We have entered into the month of Ramadan here in Mali. We notice changes around us everyday in our neighborhood and among our friends. Here are some of the things I’m learning about Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.
It is considered one of the holiest Islamic months.
It’s also one of the Five Pillars of Islam. These are five principles which Muslims believe are compulsory acts ordered by God.
Muslims believe that some of the first verses of the Islamic holy book, the Qu’ran, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. Extra emphasis is placed on reciting the Qu’ran at this time.
Fasting is considered to be an act of worship, which enables Muslims to feel closer to God and strengthen their spiritual health and self-discipline.
All Muslims are supposed to fast all day every day for 30 days (it starts with the sliver of the new moon appearing). So yesterday was the first day of fasting, ending at sundown. They can eat all they want all night long, but during they day, they must fast from all food and water.
Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:
Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
Then, they fast all day until sunset.
At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe Mohammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar.”
Here are some dates for sale at different vendors I’ve noticed this week:
Fasting during Ramadan
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking during this time, Muslims abstain from sexual relations and sinful speech and behavior during Ramadan fasting or month.
The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Muslims believe that Ramadan teaches them to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).
Muslims also believe fasting helps instill compassion for the food-insecure poor.
Exemptions to fasting include travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, although it is not recommended by hadith. Those unable to fast are obligated make up the missed days later.
I visited with a young man today about Ramadan. I asked if he was Muslim. He said yes. I asked if he was celebrating Ramadan and he said he was. “Are you fasting now?” “Yes.” “Is it hard?” (It’s been 109 degrees this week.) He told me that fasting is a spiritual experience. He said, “it’s a matter of faith. If you think about being hungry, you will be hungry. If you think about drinking, you will be thirsty.” He said, “fasting is about faith and Allah, and when you think about that, there is no hunger.”
I told him it’s the same in my religion–we also fast, but we fast once a month for a 24 hour period. We also give money to the poor after we fast.
This young man was honest and truthful and had a gentle face. I felt my water bottle with what was left of the ice in it next to me, sweating a bit of coolness through the bag at my side. I asked, “Are you thirsty?” “Yes,” he replied, “but I have faith, so I manage.”
On Thursday, 11 March, the day after we returned home to Bamako from Abidjan, John took a COVID test. We learned that the Mission President and his wife had just tested positive, and we’d just spent the day before we left helping them.
John’s symptoms included headache, fatigue, fever and body aching. For the next week, we stayed in the apartment, taking things easy, but John’s symptoms got worse, especially the fatigue. Gratefully he had no respiratory problems. By the next Friday, it was getting so bad, he could hardly do anything but rest. He collapsed 3 times during the week, passing out and falling to the floor without warning. He was weak and dizzy when he got up and so shaky and he looked like he’d aged 20 years.
By Friday evening, the 19th, he was not improving–he was sinking. I worried about his oxygen levels. We had no way to check them. We also had no thermometer and his fever continued. I’d been in contact with a couple of my book club friends at home, who alerted all of the others. They were also in contact with our kids. All were ready to intervene to get John to a hospital. Private panicky messages that night flew between my phone and theirs while John slept. I prayed through the night to know what to do. We live 9 flights up. We have no car. And John did NOT want to go to a hospital. “Tomorrow will be better,” was his standard response.
Here is the report I emailed to my friends Sunday, after that frightening Friday evening:
Hello Dear Book Club Friends!!
Several of you have asked today how John is doing and I thought I’d send Virginia an update she can forward to all of you. I’m not sure I’ve got a current email listing for everyone since I’ve been rather out of the loop.
We have good news here—it was just yesterday our dear Bamako Branch President, Sekou helped me find a COVID doctor who does house calls. I contacted Sekou yesterday morning after Virginia told me some of you were ready to book flights over to rescue us!!
Here’s what’s happened this week—in a medium-sized nutshell.
We were in Abidjan last week, finishing up there, working closely with the MP and his wife. They were feeling a little sick—sore throats, fatigue—but weren’t too worried about it. We’d taken negative Covid tests on a Saturday to fly back to Bamako on Tuesday. We spent Monday with the sick MP and wife at the office and they invited us to a send off dinner that evening at the mission home. We flew out the next morning for Bamako.
