Wednesday, November 24, 2010

sisters and snow.

I'm counting down the days till my sister, Anna, arrives. Less than a week! There are a couple interesting turns of events:
  1. Anna does not like anything below 70 F. Since it is presently 18F outside, we are going to have to go shopping ASAP for warm things. Lucky for Anna, the fact that i live on the top floor in an apartment that traps heat is a great thing. No heater on and still over 70.
  2. Anna decided to bring some friends with her on this trip. Apparently, ala travelocity gnome, she and her girlfriends are taking plush things with them on their holidays. So, what does my ingenious little sister decide is the best and funniest thing she can think of:

    Yes, Anna thinks taking Ebola to Seattle and the Black Death to Israel is about the funniest joke EVER.

  3. We had a bit of a blizzard on Monday. Seems Alaska is intent on coming here if I'm not there. This makes Adam insanely grumpy because he desperately wants snow to play in up there and the winter is, thus far, VERY dry.
  4. One week till all i have left is an exam!

Friday, November 19, 2010

one month

Till i acquire the following:
  1. JD
  2. MRS
  3. ANC
So excited for friends, family, fun and finishing!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

on birthdays and marriage

it's birthday season in the our immediate familia. The parental and youngest sister all have birthdays in just over a week span.

the first two belong to these:

Usually i write some schmoopy things, but today I want to honor the fact that my parents have been married for well over three and a half decades--that's over 35 birthday's together. They are quite different personalities, joined together by their love of each other and focus on the spiritual nature of their lives. Having this example of stability is one of the things I am most appreciative to them for. What they have demonstrated is that unconditional love really is unconditional--you love people through locations you don't like (NC), bad perm hair styles, pocket protectors, crazed children, and around the world adventures. 

I am epically grateful and miss seeing them everyday more than i ever expected.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

windstorms and strange clouds

Here's a list of crazy things that have happened in the last week:
  1. I saw my first moose-in-a-neighborhood. Here Moosey is:
  2. As I was leaving Anchorage, there must have been snow falling on Hillside at sunset. The result was a fuschia curtain over part of the city that already looked totally steel blue with white snowy mountaintops. It was amazingly beautiful and taught Adam and I to carry the camera EVERYWHERE.
  3. Last night there was a crazy windstorm and at one point I thought all the windows in the apartment might cave in. This prompted a need to make stew for dinner tonight :) I can't tell you why those are connected....just that they are.
The truth is that I really enjoyed Anchorage. The weather is drier there and so low 30s feel more like mid 40s in Seattle. Again, no explanation for that, just how it is. The wind, however, is mighty chilly and I think a balaclava is in my future (that face covering thing....not to be confused with Baklava). We are into the final push folks. Anna arrives in two weeks, my parents in three, and Adam in four. I am absolutely thrilled that friends and family from around the world will be pouring in and cannot wait to show them the city we have been calling home for the last four years. I also cannot wait to get started with our life in Anchorage, find a job, and learn to cross-country ski.  Bring on the snow!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

6 hrs.....

I'm grateful to Mitch---he's taking me to the airport on his way home from work. I'm taking three suits (one of them is not mine and i suspect its owner is not going to be able to abstain from wearing it before our wedding, but he insisted that i bring it so he can get a matching shirt), a xbox and kinect (devin rocks), and all the papers i could possibly need to write a paper on NAGPRA/ANCSA.

Here's what it looks like today (that's the stunning Alaska Mountain range in the background---i think its Denali Nat'l Park??) Click on it to make it MEGA.

Adam says my stilettos are a bad plan. Hmm. so i bought new boots, but they don't match my suit. Apparently, i'm meant to wear my snow boots to the door and then change into my cute shoes. *skeptical look**

Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

T-48 hrs

Till i get on a plane to go see this in person:
Photo credit: Mark Torgerson, Eagle River, AK

Friday, November 5, 2010

magical hourglasses

Yes, I am going to continue incessantly putting up webcam pics of Anchorage. I don't have anything else to put of pictures of and pictures make my blogging MUCH better.

Anchorage 9:30am
You know in Harry Potter when he's talking to that professor who collects people and they are talking about the funky hourglass the sands of which stop flowing when conversation is good?? Well, I wish I could make the sand in my hourglass slow down just the tiniest bit so that I could feel like I have my feet under me.  Every time I turn around another week has gone by and I am one more week closer to graduation and wedding without having gotten through 90% of what I need to.

My lovely and supportive friends are all gracious in offering to help; but unfortunately, none of them can write a paper on the nature of Alaska Native corporations in NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) because of ANCSA (Alaska Native claims settlement act) or go take my Remedies exam for me. Nor can they train not one but two replacements in the upcoming weeks at work or go knock 'um dead in my interviews trip to Anchorage this coming week.

