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The Eagle Huntress is both a documentary and the thoroughly engaging story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl from western Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter to compete in the eagle festival at Ulgii, capital city of the province. Because the story telling is so strong, I had to check, and yes, the girl Aisholpan, the father, Nurgaiv, and everyone in the documentary are persons from the family and the community who were filmed in real situations. They are not actors, there are no sets.

Here for a trailer.

And the dramatic landscape is a character in the story, marvelously photographed in a manner possible only with the latest technology. Do watch this video and discussion of the filming. The camera work is extraordinary. Nibblett and his small team had a special crane, cameras on a drone, even a camera on an eagle’s head, all working in difficult situations and extreme cold.

Each scene photographed had to be the only take. Aisholpan and Nurgaiv reenacted for the camera the way she acquired her eagle. We watch them climbing mountain paths to the peaks where eagles nest, him tying a rope around her waist to secure her as she slowly, carefully finds footing to get down the ragged rock mountain side to the nest they have located. Once in the nest, she plays an eaglet and manages to wrap it in the blanket Nurgaiv lowers on another rope and will pull up to him, all while a huge mother bird is circling above them. Somehow Aisholpan works her way back to the perch where her father awaits her. It had me feeling like an anxious, scared mother.

This review has photos and from A.O. Scott  “… In form and content this is a movie that expands your sense of what is possible. …”

The review from BBC has good information on how the filming was done.

Kazak horseman

For example, the Director, Otto Bell, to make a basic point on the theme of Aisholpan’s challenge,

Aisholpan

did not have to stage the scenes of elderly men grumpily disapproving of a woman eagle hunter breaking into a male domain. He had gone to visit the elders in their homes, his camera with him, and they all readily, unprompted, told him what they thought; he simply filmed and they became part of the story. We see Aisholpan’s grandfather relenting, then welcoming her into the sport. Bell and his team captured, wonderfully, Aisholpan’s 2014 competition win on camera, as well as when she was greeted by loud cheers after competing, and winning, again in 2015 and 2016.

Drawing on my background in anthropology, I wrote, here, on male and female roles throughout human history and why these roles are changing – the first of several such blog posts. I quoted Simone de Beauvoir in her 1951 book. She asks “What is woman?” and argues that man is considered the default, while woman is considered The Other.  “… Thus humanity is male and man defines woman as not herself but as relative to him,” and throughout history the average woman had no choice but to live with it because from first menstruation until menopause she could expect to be continually either pregnant or lactating, always caring for a child.

In 1960, however, The Pill came onto the American market, a new technology, a reliable, convenient, safe, discreet and affordable contraceptive that made possible profound changes in society and culture. For the first time ever a woman in a normal life arrangement could easily and dependably decide if and when she became pregnant, and it was the beginning of a slowly growing revolutionary force, one that has made possible the current scene of young women competing in athletic events that until very recently were male only.

I find Aisholpan’s relationship with her father especially interesting. He recognized that his daughter had the talent and the drive to excel in activities that once were taught from father to son, a set of skills and knowledge a man in a life based on herding sheep and goats, with camels for transport, must have for him to feed his family and provide the furs his women used to make the clothing essential for survival in that climate. We see in the film that Kazak lifestyle has changed fundamentally but their eagle hunting contains within it intrinsic values worth perpetuating as a popular sport, and Nurgaiv decided his daughter could be a star athlete in that sport.

The story of Ashopan and Nurgaiv reminded me of a friend in my 1958-60 study of Mexican-American migrant farmworkers. They were a community up from the Texas border, employed in large Wisconsin farms, then moving into the city where jobs were available for the men. It was for my M.A. thesis on changing family roles with urbanization, done while Ravi taught in a local college and our two children were still pre-school age. I became involved with a number of women, became a part of their lives, as they did of mine, and at this point especially remember one of them, a wife and mother traditional in all respects except for her husband being the one Mexican-American man active in his labor union, which she supported. She obviously understood better than other women the dominant Anglo-American culture they had moved into and when I asked her how this happened, she said it was because she had been her father’s favorite child. He had taken her everywhere with him while doing chores, visiting family or friends, even at work, never replacing her with a younger brother. (I noted that many of my friends did not like doing things alone, taking a child along if no adult company were available.) She became an unusually independent, self-assured, cheerful adult, fun to be with, still fulfilling her traditional roles while able to communicate well with Anglos. She was a natural leader both women and men liked and respected. As with Aisholpan, she remained loyal to family and community while expanding the definition of what a woman can be in modern society.

The film, Girl Rising, is a video on how to make the future better for everyone.

How about this New Yorker magazine cover celebrating the American Father’s day? When young, I knew men who complained about not having sons to share activities with, as if a daughter could do nothing other than play with her dolls. As for the concern about having sons to pass on the family name, I no longer hear it. Now the concern seems to be with ancestry and analyzing DNA, which comes equally from both sides of the family.

A few film critics assert that Aisholpan is simply repeating feminist rhetoric when she says “Girls can do anything if they try,” although she said the same thing off-screen: “I am happy that I have won a man’s competition. It shows how strong women are.”

Again, I think back to my own experience in a traditional society/culture newly touched by the forces of modernization. Here, from an essay I call Surviving the Patriarch, the Traditional Family and Women’s Work, I recall a thirteen year old girl in Aktepe, the town where my colleague, Hasan, and I were doing a study, 1970-72, of rural-urban migration in central Turkey. Aisha was lively and talkative, graceful, with a pretty face and her hair an unruly mop of dark brown curls. She liked to tell me about what she was learning at school and how she initiated serious arguments in class. One afternoon Hasan and I returned to the house to find her, still in school uniform, telling her sisters and little brother about a classroom debate on who is better, boys or girls.

