Happy Thanksgiving

I posted this last year, but I’d like to share again with you this year, and I’ve added in a few more photos.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love from friends and family and maybe even a few strangers! I’ll put the closing thought up top because I mean it so much

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

tdinner malawi

A “traditiona'” Thanksgiving feast in Malawi, Central Africa!

 

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it is the ultimate American holiday where for just one day of the year almost everyone in this great big crazy spread out disparate country of ours is doing the same thing.  And while others may do it now, the idea of having a holiday where we simply give thanks for all that we have always strikes me as uniquely American (and something we should do more).

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you my most memorable Thanksgiving, which happened in 2001 while I was living in Malawi.  I was volunteering at theMalawi Children’s Village and was teaching, primarily math and English. The event of 9/11 were still, of course fresh.  I sent out the below dispatch and I’ll just let it speak for itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

With Biston, who always would grab my goatee

 

December 9, 2001

Hello and happy holidays from Africa.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Being literally on the other side of the world I can only imagine what things are like in the U.S. and how special these holidays must be. As I think I have said recently, it’s during these times that I really miss being home with friends and family.

Many of you have asked how I spent my Thanksgiving and I would like to devote most of this dispatch to
that.

Obviously in Malawi they don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, matter-of-fact they don’t even know what it is. Having lived in Malawi for a while now, maybe I had fooled myself into thinking that I had assimilated into the culture more than I had (well as much as a 6’4, 230 pound red-headed American can). I sometimes forget just how big the cultural divide can be, which was brought home for me in trying to explain Thanksgiving to my students.

At the Christmas party with Jonathan and his mom. Smiles.

 

To digress for just a moment, one of my biggest frustrations for the people here is the utter lack of variety that permeates almost every aspect of their lives, their diet being a perfect metaphor for this. As I have mentioned in past emails, the staple food in Malawi is nsima, which is made from corn meal that is sifted and then boiled until it takes on a consistency of overcooked Cream of Wheat, without the flavor.  You eat it communally, taking a small amount from the shared bowl, rolling it into a ball in your hand, and then dipping it in a relish – usually vegetable or fish, sometimes chicken. This is what the villagers eat for lunch and dinner, without fail, every single day. If you ask Tamanda what she had for lunch yesterday, it was nsima. Ask Mbubakar what he had for dinner last Tuesday? Nsima. Three months ago Friday for Imed? You got it, nsima.

Now, I don’t say this to sound culturally insensitive, but think about that; what if you ate the exact same thing for lunch and dinner every single day of your life? How would you feel about food? Think of the pleasure we take in food and particularly different foods from around the world. Well for the most part, folks in Malawi are never afforded that simple opportunity. A small example: a few weeks ago, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some of my students – none of them had ever had one – and it was like they were eating at Le Cirque.

So back to Thanksgiving: I explained how all over the country, families and friends come together to enjoy a great meal, each other’s company, and in our own different ways give thanks for what we have. I started explaining how cool I thought it was that on this one day of the year almost every American shares a common experience as almost every household has a turkey, mashed potatoes, apple or pumpkin pie and so on. And then looking at them I realized they had no idea what a turkey, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie are.

So right there I decided that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
In case you’re wondering, making a Thanksgiving dinner in third world Africa can be a bit of a challenge (though I am sure Martha Stewart could make a beautiful centerpiece from the dead bird and hippo dropping she found by the lake). You can bet there are no turkeys, and the chickens are all pretty scrawny.

Alila carrying wood home.

 

So I decided we would have a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving dinner – pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, green beans and a little cake for dessert.

I was able to get the pasta and canned green beans from the Catholic Bishop’s residence (it comes over from Italy … seriously). The tomatoes, potatoes, and onions and garlic for sauce were bought from the local marketplace. And finally from the store in town I bought some powdered mushroom soup (which by using much less water than directed would serve as the gravy), some sausages for the pasta sauce, and some flower, sugar and canned fruit for the cake.

Not quite traditional, but a Thanksgiving feast none-the-less

 

The attached pictures show the process and results; the first is cooking the pasta over an open fire – gathering the wood, lighting and stoking a fire, and then feeling like you’re in a sauna; the second is the magnificent feast; and finally everyone enjoying their first experience with pasta. We had such a fun time that evening and for me it was just so rewarding watching the expressions on their faces as they tried each of the foods and scrambled for seconds. The big
hit, as you could guess, was the cake – like everything else we had that night, none of the kids had ever had cake. Again, it’s flavors they have never tasted or knew to taste and in just a very small way, that they probably don’t even realize, just opening their eyes to other things life has to offer.