Anchorage 8:30am
My lovely work friend Stacey is originally an Anchorage girl and is being VERY kind and letting me raid her parent's garage and borrow her cross country skis for the winter (located in ANC). That save a bundle of money and means that if it turns out cross-country is not for me then no harm no foul. Let the winter adventures begin!! 

It's crazy to think that in 52 days we will be official married and calling Alaska home.

Tell me what makes time fly and slow down for you...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

swimming and ignorance

At work, I do some minor things with a drowning prevention network. This came across our listserv today and I think it is valuable for everyone. Please share.

by Naji Ali
November 1, 2010

To be honest, I just sat there staring out at the water. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard from the woman sitting next to me.

“Look” she continued, “I’m not saying it, but my friends say that black people don’t have the buoyancy to be swimmers.”

There had been studies done in the 50s and 60s that claimed that since black athletes on average tend to have less body fat than their white counterparts, they would be poor swimmers since body fat creates buoyancy. Those studies have since been thoroughly debunked.

But nonetheless here I sat on the dock of my swim club listening to someone defending the accuracy of those studies.

At that very moment all the frustration that had consumed me over this topic came boiling to the surface. Here I am, an African-American man, an open water long distance swimmer, living in the age of Obama (and in San Francisco no less), having overcome unspeakable racism while living in South Africa during the apartheid years, here I am still having to hear these ridiculous explanations on why blacks can’t swim.

“So,” I responded, trying to measure my words without invoking profanity, “If your logic is to be believed, then explain to me why Cullen Jones is such a phenomenal swimmer. Shouldn’t he be sinking like a stone?”

No answer. I continued:

“What about Charles Chapman, the first African American to cross the English Channel back in 1981 and did it with the butterfly stroke no less? What about him? Surely he should have drowned after swimming for over 12 hours, right? Maybe the water can tell the difference— maybe it knows who’s black, white, Asian, or Latino. Do you think the water knows?”

She looked on and tried to explain herself again, stumbling to say that she was not racist (I never believed so), that I had misunderstood her intent, but by then I had heard enough and excused myself and walked off to cool down.

It is because of this story that I was asked to write a bit about black people and our relationship to water.

A Brief History Lesson

While it is true that many African Americans do not connect with swimming, we do have an amazingly rich swimming history that dates back to pre-slavery days in Africa. And the impact of swimming on the Civil Rights Movement toward the demise of the Jim Crow laws of the South was enormous.

Before the slave trade began, Africans living in coastal communities were observed by early European explorers to be excellent swimmers.

Bruce Wigo, Director and CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been chronicling the origins of swimming and blacks. Wigo, in a video entitled “A History Lesson,” found on the website, speaks about a picture drawn in 1884 by a European settler that depicts an African doing the “Australian crawl.” But as Wigo points out in the video, “The only difference between what that African is doing in the picture and the Australian crawl is that the Australian crawl wasn’t invented yet.”

Lee Pitts, Jr., in an article entitled, “Black Splash: The History of African-American Swimmers,” wrote about a number of remarkable achievements by blacks in swimming. Pitts writes of one that is truly striking to think about:

“In 1679, when a slave ship wrecked off Martinique, an African slave whose name is lost to history, reached shore after swimming for sixty hours, an aquatic feat of survival that rivaled Homer’s Ulysses and was a record of endurance swimming that was not matched by white men for almost 300 years.”

Let that sink in for a moment. No pilot boat, no food or drink, choppy water, and swimming in a predatory environment, yet this person managed to reach shore.

In the same article, Pitts expounds on another piece of history that most people are unfamiliar with. Most of us remember reading about Harriet Tubman and her famous Underground Railroad. But how many of us know where that title originated? Pitts writes:

“The Underground Railroad got its name when a slave named Tice Davids escaped from Kentucky in 1831 and swam across the Ohio River to freedom in Ripley, Ohio. According to legend, Davids’ owner was chasing Davids in a boat when he lost sight of his swimming slave. Thinking Davids must have drowned, he remarked to his companions with a sarcastic smirk that his slave must have taken an ‘underground railroad.’ The comment was reported in the press and the term has been with us ever since.”

Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures

But these great swimming feats came at a price for black swimmers.

Knowing that they were losing “valuable product” due to their slaves’ propensity to swim, slave owners began taking drastic steps to protect their property. One of these steps was to instill a fear of the water by dunking disobedient slaves in water until they nearly drowned and by creating fear through stories of creatures living in the water. Thus it didn’t take long to excise or destroy the West African swimming tradition from African- American culture. The Jim Crow laws that were enacted after The Civil War prohibited blacks from the popular seaside resorts in places like Atlantic City, N.J. and Revere Beach, Mass. And by the 20th Century, as the swimming pool began to gain in popularity in the United States, the color line prohibited blacks from enjoying this pleasant recreational skill.

