Monday, April 21, 2014


I love waking up with the smell of fire in my hair. Considering I have a bad back and don't camp very often, I cherish any wood-burning fire I have the occasion to enjoy. Last evening after an enjoyable, all-day Easter brunch, we ended around a fire in our friends' backyard. It was lovely.
Lovely fire. 

Easter has never been celebrated for me in this way. I can't say Easter stands out in my mind as a major holiday event as we weren't often gathered with a big group of family - as is often the priority on Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a kid, I remember convincing my mother to get a new "Easter dress", usually flowery with a big bow. But beyond that the annual singing of "Morning has Broken" at my Quaker meeting because it was written by a member, not tons stands out. We have memorial lilies to remember loved ones and palms on palm Sunday, sometimes.

While the U.S. is often seen to the outside world as quite Christian - our loud conservative "Christian Right", "God Bless America" at the end of political speeches, and "In God we Trust" on all our money - living in Europe makes me realize how few federal holidays we have associated with religious traditions. I could have said, "how few federal holidays." Full stop. Period. Here in Sweden most places are closed on Good Friday, Easter and Easter Monday and have reduced hours on the Thursday before Good Friday and Saturday before Easter. Kids are out of school during Easter week.

An Australian friend was reflecting about how special it is to have the beginning of spring coincide with Easter here in Sweden. Because the seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere, Easter is usually in a fall time. All the eggs symbolizing new life, the blooming flowers after a cold winter make it feel differently significant. In Australia Easter time also has holidays associated and numerous days off (Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday). And sometimes you get a lucky 5-day weekend when it coincides with another public holiday on April 25th, Anzac Day - honoring members of the Australian and New Zealand Armed Corps who have died.

In Europe (and Australia) where fewer and fewer people are religious, there are sure a lot of holidays associated with religious tradition. But part of the key for Americans is that our Puritan roots as a country made it so that the early settlers could be fined for celebrating Christmas . And Christmas wasn't a federal holiday until 1870 and it's the only Christian-related (or religious) federal holiday we have.

Påsk (Easter) decorations - colored feathers in trees.
What I find interesting is when religious holidays are celebrated at all. They connect to earlier Pagan holidays important for the seasons or the sun/moon. In Sweden, Midsommar (most daylight of the year) and St Lucia (least light of the year) are the biggest, most important holidays - both connected to early pagan holidays. As for major Christian holidays, Easter is the first Sunday after the new moon after the equinox. Christmas was a convenient time in Rome because Christ's birthday fell close to the Saturnalia, an existing holiday celebrating the end of harvest and the winter solstice.

Traditionally religious holiday times are for fasting or a pilgrimage or a feast, sound familiar, Jews, Christians and Muslims? It should, because at least traditionally we all do it. (Well, Christians cheat - fasting means you still get veggies.)

Seeing all the facebook photos of candies, dresses, presents, this Easter time, makes me understand a bit what the Puritans were so angry about. They didn't like the boozing and merriment, I don't like how commercial all these holidays are. Grumble on.

In the end, the wonderful part of holidays is the gathering with family and friends. I will tolerate the obsessive facebook posting, put away my concerns about the dominating nature of Christian traditions in diverse societies, and just try to enjoy the time off.

U.S., get it together. We should have more public holidays - no matter the origin, because it really is about giving people time to connect and be with loved ones, not going to work all the time.
"Peace" from Easter brunch crowd (members of the Dep't of Peace and Conflict Research). Photo by: David Ermes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Deciding who is one of "us"

It is a goal of mine to learn more about American Indian groups and history in the U.S. once a month. I planned to dedicate my fourth Thursday of every month to it. Unfortunately, I haven't been consistent with the blog postings on what I've read and learned (although not always on the 4th Thursday.)

This morning I woke up thinking about the Sami people of Sweden and how I want to find out more about their history and current connection to politics and cultural rights. More on that later.

This American Life replayed an episode about a group in California that has been intentionally slimming its membership. You can find it here: "I know I am but what are you"

A classmate of mine this autumn made an interesting argument about the role of reparations many years after violent conflict during our course on "Transitional Justice". The timeline of transitional justice is debated and sometimes drawn out - for instance the Khmer Rouge trials got their start in Cambodia 30 years after the violence. She wrote on cases of the Caribbean states suing former colonizers. This followed on the news of the judgements in the U.K. to pay some of the victims' families of the Mau Mau, who suffered at the hands of British troops.

I have written about reparations on the blog before. In our quest to make up for past wrongs, at times it is a good idea for the U.S. to explore, not only monetary reparations - which this radio clip makes me doubt, but instead more symbolic acts or other types of restitution to acknowledge the U.S.'s violent history in regards to native groups and slavery.

