When I finish my reading I like to sing out loud the songs and poems of Thomas Moore. I am often mistaken for a drunk, a loon, or a man without a home but in reality I am just an old timer confident in his loneliness. It saddens me when young people hear my proclamation of Thomas Moore's most notable works, squint their eyes at me, then turn to each other with curled lips and wrinkled noses and say in disgust, "What is he going on about?!" It also bothers me that most people nowadays only recognize Moore's song Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms because it is often used as a popular gag in a number of cartoons, usually involving a piano rigged to explode when a certain note is played. The hero, typically Bugs Bunny, tries to play the melody line of the song, but always misses the rigged note (C above middle C). The villain or rival, finally exasperated, pushes the hero aside and plays the song himself, striking the correct note and blowing himself up. People know the tune, but not its composer. My appreciation goes much deeper.
Despite Thomas Moore living a handful of generations before me I have a special relationship with him not only through his poetry and music but through a strange similarity in our family lives. Moore had five children, two boys and three girls - as did I. Moore lost all of his children in his lifetime to untimely death - as did I. Moore received word of the death of his last surviving child on a Thursday - as did I. He wrote in his diary, "The last of our five children are gone and I am left desolate and alone." I couldn't have phrased it any better. Perfect and simple.
That's why Thursdays are for Thomas and Me, Charles Kelly.
He was buzzing all over the reception hall. This young, dark man in a baby blue short sleeved dress shirt tucked neatly in to chocolate brown slacks cinched tight around his narrow waist. From the kitchen to the tables and back again, he moved with purpose and precision. Expressionless except for a sweet smile flashed at those whom he passed on his short, repeated routes. In a room full of old familiar faces, his was new. I heard the event coordinator mumble something to him in French to which he nodded acceptingly and continued his busy motion.
Dinner time arrived and the assigned seating placed this stranger to the right of my wife and me. A few introductory words were delivered over the public address system by the event coordinator as to why we were here (a thirtieth anniversary celebration for a couple we know) and what was being served for dinner (lasagna, salad, ciabatta bread with olive oil for dipping, Sangiovese wine). As the food was dished up I turned to the young stranger and asked his name.
“Jo-NAS,” he answered in a deep French accent.
I gave my name, my wife’s name, as well as my mother and father’s names who were sitting across the long table from us.
“Where are you from Jonas?” I asked.
“Benin. In West Africa.”
“How old are you?”
“What brings you to the United States?”
“I move to Cincinnati. For good,” he replied in just slightly broken English.
We tried to impress Jonas with what little French we knew. After four years of French in High School my father can only remember how to say, "Shut your mouth." Our French vocabulary being what is was, we returned to asking him questions of general nature. Each of his replies were met with the angled head nods and eyebrow raises of genuine and eager interest from those at the table.
I could not help but notice the distinct characteristics of Jonas’ face. Bright, almond shaped eyes; a vibrant white smile; smooth skin the color of a coffee bean. One feature stood out from all the rest though. On the apples of Jonas’ cheeks were a series of scars. The scars numbered three to each cheek, perfectly spaced from right to left, about one inch in vertical length. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but these scars gave this otherwise reserved and quiet young man a sense of depth and wisdom.
After busying ourselves with eating for a few minutes I presented Jonas with another question.
“What did you do for work in Benin?”
“I was a Youth Advisor.”
“Is that a government assigned job or something?”
“No, it is NGO job.”
I showed a look of confusion.
Jonas picked up on this and elaborated, “S-O-S – N-G-O.”
“Oh, OK I understand,” I lied.
“What was your responsibility there?” questioned my mother from across the table.
“In Benin I help children. Girls from age of twelve, boys from age of fourteen. From this ages children becoming adults. They have changes in mind and body. I help them learn about next steps in life. ‘You try this job. You learn to do this skill. This is what to expect next.’”
“I see,” I said as his role became clearer. “Do you work with their parents on this?”
“You see, the children and the parents do not…discuss…communicate about these things.”
“Is that a part of the general culture?”
“Yes. The parents and children do not talk close about things. Most of children at that age leave home and come to live in small…it is like a small village. It is job of Youth Advisor to listen to the children and help them from then on.”
I could tell that my mother was taking this information in, processing it, and allowing it to hit her emotionally. She and I have always had an open dialogue, especially through my teenage years and she was having trouble grasping the idea of a parent sending their child off to gain a close relationship with a total stranger who would then help release them in to adulthood. Then, Jonas delivered this:
“Sometime though, the parent drop off baby to us,” he said as he made the gesture of laying an infant down to rest. Both arms stayed extended, hands turned up as he continued, “One, two weeks old. They have baby and they are scared. They don’t know what to do. They just leave it outside of door for us to find.”
My mother gasped as her face saddened. “Oh no! Just a little baby?! Does this happen often?”
Jonas lowered his eyes and softly whispered, “Yes.”