Tuesday John started feeling really fatigued. Weds we learned that the Bendixsens (MP) were feeling quite sick so they took a rapid response Covid test. Both Positive. Thursday John took a rapid test (we got them from a German Dr in Bamako) and he was also positive. I wasn’t too worried about getting Covid—I had it last month and had a very mild case, testing negative again after 2 weeks (which allowed us to fly from Bamako to Abidjan to Accra to take missionaries to the temple to be endowed). I’ve had 4 negative tests since then—one for each flight we’ve had.
So we sort of expected John’s case to be as simple as mine, but instead, every day got a little worse. I went to church without him last Sunday (Branch Conference with a visiting Authority) and came home to find John had blacked out and collapsed, here by himself. He was shaky and dizzy when he stood up the rest of the day. He just seemed to get more and more fatigued and he was sleeping a lot. I thought he’d turn the corner at any minute and start gaining strength. He passed out 2 more times this last week, crashing to the floor, sometimes hurting himself.
I guess I mentioned that to a couple of you—Virginia and Shelley, and of course to our kids, and by Friday, Adam, our medical student son, was privately messaging me to GET DAD TO A HOSPITAL NOW. We were most worried about his oxygen levels, thinking they were low and he really needed some urgent care. By Friday his mind was also starting to get a little fuzzy. He was really slow to respond, and his reasoning was off. For example, he didn’t want to eat his own leftovers from the day before because he was scared he might re-infect himself.
Well, getting him to a hospital here is easier said than done here. The main concern was that our German Dr in Bamako told that if you go to a hospital in Mali you won’t come out alive. I won’t go into a description of 3rd world hospitals here. The truth is you really don’t want to go there and be exposed to more than you came in with. So John was refusing any suggestion of medical help. We also live 9 flights up at the top of an apartment building and I could see no way of getting him down those stairs and into a dilapidated taxi to get him to a hospital. I also thought he’d turn the corner “any day now” and be fine again.
So by Friday night, I had Virginia planning how to life flight John out of here (well, almost) and our kids privately messaging me to get Dad to a hospital immediately. He was asleep in bed and I was praying to know what to do next. I decided to see how he was in the morning and then get him to a hospital somehow if I didn’t feel otherwise. I slept with an eye on him, making sure he was breathing through the night.
I woke early yesterday. He slept like he was drugged. Before even seeing how he was, I had a feeling to make a plan. I messaged our dear Malian friend, Anounou, who was in town for the weekend. He’s the field director of the Ouelessebougou Alliance (he is home in Bamako on weekends). He is John’s dear friend here and he has a car. I asked him if he could help me get John to a hospital. He was ready to drop everything and come.
Then I messaged our dear Branch President, Sekou, who is a 3rd year medical student (who’s wife was delivering their first child yesterday morning as we were messaging). I just wanted him to pray for us. As I told him what was happening, he said he knew a Doctor at a hospital here who had someone working for him who did home visits just for COVID patients. Wow, Perfect, I thought! So in a matter of minutes, he was able to make some calls and then he told me a doctor was on his way over to our apartment.
Anounou came over, the doctor came (a young single fellow) and for the next 3 hours, he worked with John, setting things up. We had to send Anounou to a pharmacy down the street to get a whole list of medications and medical stuff (syringes and IV stuff, etc.) The Dr spoke no English. Anounou helped us get what we weren’t understanding. By the end of his visit, we had an IV drip hanging from our light fixture. After 5 pokes and buggered veins, he found a good one and John was hooked up to the drip.
The home visits include 7 days of twice a day visits. The cost is about $450 USD. The pharmacy tab was about $200. John’s getting fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, blood thinner and something for nausea. I didn’t mention that his oxygen level was good. That was the first thing the Dr checked and his first words to us were, “He doesn’t have to go to the hospital!” Vitals were good. We could all see John was very dehydrated. His skin looked like an 80 year old man. (He’s also down to 150 lbs at 6’3” so he was looking really saggy.)
After day 2 now with the IV drip twice/day, he looks fully hydrated—better than BOTOX!!. He’s looking like a 66 yr old again! He’s also steady on his feet now. He’s had a fever for more than a week and that’s been much better too. He’s still really tired and he still takes a LONG nap every day and dozes off a lot in between naps and bed, but he’s already his old self, thinking clearly and I think he’s relieved that things are getting better.
