The World Without (Part I)


There were about a thousand people at the Refugee Festival yesterday and almost all of them were born in Africa, Asia or India.  Sadly, relatively few American-born people attended.  What they missed, first, was a cacophony of color in the attire of all these foreign-born people.  What splendid bright, vibrant colors!  I never thought of Americans as wearing colorless clothes, but when you see these refugees in their native dress then you see brilliant turquoise, red, orange, white, blue, purple and pink.

The second thing I noticed was that none of the refugees are overweight.  You go to any other festival—German, Italian, Polish, Taste of Syracuse, etc.—then half the people you see will be overweight.  Not the refugees.  Reflect on that a moment.  Poor countries?  Not enough food?  People who are accustomed to hard physical labor?  People who walk a mile instead of driving a block?  People who eat food without additives?  No deep-fat-fried junk food?

Speaking of food, for five dollars you could buy a fork and six paper boats, then take the boats over to the food lines and get them filled with conglomerates of different countries—Bhutan, Somali, or something called simply as “African.”  The contents of these food boats were many, varied and largely unidentifiable.  The main food stuff was rice, and rice noodles, with a fair amount of fish.  This is how the rest of the world lives.  The seasonings were not identifiable, except for the curry (which, by the way, is not a single spice—there is no curry plant—but a collection of several spices).  Many of the foods were not identifiable either.  I was happily munching on something with small rib bones when I realized it also had small wings.  Uh-h-h, bird?

There was only one sweet treat, something that looked like baklava but was much thinner and had an understated sweetness instead of overwhelming syrupiness.  Every festival of the descendants of Europe is laden with sweet treats—vendors selling nothing but sugary pastries—but not here at the Refugees Festival.  White flour and refined sugar belong to the aristocracy, not the peasants.

At one table I was handed something wrapped in a long roll of aluminum foil and a paper boat that contained (a) meat sauce, (b) a hardboiled egg, (c) shredded lettuce, and (d) one-quarter of a lime.  I had no idea how, or in what combinations, these items were to be eaten but I quickly discovered that the meat sauce had enough hot spices to provide a jet-assisted takeoff.  When I opened the foil package, it contained a roll of something greyish-tan with the spongy texture of a thin yeast dough.  As I poked at it with one finger, it seemed to quiver and shake and for one horrible moment I thought it contained something that was alive but, instead, I discovered that the bread-ish thing was the perfect antidote to the fire caused by the meat sauce.  Never have I met two foods that were more symbiotic.

I took my food, looked for a place to sit and found what has existed all around the world since the beginning of time:  women and children sitting in the cool protection of shade trees.  The children were running around live and in person, not tied down in expensive strollers.  One woman was carrying her baby in two lengths of colorful cloth wound around their bodies.  The mothers variously fed or ignored the little children; they were not the end-all and be-all of their mother’s existence.  The children were well-behaved and playful; the mothers were not obsessed with control.  Elsewhere the men were gathered in groups talking.  Childcare is for women; talking is for men.  (To be continued.)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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