America the Beautiful!

It’s been a while, since I sat down to write something thoughtful. Forget about the daily email traffic, and posts on social media. WordPress is where I share my self-inspired “non-chatty” thoughts.

I am glad though, that I am breaking this writing block with something dear and exciting. About America the Beautiful! There are so many reasons I have come to love America. Obviously, there is an ounce of sad news and sad people that shape this nation. But there is so much beauty in and about this country, its peoples and societal norms.
Especially today on this snowy day, I am reminded of the generosity and uniqueness of the American spirit. The huge snowstorm that started last night, with sleet and frozen ice, left some places in the North East without power. I live in The Independence State of Pennsylvania, which is among the areas caught up in these snowstorms. Exactly as I thought out loud the night before the storm, “I hope these indefatigable snowstorms do not leave us without power. It’s freezing up here!” But Lancaster, PA folks are not that fortunate;  left without power! Trees fell and damaged cars! Some colleges have asked students to return home until the weekend, when hopefully the power cuts will be sorted out. Terrible!
Yet, the American spirit is already alive and kicking. True, the State government is up and about, reassuring its peoples that help will come through as fast as possible. Good job and comforting! But the American social spirit of good neighborhoodliness is rolled out already, too! A good friend, in Lancaster posted on her public profile, an offer to any Lancastarians who need a place to warm up or charge their phone. The America Red Cross has set up soup kitchens and places to warm up and charge phones. And many more folks are coming through. This is America! This is the collective spirit that defines America, transcending individual(s) sentiments of bitterness, xenophobia, discrimination and hate. Those negative spirits do not define America!
Personally, I take moments like this to reflect on and ponder over the American Spirit of giving, reaching out, sharing and positive healthy living, both in my neighborhood and my American family. I live in a suburb in the Poconos. My neighborhood has plenty of “stay-at-home moms”, who I have met and interacted with, while waiting at the school bus stop. They are pretty much of mixed identity: Latina, Black, White and Arab. They are wonderful people. If I got to the bus stop late, after my son came back from school, I would trust that one of them would not leave him on his own. At times, I get a call from any one of them, in case were are late to the bus stop in the mornings. Plus, they usually help out anyone with kids who need a ride to the bus stop, for instance, if there is a 2-hour delay and mommy has to go off to work before the bus comes around, or when kids get off the bus and need a ride. They are sweet people.
Then, there is my American family. With all the drama of each family, there is a beautiful spirit among  my [son’s] American. We laugh, we share, and we party together. There is an openness among them that is beautiful and welcoming. They do not make me feel like “a foreigner”, typical of plenty of folks with whom I have interacted. Perhaps because, they are well traveled, or because they lived in New York for-ever, the most multicultural US city. They have met and interacted with folks from all walks of life, I assume. Of course the “open secret that, Grand dad – my son’s father’s step-dad, who raised him, is Puerto Rican.
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Perhaps a better illustration of  “America the Beautiful” is its diversity in food, clothing, languages, culture, origins, beliefs, recreation activities, tastes, fashion, interest, power, knowledge -endless list! I have endless experiences of things  deemed “archaic” by some in this country and other “modernizing geographical spaces”, making their way “back to the future” as trendsetters and ‘PC fads’. Goes to prove that, it is often the innocence of limited knowledge or the individual(s) dogmas that make that make people shun any experiences alien to them and/or pass judgement. For instance, the mothers at my son’s bus stop and I were talking about women stuff, when one recalled ‘the olden days’, when mothers delivered at home or on the road before they got to the health center. I told them, those ‘olden days’ are ‘now’  in my country of origin, Uganda. Indeed true as well, here in the United States, where “young trendy mothers and couples” now choose home births with Doula or midwives. Another friend in Georgia told me about ‘the olden days’ when people used kerosene lamps for light. I let her know that those “olden days” are still “present days” in Uganda, and I bet in rural America. Yes! Some parts of this country, folks use boreholes as a source of water, and wash their clothes from the barks of trees without access to a washer!