In addition, self-segregation also played a role in limiting those of African ancestry from getting in the water. I remember my Aunt saying to stay away from the pool because, “black folk don’t swim.”

What my Aunt told me made sense to a lot of black folk, if you steered clear of the water you wouldn’t drown. Right? Sadly this attitude is one of the principle reasons for drowning deaths amongst African-American children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the drowning rate in the African-American community amongst children between the ages of 5 and 14 is 2.6 times higher than their white counterparts. Overall, nine people per day drown in the United States; six out of the nine are people of color.

But fear is not the only factor keeping black people out of the water – financial consideration has made things challenging. Consider that even if a child wants to learn to swim and doesn’t have a fear of the water, many of the most vulnerable do not have parents that can afford lessons, swimsuits, gear and transportation. And even though we now have a black president, it doesn’t mean that we’ve moved past the issue of racism. I get a lot of comments from folks at my own swim club asking why more black people aren’t members or swim in open water. I always reply that we never felt welcomed. And we don’t feel welcomed simply because no one ever took the time out to invite us. Why would we come? We need look no further than the events that happened to a group of camp kids from Philadelphia who were denied entrance into an all-white country club this last year to know how far we have to go.

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps, but its not like these issues just sprang up overnight. Its impressive that USA Swimming is putting money into teaching swim lessons to kids of color in low-income communities with their Make-A-Splash Program, but where were they all those years during Jim Crow, or the 70s, 80s, and even 90s?

Why is that of the hundreds of thousands that are members of USA swimming, less than three percent are people of color?

Simple, we don’t feel welcomed. And as long as this is the perception that drowning rate figure by the CDC will remain constant, and possibly grow.

So What Can We Do?

When I speak truth to power about the disparity of drowning in the African-American community I always get the same question, “So what can we do about all this?”

One obvious thing to remember is that we need to stop looking at swimming as a sport first. We need to approach it as a life skill much the same way as eating, reading, writing, walking or any other thing we take for granted is. When I speak to parents about the need for their children to swim I emphasize that not only is swimming a great sport, but also a valuable life-skill. This is usually when eyebrows are raised and I say, “Did you know that the Earth is two-thirds water? Did you know that if your child learns to swim he/she is not only preventing another drowning, but also has access to employment in fields such as lifeguarding, the military, swim coaching, firefighting, law enforcement, SCUBA diving, underwater photography and a host of other jobs that require swimming skills?”

Another thing that I feel is important is to have more role models in swimming. Cullen Jones is a good start for the younger generation, but they should know about folks who have contributed mightily to swimming that come from our community.

Jim Ellis, the coach of the PDR swim club based in Philadelphia (Whom the 2007 movie “Pride” was based on) has been churning out national and Olympic swimmers for nearly 30 years.

Annual swim meets like the Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet held in North Carolina over Memorial Day weekend brings together some of the finest age group swimmers in the country to compete. The meet has grown from 10 teams and 104 swimmers in 2003 to 29 teams and 758 swimmers in 2009. While all are welcomed to compete, the meets emphasis is to reduce the drowning rate of black children and encourages children to swim competitively.

The Josh Project, founded by Wanda Jean-Butts, whose son drowned in 2006, offers free swim lessons to low income children and is planning on building a center in the not-to-distant future so that those who wish to swim competitively can be in an environment that fosters their potential.

These are just a few of the folks that I know who are making a difference in their communities. We’ve come a long way to dealing with this issue, but we still have a long way to go.

Often when I talk to parents about the value of their children learning to swim I hear this common refrain, “Swimming is a white folks sport; we got basketball, football, tennis, and even golf now!” And I always smile and respond, “Yes you’re right. But – as far as I know – no one ever died not knowing how to make a lay up, throw a tight spiral, volley at the net, or shoot three under par.”

Naji Ali is a long distance open water swimmer based in San Francisco. He and his business partner, Ron Chism, are planning on introducing young African American and Latino youth to open water swimming in the spring of 2011. In 2013 Ali will be making a solo attempt of The Cook Strait.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Good Morning Anchorage--it appears it finally snowed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

today's chat with my mama

Lissa cracks me up.

Today, she asked whether we had bought a SAD (seasonal affective disorder)  lamp yet. It's a full spectrum lamp meant to help with Vitamin D deficiency, etc. It was one of the conditions upon which they were ok with Adam and I moving to AK. Here's what followed on gchat:

me: he [Adam]'s supposed to be getting that and my parka.

Melissa: and thermal unders
and warm gloves and socks
and scarfs and other stuff to make you look like one of the South Park kids (a nice South Park kid--if there is such a thing)

We miss you Q.