generations of Craig Gilbert's Bhutanese
neighbors share bounty from his organic garden


What began with my post on a profile in courage —  Son of Bhutan: A Georgia First, has evolved into a series of community portraits. This community comprises Atlanta’s 4,000 Bhutanese refugees and asylees and their more than 5 million new neighbors.

I have been documenting them with photos, videos, and text in blog posts, and including my associations with each subject and what drives me to choose it. I care less about facts and more about spirit. And I try to lift up the refugees and asylees who are often reduced to mispronounced names, demeaning (to the speaker) stereotypes, and platitudinous phrases by bland statistics, demographics, caricatures, and hollow, disconnected sound bites. And I like to tip my hat to Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group volunteers and others who are partnering with our new neighbors on multiple fronts, daily.

Community member in focus:
A tzadik [Hebrew: righteous person]

While he refrains from name-calling and shuns labels to describe people, I publicly defy here my pal Craig, a tzadik.

צַדִּיק, כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח; כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנוֹן יִשְׂגֶּה, the righteous man springs up like the palm tree, like the Lebanon cedar he towers.
— תהילים צב, Psalm 92:13

The image of the righteous as a flowering tree suits this tzadik, whose hands are in the earth growing organic veggies, and whose head and heart are in "doing" our Jewish faith through what our Christian cousins would call “good works.”

Standing on the eighth rung of Maimonides' Ladder of Charitable Giving, Craig guest blogged about Joe Franco (1909-2008) here, celebrating the long, loving life of his late father-in-law and a beloved community leader. Drawing on life lessons Joe taught by example, Craig imparts Joe's wisdom to a new generation of foreign-born residents — newly arrived in a time of disastrous economic conditions, as Joe was nearly a century ago.

Craig's letter to his new Bhutanese teen friends

I got all your email addresses from Tamar who sent the photos of our workday [clearing vines from trees in the park]. You are wonderful young people with very bright futures. You were fun to work with, and I am happy how well we did trimming vines from trees in four hours, doing such hard work. [Craig's award — a carton of mango juice for the hardest workers went to both young women in the group!]

Rita (my wife) reminded me that her father [Joe Franco] came to this country when he was 20 years old. He graduated high school in Greece, got a job in Africa, and then came to the United States in 1929, which was the year of the Great Depression. Business was terrible, and people were hungry and poor. Despite that he made a wonderful life for himself, lived to be 98, and had five children. All are educated and have their own homes and live comfortably.

I believe the keys to his success were his education, his good and honest nature, and his willingness to work. All of you excel in these areas. May good things continue to happen for you.

We will work in the park again when it is cooler. And I will be thinking of things we can do or ways to work together! Tamar is a good friend, so I know I will be seeing you soon.

— Craig

After a sweltering summer's workday followed by lunch, Craig relaxes with Eliana, his daughter; Rita, his wife; Nirmala and Bishnu, who captured the prize mango juice; and the guys, who later posed for individual photos with the machetes that they used to trim the trees.

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