Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This entry comes with a warning. It contains graphic descriptions of meat eating. The subject matter may be disturbing to some readers. If you have any objection to the consuming of meat, please don't read. I am, in fact, not a big meat eater. I was a vegetarian for about 10 years, but that was a while ago. Now I mostly eat chicken or fish, but I don't describe myself as a semi vegetarian. I consume animal products. Every year, with the onset of cold weather and long nights, my thoughts turn to meat, and meat dishes. One thing I loved in South Africa was oxtail. Tender oxtail in a tasty sauce prepared by my mom. The name oxtail is self explanatory - it is, obviously, the tail of an ox, but for some idiotic reason I do not think of it as such. I had not eaten oxtail for many years, in fact, I forgot all about it. Some years ago my sister, brother-in-law and myself visited an uncle in Connecticut. He has a home in the country. It snowed. This is the type of weather which is completely unfamiliar to us. We reveled in it. My uncle prepared oxtail and at first smell happy childhood memories came to the fore. Since that visit, I make oxtail at least once every winter. I buy oxtail that is cut and sold in sealed plastic bags. One year I went to Ranch 99, the asian supermarket in Richmond, and on the spur of the moment decided that that night would be my once a year night to make oxtail. I went to the meat counter and a woman barked something incomprehensible. I asked whether they had oxtail. She nodded, walked away, and came back and handed me an oxtail over the counter. I nearly dropped dead. This was not neat pieces of meat in a plastic bag that bore no resemblance to anything. This was an oxtail! I blanched. What on earth did I think oxtail was? I absolutely could not handle that tail she was handing over to me. I made a chopping motion with my hand and she withdrew the tail, placed it on a wooden block, held a cleaver above her head and she chop-chop-chopped very quickly, and handed me the tail in a plastic bag. I bought it because I was too embarrassed not to buy it, but I could not bring myself to cook it. I gave the tail to a neighbor who had no such compunctions. She cooked and ate it and that year I did not partake of oxtail. However, that incident became a memory that soon faded and I began buying oxtail again, hermetically sealed. Last night was really cold, and I made an oxtail stew. Delicious.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


A riveting conversation at work today with a 19 month old girl. Girl points to a green block and says "yellow" Nesta: "green" Girl: "yellow" Nesta: "green" Girl: "yellow" Nesta: "green" Quite fascinating, our different perspectives and opinions!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What are the Odds?

Last night I returned from a Thanksgiving vacation with dear friends in New York and Connecticut. I flew JetBlue from JFK Airport to Oakland International. A week before I had flown out of Oakland on a red-eye. The flight was full; families with babies, dogs (who seem to be the latest passengers) old people, young people. It was a singularly uneventful flight, which for me is the very highest compliment one can give to a flight. At JFK last night I sat at the gate and engaged in one of my favorite pastimes, people watching. I saw many of the same families and passengers who were on the plane a week before. I even saw two of the same dogs, a teacup poodle and a coiffed maltese. Approaching the area of the gate I saw a father in a big broad brimmed black hat, he had a grey beard and payot, (the side curls of religious Jews.) His son also wore a wide-brimmed black hat. They both wore black suits. A young girl in a dark blue dress accompanied them. I looked at them and thought, "I am not on my way to Israel, they are not flying to Oakland, this cannot be." We boarded the crowded plane and I looked ahead at my row. The family were standing next to the very aisle seat I had reserved - MY seat. When I reached my seat the young girl was strapped into it. "Excuse me," I said politely, I am in 12C." Her brother said "yes, yes, she will move," and he muttered to her while their father kept everyone waiting in the narrow aisle as he first put in their rolling luggage sideways, then frontways, then backwards, until a woman reached up and shoved it firmly in. The girl unstrapped and moved reluctantly into the middle seat. At her feet was a very large brown cardboard hatbox which she pushed under the seat in front of her. Directly across from me sat her brother, then her dad. As we taxied down the runway her brother, Shalom, called to Rachel, then he leaned over me and handed her a parcel wrapped in aluminium foil. She unwrapped it to reveal a hefty sandwich of hallah bread with some kind of meat and lettuce. I couldn't resist - "I hope it is kosher," I said to her. Very seriously she assured me that it is. Her tray was down with the sandwich on it and every time she took a bite crumbs covered the tray, her lap, my lap, and the lap of the man next to her. Shalom leaned over me again, this time to hand her a salad. But just then the plane was readying for takeoff so she had to put up the tray and passed the food back to Shalom.He then passed her a prayer book and she opened it and read the prayer for safe travel. Her brother and father prayed next to me, and I decided to join in. Rachel had lovely blue eyes and was quite a sweet little girl. Once we were in the air she got her food back from Shalom, who also passed a few cookies along. Then she told him she was not feeling very well and she closed her eyes. It was a night flight and quite soon everyone, including myself, began nodding off. I was rudely awakened by a bump and thud. A sleeping Rachel's head had fallen onto my shoulder. We both startled, she muttered "I'm sorry" fell back asleep instantly and back came her head. It remained on my shoulder for the rest of the flight. After five and a half hours the pilot announced we were beginning our descent into Oakland. Their was a hustle and bustle as everyone sat up, put their seats back and closed their trays. Not Rachel who was fast asleep. Across from me both Shalom and his father had fallen asleep with the same open mouthed poses. I did see dad begin to move and he nudged Shalom who also began to stir. I gently patted Rachel and put her tray up for her. I know Dad saw me, so did Shalom who gave me a half smile. One would think Dad would have said something to me, maybe a teeny weeny hint of a smile, a nod of thanks, but of course he didn't acknowledge my presence. We deplaned and the three headed out of the airport without a backward glance. Oakland, not Israel, and I have to be the one next to the religious Jews - I think God is trying to tell me something, but it is not clear what!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Furloughed Day