Jonas’ expression showed that no matter how many times he had seen a baby abandoned, he never got accustomed to it.
He continued to open up with confidence. “As a boy, my parents were separated. I am the oldest child. I had to raise my three sisters.”
“How old were you?” asked my mother, almost breathless with emotion.
“Eight years old,” stated Jonas with a proud smile, a smile so big that his scars almost disappeared.
Loudly, my mother exclaimed, “YOU WERE ONLY EIGHT YEARS OLD AND YOU RAISED THREE LITTLE GIRLS! I am going to have to hug you!”
Jonas was surprised and laughed out loud.
I leaned over and told him, “She’s serious. You had better get ready.”
With that, Jonas stood up and walked to the end of the table with outstretched arms to meet my mother half way. He stood about a foot taller than her and as she wrapped both arms around his core and buried her head in his chest, he turned back and looked at me with that big, beautiful smile. He patted my mother’s back as she squeezed him tight and then returned to his seat next to me. I put my arm around his shoulder. Jonas was now my brother.
Jet Blue Airlines' current promotion makes me wish I didn't have a full time job. In fact, it makes me want to quit my full time job just so I could take full advantage of the offer and blog about the whole experience.
What is the promotion, you may ask?
For $599, Jet Blue customers can purchase an unlimited travel pass that lets them fly for free to any of the airline's 56 international and domestic destinations as often as they like between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8.
In Dave Egger's book They Shall Know Our Velocity, two young men purchase promotional plane tickets that allow for unrestricted flight to anywhere in the world as long as they keep going in the same latitudinal direction. I often fantasize about what I would do with such a plane ticket. Granted, Jet Blue is not a full service international airline. However, for $599 I would take advantage of destinations like Jamaica, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. Tempting!
Get greedy with this one, kids!
The new magazine and online travel resource, AFAR, contains more of what I want to see in travel media. AFAR focuses on "experiential" travel and challenges its readers to go beyond pre-packaged consumerist jaunts in favor of genuine, authentic, and even unexpected trips. AFAR's mission:
"Our mission is to inspire and guide those who travel the world seeking to connect with its people, experience their culture, and understand their perspectives."
I especially like how AFAR was born:
"Greg Sullivan is a globe-trotting serial entrepreneur. Joe Diaz is a former teacher who grew up in a bi-cultural family, with one foot in Spain and the other in California. These seasoned travelers hatched the idea for AFAR Media over a beer on a beach in Goa, India."
My kind of guys. Support this venture by visiting their website and signing up for a FREE issue of the magazine.
Yesterday's news about the release of two American journalists from North Korea got me thinking about safe travel. Another recent news item, the arrest of three American backpackers who strayed over the Iran border from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, points to the dangers of being too confident when visiting an unfamiliar land.
The U.S. Department of State is great resource for making travel plans. Click the link below for tips on everything from packing to preparing to visit a high risk area of the world.
At Bill Clinton's request, North Korea's Kim Jong II has issued an official pardon of two American journalists. Way to go Bill!
Read the breaking news story here:
When traveling it is essential to make an effort to communicate in the native language of the place you are visiting. From the moment you decide on your destination, you should begin learning and practicing the basic greetings and expressions of the locale you'll be visiting. Under no circumstances should you assume that the locals will understand your language. I've seen many Americans make this mistake and it can be both embarassing and frustrating for all parties involved.
Which brings me to the first installment of FIVES. If you are going to learn FIVE words or expressions in the language of the place you will be visiting, I suggest starting with the following:
1. "Hello" - You'll say this to almost everyone you come in contact with and it's a great way to share a few head nods and passing smiles with the people you encounter daily.
2. "Please" - All cultures value good manners. Even if you are ordering food from a menu that you can't read, the least you can do is point to the selection and say, "Please."
3. "Thank you." - Again, basic manners. If someone opens a door for you, serves you a drink, or gives you ride to your next destination, always thank them graciously.
4. "I'm sorry" - Being unfamiliar with your surroundings or the local customs, you are bound to make some mistakes. Most often though, mistakes will be overlooked if you can simply apologize for your misstep.
5. "I don't speak much (insert language here)" - This explanation should be delivered with humility after you have said all that you can possibly say in a particular foreign language. The key is to show through your tone that you really wish you could speak more of the language but unfortunately cannot.
These five expressions are simply a starting point but you will likely use these more frequently than most other words and phrases.
I recently settled in to a rainy weekend with this book and quickly found my head spinning with new ideas about the possibilities of extended jaunts, living "in the grey," and even total relocation.
A good bit of the content seems motivated by political and economic discontent with the United States but a discerning reader can filter out the opinions and salvage the essentials. The most valuable resources in this book are the detailed breakdowns of countries all over the world. Each country's climate, government, social life, cost of living, and cultural offerings are prepared in an easy to read format that, when combined with first hand accounts of people who have actually made the trip, provide a good starting point for choosing a new location to travel to.