From Hasan’s translation: “The boys are just awful. And I said so! Everyone knows that girls in the class are just as smart as the boys. And I told those boys what ladies do in life is more important than what men do. I said it right in front of the teacher and he didn’t say anything!”

I talked with Aisha’s mother, tried to persuade the family that the girl should go on to high school, but the father, who loved his daughters and was proud of this one, believed that women have one place in this world and men have another, a place that makes them superior and dominant. A number of families wanted Aisha as a daughter-in-law, with the added advantage of kinship ties this would create for both families. Her father decided she would be married while still in her teens. Unlike Aisholpan, the time for a girl like Aisha had not yet arrived in her traditional rural community.

How fortunate to have the story of Aisholpan filmed. Let us hope she goes on to achieve her goal in life – to study medicine, become a doctor and serve her community well.

 

 

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Through the years, living and working in various countries, I acquired an odd assortment of items, things prized for no reason other than their having caught my imagination, been affordable and small enough to carry away with me. My house is full of them and they need to be catalogued so my children will know what they are and why they are here. (I’ve already described and pictured the ani-ani, here, an agricultural tool relevant to my work in Indonesia.)

I begin with my Acheulian Handaxe (or Biface), found in a Paris antique shop. As I wrote in an earlier essay, in the early 1980s I lived on the Place du Pantheon and did my daily shopping on rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest shopping streets in Europe.

To reach La Mouff I walked on rue Clotilde, along the side our apartment building, turned left onto rue de L’Estrapade and rue Blain to the Place de La Contrascarpe at rue Mouffetard, each time passing by the antique shop, sometimes checking out the window display, a few times going in to look around, and one time finding something that caught my interest – a small basket at the back of the store, on the floor, filled with oddly shaped stone objects. I called the shop owner over and she explained that her son had brought these things home from an archeological project where he worked one summer. From my anthropology courses in the early 1950s and many hours spent in museums, I recognized the basket’s contents as stone age tools but had little more information than that for understanding exactly what they were. Since my field had been cultural anthropology, not archeology or physical anthropology, the study of human evolution, I had not kept up with that particular academic literature after leaving teaching and the academic life. Still, I searched through the basket and picked out my handaxe, 5½ in. by 4in., chosen because I found the shape and color pleasing and it fit into my hand like a tool I could imagine a man or woman having used many thousands of years ago.

On reflection, I picked up a second object, a heavy lithic core, I think of quartzite, something I knew of and remembered having seen pictured in anthropology textbooks. I guessed that razor sharp blades would have been struck off from the core, which is,

Upper Paleolithic cylindrical blade core. France, Burke Museum

roughly described, a cylinder shaped piece of worked stone, about 6 inches long by about 4 inches deep, and along its length an approximately flat surface of three parallel blade size indentations. On each end of the cylinder is a worked platform. The core looked to me as if it could no longer yield proper blades and had been abandoned, but it was the only core there and I liked the idea of owning it. (In an essay on the history of cloth and clothing I remarked on flint blades, and the pictured bone needles, technology from the Upper Paleolithic, being used in ancient Egypt for cutting, and sewing, cloth to make the first known dress.)

I paid the owner a hundred francs, put both oddities in my shopping cart, along with groceries from the rue Mouffetard shops, and on reaching home found a place on the upper shelf of a cupboard to store them. If I showed them to Ravi he soon forgot; he had more relevant matters on his mind.

Years later, in the early 1990s, when Ravi and I went driving through the French countryside on vacation, mostly in the Dordogne, we visited Le Musée National de Préhistoire in Eyzies-de-Tayac, and Lascaux II, an exact copy of the Lascaux caves, all of which reminded of my two prehistoric stone possessions and set me to wondering about their provenance.

The lithic core was relatively easy for me to place within its context.

Solutrean blades

Modern human beings, Homo Sapiens, came on the scene between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago as hunter-gatherers using stone tooles with a culture known in archeology as the Upper Paleolithic. The blades they struck off from the stone core was a basic, highly significant step forward in technology, as explained here. From their art, the cave paintings, carvings, ornaments and figurines, we assume the people were fully modern human beings with language, social order and religion.

And their tools were beautifully made, aesthetic beyond functional necessity. The Solutrean blades are especially lovely.  In an essay considering folk art and aesthetics, here,  are photos of a Lascaux cave painting and of the early native American’s Clovis point.

But what about the handaxe that I found so pleasing to look at and hold? Finally, in the museum of prehistory I was able to place it in time and in a tool tradition. The time is some 150,000 years ago and the tools are Lower Paleolithic, in the Acheulean tradition, the  Acheulean handaxe. And how or what should I call the individuals who made and used the Acheulean handaxe?

Homo Georgicus

They were premodern hominins, Homo Erectus, that preceded both Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal in Europe and Asia. (and Denisovans?). The fossil evidence for Homo Erectus is scant and complex. To me, the best understanding of who or what these pre-modern beings were is best shown in this skull, skeletal reproduction, and reconstruction of a female. (Do I call her a woman, as if she were human?) They are called Homo Erectus because they stood and walked erect, upright. Did the Acheuleans have language? We know they used fire and may have cooked their food, but no clear, uncontroversial evidence of cultural traits, such as art, ornaments, clothing or habitation has been found. Even tools other than the handaxe are missing, and because one cannot know for certain just how a “handaxe” was used, many archeologists now refer to it as a “biface”, a term that does not imply its function. In fact, the Acheulean handaxe may well be a lithic core from which hominins struck off flakes that, with their sharp edges, were the real stone tools Homo Erectus used for cutting meat, vegetation, wood.