Today was a furloughed day for me. Actually it was yesterday that was furloughed, but because I work only 30 hours a week I had to take off today. Dear dear, what a hardship! I had a few errands to do in San Francisco, which I entered into my new errands app I had recently downloaded. An exquisite fall day was a perfect opportunity to BART into the city by the bay. As always, when times are tough, (work wise) and down to the gritty side of life, I like to visit places of luxury. One of these, for me, is Pashma, a luxury cashmere and silk store. Just the feel of this luxury fabric calms me down! My errands list included a trip to Uniqlo - a Japanese owned store which opened on Friday. I was absolutely unprepared for the long line which snaked between iron bars as a few people were let in at a time. However, I decided to brave it The woman in front of me was of Asian heritage, and we spoke about the shock of standing in line, which we both did, patiently. Eventually a burly doorman gestured to me and in I went - to utter consumer insanity! I must say, the frenzied customers certainly behaved better than they did in the New York store of the same name. No-one pushed anyone (that I could see) and people asked each other their opinion as they tried on garments without the benefit of a mirror. (People stood about 3 feet deep in front of the mirrors.) I found a coat I had come for, and thought paying and leaving should be a breeze. No, it wasn't. Another line of people, stood in a another long snake line waited to pay, stuffed Uniqlo baskets in hand. I took my place. A Uniqlo worker stood there holding a large sign, "End of Line." She smiled continuously and informed those around her that this wasn't actually her job, but the store had been so unbelievably busy that this is what she had to do. She continued happily smiling all the while. The lady standing behind me suddenly leaned forward and whispered in my ear that she was having a "power surge" - was she sweating, she wanted to know. I informed her she looked fine. She went on to tell me she is from Colorado and she and her sister were on their way to Fisherman's Wharf but they got waylaid. She had a stuffed basket and told me she had bought Xmas gifts for her daughter. I smiled, and remained silent. Undaunted she continued, informing me of something about her ex-husband, which I didn't quite catch. Thank goodness, besides her power surge she didn't seem to have any health problems that she felt I should know about. Shopping here is far better than it is in Denver. She had also been to Tiffany's. Macy's was just amazing. Suddenly I heard a voice shouting "next customer, debit or credit" and I saw a young woman pointing to me from behind a cash register. I bade her farewell and went to the young smiling woman who said "thanks for waiting" as if there was a choice. When I returned home and unloaded my spoils I realized there were a few things I had forgotten to do, because although I diligently entered my errands into my app - I neglected to look at it! Damn, I am not ready to return!

Monday, October 8, 2012


Work, a strange header. I do believe work is something I have not mentioned in a while, even though I began this blog ostensibly to write about my work. The fact is that because of the constant cuts and changes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for kids to be found eligible for services. Up to two years ago I had many referrals and new ones kept coming in. There were occasions that I was unable to take on a new referral. What has happened more recently is that referrals have really decreased, and the nature of referrals has changed. For instance, last week I received a referral to a little girl who is to be turning three on November 5th. That means I will see her for all of three visits! This is a little girl who at almost three has no words, and appears severely delayed in her social and self help skills. I spoke to mom over the phone to arrange a visit. Mom works every day and so cannot be present. She said she will tell the girl's babysitter that I will be there on Wednesday at 2.00. Needless to say, when I got to the house, no-one answered my knocking. Suddenly a man drove up in a car, looked at me, and asked what I want (in spanish.) I told him the number of the house and who I was looking for. "Mi nieta" - "my granddaughter" he said and gestured to me to follow him to another door. He went in and then came out and said to me that she is being showered and told me to go inside. In a bedroom I saw a young woman toweling off a little girl. I sat in the living room and pretty soon the young girl came in, hopping on her tiptoes. She hopped around in circles. Neither of these things are a good sign. The young woman told me the mother had not told her I would be there. The grandfather, who appeared young enough to be the father, said to me "she doesn't speak, you must help!" The following morning I went to another new referral. This one to a baby boy of 5 months. On my way to the apartments I passed the 98cent store on San Pablo and Rumrill. About three police cars with flashing lights stood in the parking lot. Two blocks later I arrived at the building, which I remembered from when I had worked in home health. I had seen a man with a dreadful degenerative disease who lived in this low-income housing building. He died. I had to call mom as there was no board with names or a keypad. Her sister came downstairs and I followed her into the building which looks like a jail. Iron bars, and badly lit concrete steps and passageways. Three women live in a crowded one-room apartment. The little boy was sleeping so mom and I filled in forms. There is no dad, whatever he was in her life, he is no longer present. He is on a marine base in San Diego. The boy was born with his cord around his neck. He presented blue and floppy and was in hospital for a week. Mom returns to work next week - she works at a gas station in San Francisco, but we have found a day for me to come, when she is not working. At least he has come to services at a very young age, so hopefully he will benefit from intervention. I have more than just three weeks! When I left an ambulance blocked the one street I was going to exit on - someone on a stretcher was being loaded in. I turned down another street and on the pavement was a body - either dead or passed out, I have no idea. A man with a shopping cart stood next to it. I was not sure what to do, but just then someone came out of a house with a phone in her hand. She was calling an ambulance. Goodness, all in the space of an hour! This is why I have not written much about work - it is rather depressing. Also, I am working on what I hope will be a book, so much of my spare time is spent writing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Cycle

