Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Southern Comfort

Greetings, readers.  I hope you have all weathered the storm in stride.  It's been one week since Sandy and things are nearly back to normal for most of us in Manhattan, but it's a long road ahead for those on the islands: Staten, Coney, Long.  Here's hoping Mayor Bloomberg makes good on his word to restore as much as he can as quickly as possible. 
At any rate, I wanted to put out this lil' bloggy entry about my weekend in South Carolina last month.  Yes sir, I was indeed Lady Antebellum for a day or two.  It was great fun and a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Yankee country.  I hope you enjoyed the photos of me in a kayak and weren't left scratching your heads too long as to the connection between water sports on the Waccamaw River to special needs education in East Africa.  It's all about to become clear. 
You’ve no doubt heard of the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" of Titanic fame, but now it’s time you meet the "Indomitable Mary Gale" of Pawleys Island, SC, and more importantly, the International Association of Special EducationMary Gale Budzisz is the past president of IASE and has become a dear, dear friend of mine since we first met in 2009.  I had just begun the research for my project and was applying for an Echoing Green grant (which I would not receive) and by happy circumstance, I stumbled upon IASE and Mary Gale.  We had some email exchanges, then a phone conversation, and finally met each other face-to-face in Arusha when MG came to Tanzania to visit a project site that IASE was involved with at the time.  We have kept in touch ever since and are particularly in sync now that Toa Nafasi has risen from the ashes phoenix-like.
IASE is a fantastic organization, by the way, and I encourage all my readers to take a look at their newly revamped website and become a "friend" if possible.  Check them out here: www.iase.org.  Along with all the good work and awareness they bring to the issue of special needs education and learning differences in the United States, they run volunteer sites all over the globe in developing countries to bring that same work and awareness to places where these types of disabilities are unknownMary Gale has been involved with projects in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, and Tanzanian neighbor Malawi where there is a similar project to Toa Nafasi.  So needless to say, knowing MG and being part of the IASE network has been a huge resource for me.  We have talked about collaborating on everything from recruiting volunteers to donating supplies and MG has already come through on one big "get": due to her familiarity with Curriculum Associates, the publisher of the Brigance assessment module, The Toa Nafasi Project will be the recipient of two donated assessment kits, worth several hundred dollars apiece!  So, lucky us and many thanks to Curriculum Associates, Brigance, IASE, and the indomitable MG!!
For a long time now, Mary Gale and I have long been planning my sojourn down to Pawleys to visit her, talk SPED, kayak, and "wear rags 'round our heads," and with me here in the States now and this project going great guns, we figured there was no better time than the present.  I flew from New York City into Charlotte and then to Myrtle Beach.  MG picked me up at the tiny Myrtle Beach airport and we headed to Pawleys, stopping at a local dive for some dinner.  The food was great (blackened Cajun fish and coleslaw), but the ambiance was even better.  The waitress named Louann or Louelle or some such variation was dressed in gold lame and seemed to be playing the part of a waitress named Louann or Louelle in a local dive in Pawleys Island, SC.  Every word that came out of her mouth was honey-coated.  (Example: "Can I get a green salad instead of potatoes, please?"  "You surely can, darlin' girl, comin' right up, sweetiepie, anythin' else, sugar?")  It was fantastic.  I know the South has a lot of issues but customer service ain't one of them.  Louann/elle was phenomenal.
Mary Gale lives in a lovely little cottage in a non-gated community with other lovely little cottages.  From the outside, they are all beautiful homes, each one a little different, but generally of the same aesthetic.  On the inside, however, I might venture to say MG's is quite different!  Fit for a modern-day Maasai, the whole abode is done up in shades of red and black with tokens from all her various travels.  There's little evidence of her husband Frank's taste anywhere except maybe in the TV room where the football paraphernalia is.  Otherwise, there was the guest bedroom where I slept for the first time ever on a water-bed (!); the gorgeous sun-drenched breakfast nook where we started our mornings with a bit of work and chatter over coffee; the living room, outfitted with black leather couches and Maasai wall hangings; and a stunning collection of vikapu in the kitchen.

On my first day, after doing a wee bit of work at the breakfast table, MG and I headed out to the marshlands of the Waccamaw River to get our kayak on – hence the photos from last week which show the start, middle, and finish of my virgin voyage.  Apparently, I did pretty well.  I didn’t tip over and only ran the nose of my kayak into the brush once….or twice….(actually MG doesn't know this because she was too far ahead but I dinged both my kayak and my paddle into a metal birdfeeder in a particularly narrow passage!)  Still, I think she was quite impressed and I was actually really glad we did it.  It was so peaceful and calm on the canals of the marsh with majestic cypress trees draped in Spanish moss - a real Cape Fear momentNavigating the river itself was a bit more precarious and I begged off after only about twenty minutes or so.  But we had a lot of fun, and I didn't see a single snake nor a gator neither!