I discovered an article, marvelous both in content and writing style, by Tony Baker, a highly knowledgeable amateur archeologist specialized in Paleoamerican stone tools, in which he presents an argument I’ll draw upon in my simple layman’s vocabulary for discussion of the handaxe. I highly recommend that you read Baker’s artlcle.

He writes that most archeologists have long considered the Acheulean handaxe, because of its size and symmetry, an intentionally manufactured tool, and this despite the fact that problems arise when studying variations in size and shape of the many handaxes found across Europe and Asia, variations that seem unrelated to function, to changes through time or to locations where the hominins would have camped. Alternatively, a smaller group of researchers hold that the handaxe is a flake core, the by-product of flake extraction, rather than intentionally a tool. Baker, who had studied bifaces from the Solutrean and other stone age tool traditions and worked, as well, with an experienced knapper, agrees with this latter view.

He considers the unchanging morphology of the handaxe a consequence of it being a core and as the natural outcome of the limited physical capabilities, especially limited manual dexterity, of Homo Erectus in striking flakes from it. The Achuelean handaxe is a crude, early stage biface found at the sources of the lithic material near what would have been water and gravel, i.e. fluvial deposits, and not scattered over the land where the hominins would have had their campsites.  Baker dates the handaxe from between 1,600,000 and 150,000 years ago.

This and much more I learned from reading Tony Baker’s ingenious investigation into the nature of the handaxe and its history. I look at my handaxe/biface, contemplate the scars left from flakes extracted, none as large as those in this drawing, and wonder about the beings who made and used the flakes, the first deliberately crafted tool I know of. I suspect my handaxe/biface, like my Upper Paleolithic core, had reached its inherent limit for producing useful flakes. (When I get photos of my two lithic cores, I’ll add them to the post.)

But I must add a sad note – From reading his blog post, I had taken a great liking to Tony Baker and looked forward to expressing to him my admiration of his intelligence and wit, only to discover that he died in 2012. Obituaries from friends and colleagues confirm my high regard for him and his work.

I’ve had trouble writing about Kedi. It tells a story about two things from my past, cats and Istanbul, that resonate with me. Thoughts and memories from decades and decades ago come flooding back, more than I can easily manage. Also, there’s another complication. I now live surrounded by trees and greenery, which is lovely but I’m a city person at heart. I miss living in a neighborhood like that in Kedi, in a city, on a street, in an apartment from where one can walk about, people watch, go into shops and chat up those who work there, admire or deplore the local architecture, discover the city’s history.

As a child in the 1930s I lived in various houses on the outskirts of towns, near wooded areas and always had cats and kittens around to play with. They were just there, not pets anyone brought into the house or regularly fed, but friendly enough for a child to pick up and cuddle. I read that in American cities today feral cats are part of an urban wild life the municipal government must monitor and control. Ornithologists warn that cats are a threat to the birds. Humane Society activists, using the term “community cats” instead of feral, and citing cat control of mouse and rat infestation, advocate for cat population control through kittens being taken to an animal shelter for adoption and adult cats being trapped, neutered, vaccinated for rabies and returned to the street. It’s all too complicated for me to think about as I fret over the deer, rabbits, moles and voles that take over my garden and eat the flowering plants. Raccoons, squirrels, foxes and snakes are out there, too. The birds and butterflies are a joy.

The film has me recalling the cats that on occasion wandered into my life, to keep me company for a while. It happened twice in our house in Mogadiscio and once in Jakarta where for two weeks I sat all day in a room near a guest house kitchen writing a long, detailed report, accompanied by the cat that sat patiently on the table among my stacks of note pads and documents, reminding me every hour or so to pay attention and pet her. I did not encounter street cats in any of the American cities where I lived. I have no memories of cats in India, just of dogs barking at night. In Paris, I once saw a woman feeding cats in a small wooded area of the 16th arrondissement. Otherwise no street cats. In Ankara we lived in Kavaklidere, a neighborhood of apartment buildings and a shopping street that replaced vineyards or gardens, too new to have an urban history, let alone a history of cats. Photos of Kavaklidere here

For the film’s Istanbul neighborhood and the street cats that decorate it, quoting from an introduction to the persons who made Kedi, plus photos of the cats and a nice YouTube trailer to watch —  “Hundreds of thousands of Turkish cats roam the metropolis of Istanbul freely. For thousands of years they’ve wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. Claiming no owners, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame — and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.”   

Kedi premiered at an Istanbul Film Festival in 2016, arrived the following year in North American theaters and on the YouTube Red streaming service. Time magazine listed it as one of its top ten films of 2017.  From the review, “Ode to the Street Cat — ”… Kedi, which means “cat” in Turkish, is a loving, gorgeously filmed documentary.”

Sheila O’Malley has written a wonderful essay on the film. She describes the individual personality of each of the film’s cats and how it relates to each person it has chosen to favor. “The focus is on the cats, but Kedi is really a portrait of community. (The Director) gives a sense of life in Istanbul, its diversity and beauty, its storefronts and waterfronts, its people.”