It has been a while! So, for us Jews, another year has gone by and a new year has begun. Let us hope, as always, for a year of health and peace! A really close and dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It all seemed to happen so suddenly, and of course it brings up all the age old questions of life, the quality of life, what to do in the face of such a diagnosis, how has one spent one's life, what is this thing we call life, family, friendships, love ........ A year ends, a year begins, endings, renewal, the eternal cycle.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


There was an accident last night at the 2,900 acre Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California. I work in this area, and have worked there since 1992. Before I began working with the babies I worked with home-bound adults. It is not by coincidence that there are very high incidences of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Asthma, and cancer in this area. The refinery spews out its smoke 24/7. The area closest to it is North Richmond, a very low-income area, then within spitting distance are Richmond, San Pablo, Rodeo, Pinole, Hercules, El Cerrito, and Albany (where I live.) Last night, when the fire began, the warning siren did not go off immediately, but residents could see and smell the toxic cloud of smoke. Last night alone 680 people went to the emergency room for respiratory related problems. I myself awoke feeling light headed (no comments please). The babies I was supposed to see today had left the area, their parents called me to inform me. Rightly they were concerned about their childrens' already compromised health, and they are lucky to have family further away. What outrages me is that of course the fire has been downplayed, even though it is still going on as I write.The public is NOT correctly informed as to the amount of toxins and the dangers. Even the Contra Costa Times only had a small article on the fire. The people who live in this area are not dispensable; they are human beings and my outrage is that they are not treated with the respect they deserve.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Strange Flights

I am sitting in a quiet cabin here in Mendocino, surrounded by shades of green. Juncos, chickadees, towhees, allen hummingbirds, stellar jays, and sparrows flit back and forth to the feeder outside the window. Yesterday evening a skunk brazenly burrowed its snout into the fertile earth. It is so remarkably quiet here, that it seems to me quite unreal that in a very short while I will be on a flight to Israel. My nephew is getting married and it is an exciting occasion. The only problem is I have to get there! The technological wonders which virtually bridge distances can not, of course, shorten the physical distance. The flight from California to Tel Aviv is 20 hours. However, it is not the length of the flight that makes it so difficult for me, it is what happens on the flights themselves. From California to Newark the flight is uneventful, crowded, but quiet. I am not people friendly while flying, preferring to read rather than converse. The Israel experience begins when we transfer at Newark airport. Flights to Israel are situated at the far end of the concourse, in a separate area. This is for safety reasons and here we go through stricter than normal security. All this is par for the course. What makes this experience different are my fellow passengers. Hordes of men in black suits and felt hats, all bearded with curled payot (forelocks) swinging to and fro. The fringes of their prayer shawls peek out under their jackets. Women in sheitels (wigs) and long skirts, many of whom flash diamond jewelry, and all of whom are pregnant, push strollers with babies. A string of boisterous little ones follow each couple. The airline attendants announce that families of six or more children should board first. Onward they go, carrying hat containers, strollers, large wheeled bags, and stuffed handbags, way more than they should be taking on board. They push and shove ignoring seat numbers which have been called. It seems, as I stand alone, in comfortable sweats, that my fellow passengers from California have either dispersed, or metamorphosed in the restrooms, donning hats, beards, and sheitels, sort of like superman in reverse. On the plane is complete chaos as the men shove their belongings overhead and walk up and down the crowded aisles greeting each other, shaking hands, looking around. Some stand in their seats, prayer books in hand. All ignore the pilot's repeated requests for everyone to be seated. Eventually in a cajoling tone peppered with threats the pilot begs for everyone to be seated. Already he has tried to insist they hand their baggage to the attendants to be put in the hold. No one heeds him. It is utter pandemonium. The harried attendants eventually get the men, women, and many many many children to sit and buckle their seat belts. The second the plane ascends and the seatbelt light is turned off, there is a mad dash for the toilets. I wonder whether there is perhaps a commandment that instructs all these people to spend most of the flight in the restrooms. When they are not using the restrooms they chat and move around even though this is a night flight and some of us have already flown a long way and would like to sleep. When I do nod off it is to be awakened by a rustling sound. I awake to the grey light of dawn filtering in and see the men all stand up, they congregate on one area of the plane facing east. They don their prayer shawls and wind the teffilin around their wrists and arms. I fear that, like a boat, the plane may overturn. The men daven, swaying back and forth, and sideways. The women stand in their seats, prayer books in hand. Once I was on such a flight, just before succot. Two women sat next to me undeterred by my open book and and unsmiling face. It turned out they were prayer warriors from North Carolina. A group of them were going to the holy land for the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the men carried a large curling ram's horn. They all wore thick gold chains with bejeweled star of david pendants. I was surrounded by a sea of insanity. Everyone had bibles and prayer books open, in Hebrew and English. I was the only one trying to read a novel, set in Los Angeles. At various intervals all got up to pray, the Hasidim on one side of the plane, and the prayer warriors, a concept I didn't get, not to be outdone, made a circle in the middle. As the flight began to descend into Ben Gurion airport an excited air of expectancy took over. The blazing heat and light of the sun filled the cabin and my two neighbors grabbed my arm, insisting that as a daughter of Israel it is my duty to return forever to the Holy Land. They gestured heavenward as the cabin filled with golden light that meant yet another heat seared day in Israel. "Even the Lord cannot contain his glory." She cried. For me, these flights have been fascinating anthropological experiences, which I no longer care to repeat. I have insisted that I leave on a Friday, when religious Jews do not travel. Evangelical Christians will hopefully, not be going at this time of the year, so I hope it will be a flight as quiet as it is here in the cabin in Mendocino.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Follow up