If you listen to the above clip, let me know your thoughts. Having watched "The Wolf of Wall Street" the night before I pondered on the evil in many of us to seek money and manifest such greed on the backs of others. While the Chukchansi council in the clip deny the monetary motivation behind their actions, the increase in the payoffs from the casino to the remaining (non-kicked out tribespeople) suggests otherwise.

Overall, the point of the This American Life piece that I took away is the way groups, probably all groups often spend lots of energy trying to decide who should or should not be a part of them. I see this in small and large ways in my life and group interactions, as well as in my academic study of groups, whether it be nations or communities. Us and them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pastry Poetry

Ode to the semla 

You delicious treat of cream and puff
served in cafes during Easter season
filled with sugar and delicious almond stuff
to eat you, does one even need a reason?

You were created for decadence
before the arrival of Lent.
Thank goodness our indulgence 
allows the rules to be bent.

Now you are found as Christmas buns disappear -
extending the season for this fika pleasure -
like up goes the tree as Thanksgiving tables are cleared.

It makes me so happy when the semlor appear.
Sweden, these may be your greatest culinary treasure.

Even if my face does end up smeared!

Photo shoot by Heather Murph.

It's the little things - Red Letter Days

In Sweden people often refer to "week 8" when describing when something will happen, rather than the week of February 17th, as we might in the U.S.. And then there are Red Days...

Sundays and other holidays are marked in red in calendars. Often people ask about schedules and say, "it's a red day" to signify that it's a holiday, a day off of work when official departments or offices will be shuttered. In my head I translated the idea "red letter day" = "holiday". I got myself a Swedish agenda/calendar for 2013 and was ready any red letter day or scheduling challenge sent my way. And forgot about it.

A few months ago I encountered this parking sign :

Say what?

I texted my Swedish friend who I borrowed a car from. It was 8:30pm on a Friday night. Could I park here? Did I have to pay for parking? I was confused. She texted back, "you can park there, but I think you have to pay". I parked and later that night got a parking pass until 9:30am Saturday (so I could head out for a big grocery shop before returning the car).

More recently I parked on this block a bit more regularly and was sure to move my car as close to 7am as possible. Then I spoke to a Swedish friend who is younger and therefore more recently got his license (plus averse to getting parking tickets). He explained:

The red lettered part of the sign means that on a red letter day those are the hours you can park there. The letters in parentheses are for the days before a red letter day i.e. a Saturday. Jaha. (Swedish expression of acknowledgement like "ah" or "aha")

Well, my Moleskin 2014 date book* has weeks numbered but no red letters - it's all black and let's you put in your holidays yourself with colorful stickers. Very international of it.

With a quick internet search I discovered this red letter thing is actually a thing. It arises from medieval church calendars. It's not just a weird Scandi countries thing - other places like the U.K. and even beyond Europe use it. What's up U.S.? Holding out like you do with our customary units of measure. No, this is different, don't even get me started on the sensibility of the metric system

Time to get back to week 13, er, I mean the week of March 24th.


*purchased at a Berlin train station bookstore to break a 20 euro bill in order to have enough change for a storage locker

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Random thoughts during study breaks

If you struggle with wanting to save mementos - everything from old boarding passes to tickets from museums and plays, Snapchat can be good practice. Well, at least it is for me.

I have albums of loved ones on my phone. It's great how much easier it is to take and send images (thank you, iPhones). At my parents house I have boxes of organized photos waiting to be added to actual albums or scrapbooks. Whenever I download digital files from my camera I have a hard time eliminating any, even the blurry ones - I save them "just in case".

For people with pack-rat-ism in their blood (let's reserve the term "hoarder" for particularly severe cases), Snapchat is a good practice of self-discipline. I could Instagram the picture or Whatsapp it and it would save to my phone. But Snapchat allows me to share the moment and move on. I'm sure some treasures will be missed out on, but good to practice letting go, even of small things. 

(And as all the teenagers sending inappropriate pictures are warned - these photos are all backed up in some "cloud": so be careful. Or in my case ... That treasure would just take some dedicated detective work to find - it's not really gone.) 

At the library studying!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Legacy of American Indians in Indiana place names

I have enjoyed a number of conversations with people about the funny way we in Indiana say French derived names "Notre Dame" and "Versailles" or the diminutive size of "new Paris" Ohio, a town of 1,607 (as of 2012) near my hometown of Richmond. (A restaurant there recently held the second annual free lunch for the 2nd Amendment - show a hand gun permit, get a free lunch. A different blog post will discuss the hand gun laws in my state of origin). 