I’ll tell you what came to me Friday night as I prayed after Virginia’s not-so-calm messages from all of you. A memory came to my mind that I’ve not thought of in a long long time. It was of our son, Aaron at 6 months in Dec 1995. It was on another Friday afternoon, on the evening of our ward Christmas party. John was at the church setting up. I was at home with Aaron, after a long day of selling DK books. Aaron was feeling sick, but he slept through the whole day in his car seat at my side. I remember thinking what a good baby he was, not to fuss. By Friday afternoon, I had a feeling to take him to the doctor, just to be sure, because the weekend was coming. I’m not one to run to a doctor for any little thing, but I felt I should go. The doctor attending that early evening was Merino Robins, Adam’s wife’s grandpa. He took one look at Aaron and checked his blood saturation. It was dangerously low. He immediately dug a big needle into little Aaron’s wrist to find a vein to pump something into him because he was not just a mild-mannered baby, he was on the verge of death. Aaron didn’t even flinch when he jabbed into his wrist (again, I’m thinking, what a good baby). When Aaron didn’t even flinch, Dr Robins could see he was barely responsive and he called for the Life Flight helicopter to come NOW and fly him to SLC for emergency care. Aaron had RSV. We almost lost him. He wasn’t getting oxygen and his body was giving out. I raced home to get John and we drove FAST to SLC, to Primary Children’s where Aaron was put in ICU for the next week. He pulled through it, but he wouldn’t have without medical care.
Well, that was the picture in my mind Friday night, and it was still there, strong and vivid yesterday morning when I woke and started making phone calls. My feeling was that without medical help, John might have quietly slipped beyond a point of no return. Every day he was weaker. He’s had no breathing trouble at all, but his body was giving out, quietly and gradually while I was thinking what a good boy he was at resting.
SO, thanks to all of you for speaking up and speaking out and pushing Virginia to urge me to take action. She and our kids were yelling at me from afar to DO SOMETHING NOW. I might not have otherwise because John was so dead set against it.
It’s hard to believe that that was just Yesterday. There’s a remarkable difference today and we see nothing but improvement from here on out. THANK YOU for your prayers and for your faith. It’s amazing to be so far away and to feel so close.
The doctor was just here. He’ll be back in the morning, checking on things. We are all feeling very very relieved.
Prayers have been answered.
Thanks to each of you for chipping in with your petitions.
Love from Ann in Bamako
Our young Doctor Souleymane Traore has been here morning and night every day this week. He calls John “Jean veiux” or “Jean, Jean américain” (John the old, or John, John the American). He has taken real good care of John. He’s the same age as our medical student son, Adam. Dr Souleymane is one of only a couple of COVID doctors who make house calls everyday. He works from sun up until after sundown visiting patients.
John is receiving a treatment that includes hydration solution with vitamins C and B, two different antibiotics, a blood thinner (for the IV)a steroid, and acetaminophen for the fever and pain relief. The goal has been to restore his strength and energy. It has worked.
Tomorrow will be Friday again, a week since the panicky messages flew into my phone late at night. This morning the doctor told us John is no longer contagious. He also told us there were 103 new cases of COVID in Bamako yesterday. Like John, those who qualify to receive treatment at home are treated at home. The numbers here are beginning to rise.
This morning we ventured out. On the left is our apartment building. We live on the top floor with the big deck. Things are looking up around here. We hope to be closer to full speed ahead in another week!
We’re grateful for the many who have prayed for John’s recovery. We consider it the greatest of all Gifts!
From the 15th to the 19th of February we were with a group of 24 missionaries in Accra. These were missionaries who started their missions after the COVID pandemic closed temples all around the world. Usually young missionaries go to the temple to receive what we call “an endowment of power” before beginning their missions. This group, and others like them all over the world, started their missions without that gift.
Some temples now are opening for special sessions. Accra is one of those temples and John and I had the gift of accompanying these missionaries there.
We stayed at the Missionary Training Center in Accra for our 5 day visit. The MTC is right next to the beautiful temple in a complex housing the Area Administrative Offices, the Temple and Patron Housing, a Stake Center, and a Distribution Center. It’s a glorious place of peace and beauty and learning.