This review expresses my thoughts on why I delight in all things feline and one reason I so enjoyed Kedi.  —  “ … Kedi is the “Citizen Kane” of the (cat films). Though technically a sophisticated, artful documentary from Turkish filmmaker Ceyda Torun, Kedi will automatically find devout fans among anyone who delights at all things feline. …  Kedi is ultimately a movie about a mystery. It’s impossible to fully explain how cats and people truly connect, considering their lack of a shared language.  (I wrote here about my favorite pet ever and how and why humans and cats communicate.) One interviewee argues that the relationship between cats and people is the closest we might get to understanding what it’s like to interact with aliens. If so, Kedi goes a long way towards making first contact. Then again, dog people may find themselves in the dark.”

From Kenneth Turan, Feb. 16, 2017, in The Los Angles Times — ” … one of “Kedi’s” virtues is the picture it provides of modern Istanbul, giving us a dawn-to-dusk tour of the metropolis and showing us neighborhoods that feel very much like the real, everyday Istanbul, not the tourist mecca we usually see. …”

I love Istanbul and must remark on it. Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, has innumerable beautiful things to see, and moreover, a long, complex history highly relevant to our contemporary world. Kedi brings the city to life in thoroughly charming and memorable ways and leads me irresistibly into remembering. My husband, Ravi, the kids and I lived in Ankara from 1968 to 1972 and in the 1980s I returned several times on consultancies for the rural health care system. I visited Istanbul as a tourist, as often as possible. Aziz, the boy who came into our family when we lived in Mogadiscio, was for four years a student in the American curriculum Roberts College and my granddaughter studied for a year in the Francophone Galatasaray U.

I wrote in an earlier post of my Istanbul memories, of Mimar Sinan, the great architect, and two of his mosques, but this time will focus on maps. Thinking about Istanbul has to begin with taking into account the city’s extraordinary location and its relation to the Mediterranean Sea that was, until recent centuries, the center of the western world.

Like the original city, Constantinople, Istanbul spans the Bosporus Strait, a narrow waterway linking

Swallow’s Nest in Crimea

the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean Sea and finally to the Mediterranean. Look at this map of the Black Sea and consider the five Eastern European countries that border it, plus the European rivers, including the Danube, that flow into the sea and think of all the people from those landlocked countries who thereby gain access to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus Strait, through Istanbul.

Additionally, the Bosporus is recognized as the border between Europe and Asia, making Istanbul/Constantinople both European and Asian.

Another waterway, the Golden Horn, a long estuary lined with deep and sheltered natural harbors, opening into the Bosporus, creates a peninsula where the great city was destined to develop, grow and change over the millennia. Constantinopolis was the capital city of the Roman/Byzantine Empire (330–1204 and 1261–1453), followed by a brief Latin (1204–1261) Empire (the Crusaders), and in the Ottoman(1453–1923) Empire became Istanbul.

On its peninsula side of the city there’s the Hagia Sophia, a church built in 537 AD, its dome an engineering marvel, and the Ottomans’ fabulous Topkapi complex,

The New Mosque at the Galata Bridge

the beautiful and beloved Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the New Mosque with the Spice Market at the Galata Bridge. (It must be noted that Constantinople was the western terminus of the Silk Road from Xi’an, China) The endlessly significant and interesting historical sites one should visit are too many to list, at least here. Parts of the very impressive city walls are still standing. (I wrote of my discovering the walls of Paris.)

The Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn, the Marmara on the horizon, a view from Beyoglu. The Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348, overlooks the Bridge.

Across the Golden Horn, linked by the Galata Bridge to the Historic Peninsula, is Istanbul’s ancient residential city, the area known as Beyoglu, the Istanbul of the documentary and where a traveler is likely to stay. We stayed at Taksim Square in the Gezi Hotel, no longer there.

Arun, my son, was recently in Istanbul, stayed in the Cihangir mahalle/quartier (pronounced JEE-hahn-geer) and informs me that Kedi was filmed there. As he walked about he took a liking to the cats and photgraphed them. By Istanbul standards, Cihangir is fairly new. It remained a royal forest for hunting and recreation until the last half the 19th century, a time when Venetians, Genoese, Greeks, European Jews, Armenians, Christians from the eastern Mediterranean began moving in, a good many of them in engaged in commerce, welcomed by the Ottomans, living a European bourgeois lifestyle in European style apartment buildings that lined the narrow streets. With the onset of World War II and in its aftermath, many of these inhabitants left and working class people from Anatolian towns and villages moved in. As the area became unfashionable, perhaps somewhat unsafe, and rents were low, students and artists and intellectuals followed, such as the novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, but Cihangir has attractive residential architecture to be renovated, a view over the Bosphorus and access to the shore. It is gentrifying. The film shows a vibrant and diverse urbane quartier made richer and more humane by its feline residents.

 

I watched Wit nine years ago, decided to see it again and again found it excellent. Emma Thompson is totally engaging and believable as professor Vivian Bearing, a loner in her late forties, without family and seemingly friendless, a brilliant scholar, lover of language and words and the poetry of John Donne, demanding of herself and of her students. The excellent Mike Nichols directs.

The movie begins with Vivian sitting in the office of Oncologist Dr. Harvey Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd) as he tells her in cold medical technical terminology that she has advanced stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. He describes the extent of her disease and enrolls her in his full dose, eight cycle chemotherapeutic protocol, with little mention of the pernicious side effects. Stunned but respectful of expertise, and maybe hopeful, she agrees to becoming a subject in what is an experimental treatment. He is both her physician and a clinical researcher set on making a significant, and publishable, contribution to medical science.