In my Thanksgiving resolution (I recognize that mixes holidays) was to educate myself about American Indians in the U.S.. Many more location names in my state bear the names and history of native peoples that we know and learn so little about. The Miami, a featured name in multiple places in the U.S. - Miami University in Oxford, OH and Miami, Florida -  is not derived from the same group forcefully migrated. That's what I had always thought and it is quite easy to suspect given the awful and horrific forced movement of native peoples in the U.S.. Instead:

Miami, pronounced my-AM-ee, is a common place name in the United States. but in different parts of the country it has different origins. In Florida, for example, it probably come from Mayaimi, the name of a CREEK village. In Oregon, it comes from the CHINOOK word memoir, meaning "downstream." In the Midwest and Southwest, however, it comes from an Algonquian tribal name, probably meaning, "people of the peninsula."  

Another fun fact is that Munice, the name of a city a bit north of where I grew up is the name of a northern band of Algonquian speaking bands originating in the East, some of who moved to the Indiana, Ohio river area in the mid-1700s (and were later pushed further again). 

Other cities bear names I should definitely investigate more some day: Shipshewana, Kokomo, Mishawanka and this list of cities in Indiana related to Native American names, taken from this book, Native American place Names of Indiana.  

Greenville, Ohio where my cousin lives has quite a history as well : Fort Greenville was the site of a treaty in 1795 which ceded all of Ohio and most of Indiana to the whites after battles with general "mad" Anthony Wayne (of whom Fort Wayne, Indiana is named) and the Battle of Fallen Timbers in which hundreds of Indians died. (Waldman, 137) 

About half of the Miami relocated to Kansas. Some stayed in Indiana but gradually lost their lands by 1897 they were longer recognized by the federal government. Quoting Waldman, "They have managed to maintain their tribal identity as the Miami Nation of Indiana. In 1990, they established tribal offices in Peru, Indiana, and, in 1992, purchased a sacred site along the Mississinewa River." (137) Peru, Indiana sounds like a place I should visit someday. 

The Shawnee also lived in Indiana for a time eventually settling in Kansas. The "Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band" was recognized by Ohio in 1980. Some descendants managed to stay in Ohio and Indiana following Tecumseh's defeat. 

Even the cars we drive - Pontiac - is named after a native people. The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania have a case claiming they should be paid a fee for the use of their name in marketing. Seems fair to me. 

There is currently a beautiful commercial on TV about the use of the name of "red" in sports teams.  Agreed - An NFL team should not be called the Red Skins. 

All these names that surround us in Indiana - Kentucky, Detroit, Chillicothe, Tippecanoe River - all American Indian names and yet few of us know and remember little of this history. Of the culture traditions of these people, of the violence at the hands of the whites and the unfair and horrific treaties even in the absence of physical violence that structurally stymied the progress or any potential progress of these groups.  

Information unless otherwise cited from Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. 3rd Edition. New York. 

This is an article about the early white settlement of my county - Wayne County in Indiana. Done by teenagers. It mentions tensions with native peoples. You think? 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Language dominance

The number of alphabets is astonishing and awesome. That is a wonderful take away from my time in Beijing, and 3 cities each in Cambodia and Vietnam. If I were queen of the U.S., I would make every child learn a second language and then at least have the basics of a third which had a different script - just to expose them to the world a bit more. 

Before I left on this trip, I read a fabulous piece by David Sedaris, the American humorist that can have me laughing out loud like no other, in "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls", his latest book. He writes about how many Americans travel and don't even bother to learn "thank you" in other languages as he takes readers through his recent attempts at Japanese and the omissions in introductory language texts. I managed to get "Thank You" down in Phnom Penh by about day 3 and look it up in advance for Vietnam - saying it timidly each time until about half way through the journey. In Beijing a couple hours after arrival on the first night an adorable 5 year old at a family owned restaurant taught us. 

Maybe you could find a menu in New York City in multiple languages but you wouldn't expect to go to a Starbucks and have someone be able to help you in Chinese. "Cold water" in Chinese? I don't know, let alone have it listed in my menu in Chinese. But I get it - English is a lingua Franca. I've met 4 Swedes on this trip (and 2 Canadians, massive numbers of Aussies, a Brit, 2 Mexicans, Brazilians etc.) English, yeah it is almost exclusively used. But how crazy is it I could leave Sweden not knowing a word in Chinese beyond "hello" and expect no trouble. To be honest, I didn't even really think about it. When getting my Chinese visa the officer in Stockholm was willing to help me in Swedish or English. In the U.S. within discussions of race, we talk about being white and how many white people don't think race is a problem because they haven't had to consider it. That alone displays their privilege and is an example of the constructed and inherited power. It is analogous to what I realized once again or in a new way on this trip. I didn't even think about learning some Chinese before I left, I knew I could get by just fine. 

Although I study how to create positive peace and slowly dismantle structural violence, relearning or being reminded of your own privilege is important. 

And yeah, Queen Anna thinks we should all try to learn a language with a script different than our own.