This is a follow up to my blogs on the weird brother and sister. "The Strange Two" as I dubbed them. The mother never did come to see the school, but she insisted she would like him to attend and stated that she didn't mind not seeing the program. The Regional Center Case Manager, myself, and the parents went to Cameron School for an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) and a transition meeting. At three years of age, which he will be in October, he will be part of the school system. All this was explained to the parents. We sat in a small, hot and stuffy office. Of course the weird two fidgeted and squirmed and fought, but in this case their behavior was understandable, as it was difficult to sit there quietly. At this meeting I noticed mother is pregnant. I have my own thoughts about this and they are not very charitable. I managed to keep my opinions to myself. After the meeting with the school district the Case Manager again told them about the program and again mother said she is fine with him coming there. We gave her the necessary paperwork to complete and I again explained that once he began at the program I wouldn't be coming to their home anymore. Per her request we agreed that I would go once more, on the following Friday. Twice she repeated Friday. I usually go on a Thursday but she had other appointments. I told her I would be there Friday at 11.30 and would take the paperwork back from her. It was arranged that he would begin in the program the following Monday. Transport was arranged and the Spanish speaking bus driver called the mother to arrange the pickup time. She left messages for her, but mother did not return her call. I had the name of the bus driver and took it with me. When I arrived at the apartment, after having climbed the steps in the burning sun, lugging the books he appeared to enjoy, and paper and a tin of crayons, and stacking blocks and a ball, no one was there. I called the mother who said 'we will be there in half an hour." I went to the 99c store and bought gifts for The Strange Two. After half an hour I returned, lugging everything with me. Still no one at home. I called mom, and she said "another half an hour." I told her I couldn't wait any longer. I gave her the bus driver's number which I also left in a written note on their door. The bus driver went there Monday morning - no one was in the apartment. It is now Wednesday and we have not heard from mother. It is no longer up to me, but I cannot help wondering what on earth happened. However, there is some balance in the universe. I have noticed that usually when I am at my wit's end, and about to quit, forever, never to return, I get referrals of a different nature. I now have two new referrals, one to a an infant boy who had a stroke in utero - this happens more often than anyone realises. He is a delight and his parents are very involved and interested in helping him. Mom actually does the things I tell her and within a couple of weeks he is making very good progress. The other referral is a 16 month old girl who was born extremely prematurely. This is also an involved family and she is coming along nicely. So, I am still here and still working!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I wonder whether there is something in the water or the air, of this particular area of Richmond. There are two homes that make me wonder. The one I worked in 12 years ago!!! I have devoted an entire chapter to this estrogen-ful family in the book I am forever writing, about the children I work with. That first family is african american. All women, from the vibrant matriarch to the tiniest little premature girl I worked with. There must have been men, but the grandfather,  one of the progenitors, is in prison for life. The father of the girl I worked with was also incarcerated for a long period of time, in fact, he is still in prison. I saw another man, occasionally, apparently he is the father of one of the little cousins, and now has fathered her sister, a girl of course. I only saw him once, early in the morning, he was leaving as I arrived. That is it for the men. The women, on the other hand, are vital, bright, attractive, loud, full of the joy of life. They are active in their church and all of them work.  The sisters and the cousins and the aunts constantly came by, in various stages of pregnancy. They brought along their adorable little girls, their hair in braids and colorful barrettes.  It seemed entirely natural they would bear girls. Only once did one of the cousins have a boy, and he was, tragically, very damaged in childbirth, and died.

