IN MY OPINION
Books Read in 2007
"Touching the World"
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TOUCHING THE WORLD
19 January 2007
We have a guestbook sitting on our living room coffee table. Most people don't sign it any more, but when it was new, it had a lot of activity.
The first entry is dated November 5, 1980 and the inscription reads "May all your guests find you in good health and high spirits. It was a pleasure to be here."
The writer was the person who gave us the book in the first place, Curtiss Reed, Jr., who was then the coordinator for home placements for The Experiment in International Living.
At the time he gave us the book, we had already hosted one foreign student, Eduardo, who came from Brasil to spend 3 weeks and stayed 5 months. The coordinator for the group which brought Eduardo to Davis had decided that her life was too complicated to coordinate another group and had passed the torch to me.
"If you don't host a group, the program in Davis will die," she told me.
I was so enthusiastic about this group of about 10 Brasilian students, the fun we had with them, the cohesiveness of all the families who hosted students, and how much we had all learned that I picked up the torch and promised that the program would continue.
And thus an obsession was born, which resulted in our hosting some 70 people in our home from 14 different countries over a 10 year period. And it's all Curtiss' fault for giving me a challenge to fill a guest book.
Curtiss left The Experiment to join the Peace Corps and spent time in Niger, Guinea-Bissau and other countries. We kept in touch for several years but, as such relationships do, we gradually drifted apart. Periodically I think about him and do a Google search but until the other day, was never able to find anything.
However, this week I struck gold. I found that he is back in Vermont, heading the ALANA Community Organization which, according to its web site "is dedicated to building inclusive and equitable communities throughout New England." It goes on to explain that "Our programs and services value cultural differences and affirm the pluralism that our communities reflect - including race, ethnicity, gender, language, age, intellectual and physical ability, religious beliefs, socio-economic class, family structure, etc."
I dropped a note to their main e-mail address and had a response from Curtiss that evening. Have I mentioned how much I love the Internet?
Waiting for the promised update from Curtiss on what has been going on in his life over the past many years, I began thumbing through the guestbook. There are names I can no longer picture, and some signatures which bring back a flood of memories. Many, but not all, are people who actually lived with us.
Who was Amir Rattner, for example? He was the third person to sign the book and was from Israel. I have no recollection of him whatsoever, but the next signature, Gianfranco Colonnello from Santiago, Chile I remember. I think. I think Franco was here at the same time as a guy from Brasil and if I remember rightly the two of them probably spent a lot of time doing drugs in what is now Walt's office. It's why they were always so happy (I was so naive!). Neither of them spoke English very well, but could communicate if one spoke Spanish and the other Portuguese.
On page 2 is the signature of Sonia Rejina Percequillo from Brasil and on page 3 is the signature of Charlie, a UCD student. The two would later marry and they now live in the Napa Valley (Charlie is a vintner) with their two children who are now nearly full grown.
Page 4 is headed off by Ari Velho, another Brasilian. Ari was a drug addict, I realize now. He stayed with us when his host family kicked him out. He left me $300 to hold in a bank account for him and he headed off to Columbia. We have never heard from him since (the money is long since gone. I figured we earned it). We're pretty sure he was either arrested or murdered in Columbia!
Paul from Georgia and Glen from Alabama are on that page too. These men were volunteers, like me, with The Experiment and had come to California for a meeting. I think they were here for dinner and I'm pretty sure I gave them "the grand tour" of San Francisco.
Oh my...next page is Damar and his wife Gaby, who, we were told, were cousins of one of our students from Zaire. I'd forgotten all about them. In fact, they weren't even close friends, but they moved in here until they could find a permanent place to live. Gaby was one of the most unpleasant people I knew. They also lived in the room that is now Walt's office. We had to fumigate the place when they left.
(I do have sympathy with the people who came from Zaire, though, because they were fleeing impossible, life threatening situations, which we didn't learn about until many years later.)
On the next page is Phil, who signed in June of 1981. Who would know that 25 years later he and Jeri would fall in love?
There is Nadia from Belo Horizonte in Brasil. Lovely woman. We hit it off very well and I was always sorry that she wasn't a "writer." I only heard from her once or twice after she returned to Brasil. She is someone I would like to have stayed in contact with.
Pujol signed in August of 1981. He remains in our life to this day. He lived in San Francisco for many years and now lives in the Czech Republic with his wife Aneta. Pujol had ups and downs, years when you despaired of anything productive ever coming out of him and now he is attending the university in "The Faculty of Pedagogy," where he studies in the Czech language (he's great at picking up languages) and he will be teaching at the university when he gets his degree. His progress has been amazing to watch.
There was a signature from another Brasilian, Angela, who didn't come through a program, but because of a friend. She arrived speaking not a word of English but her dream was to get her nursing degree in the U.S. She stayed with us long enough to become fluent in English, and she did indeed go on to get her nursing degree and now is married to an American and living on the East Coast with her husband and daughter.
I had to smile as I went to see who the last person to sign the book was — nobody has signed it in a very long time. But the very last signature in the book, at the moment, is Peggy, who signed in October, 2000, just before she went back to Australia. She promises "I will be back." I'm waiting.
We haven't filled the book with signatures, but I think we did a good job toward filling Curtiss' wish. Twenty-seven pages with lots of signatures from people in this country, but also signatures from people from the following countries:
Israel, Chile, Brasil, Japan, Zaire, France, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, W. Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Portugal, England, Mexico, Ireland, Canada, Ghana, and Australia.
Pretty impressive. The book is a real story of our family ...and a history lesson, too, since some of those countries don't even exist any more!
And it's all Curtiss' fault.
The video of the day is not great quality but it was taken when I was coordinating a group of students from Chile, led by a wonderful man, a gourmet chef named Rafael. This video shows Rafael teaching Ned to tie his tie (I absolutely love this video, just because of the interaction between the two) prior to going to the going-away party for the kids and their host families, and then some excerpts from the party itself.
The last I heard of Rafael he had become a U.S. citizen and was living in Maimi and working for a newspaper.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
I've posted this before. #1 is Vince from Malaysia
(the little kids are the cousins -- now adults)
This is entry #2486