Now, of course there has to be some funny little story here because this circumstance clearly BEGS for a funny little story (just as unlikely and potentially humorous as "Sarah in Africa" was in 2007, "Sarah in a kayak in South Carolina" is in 2012.)  As we were getting ready to go out on our kayaks, we came across a group of teenage boys hanging out on one of the little landing sites, no doubt preparing to engage in some nefarious behavior.  I was content to let them smoke their doobies or look at their Playboys in peace, but MG went right up to them and started asking them what their intentions were.  And I’m glad she didOne of the youngsters, a certain Hamilton Tiller ("The ladies call me Hammy") had brought a BB gun to the marsh with himMG asked what he planned to shoot, maybe ducks or something, and he said, "Naw, just gonna shoot straight up in the air."  Well this did not sit too well with Mary Gale who, taking a seat with the boys at the landing, gave them a lesson in physics and how what goes up, well, it must come down again!  She also said that we would be kayaking out there and she didn’t want to have to be dodging bullets on what was an otherwise idyllic Saturday outing in October.  (At this point, I may have piped up and quipped something to the effect of "Yeah, and what a shame it would be for me to have come all this way from New York City just to get a cap in my ass in South Carolina."  Probably not all that helpful, I felt a little levity was called for as we were now all quite uncomfortable, me finding myself in the middle of the lecturing parental figure and the wayward adolescents, not knowing which side to be on!)  Finally, however, MG wrapped up her sermon and I asked the boys if they couldn't find other extracurricular activities to be involved in like track and field or Mathletes or something.  This suggestion was met with, "Wow, you really are from the North."

Throughout the duration of my trip, MG kept up her "indomitable" persona with an endless supply of one-liners.  They actually weren’t really one-liners since other than me, I don’t know anyone who likes to talk so much and about so many different things.  I tried to make note of some of the best zingers:
“We don’t get our trash collected out here, it's too far, but there’s a lovely little dump I like to go to.”
“I used to go to church but they pissed me off, collecting money for the pedophiles and all that.”
“Let me tell you about this place in Bangladesh I visited....Well, I can't say too much, but it was god-forsaken, I tell you.
Thank goodness her husband Frank was a man of few words or the three of us would have talked ourselves silly all weekend long.  But Frank's passion is football not conversation and he had mapped out every college game on TV from sunrise to sunset before I even woke up in the morning.  Here’s a good shot of MG, Frank, and their bulldog Luka at the sliding door.

And here, dear Toto, is evidence we’re not in Manhattan anymore.  Down South, there definitely was not an Obama supporter for miles around but, political differences of opinion aside, I found every Southerner I met a belle or a dandy, and greetings in South Carolina were more than cursory, conversation more than passing.  It was actually a refreshing change from the brusqueness of the Yankee Northeast and reminiscent of Tanzanian affability.  I’ll note here that I did NOT engage in any politics or election talk with anyone for the entire 48 hours I was there.  Quite a feat for the Washington DC-born New York City-dweller.
On my last day, we went to the Pawleys Island beach and roamed about a little bit.  It was a gorgeous cloudless day and, though a little chilly, we could still walk in the surf barefoot.  We beachcombed but very few shells were to be found.  We did spot this starfish however with a strange orange spot on his head that we thought might be a wound.

That night we went to another typical down-home Southern spot for dinner and some live music, a place called The Pit, which was actually quite nice.  We sat outside and listened to a relatively famous local group called Ten Toes Up and I had my red wine and flirted with the boys in the band.  (Not really, but in my mind, I was pretending to be the bad preacher's daughter from Footloose.)  This didn't last long however as I am a.) thirtysomething, and b.) Jewish.  Also, MG wanted to get home to Frank and Luka.

Finally, just before I caught my flight out of Dixie, we had a quick lunch at the neighboring golf club.  Not too much to say about it, though it was another lovely day in Pawleys with good food and great company.  The whole trip was just a weekend jaunt but it was so much fun and such a departure from my usual NYC weekend activities that I felt compelled to sharePlus, Mary Gale's name is sure to grace this blogsite again many times, so I wanted to put that out there.  I'm not sure what next week's entry will bring, but hopefully something good.  Good things seem to be the trend these days, hurricanes aside.  Until next time!!

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