We call the temple “The House of God.” In these sacred places we are taught about the creation of the world and our relationship to God. We make covenants or promises with Him to be obedient, to keep His commandments, to keep ourselves morally clean and pure, and we dedicate our lives to Him. In return we are endowed with His power, which is an incredible gift.
The blessings of the temple give us perspective and hope. They fill our hearts with peace and calm. We learn the true order of things and we more fully understand who we are. I love going to the temple. Considering the last month (in this COVID world), it was a true miracle to be here now, with our missionary friends.
I am grateful for a Heavenly Father who is mindful of me and every single person here on earth. We are His children and He loves us. I’ve felt that more than ever this week in this place.
Our missionary work in the Cote d’Ivoire Mission requires us to travel back and forth between Abidjan and Bamako and each time we fly we’re required to show proof of a negative COVID test. After only 2 weeks since testing positive, I needed a negative result to allow us to travel to Abidjan for an important trip. I was told that sometimes it can take up to 90 days to test negative. Miraculously, my test showed negative and we were able to fly a few days later.
Once in Abidjan, we needed to test again, here at this testing site, to allow us to travel to Accra, Ghana a few days later. We were taking a group of missionaries to the Accra Temple to receive the gifts of the temple, an endowment of power and blessings given only there.
We arrived at this testing center early and waited in line with our missionaries.
Today after waiting 48+ hours, we received our results: We were all negative!! We are good to go. I feel like a miracle has happened in my life. We will be allowed to travel to Accra! It’s also a miracle that I have not infected John. We are both healthy and well and able to do our work here, grâce à Dieu.
Last week after the expedition left us (Sunday evening) we learned that Judy was sick when she got home on Tuesday with a bad cold: runny nose, fever, cold symptoms. Thursday she tested positive for COVID.
For about a week, I’d also been having symptoms of a head cold, with a mild headache and some sinus pressure and a stuffy nose. I was taking cold meds. By the time I learned about Judy’s positive test, my sense of taste was gone. That’s when I started thinking twice about it. Could it be possible that I also had COVID??
On Friday 29 January, after a week of cold symptoms, John administered a rapid-response COVID test. We had some of these tests give to us by the expert malaria doctor at the University of Bamako.
That wand was rammed into my nostril, all the way to my brains and twirled for 15 seconds. Then John put it in the vile with a solution and shook it vigorously for a few minutes. Then 3 drops of that solution were put on the tester below. The first line is the control line. The second line is the test line. If both lines show up, the test is Positive.
Today is day #10 since my first symptoms appeared. I haven’t left the apartment since taking the COVID test last week. They say after 10 days, you are no longer contagious. I hope that’s true so we can get back to work. John hasn’t had any symptoms–he’s feeling fine.
I’ve spent the last week feeling tired, but not uncomfortable. My taster is still out of order, but I can smell. The cold symptoms never got bad. I had 2 days with a bit of a wheezy cough, but it went away. All in all, this has not been bad at all, and I consider that a huge blessing of protection and love. I know that many do not fare as well with this virus. I know Heavenly Father watches over his missionaries and I am Grateful. So Very Grateful.
Here are the stats for COVID here this week:
Ivory Coast cases: 27,096 Deaths: 146
Mali cases: 8,006 Deaths: 327
This week we visited an IDP Camp (Internally Displaced Persons, or refugees) just not far from Ouelessebougou main town. After our visit, John recorded our experience as follows:
Djiba, Ann, Roger and I piled into Madi’s sedan and drove to the first settlement site, not too far off the main road to Bougouni. We drove past the chicken farm owned by the Imam who generously helped these people with food and water when they first arrived. He willingly gave as much as he could but could only do so much. The refugee community was not far beyond his chicken farm.
We learned of this settlement thanks to Djiba’s keen observation as he drove along the main road one day and noticed a small settlement where there hadn’t been one before. So on the way back, he drove in and talked to this Imam chicken farmer who was his friend and he learned of their situation. Djiba told Anounou and they all came out to check things out. OA ended up donating about 30 bags of millet, enough for each family to eat for 3-4 weeks.
We were greeted by a small group of men, women, and children who were expecting us. They escorted us over to an area where the group was gathered to talk with us. Djiba introduced us, explained why we were wearing masks, and then we asked questions to better understand their situation.
