This article got me thinking about playgrounds and children around the world. I would love to see more pictures of playgrounds. Please post a picture of a playground near you in the comments box.
Last week, as I often do, I drove from Chico, CA to Monterey, CA. I am accustomed to this 4.5 hour drive, as my father lives in Monterey. As I mentioned in a previous post about elderly parents, my father needs a lot of help. I won’t go into specifics here, but he is becoming less and less independent as the months go by. Anyways, the route I usually drive takes me through the rice fields of the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. It is really a beautiful area; an especially rural area of Northern California, filled with rice fields, dairy farms, orchards, a few houses, and lots of farm animals. Right now, the rice fields are full of water and the area feels as if you are driving through Southeast Asia.
Along the way, I decided to stop at a little library in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by agricultural fields. I have driven by this library hundreds of times and never stopped. The library is called The Bayliss Public Library. On the front of the library, there is a sign stating that the library is “a point of historical interest.” A library, in the middle of rice fields-a point of historical interest? On the other side of the door there is another sign, explaining that this particular library is a “Carnegie Library.” The library was built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. The name is quite well known throughout the United States; it is attached to famous buildings, schools, and libraries.
Andrew Carnegie was born to a poor Scottish family in 1835. He immigrated, with his parents, to the United States in 1848. By 1861, he was a wealthy steel tycoon. In 1901, he sold his steel company for $480 million dollars; this sale made him the richest man in the world. Carnegie decided to give all of his money away through philanthropic projects; he invested his fortune in education and science research, global peace, museums, and……libraries.
Between 1883 and 1929, Andrew Carnegie donated the funds to build a total of 2,509 libraries in 11 different countries; 1689 libraries were built in the United States. California was home to 142 of these libraries. Today, 85 of these library buildings are still standing, and only 36 are still being used as a library.
So this leads me back to the little library standing out in the middle of agricultural fields – The Bayliss Public Library. This particular library is the most rural of the Carnegie libraries built in California. It was built in 1917 for $4 thousand dollars. It is only open on Tuesdays from 10-6. So, if you ever find yourself driving on Bayliss-Blue Gum Road, stop by on a Tuesday and check it out!
For further reading about Andrew Carnegie and his libraries, follow the links below:
In August 1986, myself and 20 other students landed in Tunis. We were a motley crew; there were 10 0f us from the United States, 1 Canadian, 9 Scandinavians and 1 French student-all between the ages of 16-18. The group of students from the United States came together in New York and spent a few days at a pre-arrival orientation. It was nice getting to know each other, before heading into what felt like no man’s land. Looking back with my older eyes, we were quite an interesting, eclectic group of young people.
After one night together in Tunis, we were sent off to our prospective host families. My host brother had just returned from the USA on a yearlong exchange so he knew the ropes. He was waiting for me at the AFS office with a big, welcoming smile on his face. Obviously, this was long before the advent of the internet, so we had made limited connections with each other pre-arrival. I was given my host families information about a month before setting off for Tunisia. I had pictures, occupation, and a bit of biographical information about each member of my new family.
So began my year….my brother, Issam, took me to his, I mean, my family’s home. The rest of my family was waiting for me at the apartment. My family lived in a two room apartment, in a suburb of Tunis-Hammam Lif. My first impression was concerning the size of the apartment; it was very small. But I quickly learned that the apartment was giant, in terms of the love found between the few walls.
A short description of my host family is needed here. My host mom, Faouzia, was a beautiful, energetic, loving mother. She was always ready to have fun. Every day, my mom was busy cleaning, cooking, and taking care of her family. Throughout her busy day, I would often find her with the radio blaring and her singing loudly along to the music and dancing her way through the apartment. My host father, Othman, was a very quiet man. He went to work at the local branch of the post office every morning. As a typical Tunisian man, after work, he would spend his time at his favorite local cafe with his friends. He was quietly aware of everything going on his family unit, but was more of an observer unless a decision had to be made concerning his clan. The oldest child was Issam – 2 years older than me. When I joined this family, Issam had just returned from an exchange year in Montana, so he understood me. He was always ready with explanations, love, and guidance for me. My sister Sara was the same age as me. We had a good, sisterly relationship; she reminded me a lot of my sister here in the United States. While I was living there, Sara was a dedicated student, studying all the time for the big end of the year exam. And then, there was my little sister Sonia – 2 years younger than me. Looking back, it feels as if Sonia and I were always together. We did everything together; from going to the hammam, to having the same friends at school. We shared our teenage secrets, life worries and lots of laughter…..In addition to the nuclear family, my host family consisted of a large, extended family; my grandmother (Oumi), many aunts and uncles, and numerous cousins.
Honestly, the first month was really rough for me. My host family was so loving towards me, but I was overwhelmed by the changes. And it was so hot. A few memories of those first days are so clear to me still. All the food was really hot, spicy hot-even the spaghetti. It felt as if my lips were on fire at the end of every lunch and dinner; my host mom knew that everything was hot and tried to be accommodating to my virgin taste buds, but it was no use. The mosques felt like they were constantly calling out for prayer time; for many weeks, I would wake up sometime between 4 and 5 a.m to the sound of the mosque, calling to the faithful. There was no washer or dryer in our apartment; this was quite a new situation for my spoiled hands – I helped my mom and sisters wash everything by hand. Catcalls, from young Tunisian men, were waiting for me from street corners, every time I left the sanctuary of my apartment. This was particularly difficult for me because I didn’t know what to do with this attention or how to handle it; my Sony Walkman became my “go to” when going anywhere. And there were the the public showers, or hammam, where we went to bathe. We Americans are quite modest when it comes to our bodies; we aren’t used to the public shower tradition. But like everything else on this small list (I could go on and on), I got used to and started to enjoy going to the hammam, usually with my little sister Sonia. And the heat, did I mention the heat?