The family I presently work with are Latino. It is situated very close to the other family, and again, it is full of females and female energy. Again, I have only seen one man, the grandfather. From the grandmother onward it is just girls. The mother of the girl I work with has 2 daughters, her sister-in-law has, as far as I can tell, at least 4 girls. All the girls are very pretty with long thick dark brown hair and equally long dark lashes. The flit around the house which is full of flowers - artificial, but who cares. There are pots of artificial palms and ferns and vases of artificial lilies and roses. The bright faces of all the girls appear round corners, or over the tops of the plants, all curious at what I am doing on the floor with their little cousin. They smile and giggle and when they think she needs help they will guide her hands or point to something.

If I were of childbearing age I would have walked out of both these homes pregnant - with girls! As it is, I am filled with wonder  by the time I leave, an enigmatic smile on my face.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Today is the second time in as many weeks that I have sat sequestered in my office for a couple of hours. The reason for this is that the truly insane mother of a little girl with whom I worked, and who now attends one of our programs, comes for her parent education sessions.

She meets with a parent educator in the office immediately next to mine. Last week when she came in she announced that she hates me!  I guess she should. While I was working with her daughter  I had to report her to child protective services. Sadly, I have to say, nothing came of my report. This is usually the case. As health workers in the home we are mandated reporters. These reports are not made lightly. They are followed up, usually much later after the fact, because, as with everyone else, child protective services are overworked and do not have enough workers. Almost always when they do visit, the parent is on their very best behavior and they close the case. In this particular case the positive outcome is that the little girl is attending one of our programs. Her mother drops her off and picks her up, and it has not escaped the attention of the teachers that this woman is really not okay. At least the little girl is out of the home for 4 1/2 hours each day. I feel somewhat vindicated in that every involved understands the mom is not okay. However, I have to deal with the fallout, and because she is really not a balanced being, we all feel it is better for me to remain sequestered while she is on the premises.

So I remain quietly inside, doing research, filing paperwork, and reflecting upon the insanity of this situation.

In the meantime, nothing has been resolved with the weird two I previously blogged about. The case manager has not arranged for a meeting. I told the mother about our program and gave her all the details as well as the name of the person she should contact, and she has not done this. Last week she informed me she would be going this Wednesday (today). When I inquired whether she had made an appointment, she said yes. However, none in the program had heard a word. I thought maybe she hadn't understood me, and got a Spanish speaker to speak to her. She had understood me, but just decided to come with the kids without telling anyone. We told her again she needs to make an appointment. She promised to call on Monday, but didn't. Tomorrow I go there and will check why she has not followed up. She did ask the Spanish speaker whether she would have to pay anything, and we told her she wouldn't, so that fear has been allayed.

When we were with the County we had a medical social worker, but have had no one for 8 years.

Oh well, it is hard, what can I say.

Monday, March 26, 2012

So Strange

That is a very un PC title, but I can only think of that and far worse as a name for a family I work with. Of course I  was not referred to the entire family. The Regional Center Case Manager told me she has a little boy who needs speech therapy - she knows I am not a speech therapist. According to her she either can't find one, or hasn't tried. She needs a speech therapist who speaks Spanish, and who will agree to go to the home, so, as usual, she asked me to go. I agreed because referrals are very low, and any kind of intervention is helpful.

I knocked on the door of the Section 8 housing apartment and a short, dark-skinned black haired woman came to the door. She gestured to me to come in, and as my eyes became accustomed to the relative darkness I looked for a place to sit down. I found a chair next to a formica table laden with bottles of chile, an open box of oreos, salt, pepper, a few slices of bread, and boxes of fruit juice- the kind for children with the straw attached. A queen sized mattress was on the floor in the corner of the carpeted room, across from an old-fashioned, and old, TV which stood on a chest of drawers. Most of the drawers were open and socks and clothing spilled out. A sofa was next to the wall and it was covered with toys, stuffed animals, balls, ring stacks, a broken leapfrog computer, blocks, jigsaw puzzles. I was surprised by the toys which were of a suitable developmental level for the two young girls standing staring at a me with enormous brown eyes. A man sat on a chair and I presumed he must be dad.