• This settlement on the north side of the village of Sousounkoro was the first place occupied by refugees from the Mopti region of north-central Mali, a town called Bandiagara. They are Dogon people. The first had come down about three years ago and chose this location because there was another Dogon person who lived in the village and told them they would be welcome.
• The village chief was willing to let them stay temporarily. As in other refugee settlements we’ve encountered, the village elders observe the newcomers to see if they will be a positive addition to the community. This “testing” lasts up to five years. If they behave themselves, they may be allowed to buy the land where they have settled.
• This community now consists of 12 families, about 90 people. The vast majority have come in the last year, generally fleeing for their lives. We were told of one woman who was forced to watch the throats be slashed of her husband and two sons. She came down here but has since wandered off. They fear she has lost her mind. They fully expect that more of their people will come. They hope to stay here forever and are working hard to prove themselves. Most of the men leave early in the morning for Ouelessebougou to try and find any manual labor jobs they can to earn a little money.
• They shared with us their challenges, none of which were surprising. No clean water close at hand, no farmland to grow food, no school or clinic or mosque, no job opportunities for the men or women. We thanked them for sharing and explained that we were doing a quick visit today because we had to leave for Bamako, but another team would come tomorrow and take a more detailed look at things.
• They were happy to have us walk through the settlement to inspect their living situation. They are clearly very industrious and had built good mud-brick houses, latrines, and ovens. Things were well kept. Just off the edge of the open area where we were seated was their mosque—a plot of dirt that was outlined with 12-inch diameter rocks.
We looked at the crude well they had dug by hand that wasn’t very deep and therefore not very productive. Gratefully, a local group had come out, covered the well for safey, and poured a cement perimeter. We watched the young boys make mud bricks. We saw the bandaged mid-section of a young teenager who had had some sort of GI surgery at the Ouelessebougou hospital but couldn’t afford to stay there. Up north, he had had to hide in the bush for weeks to avoid capture like his brother and had suffered great physical trauma. His follow-up appt is tomorrow but they don’t have the money to pay for it.
• There was no pleading or begging or other histrionics. It was a serious-minded group of people trying to map out a new life for themselves in a strange new area. They wanted us to understand their situation and hoped we could find ways to help. But they seemed to understand that it would be a process that took time. They had been treated kindly by the village chief and villagers and OA had offered generous help with millet when they needed it most. They were willing to be patient. And grateful.
It took us about 10 minutes to drive to the second settlement site, on the south side of Sounsounkoro. We went back onto the main road, then turned west toward Tinkele, Neneko and Selingue. After a bit, we turned south onto a short dirt road and found our second group of Dogon friends. The situation here is much the same as the first site, except they are a smaller group: 10 families with a total of 50 people. And they were granted some farmland use about four miles away. They haven’t farmed it yet. Plus, they are very close to Sousounkoro so they have easy access to schools, the mosque, and a midwife. These refugees have all come within the last year, along with the others in the first settlement. The chief divided them up because the north site was full. They also dug a well by hand, but there was no cement perimeter or safety cover. It was also shallow and polluted. No one is very old in either of these two groups.
Before racing back to the compound, we stopped by to see the village chief. He was kind and open with us expressing his feeling that what happened to these Dogon people could happen to any of us. It wasn’t their fault and they are human beings the same as we are. He is happy to have places for them to stay but emphasized that they must prove themselves as assets to the community before they have a permanent place. He would love to share food and water with them but the villagers barely have enough for their own need. So he’s grateful if Ouelessebougou Alliance would help in those ways. He gave us his hearty approval to build wells so they could have drinking water. We thanked him for his generous offering of land to the people and expressed that we are partners in our desire to help our fellowman. He was generous in his praise of the Ouelessebougou Alliance.
The visit was sobering and important. We spent nearly three hours and came away with a great desire to do more to help. We hope to make a proposal to LDS Charities for wells and food donations. The Alliance can be the local partner organization.
Here are some of the photos I took today of these good people and the circumstances they find themselves in.
These boys have the job of bringing water to the settlement from a good distance away.
These hard-working young boys were making mud bricks to build more homes.