We next see Vivian in a hospital bed. (Thompson shaved her head to play the role.) Dr. Jason Posner, (Jonathan M. Woodward) is her main medical provider, a new M.D. in clinical oncology whose clinical skills as doctor are seriously lacking. Nevertheless, it happens that as an undergraduate student, to round out his educational experience, Jason had taken Vivian’s introductory course in 17th century literature and received an A- from her. This, and his real goal of doing research in a lab, discovering why cancer cells divide as they do, resonates with her.

The one role in the film I find problematic is that of Susie Monahan, R.N., B.S.N., the primary nurse for the cancer inpatient unit at the University Hospital. Audra McDonald is fine in the part, except she obviously is not a nurse. If she were she would have known how to convey an image of the nurse as both a sympathetic caretaker and a highly skilled, highly educated member of the medical team treating Vivian for cancer. And why is she Susie rather than Susan or Ms Monahan?  In this blog, The Truth About Nursing, nurses challenge the stereotypical view of nurses as relatively unskilled woman workers whose main function is to give personal care to someone who is sick, of nurses as simply the doctor’s helper. (One of my blog posts on the history of medicine is relevant here)

We meet characters in Vivian’s previous life through flashbacks with students and her classroom, with her English literature mentor, Dr. E.M. Ashford, (Eileen Atkins), and with her father, played by Harold Pinter.

I recommend you read Derek F. Amanatullah’s “The Importance of a Physician’s Wit: A Critical Analysis of Science in Medicine“. I read it several times. He added in an Acknowledgement – “Thank you to Margaret Edson for writing Wit. It has been my pleasure to read this play as well as see it in the theater and on screen. As an aspiring medical scientist, I have had few works impact me so deeply and profoundly.”

Margaret Edson is a teacher well-schooled in literature and the theatre and wrote Wit as a play for those who love words and the meaning of love and life. Still, she had to have been influenced by her mother’s experience as a medical social worker and by her own brief time as unit clerk in the AIDS and cancer treatment wing of a research hospital. She observed well. Throughout the film we see hospital staff, parts of the hospital, medical students, and how the system functions.

From this comment on the play, seen in 2017 on stage – — “Margaret Edson’s ‘Wit’, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999, is the best play ever written about cancer. In fact, I’d say it’s the best play ever written about hospitals, too, and about the loss of control we all fear or feel, once we find ourselves down that rabbit hole, pushed, prodded and studied by others for whom we are, inevitably, a workplace assignment. …  For ourselves, of course, we’re just all we have ever known.”  The reviewer thinks hospital care has changed for the better since 1999.

Yes. Hospital care has changed somewhat, but the medical establishment’s thinking about treating the elderly and seriously ill with heroic measures, such as surgery and chemotherapy, with their often devastating side effects, has changed even more. I responded to Vivian accepting Susie’s advice on adopting a Do Not Resuscitate order. DNR means that in case a very sick/elderly patient’s heart stops, the usually ineffective cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) should be withheld. Vivian wants a natural death, to stop the treatments that are keeping her barely alive, miserable and in pain, and Susie become the sympathetic care taker she needs. Today, in the U.S., Hospice is available for someone like Vivian (given she stops being a research subject). It is a service covered under Medicare, the government medical insurance for the elderly, for people who are nearing the end of life and turn away from further curative medical care. It is care provided by a team of health care professionals who maximize comfort for the terminally ill person by reducing pain and addressing physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. To help the patient’s family, hospice also provides counseling, respite care and practical support. Unlike other medical care, the focus of hospice care isn’t to cure the underlying disease. The goal of hospice care is to support the highest quality of life possible for whatever time remains.

I have a DNR order in my will. I intend to avoid the sort of medical treatment that simply puts off the inevitable for a few months. I hope for a natural death with a good quality of life to the end, turning, if necessary, if sick and in pain from an incurable illness, to palliative care rather than curative care.

From the Journal of Humanities in Rehabilitations, A creative exploration of the human experience of disability and healing – —  we have an article, “An analysis of the movie for teaching medical, and other, students” and (M. Edson, Personal Communication, March 13, 2015) Margaret Edson teiling its author :

“Wit is not a story of survival. Instead, the film deconstructs the typical tale of staying strong through cancer treatment, overcoming the odds, and surviving. The film skillfully constructs a story of repair and restoration of the individual not through treatment of the body ravaged by cancer, but by admitting one’s weaknesses, exposing oneself, and, perhaps most frightening of all, relinquishing control and, in the process, becoming vulnerable. In the end, one is left with the feeling that the main character of the play is being “healed, not cured.”

For much of my adult life, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, I lived in different counties — the U.S., Somalia, Turkey, India, France, Indonesia, then back to the U.S. — but really and essentially I lived between two worlds, one world as a wife and mother, and the other as an anthropologist concerned with primary health care for women and children. My family life happened in modern urban neighborhoods of families where the men, and a few women, were lawyers, doctors, highly placed government officials or business managers, and the women were well educated. It was an upper middle class lifestyle, much the same from country to country. My other world, the one I chose to know, was traditional, rural, village or small town, farming the economic base, and close to or within easy access from home. In my modern world, as wife and mother in a cross-cultural marriage and working part-time, I was unusual but acceptable. In my traditional world I gained acceptance as an outsider. Inside the community there was no place for a woman like me, independent and individualistic, even when her husband understood and supported her. (I am in tears, remembering Ravi, as I write this.)