I introduced myself.  The parents didn't introduce themselves. Instead the woman gestured to the slightly shorter girl with long dead straight black hair. I had thought the referral was to a boy, but I was obviously wrong. Right next to her stood a slightly taller, plump girl with long curly black hair tied into braids. I stared back and then the mother who obviously saw my confusion, said, 'it  is a boy, but he looks like a girl. The two, brother and sister, stood in front of the TV, transfixed by me, apparently, because they seemed frozen in place. I told the mother we needed to fill in paperwork. She and I pulled the chairs closer to the table, the surface of which, I soon found out, was very sticky. I gave mom my pen and she began filling in the paperwork. The girl approached me and placed herself directly in front of me, staring. She had slightly dysmorphic features, and although she is over three years old, she can't speak, at all. The parents and I spoke spanish, they don't know any english, but the mother informed me that the son has one word, and that is 'shoes' (in english.) He is two and a half and the girl is about 10 months older.

I explained to the parents that I would come once a week to work with the boy.  It is a one-roomed apartment. Mom and the children are cooped up inside. Dad works in Antioch as a waiter and only returns home once a week. The only outing they ever have is to Childrens Hospital once a week, as the little girl gets transfusions. Mom and the kids take the bus and Bart. All the toys, mom told me, are gifts from the nurses. Otherwise they would not have any toys at all.

My arrival with my bag of toys is an occasion for unrivaled glee. The girl is convinced I am there to play with her and when I come in she hugs my legs and won't let her brother get near. I explain that we need to sit and I have toys for both of them. In response to my reasonable remarks she begins to cry. When she cries and lies on the floor drumming her heels her brother approaches. He keeps still for maybe a split second then he runs around in circles. The girl stops crying and comes back. When she returns he also comes back then she pulls his hair, hard. I tell her to stop, and offer her a toy, but she looks at me and pulls his head harder. He cries, she pulls and I tell her to stop, then she cries. Once she stops crying again she then pulls my hair and kicks me. The boy hides behind a sofa and mom, on my most recent visit, remained in the kitchen cooking chilies, and I coughed and my eyes watered. It is like a circus. Sometimes when the girl stops crying she comes up to me, folds her arms across her chest and babbles in gibberish. No matter what I bring, the boy takes one look then goes to kick his large ball, hard, in my direction.

I have never seen dad again. Last week a man was there, I was not introduced, and after observing this insane performance for a few minutes he left to sit outside. From something mom said I understood he is her brother.

The kids consume enormous amounts of sugar. The boy climbs on the table and eats jam straight from the jar. The suck popsicles and drink soda. I am sure this does not help their excitable states, but I am not sure exactly what to do. I did say to mom that it would be good for him to drink water, as she said he likes it. She cut his hair before my last visit and now he looks like a little boy - a strange little enormous-eyed imp. Now the girl doesn't have that much to pull, but she manages to pull clumps nevertheless.

What I am doing there I do not know. I do not believe I am in anyway contributing and have told this to the case manager.


Saturday, March 24, 2012


I am sooooooo very grateful to be able to post this, and that nothing worse happened other than me being so shaken up that I had to have chamomile tea instead of coffee.

Yesterday morning I was on my way to the office, driving up E80. After signaling and looking back to check there was no one in my lane I exited at Hilltop Drive. Out of nowhere I heard sirens blaring and looked into my rearview mirror to see either a police car or a highway patrol car coming up behind me hell for leather. In the next nanosecond a Nissan Sentra sped by me, just missing my right rear, then it flew in front of me, back to the freeway where it "landed" in front of a large truck and kept on driving. In hot pursuit the police car followed it, also just missing me as it followed the exact passage of the Sentra. I smelt rubber burning and wide-eyed looked at the chase until the overpass blocked my view and I was left stunned, wondering what had just happened. Who knows - nothing was on the internet or in the paper, just another high speed chase.

Thank you thank you thank you that nothing worse happened!

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I  flew in to Oakland Airport one March from some place or other. A female cabdriver picked up a few of us who were going to Oakland and points north. It took me only a a few seconds after I climbed into the front seat to notice that everyone in the cab, driver included, were covered in tattoos and piercings. I felt quite bare and naked. The hardware decorated women in the backseat were going to a belly dance festival in Richmond. I worked in Richmond which I knew had many things, but belly dancing was not one of them! So I thought.

A few years later I began classes in what was advertised as "Middle Eastern Dancing for Women" a euphemism for belly dancing. In March the teacher told us about the festival in Richmond. On the Saturday of the festival I decided to go and see for myself what this was all about. I drove down Barrett Avenue and found parking near the Civic Center. To my amazement I saw hordes of people walking toward the Center clad in harem pants, swinging skirts, flimsy veils, sequined belts, mirrored bras, ankle bracelets, arms adorned with bangles and fingers with rings. I felt an odd sense of dislocation, the middle east here in Richmond. Myself, I wore black pants and a plain unadorned T-shirt. I felt plain, dull, and boring as I gazed open-mouthed at the explosion of femininity around me. A veritable estrogen feast. Women of every age, color, size, bellies, arms, breasts exposed. The jingle of ankle bracelets, the sound of drums, ouds, and zills, wafts of incense.  The fabulous souks of the middle east recreated in Richmond, of all places. Crowded hastily erected stalls displayed loads of silver jewelry, sequins, feathers, sheer gauzy clothing, colorful veils, embroidered coats from Kashmir, pottery from Morocco. Yards of glittery fabrics, rows of zills (finger cymbals), even the men wore the same clothes. I watched tribal dancing, soloists, dancers with boa constrictors around their arms. Dancers came from all over the world and all over America. There was Maha from Tokyo, a male dancer from Sweden, tribal dancers from Chico, dancers with canes, wings, balancing swords on their heads, music from the stalls, snippets of conversation (My intention was to....... - I was a vegan, now I eat meat again ........ there is this fabulous chiropractor ....... my tongue piercing got infected .....)