These are the faces that keep me awake at night. I hope we will be able to help here. These people are lovely and kind and trying to survive on very little. I wish all my friends who have plenty could come visit for a day and feel inclined to share a bit more with others.
This is the kind village chief who has provided the land for the refugees to live on. He said to us, “this could have happened to any of us. Of course we must help them.” I love people like this who give freely, without expectation of any reward or payback. He is a hero.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
President Ronald Reagan sums up the idea of the fundamental nature of character and what it takes to make good decisions as a leader. In a May 1993 speech to the cadets at The Citadel in South Carolina, Reagan said:
The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined. It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past…by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation…whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter. It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away…the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness, habits of self-sacrifice or of self-indulgence, habits of duty and honor and integrity-or dishonor and shame.
This has been one interesting year! There has been nothing like it on record, in the history of the world. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters that have swept our globe and our hearts with emotions ranging from inconvenience to fear, we have found ways to carry on and to do the things we love. I have loved working on my family history and writing projects this year, while serving as a full-time missionary with John. It’s amazing to see how little bits and pieces add up. It’s turned out to be quite a productive year, in so many ways!
Here is a short accounting of some of the things I’ve completed this year, spent entirely in Africa, while serving in Bamako and Abidjan.
Blog posts written:
Mission Blog: 526 posts written, visited 31,575 times (643 posts total)
Ann’s Words Blog: 20 posts written, visited 31,700 times (908 posts total)
Ann’s Stories Blog: 26 posts, written, visited 7,630 times (762 posts total)
Facebook pages maintained or regularly contributed to:
My personal Ann Laemmlen Lewis feed
Laemmlens Gather Here
Decendants of Charlotte and Jacob Bushman
Martin and Elizabeth Degen Bushman
Theodore Turley Family Organization
Memoirs and personal history stories written:
Legacy data base:
63,788 individuals, 21,343 families
15,025 sources, memories and people added
It’s my feeling that every word recorded, every person found and documented and every photo preserved adds a bit to the good in this world. That’s my goal, to find, to record and make safe, and to preserve for future generations the good that I see and am experiencing, no matter where I am. It’s been a good year, in spite of what’s happening out there. I am happy and looking forward to 2021.
I started reading Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg last February right before the trip that took us from Bamako to Accra, then Abidjan. I was only one chapter in, when I decided to leave it on my book pile in Bamako, thinking I’d return to it in 3 weeks after our return. That 3-week trip turned into a 9 month trip because of the COVID restrictions on travel that were imposed in this part of the world.
We finally returned to Bamako on 3 December and after the first very busy week introducing our Mission President to our world here, I picked the book back up and started again. I enjoy reading books like this about writing memoir and personal history. I brought several with me, thinking this would be a good project to do in my down time here in Africa. This particular book grabbed me as soon as I started reading and I determined to complete each writing assignment Natalie Goldberg gave, on almost every page.
During the next week, I spent every spare moment I had writing, writing my fingers to the bone. I felt like a window of time and opportunity opened to me here. As John did the heavy work cleaning and organizing our Bamako apartment after being away so long, I sat at my computer and let my fingers fly, answering prompt after prompt. I wrote about things I’ve never written about, many were hard delicate topics, many left me mourning and sad. Natalie Goldberg asks that you dig deeply into your memories and face some of the wolves in the room.
There were also plenty of happy memories of my childhood and growing up years on the farm. Many of her topics are just random to see where they lead you, like “write for 3 minutes about cabbage.” The topics were not chronological or organized by subject, rather her chapters taught writing techniques and then prompts were given to practice those techniques. I enjoyed what and how she taught, but more importantly, her words motivated me to write.
After 8 days, I finished the book. My hands ached with fatigue. But my heart was lightened, knowing that more parts of who I am are now preserved. I typed 88 pages of memories and stories on all sorts of topics. Then I listed several more pages of things I will write about next.
If you are inclined to write a personal history, or capture some of your stories, I strongly recommend Natalie Goldberg’s book. It’s not intended to be devoured and digested in a week, rather maybe a year or two. I just got carried away and had some hours to write and so I dove in and did it.