With this stated, I note here that I write often about women’s changing roles and in this post express my take on why traditional roles for women are so few and so narrow but how recent technology has changed the ground rules for what a woman can do and be. However, attention must be paid; change means educating girls for the future, for the modern world. In an essay, here, I describe an experience in rural India, in the late 1980s, where I happened to fall into a long conversation with a thoughtful, intelligent man, a farmer who had, as a boy, attended a local English-medium school. We were sitting at a government station, the center of the newly installed irrigation system. I was waiting for the jeep to take me back to the health center and he was waiting his turn for his fields to be watered. At one point I asked about his children and learned that he sends his sons, but not his daughters, to school. He explained why, and given the nature of farm work and the necessary division of labor, what he said made sense. Nevertheless, given the new agricultural technology in play at that very moment, I questioned his wisdom on not preparing his daughters for the future world of work, and his response was interesting. (I visited his village and took the photos shown with the essay.)

I wish this beautifully made film,Girl Rising, had been available to show him and others in his village. It is about beautiful girls from around the world, showing how we can make the future better for everyone, economically and socially, through a direct and doable change – by educating our girls as well as our boys.    Here for the film/video.

Here for the amazing full cast and crew, people such as Meryl Streep, Sammy Sheik, Freida Pinto, Lian Neeson.

Here for why and how the video was made —  “Early marriage, gender disparity and regressive social mindsets are common stumbling blocks that girls from poor backgrounds face around the world.  Girl Rising spotlights the stories of nine such girls who overcome their unforgiving circumstances by believing in their own power and potential. Join Senior Producer of Girl Rising, Martha Adams and Filmmaker and Writer of the Indian story in Girl Rising, Sooni Taraporevala in conversation with Former Head of the Social Communications Media Department, Sophia Polytechnic, Professor of Film Appreciation and Dancer, Jeroo Mulla, as they journey around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and demonstrate the power of education to change a girl, and the world.”

 

“Marshall” gives us a young lawyer fighting against formidable odds for justice under the law, a story from the 1940s based on actual events in the life of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

In Matt Zoller Seitz’s review the movie is alternatively “ … a legal potboiler …  (paying) attention to issues of racial, religious and gender discrimination … (while) giving us an entertaining film about a couple of guys who are in way over their heads. … (then) …… the further away from the courtroom we get, …“Marshall” starts to feel like a detective thriller with subtle Western movie accents:  … the movie’s terse, one-word title positions its hero as a tough, smart sheriff trying to clean up a corrupt town …  “

In the Peter Debruge review, the movie … “treats Marshall as a rich, three-dimensional character, encouraging Chadwick Boseman to imagine him as Denzel Washington did Easy Rawlins in “Devil in a Blue Dress,” or the way Spencer Tracy brought depth to Henry Drummond in “Inherit the Wind.” By approaching Marshall as an idealistic young trial lawyer, the film stands on its own as a compelling courtroom drama, complete with surprising revelations — and while we hope things will go his way, this case could just as easily prove the one that motivated his future crusade (much as Finch failed to exonerate Tom Robinson in “Mockingbird”).

Until the movie, all I knew of Thurgood Marshall was his appointment to the Supreme Court. My husband, Ravi, and I were concerned with civil rights generally, but not with the law or specific rights under the law. Besides, Marshall was appointed in 1967, the year before we left home for our expatriate life. I realized only recently that it was Marshall who had, in 1954, argued and won the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case before the Supreme Court. We celebrated the decision as a victory for schools and education, quite unaware of it being, as well, a landmark case that would shape future legal decisions.

The Court’s ruling changed America at its base, in the daily life of every child. Public schools in the U.S. are not run by the federal government. Each of the fifty States has its own public school system, governed under that State’s law and that State’s Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision declared that State laws allowing for separate African-American and White public schools were no longer in accord with the U.S. Constitution. It overturned the law Congress had passed in 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, that allowed the States to keep segregated public schools as long as the facilities for all the children were equal. In fact, everywhere segregated schools were far from equal.

Marshall’s and the NAACP’s argument in Brown vs. Board of Education centered on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that declares “no State shall … deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” They convinced the Court to rule in a unanimous decision that separate inherently means unequal. In effect, the decision called for admitting Black children into well-funded public schools in White neighborhoods. However, in 1955, a second Court decision ordered States to desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” a vague order complicating local situations. The principle of equality has been established but the fight for truly equal schooling continues.

Equality is written into the Constitution, America’s sacred document. Even racists recognize the principle of equality while acting against it. The NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, fought in the courts for the right of all citizens, all Americans, to equal treatment in our public institutions. Martin Luther King, in 1967, took the struggle forward to bring about economic justice as well, for the right to a decent life and equal opportunity. His Poor People’s Campaign was a multiracial effort—including African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans—aimed at alleviating poverty regardless of race.

The movie is more dramatized history than a standard biopic. Marshall was one of two children of educated parents in a middle-class family, part of an African-American middle-class community in Baltimore, a major transportation, industrial and cultural center in Maryland, a state that had been part of the slave-holding South but joined the North during the Civil War. Thurgood graduated from a segregated but good high school in 1926, then attended Lincoln University, an historically Black college in Pennsylvania, majoring in American literature and philosophy, and despite having spent much of his time on the school’s debating team and partying with his fraternity brothers, graduated with honors. Among his classmates were Kwame Nkrumah, the future president of Ghana; Langston Hughes, the great poet; and Cab Calloway, the famous jazz singer.

