My Remarkable Friend: The Immigrant

ga landscape
Her first question to me after we met was, “Is everything dead?”  I was taken back, unsure of what she meant.  When she explained that she saw no leaves on trees, or flowers growing, I was relieved to tell her that in Georgia, where she was now living, it was winter! I promised her she’d soon see trees covered with leaves.

sri lanka

She had just arrived in America from Sri Lanka, along with her husband, a newly hired professor of Theology, and an infant son. She had moved from a life of some privilege, to a small garage apartment.  She was relatively clueless about the USA.  But she was a fast learner!

Her husband was a soft spoken former Buddhist priest.  She was a lively vivacious, extravert. She loved to party and loved to dance! For awhile, I helped her navigate her strange new world, wondering, all the while, about how she would survive here.

One day I got a call from her (we were next door neighbors) asking me apologetically, to show her how to bathe her young baby.  She explained that “the servants” had always done it at home. I was of course, eager to comply. She remained grateful for that help until this day!

It wasn’t long before she announced to me that she wanted to become an ESL teacher. Her husband had a pretty hands off attitude and seemed to know better than to try and stop her.

Sure enough, she persisted and got her degree. She mystified many people who met her in Georgia, because they couldn’t determine if she were white or black. I think it surprised her. She endured racism because of it, but plugged on. She is so charming, that she makes friends wherever she goes, despite inherent racism.

rural poverty in GA

She ended up teaching school in one of the state’s poorest counties. A county that few teachers wanted to work in. Her students had few comforts in life and a bleak future. But she was determined to make a difference in their lives. Because of her innovative efforts at working with these kids who most had given up on, she ended up becoming a Georgia Teacher of the Year!

She noted that her students had very few clothes (including shoes) and sometimes would not attend school because they had nothing to wear. She singlehandedly created a special closet in her classroom full of clothing for them she got from friends and neighbors. The children could help themselves to whatever they needed, no questions ever asked.

She did her best to get the parents involved in their child’s education. That was a struggle, but again she persisted and was able to enlist the help of parents in their own child’s educational success. Breakthrough!!

Her beloved husband passed away a few years ago. Although their personalities were very different from one another, they was tremendous respect each had for the other.

She found the courage to move closer to her sons, both of whom lived in California. She left behind many friends and a beautiful home that she and her husband had lived in. She moved into a retirement village not far from her family in California. She began teaching zumba there. She recently managed to buy herself a bright red Tesla. Her son, without telling her,had a stop device installed on the car so it won’t go over 60mph. I laughed when I heard it. Smart man.
IMG_2174
This past weekend, her sons, one now a cardiac pulmonologist and another an attorney, threw her an 80th birthday party at the retirement complex where she now lives. Over 100 people attended her party! She danced through it all, with more energy than seems possible. She’s going strong. The room was charged with the energy and good will she brought to it.
One of the residents told the group that their retirement home had been changed forever for the better when she moved in. I believe it.
When I hear people begrudging immigrants, I think of my beloved friend. The extraordinary commitment she brought along with her to improve the lives of others shines like a universal beacon for the rest of us. Let’s look and learn and welcome.

 

Thirteen Reasons I’ll be Returning

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05/08/2013

The Kyoto Hospitality Hour

“Come to our apartment for a little sake and chit chat before we go out for dinner,” is how our invitation goes.  That said, we have easily pulled together a spontaneous series of Vapnek hospitality hours that we are very happy with.  Our guests seem delighted as well.  It could only happen here.

Our more frequent visits to Kyoto have coincided with a rise of Kyoto visits from friends and friends of friends of friends who are making first visits to Kyoto for a few days.  Invariably, we’re contacted for obvious reasons by folks just wanting to say hi, curious about how we live here as well as  looking for restaurant/sightseeing/shopping guidance.

We’ve gotten into the habit of inviting visitors over.  That way, we have a friendly social hour and can determine their interests and offer suggestions.  Generally, they’re visiting for a few short days and my main advice is not to expect to see it all on one trip! If the spark is lit, I assume they’ll return for a deeper exploration of this remarkable city.  We’ve acquired a nice selection of sake cups.  Our guest are happy to pick their own, which is a fun custom here.

Within a quarter mile radius of our apartment is a store in the Nishiki Market that has a wonderful sake selection.  (my husband’s job).  Then on to a pickle emporium grabbing some cucumbers, daikon etc.

Japanese cucumber pickles

A short walk follows to Daimaru food court for a bag of assorted rice crackers that always gather a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the first timers.

Japanese rice crackers

We bring some almonds and pistachio nuts from California each time we come so that rounds out the food tableau.

Of course, I’m in charge of set up and flowers.IMG_0158

But I do Love Birthday Cake!

better cake

My birthday is tomorrow.  My birthday is tomorrow.  My birthday is tomorrow.

better cake

Part of me experiences the childlike excitement that phrase elicits.  Part of me says this is no time for self congratulation or celebration if you’re living in Santa Barbara.  Too much has been lost by too many.

Anyhow, I can’t bring myself to call a party.  But I do love birthday cake.

better cake

Many of my friends are still evacuated.  But I do love birthday cake.

better cake

The 101 freeway is still closed to the south.  But I do love birthday cake.

better cake

No one cares as much about my birthdays as I do.  Most people have other things on their minds.  And, I still love birthday cake.

better cake

So just in case you’re a friend of mine and want to sing Happy Birthday tomorrow evening to someone who loves birthday cake, let me know.  I don’t care about presents, so no worries there.  But you’ve gotta love cake too.  And maybe a little champagne as a topper.

Tomorrow night, Jan. 15, 7:30 pm. Let me know, so there’ll be enough cake.  Address will be given when you rsvp if you don’t don’t know:

devapnek@mac.com.

me

 

 

Some Things Do Endure

A favorite activity for many of us this time of the year, is to review photographs of the past year. It always amazes me that many of “the year in pictures” photos I see have almost been forgotten in the course of a year. We live in such a fast-paced popular culture! What we thought was shocking, unimaginable, unforgettable quickly passes into ancient history, replaced by the most recent shocking, unimaginable, unforgettable event, which of course will ultimately be replaced by the most recent scandal. Overall, the general message of the ending year is that all things must pass. But that’s too painful for most of us to dwell on so instead we put on an artificial gaiety to cover our anxiety. But this year, I’ve been happy to discover that some things in my lifetime, in this case, friendships, do endure!

Relationships. Some burn hot and flame out; others, on a slow simmer, never rise to importance in our lives. What makes the difference? Continue reading “Some Things Do Endure”