Another favorite I’d highly recommend is To Our Children’s Children by Bob Greene and D. G. Tulford. I’ve purchased more than 100 copies of this book (used on Amazon) for my family history students and friends who are serious about writing and preserving memories. It is also excellent. The entire book is filled with interesting and unusual (not the ordinary) prompts that are thoughtful and fun to write about. I promise this little book is worth it’s weight in gold.
Here is one more book I just finished that I’d recommend by Dawn and Morris Thurston– Breathe Life Into Your Life Story. This husband and wife team teach sound principles of writing memories and recording stories. They are helpful teachers who give a good overview of the entire process of writing and publishing your life story. Their book also has helpful prompts and exercises to help you practice your writing craft.
If you are wondering if you have stories in you worth telling, the answer is YES. There will be individuals, many in your own family and among your own descendants, who will want to know who you are and how you lived. They will want to know what moved you and what things you stood for, especially in a world that is filled with so much change and turmoil. If you do not tell your stories, your life will fade into oblivion after you go.
Historian, Ron Barney said, “If you do not write your story, your name will be obliterated from the human record and you will not speak from the grave. You will not have any influence on those who come after you. Those who write about the things they have done and learned in life have a huge impact on posterity. Write your story. You have overcome things your children need to know about.”
Please pick up a pen and let the new year be a time to start recording. Don’t wait until you’re old and forgetful. Don’t wait until the window of opportunity comes. If you start, the window will open. You have a life to save!
I’ve spent a few hours yesterday and today reading through news reports following the 2020 Presidential Election. We are now day 10 and 11 post election. Joe Biden is the President Elect. Donald Trump has lost. I find it fascinating to see what words writers and reporters are using to describe what’s happening in our world today. These words are just clips, as I found them, in no particular order taken from two days’ worth of various news reports. I have not cited the sources. Little words tell big stories. Most describe Donald Trump and who he is. Some refer to how he’s handled the COVID crisis. All are reflective of what people think of the situation we find ourselves in right now. Draw what conclusions you will. (I did not intentionally skip over positive comments–there simply were none to be found.) Here’s what I found:
One reason why Trump’s advisors are so worried he might not be able to win is because he lost.
Despite clinging to the job desperately, he’s not actually doing any of it.
Still asking supporters for donations. Never misses a hustle.
scamming people out of their money by saying that is country wrongly kicked him out of power
continuing to fire off baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud
keeps fighting as a performance
the elephant in the room–his election loss
claims weren’t credible
disdain for the workings of government
Mr. President, pack your bags, and be gone.
cries voter fraud
lawsuits inadmissible or unreliable
incorrect and not credible
cheap talk on Twitter
claimed alleged fraud
refused to concede
fanning the spectre of voter fraud
laying the foundation for questioning the legitimacy
blasting out inflammatory accusations of fraud
questions of US elections will linger
refused to acknowledge while launching legal challenges based on unsubstantiated claims of fraud
so many lawsuits have been filed in so many state and federal courts that no one has an exact number
they are throwing the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks
continued to spread lies
beset with infighting
a slew of baseless lawsuits
corrosive to democracy
deplorable approach to life and politics
stop the circus and get to work (House Speaker)
The election’s over. Stop delaying reality
long shot litigation
refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power
absolutely disgraceful, un-American
coddling and kowtowing despite his defeat
let the grim era of demonization in American begin to end here and now
relationships have been jeopardized
conservatives have been crowing
TX Lt. Gov. has offered $1mil for anyone who produces evidence of voter fraud
the long knives are out, and he’s a big score settler
making them serve a hitherto hidden agenda
“Pentagon Purge” to help him carry out irresponsible withdrawals
widespread concerns in national security community
something repugnant is brewing
to support his personal agenda
How is this going to end?
amplifying misleading messages
activity sits on hold
refusal to accept results
transition offices sit vacant
planning conversations are silent
awkwardly twiddling threats
playing into fantasies
so as not to leave a paper trail (no one’s talking about it)
officials growing anxious
I am worried they are going to open the hood, and it’s going to be a lot worse than they expected.
contacts have gone silent
anyone looking for another job would be fired
the silence is still deafening
a flurry of lawsuits
spreading false claims
refused to accept the outcome
transition still hypothetical
undermining urgent need
downplaying the significance
strategy lies in tatters
it’s not enough
claims fall apart in court
sinister, fraudulent motives
the crisis is accelerating
purely outlandish stuff
legal team grinds to a halt
chaos and meddling
mysterical claims of fraud
rang mostly hollow
Trump with his grotesque character on full display: the greed, the bullying, the mysogyny and flagrant sexual infidelity, the malignant narcissism.