It is amazing that plenty of stuff often deemed traditional, archaic or rudimentary are now en-vogue! Picture this, folks are paying more money for membership to co-ops instead of shopping in large chain stores, for the love of easier access to more“farm fresh” or local farmers produce. Others are spending extra monies for organic produce at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earthlight, and other large chain store that have an “organic foods section”. Ironically,  American food producers, large funders and their intellectuals activists are pushing GMO into countries of Africa in the name of “creating food security”, without issuing the same caution to consumers that is availed to the American public.  While more Americans are embracing “small [eating or shopping] is beautiful [from organic section or co-ops], plenty of Africa is moving toward mass quick production and large chain stores, including in Uganda.  Some of us have taken trouble to concern and inform ourselves of “what we eat or where we shop, and are carefully and consciously picking what we eat, so we can live longer cleaner lives, sans health disasters that have befell America, especially, high obesity and high heart diseases. Though, it is still a challenge to communicate the dangers of fast food eating and colored juices to many in Uganda. Last year, 2013, Kentucky Fried Chicken open its first franchise in Uganda to divided opinions: screams of “hell no” from plenty of Ugandans in the Diaspora vis-a-vis “bring it on” by plenty in Uganda. In South Africa, I noticed a huge consumption of deep friend fast food and colored and sugary goods, especially in the “most affordable” Shoprite supermarket, which has also set up shop in Uganda. While McDonalds and Coca Cola, two of the largest brands of quick and fast food/beverage addiction are losing market share in America, they are reaping huge sales outside the United States.
Fortunately, America the Beautiful, one can get a wide net of fresh, health, conscious and fairly-traded products. Almond, hemp or flax milk is available, so is Tofurky in place of real Turkey meat. We have access to gluten free pizza, meatless anything for the meat lovers with real meat problems. It is possible to eat food not fried in oil, but if one wants to, there are plenty of options of non-animal oil – canola, coconut, olive, sunflower, vegetable and more. We can fill our refrigerators with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and our shelves with plenty of nuts – almond, cashew, pistachios, walnuts, groundnuts, to feast on daily. We can stay gluten-free forever, and feed on raw food effortlessly!
And if you heard that “traditional marriage and family is out of vogue” in America the Beautiful, don’t believe the hype! No! Marriage is not about two people coming together, making a decision to love one another through sickness and health! Marriage is a family affair, and family as a community and clan affair. I recently witnessed a beautiful moment of two families of their soon-to-be married children coming together to review the marital contract that their two children were about to enter. The families went over what is expected of children to each other as a married couple, and to their families;  how to conduct each other once married, and what each owes to the other and to their families.  It was beautiful! It reminded me of what marriage was always about in Uganda, where I am from. Not about “blissful everyday moments”; in fact plenty of folks found themselves and found love after they were married, and stayed together as lovers not for convenience till death separated them. It was about, the meanings of marriage to the family the newly-wed were to form, and to their families of origin. It was also about their belonging in society, not “behind self-gazetted closed doors”.
At heart, I am a traditionalist, when it comes to culture and community. But then again, I am only human after all. We all pick and choose what appeals to us, and how to make it work for us….And, that’s what defines America the Beautiful!