After  several years hiatus I went yesterday, and was delighted to find the same bedlam and jollity, despite the many revolutions and uprisings which have taken place over the last year. The same unity and joy. A delight to share this music and beauty in the midst of all that is wrong.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

And Now What?

"Scientists are predicting that America and Asia will crash into each within the next hundred million years.   And that ends this edition of the world news."

For goodness sake - was that really necessary to add to the long list of global woes, the renewed riots in Greece, the bloodbath in Syria, the warmest winter in the States, the coldest winter in Europe, the arming of military to fight against civilians in Darfur, the Israelis planning an attack against Iran ...

And that was just the very end of the news. That is why I do not listen to it - I just happened to turn on the radio for the five minutes drive from the gym back home (I know, I should walk.) I drive every day for work, and so I listen to books. I am thoroughly enjoying "Howards End" by E.M. Forster. He is an excellent writer. I just decided to listen to the news as the drive was so brief, and now to add to my list of worries is the impending crash between continents. Really, none of us will be around, quite probably the planet will not be around, why is it necessary to even put that concept out into the ether? It pisses me off.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


As I grow older, I become more phobic. I have fears about crowds, about heights, about doing mathematics. I have conquered at least some of these fears - going to India certainly helped. If one fears crowds one shouldn't go to India, period. We went to the bustling vibrant town of Chidambarran. A magnificent temple is in the center of the town and all of the daily (and nightly) life takes place in and immediately in and around the temple. Siva is the deity here, and for thousands of years the Dikshita priests have carried out the ceremonies. Once a year Siva is taken out of his home, bathed, clothed, placed in a massive chariot and taken around the town. Taken is the wrong word. His massive stone chariot rests on enormous wheels of stone. The chariot is pulled by hundreds and thousands of pilgrims who pull the thick sisal ropes which move the chariot along the streets. They are the driving force, the motor. We arrived in Chidambarram specially for this ceremony. With my fear of crowds I find myself running barefoot over stones, dust, and asphalt trying to keep up with yatris (fellow spiritual travellers) running ahead of me. We are all trying to keep up with someone familiar ahead of us and we clutch each others' arms and scarves. We are in a swirling sea of excited Indian pilgrims. My fear of crowds dissipates and I joyfully merge into the ecstatic throng. My fear of heights I overcame on my last trip to the north when we had to walk across flimsy bridges over a swollen Ganges. So - I have a fear of computers and digital devices in general. In a terrible state of jetlag in Singapore I bought an iPad! My fogged thinking was that it would be really convenient to take to restaurants and cafes and blog and write. II shlepped my burgeoning amount of devices to work, but there we do not have access to wi-fi!!!!!!! Imagine that. My nights have been busy trying to read manuals. I went to the Apple store and got some advice. All seems so very easy and obvious when one is instructed by a chirpy youngster. However, I get home and don't know what on earth I nodded yes to so happily! But here I am, it is Saturday, and I'm in a cafe and it is working!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yahoo.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Don't - do

Don't run around bare foot.

Don't play with your food.

Don't eat with your fingers.

Don't stare at people, its rude.

Don't push in line.

Look to your left and right before crossing the road.

Wait for the green light.

Don't hoot at other drivers. (honk, for the benefit of Americans.)

I am sure we have all heard at least a few of these admonitions. In India all is topsy turvy. Everything we have been warned against, we must do if we are to survive, and not commit gross cultural misunderstandings, unrest, violence ...

When I was in the north, 18 months ago, I developed a horrible painful rash from the heat. I remembered that when I was first in India many years before people used some kind of powder for this condition. In congested crowded Vrindavan I saw what might be a pharmacy across the road from where I was standing. That is, I saw some bottles on the shelves of a stall with red crosses on them. I determined to go there to ask, but i had to cross the road.To my left, right, ahead of me, and behind me was a constant stream of people walking, limping, pushing carts, propelling vehicles with their hands or legs, bicycles with at least five people sitting on them, motorbikes likewise, pushcarts, buffalos, dogs, goats, pigs, rickshaws, cars, buses.   It took me two days and pain to get me to cross the road.