“the most flawed man I’ve have ever met in my life” (Trump’s own Chief of Staff)
inability to even pretend empathy
bullying the press
casual subversion of justice system
moral cowardice toward dictators
4 chaotic years
inconsistent, dishonest, reckless policymaking
world-historical calamity that alters the course of civilization
habitual dismissal of logic and standards of proof
constructed his own narrative
eager participant whenever he sees some advantage for himself
flair for spectacle
tenuous relationship with and sometimes outright disdain for truth
casts doubt on legitimacy
extremely dangerous, extremely poisonous to our democracy
stay out of the fray (Republican aids)
election stolen from him
potential to become violent
obtuse and perverse
refusal to acknowledge empirical facts that conflict with how he sees the world
belief based on nothing
fed his cynical promotion of blitherism–belief based on nothing
pressured newsmen to change forecasts to agree with his misstatements
ludicrous assertions and irrelevant
damage done to American democracy
stirred up political currents
impulse toward authoritarianism
cheapened with tacky stunts
took advantage of and inflamed them into an absurd culture war
reversed conventional wisdom
ignored party leaders
defeat may trigger civil war
grievances and paranoias refusing to congratulate
allegations and irregularities
declined to concede
calls Biden’s victory “an immaculate deception”
peddles baseless claims of fraud
this will not help his legacy
refuse to recognize
created a false image
fraud allegations based on extra-ordinary failure to understand how elections function
claims of cheating
lack of understanding
debunked conspiracy theories
promoting a bizarre lie
all claims refuted
implications plainly false
votes concocted out of thin air
baseless claims refuted
allegations of coaching voters
Trump fumbled COVID, sabotaged his own election
baseless voter fraud claims
rejected, DRT has had a haphazard inattentive handling of the crisis (COVID)
tirades on Twitter
obstruction of justice
bickering wings of the party
high political tension
fuel conspiracy theories
dawdling and denial of access
clogging things up
arbitrary and illegal actions
no evidence the votes were compromised
gaining little traction
public relations nightmare
judges: no evidence of fraud
stealing the election
keeping up a charade
spiraling out of control
usually first the evidence, then the lawsuit
disillusion of reason
riding the crazy train
on an island of misfit toys
rabbit holes of unreality
baseless conspiracy theories
a fractured nation
undermining of democracy
seeded a lie before the event
corrosive to democracy
a slew of baseless lawsuits
stop the steal rallies
messy and nasty
preservation of power above all else
DRT’s disastrous response (to COVID)
tried to spin coronavirus out of existence
Trump presidency marked by errors in judgement
strange overtures to foreign dictators
appointments that deviated wildly
tried to minimize the impact of COVID
no shows of empathy or compassion
political aids have unflagging loyalty to DRT
steered into treacherous waters
failed attempts to convince
He tweeted, shouted, heckled, interrupted, mocked, lamented and filibustered his way through crisis after crisis.
Top scientists, policy makers and experts driven out by Trump’s political appointees intent on ferreting out adherents of a fictitious “deep state.”
The kind of attention he has always sought required conflict as its oxygen.
statements not occasioned by reality
inflated incremental victories into victories
a show of energy and force
disregard for facts
accusations grossly untrue
mistakes of judgement
Fake News Media
drowning out wiser counsel
no patience or attention to detail
personal and petty
worst fears played out
it became a kind of withering exit music to DRT’s brief attempt to act like an ordinary president
hectoring Democrats while praising Republicans
badly mishandling virus
sullen, graceless exit
threatened the rule of law
threatened to arrest rivals
cheapened the presidency
looted the Treasury
norms bent to accommodate his whims
seemingly unending Trump show
incorrect and not credible
bogus claims and invalid arguments
accusing people of fraud
legal strategy looks amateurish and disjointed
Judge called claims of widespread voter fraud “fiction”
inadmissible hearsay within hearsay
keeping multiple balls in the air that we know are not going to land in a good place