This is after the kitchen remodel!

 

The week before, our Form 4 secondary students returned from school having all graduated. They are
now waiting for the results of the national exams to see who will be afforded a place at the University.  It gets me down a little, because once again these kids have accomplished something pretty big – graduating from the equivalent of high school – and no one really recognizes their achievement. So I decided that just the six of us would have a celebration: we went to one of the local hotels where we swam, had a great lunch and I gave each of them a watch and a solar calculator (so they don’t have to try to find and buy batteries) that I had brought with me from the States. They were so excited! Every time I would see them they would be sure to tell me what time it was…

As it came time for me to leave, all the students came by to say good-bye and to thank me for what I had done. I once again told them that the pleasure has been mine, that I feel so enriched for having met all of these special people. Life is an amazing thing, and as I think about the events of September 11th, and what is going on all over the world, I can think of spending time with people from a culture so foreign to mine, and mine to theirs, and how that didn’t matter.
Although there are so many things that are different about us, we shared a commonality, that of being human beings that care about each other and at least here
with these people, that know right from wrong.

My adopted family, the Mtaulas!

On several occasions people commented to me that they just didn’t understand why Americans, who have so much, would come to a place like Malawi, and live with so little and without all the creature comforts of home, and yet actually be happy. And I would tell them if I hadn’t have done this I would have never had the opportunity to meet all of them, experience a part of their life, make these great new friends and once again I would tell them that I took way more out of it than I could have possibly given them.

As has been my norm, I would like to end this dispatch with a poem that was given to me as a Christmas gift
by one of my students.

The Jolly Maker
Samuel Aristotle Mtaula
Jolly maker, oh!
I remembered then, for a moment,
With your golden voice,
You taught students.
With wisdom of yours
You created a nice future.
Jolly maker, hmm!
I salute you!

Jolly maker,
In time of sorrow
You set them with smiles.
When they fall in trouble,
With your presence,
They were self.
Oh! A source of happiness.

Happy maker,
There you are,
Indeed you’re a jolly maker.
Let nothing trouble you,
Since you are
Jolly maker.

With your kindness they enjoyed
Enjoyed swimming
Swimming in the swimming pool

With love,
They chatted
No need to get a witness.
With your presence
Many of t hem visited
They visited many places indeed
Ho! Jolly maker!

Jolly maker,
May the almighty God,
Shower you with blessings,
Guide you,
Oh! Jolly maker.

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

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It’s Official – @Pac12 Officially Says Officials are Incompetent

 

pac12 refs morons

(Pac12 officials being Pac12 officials.   Big Game, 2011)

Let’s begin with this.   Complaining about referees and umpires is a favorite pastime of fans around the world.  It’s fun.  It really is. And truth be told, there’s something really entertaining about it when bad calls go against a home team and the crowd gets riled up.  That sort of primal booing gets us going.

We normally hear about how “complaining about officials is for losers.”  And I sort of agree with it. But in the case of the Pac12, so often the officiating in a game is so egregious it warrants discussion and gets attention from national media.

This past Saturday in The Big Game between Stanford and Cal at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, we experienced one of the most hideous displays of officiating people can remember.  And here’s the thing… it wasn’t one call, like in Oregon v Oklahoma.  It was ongoing all game. Even rival USC conceded our game was the worst officiated game!

On the very first play of the game, Cal’s Michael Lowe was EJECTED for an alleged targeting play by umpire Rick DiBernardo.  First play of the game.  No one can ever remember seeing that.  Let’s say for the sake of argument the call was correct.  Later in the game Stanford’s Ronnie Harris takes a completely cheap shot on Cal’s Trevor Davis.  Watch the video.  A few things to note. The pass was well overthrown.  The play is done.  Davis is clearly no longer going for the ball.  And yet Stanford’s Harris hits Davis in the neck and head with his forearm.  A play that should lead to a penalty and ejection.  And here’s the kicker, the official (two in fact) ARE RIGHT THERE as the play happened in the wide open field.  No penalty.

and here’s another view.