This time in Puducherry I had to cross something similar to a wide avenue to get to our hotel. Maybe something like a six-lane highway, although of course there was no such thing as lanes.  I  stood on a strip across from the hotel and looked to my left for a traffic light - nothing. Maybe to my right, if I just walk a bit. I walked, then realized I might walk forever, I was not going to find a light, and there was no such thing as a pedestrian crossing.  What to do? To cross the road was nothing short of suicide.

I looked at the never-ending flow waiting for a break of sort. Then, immediately to my left an angel appeared in the form of an old, skinny, barefoot woman. She hitched up her sari and began to cross the road. Here was my salvation, I hurried after her, shadowing each step she took. The pavement on the other side loomed up like a glimpse of land to someone who has been floating hopelessly at sea.

I reached the hotel safely.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What to Do

I was reading my very brief journal I kept in India, and was reminded of an incident which occurred on our second day there.

We visited Mahaballipuram, an area of magnificent stone carvings and an ancient temple. I remembered it from a previous visit, 18 years ago. What I remembered about that visit were the granite carvings, the  snake charmers, and a fight between a snake and a mongoose. I also remember walking along the lovely beach being pursued by a young girl, a beggar. She was in rags and held a tiny equally ragged baby. As is their custom, she latched on to me and didn't leave me alone. It was at a time when I was in desperate need of quiet time, and I am ashamed to say that I quite lost it with her. I told her to get away and asked whether she had ever heard of the world's population explosion. Of course it went by her.

On my return visit, 18 years later our group of 46 stood outside a temple, waiting to go in. Of course we were accosted by every urchin and beggar in the area. Again, a young girl stood in front of me holding out strings of synthetic beads and pearls. She shoved them in my face and tried to open my fingers. I looked down at her and shook my head. She gazed back out of large brown eyes. She was a pretty girl who was very very dirty. She stared at me and said, "please Ma'am, very every hungry." Despite my stoney face she continued. I looked at her, obviously she was hungry. She wasn't in good shape, but what on earth could I do? If I agreed to buy even one of her strands of beads the other hundred beggars around her would insist we buy from all of them. I looked into her eyes and shook my head. Her whole sorry life and future unfolded in front of me. Just then a security guard who had been on the outskirts of this group came over, raised his hand and he hit her on her back, hard. It happened so quickly. I felt myself screaming 'no' as he hit her again and all the street kids scattered.

It is very difficult when one is confronted with this level of misery and despair. One of the men who leads our tour is an Indian man, a Hare Krishna disciple. For the past few years he supervises an organization that feed 1200,000 children a day in Mumbai. For most of these children this is their only meal. They are fed in government schools and their parents now send them to school so that they can eat, and of course, learn. On my last visit to India I decided to donate to them, because I know where the money is going, and that it is an extremely worthy cause, better than the 10 rupees I can dole out to a few people to make me feel better.

If you are interested, this is the link

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shopping in India

My latest trip to India passed in a dream. I will write more of it for Namarupa, and hopefully more vignettes will follow in this blog. It is really impossible to capture or even try to describe the sensory overload that is India.

Amongst other places we visited was Puducherry (formerly known as Pondicherry.) Cyclone Thane had passed through before we arrived, uprooting trees, destroying roads and communications, wiping out villages. The area in and around Auroville was damaged very badly.

We eventually arrived in Puducherry after a long bus ride delayed even further by a sit down strike on the bridge, stopping all traffic. The strike was instigated by workers who had not received compensation for cyclone damage.

The area of Puducherry around the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is reminiscent of the French Quarter of New Orleans (thankfully without Bourbon Street.) It is elegant and gracious - wide, almost clean streets, beautiful French colonial buildings. Lush trees lining the streets and form overhead canopies.

After our visit to the Ashram and Temple we had time for that most spiritual of activities, shopping. I was told of a Kadhi Shop (The Kadhi textiles are the industry begun by Mahatma Ghandhi, and not the shop where Ghandi went shopping, as one of our crowd informed her husband in Michigan. ) They are a wonderful homespun cotton and prices are fixed.  I wanted to buy something for my nephews.

An Indian 'guide' accompanied some of us along bustling Nehru avenue, no longer reminiscent of the French quarter. Narrow dusty streets lined with crammed shops and stalls. We arrived at the designated shop and everyone dispersed into the narrow, crowded interior, on either side of which textiles and clothing were piled to the ceiling. Behind a counter sat about 10 men, if not more, all their heads wagging as we asked questions.

Behind one of the men I spotted plain medium sized short sleeved shirts and pointed to them. One of the men removed them from the pile and from their cellophane bags. He displayed them on a crowded counter top. Inside the shop the heat and humidity were getting to me, I wanted to leave so I wagged my head in approval of these two shirts. Another man refolded them and replaced them into their cellophane bags. He handed these to another man who wrote the  prices on a piece of paper. This man handed them to another man who added the totals and handed them to a man at a cash register. I paid the amount and yet another man handed me the parcels along with a receipt, (and apparently, a blessing.) Finally, another man handed me my change.

"How many Indians does it take to buy a shirt?"