In addition to the radical changes in my daily life in Tunisia, my paternal grandmother passed away 3 weeks after I arrived in Tunis. As one could imagine, I was devastated and felt so alone. However, this experience was the turning point in the beginning of my year, as far as the beginning of my bonding with my host family. My host mother and I couldn’t communicate very well with each other. She and my father spoke Tunisian and French; my French was limited and my Tunisian was nonexistent. (My brother spoke perfect English and my sisters’ English skills were very good.) My host mother, along with the rest of the family, was right there for me when I needed to feel loved and safe. I remember her holding me while I cried and cried over the loss of my grandmother.
And my year? What did it look like? How did it feel? I can say that every day I felt as Alice did in Wonderland…..“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
And with that, I will let my hands and your eyes rest. Look for a post sometime in the future, for the rest of the story.
I have been thinking about our aging population a lot recently. As life moves on, our parents are getting older. In the United States, we are so driven by independence and success (whatever that means to you) that we don’t stop to think about this segment of the population, until we are forced to. We often live far from our extended family. As a result, we aren’t able to easily take care of our family members as they need it.
The choices we are given are not ideal, to say the least. In my family’s case, my father is single and at a place where he needs more and more help every day. Luckily for him and the rest of the family, my sister lives near by. However, this has been a struggle. My father doesn’t see that he is getting more dependent on others and has resisted any outside help. And, understandably, my sister wants to be his daughter, not his 24 hour caregiver. Our family is not set up to have my father live with one of us, and, frankly, he doesn’t want to. So what are our choices? He can stay home and hire a caregiver, or move into an assisted living complex. All of his options involve spending a lot of money. Many Americans struggle with these options, as they are not financially able to cover the costs.
And the medical care costs? I haven’t mentioned those costs. Thankfully, my father is financially sound and can afford the medical care he needs. Many are not. Many of our elderly have to make difficult decisions concerning their pharmaceuticals and medical care because they don’t have the means to cover all the costs.
In many countries, families live with or near each other, as an extended family unit. When the older generation begins to need more help, the expectations are such that the younger generation is there, waiting to give the help that is needed.
As a child, there is nothing really to prepare you for taking care of a parent. In the United States, people tend to distance themselves from this topic, and don’t have many examples or cultural norms to guide them through this phase of life.
Follow the links for further readings on the topic:
I had a teacher in junior high and high school who groomed a few of us from a young age to go abroad at some point in our high school career. There were some who chose to go during high school, and others (me included) who chose to do a fifth year of high school in another country. The program was called AFS (American Field Service); it has since morphed into AFS Intercultural Programs. In 1986, the AFS policy was such that students couldn’t choose the country to which they were sent. A student could list their top 3 choices, but there was no guarantee they were going anywhere near the countries of choice. I remember my number one choice was Greece; my classmate and friend was sent to Greece. The other choices-I have no recollection. And Greece? I have no idea why I chose Greece, other than the romantic notion of going to a country with such a storied history. I guess I ended up somewhere similar; Tunisia is home to the ancient city of Carthage, no less, and the center of the Punic Wars.
In April, 1986, I found out I was going to spend the next academic year in a country called ‘Tunisia’. As you can imagine, at the time, I was asking myself what I was getting in to? And, more importantly, how did I find myself going to a country in North Africa? I happened to have had 4 years of high school French; French is the second language in Tunisia-that is how I found myself there. At this time in my life, I honestly don’t think that I had ever heard of the country, let alone know anything about it! In fact, when people asked me where I was going, I would tell them “Tunisia” and their response was “Indonesia, how exciting!” (Another classmate went there.) My friends had no idea either; they gave me a surprise going away party…..an African safari-themed party. I learned rather quickly that I was not going to ‘that’ Africa.
A little historical background is needed here to fully understand the utter surprise of Tunisia. I was notified in April 1986 that Tunisia was going to be the country of my placement. In the same month of the same year, the United States bombed Libya. For those of you not aware of the geography of North Africa-Tunisia and Libya share a border. Additionally, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s headquarters was located in Tunisia at this time. In fact, the year before I arrived, the PLO headquarters was attacked by Israel; unbeknownst to me, the headquarters was located a few miles away from my Tunisian family’s house. So, the first words out of my American family’s mouth when hearing that I was going to Tunisia was “Sorry, but you aren’t going anywhere.” After consulting with some people who were knowledgeable about the region, I was permitted to go. We were told that Tunisia was considered to be the Switzerland of the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) area. Off to Tunisia I went……like Alice going down the rabbit hole.
Upon arrival in this new land, I could immediately hear myself saying the words Alice said when she was in Wonderland – “It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down the rabbit-hole–and yet–and yet–…”. I went.
What followed was a year full of difficulties, tears, laughter, surprises, lessons learned, and attachments made.