Again, the best part is the official IS RIGHT THERE, and yet no flag.  BTW, this sort of play isn’t uncommon for Stanford in Big Games under Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football (seriously,  that’s how Stanford refers to their head football coach) David Shaw.

The personification of Stanford Football

Last year, Shane Skov, one of the dirtiest players in the conference (who was also arrested for DUI), delivered this cheap shot, where he launched himself and delivered helmet to helmet to Cal QB Jared Goff, injuring him so he had to leave the game, which prompted the national broadcasters to say he should have been ejected.  But there was no flag,  let alone ejection.

And of course, no discipline from David Shaw, he of the “Stanford way” fame. (apologies to my Stanford friends, I’m still peeved about that dirty hit)

But that was just setting the table so that the national media could join in.

Late in the 3rd quarter, Cal ran a play for an apparent touchdown as it was ruled on the field.  It was reviewed and determined tho to not be a TD.  Inexplicably the ball was placed at the 1 yard line even thought the ball was either across the endzone or inches short.

On the next play, Cal QB Luke Rubenzer ran a QB sneak and scored.  TOUCHDOWN!  But wait a second, once again the booth official wanted to review and, incredulously, said it was not a TD. You have to understand that in order to overrule a call on the field there has to be “clear and irrefutable video evidence.”

Here is what the reply official could see – there was no clear shot looking down the goal line

And then Jared Goff threw a perfect pass to Kenny Lawler, which was caught for a TD.  But once again the booth buzzed the field and overturned the call. The stadium was in an apoplectic fit with chants of “REF! YOU! SUCK!…. REF! YOU! SUCK!” raining down.

The officiating was so egregiously bad, respected former official and Vice President of Officiating for the NFL and current Fox Sports commentator Mike Pereira felt compelled to do a special commentary on just how bad it was – Bandits in the Booth Cost Cal.  Take a couple of minutes to click on that link to see him rip into the officials.  He literally calls them bandits!! When have you ever heard a commentator use such strong language?

You have to ask yourself if it was in fact corrupt?  Because here’s the sad thing, the Pac12 was embarrassed nationally in basketball last year when it was revealed that its officials were instructed to target Sean Miller, head coach of Arizona, with a technical.

I will give the Pac12 and Larry Scott credit.  Late tonight, after most deadlines, they publicly acknowledged how bad the officials were:

http://pac-12.com/article/2014/11/24/pac-12-clarifies-replay-reviews-stanford-california-game

SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 Conference acknowledged that its instant replay crew made two errors in the Stanford-California game Saturday, November 22, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced today.

During a California possession late in the third quarter, the instant replay crew reviewed three consecutive on-field touchdown calls by the game officials on one California offensive possession.

The NCAA Playing Rules state that to reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must be convinced beyond all doubt by indisputable video evidence.

Through the Conference’s officiating and game management review process, it was determined that there was not enough evidence through video replay for the instant replay crew to overturn the second and third touchdown calls made by the officials on the field.

The replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference’s disciplinary process.

But I don’t want to stop there because there’s one more play which absolutely must draw into question the integrity of the officials in Saturday’s game.  Here is a photo sequence of it:

Joined_Image_Onside_Kick_recovery_2

Let me explain what’s happening here. In the first frame you see Cal attempting an onside kick.  In the second frame you see the scrum for the ball and Stephen Anderson coming out with it.  In the third frame you see him running ten yards away – but the officials (unlike every other person in the stadium) don’t seem to see him.  So there is STILL no call by the officials.  Finally, in the 4th frame, you see the back judge Joe Johnston and the field judge Jeffrey Yock, who are still trying to untangle the scrum – not looking downfield to Anderson –  INEXPLICABLY signal Stanford ball.

Think about that for a second.  What is going on?  They CLEARLY cannot see a ball let alone who has possession because THE BALL IS NOT THERE.  Yet with certainty they signal, Stanford ball.  Here’s why that’s important.  Had the ball actually been there, then the call on  the field would have stood under review (I mean come on…).  HOW can the officials make such a blatantly bad call?  It honestly can only be one of two choices – inept or corrupt.  I honestly don’t know  which it is.

So what do you say?  We have official acknowledgement that Pac12 officials in multiple sports are either corrupt or incompetent.  Which do you think it is?