 After his applying to the University of Maryland School of Law and being refused because of race, Thurgood’s mother sold her gold wedding ring to pay for Howard, a high-ranked Black university in Washington, D.C. He received his Howard School of Law diploma in 1933, first in his class, a protégé of professor Charles Hamilton Houston, and upon graduation set up a private law practice in Baltimore. Among Marshall’s first legal victories was Murray v. Pearson (1935), in which he successfully sued the University of Maryland for denying an African American applicant admission to its law school simply on the basis of race. In 1936 Charles Houston brought Marshall into the NAACP as a staff lawyer. In 1940, he was named chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund based in New York City.

Here for a good description of his career.

In the movie, we see Marshall living in NY with his wife, in Harlem, early in his career, courageously taking on civil rights cases in the South, often without pay, while also socializing with sophisticated and famous Black artists in fancy Harlem night clubs.

I was puzzled when hearing Chadwick Boseman say in an interview that the Marshall family had chosen him to play Thurgood. Boseman is intelligent but hardly an intellectual. Nevertheless, he found the great man an attractive character, one who had a sense of humor, was the life of the party, self-confident, carrying himself with a swagger. A cool dude. “[The] leading civil rights lawyer of his time is a surprising man, full of contradictions,” LIFE noted in a 1955 profile. “No solemn crusader, he is high-spirited, loud-talking and wisecracking. Profoundly devoted to a cause, he usually looks and sounds like a man who is mainly concerned with satisfying his zest for life.”  Still, everyone spoke of Marshall’s commanding presence and I wonder if Boseman captures that.

I saw something in the movie’s Marshall that was written into the role by the screenwriters, Michael Koskoff, a well-known lawyer, and his son Jacob, a professional screenwriter. It has to do with Marshall’s love of formal debate. I was on a debate team in high school, in university watched debate team competitions and became convinced that the most skillful debaters won through having, in addition to knowledge and analysis, a solid understanding of the mindset their opponents brought to the argument. Strategically placed humor was especially effective with the audience. The Koskoffs present Marshall’s social intelligence, his attention to what motivates individuals and the way they reason, how people relate to one another in the community, and he uses this understanding in selecting the jury, in shaping the defense, in addressing the jury.

“Marshall” is an excellent movie, thoroughly engaging, and since the legal case was fought in the North, in a New England courtroom, it broadens one’s perspective on the history of racism. I intend to see it again. Everyone involved in making the movie — the Director, Producer, screenwriters, and the excellent actors — all of them, did so out of love and commitment.

Do watch a video, here  Chadwick Boseman discusses the NAACP and what happened recently with football players demonstrating against police violence toward Black men.

For another — Josh Gad’s remarks are especially insightful, well-informed and well-expressed. He thinks of the movie as a superhero story about two men who wear suits instead of capes

 

 

Living late into one’s fourth stage of life may be a blessing but it also means having outlived nearly all one’s friends, and in today’s mobile society, being an elderly stranger in a world of strangers. For me, the reality is not ideal but it’s all right. I am neither alone nor lonely, but still, when Lenore, the daughter of a dear friend from the past, remembering my involvement in India, reached out to me, I was pleased. It connected me to pleasant memories. (written of here) Even more pleasing was discovering that Lenore had grown up to become an artist and filmmaker and a passionate environmentalist with a particular passion for saving tigers in the wild, which led her to India.

She emailed me her video of experiences in two of India’s national tiger reserves, plus photographs taken along the way, including this one. It tells me definitely that I will like Lenore. The girls gather close to her, happy and smiling and having fun. Obviously, they and all the individuals shown in the film’s interviews feel they can trust her and her instincts.

Click here for Lenore’s video/film —  People of the Wild Tiger. It is twenty-some minutes long, easy to watch, as I did, several times, and I was impressed. I was watching a movie in which the central character is an idea, a vision of ourselves as companions and custodians of other creatures in our environment, in this case of the tiger, an idea expressed first in a quotation from the Mahabarata, observed throughout the film in images and actions, and in the denouement expressed again in a most touching and tender connection between tiger and human.

Numbers stated in the video’s initial scenes are worth repeating in print. “Although thousands of tigers are kept in zoos, circuses and as pets, and more than 10,000 are held in cages in Chinese and other Asian tiger farms to be used in traditional medicines, across the world fewer than 3000 tigers live free and wild in their natural habitat.”

Lenore continues from there to tigers in India and into a culture quite different from her own. Change is under way, but until quite recently, the dominate assumption in her American culture, traceable back to Aristotle, has been that we, as humans, are superior to all creatures in nature and may rightfully use them for food, clothing, labor, amusement, whatever we please, as if we ourselves were not part of nature. (I wrote here of communication with animals.) She wrote, “The video features interviews with my contacts in the fields of conservation: naturalists, entrepreneurs and educators who are making heroic efforts to save these seriously endangered animals … I am captivated by the spiritual side of the project. The Indian people’s reverence for animals goes back to prehistoric times, and is very much intact today. Ancient religions are practiced by tribes, and India is also the birthplace of many nature-centered major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, presenting celebrations almost every day.”

Lenore had been an eco-tourist in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, but the tour to India sparked her “new video mission,” and she became a traveler rather than a tourist, observing and learning without judging. Regarding her visit to Varanasi (Benares to me), kept brief because she saw no connection to the tiger, only temples for elephant and monkey gods, she emailed me, “I included some shots of Varanasi because I am so in love with the light (for photos), the wafting incense and sounds, and the feeling of ancient religions, mostly Hinduism.” She shows a typical narrow Benaresi street, funerary scenes on the ghats, and with people in the background, a pigeon bobbing about in the space in a wall where a stone should have been. As narrator, Lenore speaks of Mother Ganga, of the holy Ganges river dying from human waste and chemical pollution. Many hundreds of towns and cities along the Ganges’ banks pour raw sewage into the river and industries dump in all sorts of waste. Plastic junk collects in and covers the water. In 2014, a government ministry was formed and funds were allocated to have the Ganga clean by 2020, but there is failure at all levels of government. Funds go unused, long-term plans have not been developed and far, far from enough action has been taken.

