Friday, September 23, 2016

Nagasaki, Japan

September 14th, 2016  Japan and South Korea
The last two days have been focused on the inhumanity of war and it's aftermath. In Korea, our tour guide thanked those of us from the western countries who helped create South Korea in the 1950's. Our guide was adamant that it was because of the western countries including the US, that she lives in freedom day. It was hard seeing the devastation after the Korean War and seeing the faces of the starving children and adults. After the Korean War, Korea was the second poorest nation in the world. There was nothing to eat or drink, everything had been destroyed.
We spent a good part of today touring Nagasaki, the peace Memorial Park, The Atomic Bomb Museum, and the Hypocenter of the Atomic Bombing. Even though I knew a lot about this, and had seen many pictures and movies before, there is something about being in Nagaski, at the center of the bombing that sent shivers up my spine.
My Dad was a medic in World War 2, and as a Jewish child, I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. My dad didn't talk about his World War 2 experiences until he was an older man, but as young children we found his war albums, with the piles of dead Jewish & other victims' bodies found as the allies liberated the concentration camps. I grew up knowing the world wasn't a safe place.
My Uncle Gene Henkin was in the South Pacific, and I remember him, too sharing how gruesome his experiences were. One of my earliest memories was of my Uncle Micheal Broady returning home from the Korean War. I remember how thrilled my parents and grandparents were to have him home safely. The wars continue; our Grandson Ron is just back from Afganistan. He was shot in the hand, but he is ok. Still, we are terrified for him.
Standing at Peace Park and viewing the statues built later after the war is humbling. The South Koreans were grateful to the West, but in Japan, how do you you ever forgive 2 atomic bombs being dropped without warning on innocent people? Nagasaki is such a beautiful city, it looks a bit like San Francisco. Of a population of 240,000 on August 9th, 1945, over 73,000 were killed and over 74,000 were injured. The city was devasted. It is a miracle that the earth has renewed itself and that once more people are able to thrive.
Everywhere in Nagasaki is the symbolic paper cranes, the sign of peace. I have friends and family that I love and cherish both in the US and all over the world. Surely, there is something that we can do to bring peace throughout the earth? There must be someway we can bring inhumane acts to an end, and banish war and atomic and all kinds of bombs forever. Every human being deserves the right to peace and prosperity.
I don't want to sound naive, but I'm no longer young and I'm tired of waiting for things to get better. The time to act is now, not tomorrow, not next year. Let's create a better world in our own lifetimes. I'm posting this commentary first and then I'll share pictures from today without comment.

Friday, August 19, 2016

My Last SAWP Summer Institute

My Last SAWP Summer Institute
By Roxanne Henkin
June 23, 2016

June 20th, 2016

Last summer, we traveled to Haridwar, India
It was a long journey,
We flew from San Antonio to Minneapolis,
Minneapolis to Amsterdam,
Amsterdam to Delhi,
Where we waited 6 hours at the train station,
To take the train to Haridwar.

There amid the confusion,
And the mass of people,
And the honking cars and motorcycles,
We entered the gates of Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya University,
And entered an Oasis of beauty,
A paradise of tranquility,
A place to restore your soul.

Another long trip,
From San Antonio to Atlanta,
To Joburg, to Cape Town.
As we stepped outside of the airport,
We were captivated by the magnificence of Table Mountain,
And the vistas of the Atlantic Ocean,
The towering cliffs and the magnificent sea.

Haridwar and Cape Town,
Both places so beautiful,
Both places so far from San Antonio,
And yet here in the 2016 SAWP Summer Institute,
We gather from three continents,
To write, share our lives,
And learn from each other.

Last summer in India:

Monday, July 20th in the morning was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya University and the University of Texas at San Antonio. It was one of the most beautiful and most significant ceremonies that I’ve ever had the opportunity to participate in.

There was a beautiful table arranged in a semi-circle where the Vice-Provost, Dr. Pandya of the university sat in the middle with Dean Betty Merchant and me sitting next to him.  Next to me were Kalpana and then Mary Lou.  Next to the Dean was Thomas Porter. We all then rose and participated in a ceremony at the alter where we offered flowers and received a blessing on our foreheads.  We then were offered yellow shawls that had been created in the university workshops.

Next, Kalpana’s daughter Gowri sang a song, “Sri Rama Chandra” that she had learned through the department of music on the campus.  It was long and complicated and several people sang along including the Vice-Provost, Dr. Chinmaya Prandya.  Then the Vice-Provost welcomed us with kindness reminding us that we are all one people around the world.  Betty then spoke next and talked about how she immediately connected to the Vice-Provost and the goals of his university.  She felt that UTSA and Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya University were aligned in our educational missions.

I spoke next about the San Antonio Writing Project and our purpose and goals.  I spoke about how we are an organization of teachers teaching each other to bring high quality writing instruction to students at all levels and in every discipline. Then I read my speech about writing and what writing does for us.  Interspersed with my remarks were quotes from authors and poetry from poets, including Langston Hughes.

Then came the signing ceremony.  The Memorandums of Understanding were put into beautiful folders made from the paper in the university workshops.  Many pictures were taken of all of us with the guests who were invited to the ceremony including the participants in our class, and we have a beautiful picture of all us together as we began our workshop.