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT AMERICA

I have been writing this piece for over a month now; both in my head and on my laptop!
why I love America

I really should get it off the laptop and out-to-print because everyday, I find another reason to add to my initial intent of writing this piece on What I love About America.

Trust me, I will be the first to admit that I don’t take so kindly to that “American Exceptionalism” hullabaloo. I growled all throughout Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s so Great About America (2012), yet I read it till the end. Nothing against this Mumbia, Indian-born naturalized American; I simply could not take down easily his blind ululations of America, louder than the natives. The fact that he celebrates some of America’s bigotry against its own populations; blaming African Americans for passing off racism as Black cultural problem; and endorsing a war against muslim populations in America and around the globe, did not sit too comfortably with me. Nor that old tired cliché of America, “the freest, greatest, most decent society in the world…an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism” . C’mon! Give me a break on that as well!

But to hell with D’Souzza! True, I am an immigrant just like him. Yet, I have my own humble significant way of confessing the love I have for this country, without going overboard with labeling all other oases out there as barbaric. There is beauty in many places…even in the dry desert -there is an oasis!
Here are a couple of things  that particularly stand out for me, and give me cause to celebrate this, my country by immigration, from my country of birth – Uganda
1. As an avid runner, I can do so along the highways [well that was until I got ‘accosted by a traffic cop] and street roads, without a fear that a motorist would run me over. And while listening to music plugged into my ears. Granted, there are a couple of obnoxious drivers who would not move into the middle lane to let you navigate on the “barely-there” side walk/runs. Though, I often excuse those as perhaps absent-minded drivers or just not that into runners
2. As a food-conscious/health-conscious, I love having plenty of options of non-meat products, non-wheat products and non-diary, all consciously prepared and packaged. True, perhaps that this is possible in Uganda, but the invasion of foreign consumption is killing all things healthy about eating in Uganda. Monsanto is spreading its GMO seed deep into the rural-most farming areas of the country, thanks to “researchers eager for “The green Benjamins at the top academic institutions in the country”. And now healthy eating is as expensive as it is here in America. I would not be able to get almond milk, either!
3. The opportunity for Free K-12 Education, however abysmal it might fare in comparison to other industrialized countries. I love the interactive, open and explorative nature of learning here in America. I hope the new Dept of Ed strategic plans do not kill America’s experimental learning style, in the name of competing with other industrialized countries. Clearly, rote learning and standardized testing is NOT all there is about learning.
4. The availability of free wi-fi everywhere, including on Greyhound! I found out recently while traveling on the “GoTo Bus”[a franchise of Greyhound, maybe?] from Boston to New York that I do not fade away if I step away from my reliable internet connection. I was connected till my final destination.
5. The “every excuse to have a BIG Sale each month”: January is New Years; February is Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day; March is St Patrick’s Day; April is Easter Eggs and Bunny Rabbit; May is Mothers Day and Memorial Day; June is Fathers Day; July is July 4th; August is Back to School Weekend; September is Labor Day; October is Halloween; November is Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Weekend; and December Christmas. I know “Sale” sounds so cliché and consumerist….but as long as I can get 60% off $200.00 Calvin Klein boots, with a $25 coupon for $50 or more spent, I will take it!
6. For the endless festivities, each celebrated in a style that gives one a true sense of what it means to belong to a nation (July 4), a culture (Thanksgiving) or a legend (Halloween). Until I became a mother of a little America, I never fully appreciated the joy of taking a toddler in a “Captain America” suit, on a trick-or-treat around the neighborhood with other kids picking up candy door-to-door that he did not even, once ask for the morning after!
7. For the spirit of voluntarism and giving that brings people together, reaching out to strangers far and near, whether serving up meals at soup kitchens, bake sales fundraisers for a child’s school library project, running for cancer or just lining the streets to show love and appreciation for the veterans.
8. The migration of cultures into this geographical space from different backgrounds, each fusing their identity with the American experience, while retaining and celebrating each one’s origin. We enjoy being proved wrong about the “melting pot” concept.
9. The “Fast-lane” American life. Everything can be picked up quick: Get rich quick, drive-through pharmacy, drive-through movie, drive-through food, drive-through liquor, drive through all and everything. Now, you can sit comfortably at your home computer, order on-line, and pick up at your neighborhood store, without getting troubled with searching in-store. Did I say, America invented “home delivery too”?
10. Oh! Did I mention the celebreality of America? Anybody can become a celebrity tomorrow, in this country, with no hereditary kings and queens. They are made on TV. Even the dull and dumb can have a TV show…and make plenty of money from it. While this might sound ‘unintelligent”, it is the reason why Americans are always creative and inventing. As I always say, you can be ANYTHING you want in America…and there is a job for everyone in America: a dog walker, a rail truck artist, a tattoo artist…anything you like.