Lenore’s visits in India took her first to Kerala during the harvest ceremonies, which includes on the fourth day the Pulik kali, a popular folk dance performed by men painted and costumed either as tigers or as hunters and (from what I read) they act out scenes such as a tiger preying on an animal or a tiger being shot in the tiger hunt, the ruling elite’s antique sport. The Puli Kali is great fun for all but it celebrates the past, not the concerns of environmentalists.

I remember tales of the fearsome Bengal Tiger from my childhood. And from an article published in 1924, American Brigadier General William Mitchell reports that tigers posed a major threat in central India, killing 352 people in the villages surrounding the Surguja district in 1923 alone. “Tigers have been known to cause whole districts to be evacuated,” he writes. “There is a record of one beast which so terrorized a community that 13 villages were evacuated and 250 square miles thrown out of cultivation. Another completely stopped work on a public road for many weeks, while it frequently happens that mail-carrying is suspended on account of tiger activities. … …  Tiger-hunting is regarded in India as a royal sport, and he who is successful in bagging this master of the jungle is looked upon as a public benefactor.”

Lenore’s first tiger reserve is in the Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

Men on their way to hunt for honey

and she fell in there with people who take me back to my anthropological past. They are the Soliga, an ethnic group (under Indian law, a “tribe”) of some 20,000 persons who descend more directly than most other Indians from the original hunter-gatherer Out of Africa migration, c. 70,000 years ago, and are related genetically to the Australian aborigines. They are people who remained through the millennia isolated in their remote, densely forested mountainous area, living in small communities, practicing slash and burn agriculture with ragi, a type of millet, gathering foods from the land, practicing a religion of deities and spirits from nature. They lived peacefully, and except for exchanging items such as honey and bamboo with nearby villagers, probably for clothing and metal tools (the tool for grating coconut had to be a trade item), until 1972 remained essentially invisible to outsiders. It was in that year that the government designated their territory a wildlife preserve, and in 2011 a tiger reserve.

In 1974, members of the community were forced out of the reserve but more recently the government has reassessed Soliga rights to the land. They can no longer be evicted, they may cultivate crops, and they may collect, use and sell forest produce within the Sanctuary. How I would love to have been with Lenore, interviewing and observing. Over the years, working on health care projects in rural areas where development/modernization was happening, it seemed to me that the experts in charge of introducing change should have consulted more with the local people, the true experts on that environment. (I wrote of this for Bali)

The Soliga know their wildlife, which Lenore wonderfully captures in her filming, and they are able and willing to protect their tigers. Here for a note on the Soliga contribution to saving our biodiversity.  Included is the Soliga’s deep knowledge of controlled fire for preserving the forest.

In Lenore’s second tiger reserve, the Ranthambore National Park, she interviewed and filmed the Mogya, another “tribe,” a people who until recently lived isolated in the forests, only marginally in contact with nearby villagers.  A brief history — Before and during the British imperial era, the Ranthambore forest was owned and managed by the Maharajah of Jaipur and held by the Kingdom’s royalty as their private hunting ground (mostly for tigers), taxing the villagers for access to the forest. In 1953, the Rajasthan government acted to protect the forest and in 1955 declared the entire forest the Sawai Madhopur Sanctuary. In 1973, the government of India initiated Project Tiger and the Sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve area. In 1980, with the enlargement of the park, the farmers of more than 12 villages were shifted out of the Sanctuary.

The Mogya also lost their homeland. They had been semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, practicing no farming of any sort. The men tracked and hunted hares, boars, other animals for food and during harvest time moved to the villages to guard the crops and people from wild animals, and perhaps, to work as laborers. After the park was established, the Mogya became totally displaced, living in poverty, without good housing, without schools, in poor health, involved in crimes to earn money, which included poaching tigers for a poaching mafia.

A Mogya man

Which takes me to Lenore’s interview with Divya Khandal. Divya and her husband, Dharmendra Khandal, are examples of India’s wonderful tradition of volunteers and volunteer organizations. She created a women’s cooperative craft enterprise, Dhonk, to teach the Mogya and the villagers, women and young men, job skills and to provide them and their families with an economic alternative both to poaching and to over-grazing. The workers have good pay and good working conditions and are encouraged to become partners in promoting sustainability and protecting the forests. Dhonk shares part of its profits with the Ranthambore NGO Tiger Watch.

Dharmendra is a conservation biologist and works with Tiger Watch. In 2003 he did a survey in Ranthambore park and discovered that more than 18 tigers were missing. Two years later a government study showed 22 tigers missing, so he talked with Mogya men for intelligence on poaching activities, which enabled the police to conduct raids on poachers, recovering guns, traps and tiger flesh, bones, paws, and also led to Tiger Watch funding Dharmendra’s plan for saving the tiger. He enlisted Mogya men who had worked with the poachers to help him and the police destroy the poaching criminal network, then reached out to the community with employment in the park for the men, employment in Dhonk for the women, schools for the children and health facilities for all the family. As a direct result, both a people and the tigers in the park are far safer than before.

The final scenes in Lenore’s video are beautiful.