What is so hard to capture is the emotional significance of the moment.  I felt like every atom in me was alive with concentration helping me to remember every minute of this event. There was a purity in the air and it felt like we were in a sacred moment.  Here we were, people from each side of the world, the East meeting the West and yet we were one in our love and respect for each other and we recognized that human beings in the 21st century can no longer tolerate hate and violence and must come together to help humanity evolve into a peaceful and just society.  These words weren’t said as much as they were felt and I marveled at my great luck to be alive and to be able to participate and to witness this moment in time.

South Africa was equally magical:

Monday, June 27, 2011, Day One of the 3rd Limpopo Writing Project Institute
Here is what I wrote during our journal time today:

I am so happy to be back at The University of Limpopo with all of you. This is truly a dream come true. Yesterday was a long and productive day that ended with a dramatic program and dancing. Then as we went to the lodge, the electricity went out and the sky was spectacular. Everywhere I looked the stars shimmered and they seemed to almost touch the earth. I've lost that view living in the city by a highway with the cars whizzing by leaving a perpetual hum and the stars obstructed by the city lights. I needed to come back to Africa to restore my sense of peace.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ramovha welcomed me to the real South Africa, as he explained that he is the 37th child of 44 children. He explained that his father is the Chief of his village and that he has 10 mothers. We marveled at that. We also looked at a map and saw where San Antonio, Texas is located. We ended the day singing and dancing to African songs and Dolly Parton's song, Island in the Sun.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We started the morning listening too Carol King sing, You’ve got a friend.

You've got a friend. Four simple words, yet they mean so much. You've got a friend to rely on, to care about, who will be with you in good times and in bad. You've got a friend.

This workshop is about friendship to me. It's about bridging two oceans and two countries and navigating through multiple cultures and languages. It's about reaching out and making new friends and caring, truly caring for each other.

You've got a friend. I am here for you and I want the best for you. I will share all I have to offer and support you as you learn and acquire new skills. I have learned so much from my time with you and I promise that I will never forget your kindness. During this workshop we have laughed together and cried together. We have sung together and danced together. We have shared our writing and in so doing, we have opened up the deepest parts of our hearts. When I return to my side of the ocean, I will be changed because I have a friend.

June 2016, THE SAWP Summer Institute

This is my last SAWP Summer Institute and it’s been amazing beyond my dreams. We come from 3 continents; we are a global writing project. We are all ages and teach a wide variety of subjects and at many different levels.  We are intellectually curious and care deeply for the good of the world. We have shared stories of our lives and we respect each other immensely. We have deepened our friendships with our friends we already knew, and made new friends we will keep for a lifetime.  We’ll never forget Mfundos’ kind words and his love of Tejano music, or the practice of Yoga we learned from Gopal, Manaswita, and Purva. 

This time together feels sacred, and the only antidote to the senseless massacre of young gay people and their friends at the Orlando nightclub, Pulse that occurred during our second week together.  It’s the belief that there is a Thought Revolution that is alive in the world, and that changing the world peacefully starts with each of us changing ourselves, one person at a time.  We have shown during our time together, that through talking, writing, and sharing our lives, we gain new understandings about ourselves and others. In this, my 48th Writing Project, I have been profoundly changed and spiritually renewed.  The world may not be a safe place for me, but it’s also filled with incredible, peaceful people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with this month, and grown to love. 

June 21, 2016

As I walked into the university from the parking garage,
I was especially mindful,
That today was one of the last days, that I would be walking this walk,

I noticed the beauty of the blooming flowers,
The colors were especially vivid, in hues of blue and red and gold,
I noticed the brush of the warm air against my face,
And I felt the dirt under my shoes.

These are my last days as a full-time Professor at UTSA,
It’s not the end of all I want to do,
But it is the ending of a long and full-filling career.

Yoga helps me be present in the moment,
It helps me be remember,
That Today and Everyday,
I don’t want to miss a thing.

I want to be present,
And I want to be open to the universe,
So as I step down from the Directorship of SAWP,
And move into the role of Professor Emeritus,
I transition into the next
chapter of my life.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Worst Massacre in US History

I knew
That we had to write about the tragedy today
It is the worst mass murders in US history
Poor Mfundo’s mother,
Who watches the international news
To make sure that Mfundo is safe
What must she think of America now?

49 people massacred at a night club in Orlando,
A gay nightclub, but straight and gay died together,
This is what comes of the hateful rhetoric,
From the presidential candidates,
And the politicians,
And the local people.

This is what comes when we mandate,
Who can use which bathroom,
When bullying is allowed and not called out,
When we have a country where hatred and prejudice
Are part of the land of the free.

In Chicago, my hometown,
A mother of 4 loses the last of her children,
All 4 gunned down in their own neighborhood
For no reason.

This is what happens,
When life isn’t cherished,
And words are unrestrained,
And guns are easily bought,
And used.

This is the worst massacre of innocent lives,
In US history,
But as we gasp and try to make sense of this
Senseless bloodbath,
Still they were gay,
And our state’s Lieutenant Governor,
Tweets that you reap what you deserve,
But because of the backlash now says that it wasn’t
About the massacre,
But it was.

Just a year ago,
I was so hopeful,
When my marriage was confirmed,
And our 40 years together was recognized legally,
In every state in this land.

But I misunderstood,
That the prejudice and the hatred,
Was still there.
I misunderstood,
That America is still not America for me,
And I’m not even sure that as Langston Hughes once said,

That it could ever be.