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My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears
by Mohja Kahf
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares
Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom
My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you’d make wider washbins, anyway
My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,
as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,
turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”
“We wash our feet five times a day,”
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
“My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!”
My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”
Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display
I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I
hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.
as explained by its creator blake fall-conroy:
The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 4.97 seconds, for $7.25 an hour (NY state minimum wage). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money. The machine’s mechanism and electronics are powered by the hand crank, and pennies are stored in a plexiglass box.
this is a cool representation of how little the minimum wage really is. even though the money is easy to make, i’d imagine people would stop pretty fast since you’re not making enough to really make your time & effort worthwhile. on top of that, the work itself, which isn’t stimulating and doesn’t add anything to the world, isn’t worth your time and talents either.
does your current job remind you of this machine in any way? if so, will you just keep “turning the crank” or will you make a change?
related: how to create your reason | what will you create to make the world awesome? | top 5 career regrets | how to find work that you love| are you multi-talented but under-challenged? | how to live “meaningfully well”
“I refuse to beat my chest over a grief that belongs to others, or shout about how terrorists messed with the wrong city. I find no virtue in braying over the capture of a teenager whose toxic grievances, and misguided loyalties, led to such senseless ruin. It is sad, all of it. The greater sadness for me is that America feels increasingly like a nation united by spectacles of atrocity. We pay attention, and open our hearts, only when violence of a random and gaudy enough variety strikes. But it shouldn’t take such calamity to awaken our decency, nor our devotion to causes of genuine moral progress. That, frankly, should be the price of our citizenship.”
writer steve almond reacting to the boston marathon bombing. check out his full article here (in which he talks about living in the city at the time, how the media’s coverage of the event, how people responded to the event & coverage, etc.) and let me know what you think.
if you saw today’s google doodle, you might know that jack roosevelt robinson would’ve turned 94 years old today. while jackie is most famous for breaking major league baseball’s color barrier, he was also a hall of famer in the sport (thanks to being a 6-time all-star, rookie of the year, league mvp & world series champion) as well as a civil rights activist. most of what you’ve heard about robinson probably came from outside sources since he died over 40 years ago. this excerpt from his autobiography I Never Had It Made is a chance for you to learn more straight from the man himself (via google books):
The late Malcolm X had a very interesting comment on the “progress” of the Negro. I disagreed with Malcolm vigorously in many areas during his earlier days, but I certainly agreed with him when he said, “Don’t tell me about the progress the black man has made. You don’t stick a knife ten inches in my back, pull it out three or four, then tell me I’m making progress.”
Malcolm, in a few well-chosen words, captured the essence of the way most blacks, I believe, think today. Virtually every time the black stands up like a man to make a protest or tell a truth as he sees it, white folks and some white-minded black folks try to hush or shame him by singing out that “You’ve come a long way” routine. They fail to say that we’ve still got a long way to go because of the unjust headstart the founding fathers of this country had on us and the handicaps they bestowed on the red men they robbed and the blacks they abducted and enslaved.
Whites are expert game-players in their contests to maintain absolute power. One of their time-honored gimmicks is to point to individual blacks who have achieved recognition: “But look at Ralph Bunche. Think about Lena Horne or Marian Anderson. Look at Jackie Robinson. They made it.”
As one of those who has “made it,” I would like to be thought of as an inspiration to our young. But I don’t want them lied to. The late Dr. Ralph Bunche, a true black man of our time, felt the same way. The “system supporters” will point to the honors heaped on a Ralph Bunche. They will play down the fact that he and his son were barred from membership in the New York Tennis Club because of blackness. They will gloss over the historical truth that Mr. Bunche was once offered a high post in the State Department and did not accept because it would have meant Jim Crow schools for his children. Look at Lena Horne, they say. The show business world took this lovely woman and tried to make her into a sepia Marilyn Monroe. They overlooked her dramatic ability and her other talents and insisted that she be cast only in the role of a cheap sexpot. When she refused they white-listed her out of the film colony. They point to her as a success symbol, but they will go easy on reminding you that she defied the United States Army when she was programmed to sing Jim Crow concerts for black troops and separate concerts for whites and German prisoners of war in Southern installation. Lena sang for the black troops only.
If a black becomes too important or too big for his racial britches or if he has too much power, he will get cut down. They will cut him down even when the power the black has doesn’t come from the white man, but from grass-roots black masses, as was the case of Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. With all his faults, Adam was a man who rocked the establishment boat, and the establishment lynched him politically for it. I don’t think anyone in or out of sports could seriously accuse Willie Mays of offending white sensitivities. But when he was in California, whites refused to sell him a house in their community. They loved his talent, but they didn’t want him for a neighbor.
Name them for me. The examples of blacks who “made it.” For virtually every one you name, I can give you a sordid piece of factual information on how they have been mistreated, humiliated.
Not being able to fight back is a form of severe punishment. I was relieved when Mr. Rickey finally called me into his office and said, “Jackie, you’re on your own now. You can be yourself now.”