Category Archives: Judy Dykstra-Brown essay

Happy Ending

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Andy and I outside our luxurious home formed of mud, manure and straw.  Dirt floors.  No running water. No bathroom. No electricity.

Mary has asked that I tell more of the story about the trial of the man who abducted me and the aftermath––especially  about Andu Alem and why I ended up not leaving Ethiopia after this horrid occurence.  I think the lady craves a happy ending, so here it is.  In the past segment, found HERE, I skipped over most of the information about the trial.  Here is more information as well as some of the aftermath, including Andy.  It starts the morning after I was accosted by two of Solomon Kidane’s friends who threatened my life and the life of my friends if I didn’t withdraw charges against him. The story continues:

The next day I went with my attorney and we started making the rounds of government offices and officials, eventually making it up to the equivalent of the national Attorney General. The way the Ethiopian justice system works is to hear an hour or two of testimony per week for each case it is adjudicating. This can lead to very long trials—sometimes a matter of years—and businessmen learn to devote one day a week to sitting in court to plead various issues before the court. After hearing my story, however, the Attorney General granted special dispensation for my testimony to be heard in one or two long sessions or for as long as it would take so I could then be free to leave the country. The fact that he had suspended this custom for me was remarkable, explained my attorney, in that it was without precendent. A court date was set for the following week.

The day of the trial, my lawyer and the embassy interpreter picked me up in a taxi and we rode to the courts building. They led me to the courtroom, where another case was being heard. Interestingly enough, it was the trial of a young Tegrian woman who had been among the hijackers who had hijacked the Air Ethiopian plane that I have mentioned formerly. Ironically enough, she was the cause of “Solomon Kidane” and the other security guards being on my plane and so was responsible for my kidnapping as well. It is a further irony that the hijacking had been done to call attention to the revolutionary cause that Solomon Kidane and his friends were also sympathetic to.

The first day of the trial, I sat in court watching several other cases being presented. I was curious about what was being said, but remained unenlightened for all of the testimony was, of course, in Amharic. When my case came up, they charged a young man sitting on the right hand side of the aisle with the crime. When they asked if his name was Solomon Kidane, he said no, presenting his identity papers. Clearly, his attorney said, they had arrested the wrong man. The judge told him to turn around and face me and asked me if this was the man who had abducted and molested me. I was confused. Solomon Kidane had had a full Afro, whereas this young man had closely cropped hair. Could they have substituted someone else in his place? What could have happened? He looked so different. How could I be sure that this was the man who assaulted me? Then I noticed the huge goose egg on his forehead in the exact same place where I had hit him over the head with the lamp. At the same time, I remembered him showing me various i.d.’s that he had used in his role as a secret security agent.

“I am sure he is the man,” I said to the three judges hearing my case, and went on to explain to them that Solomon Kidane was just one of his many identities.

For the next three hours, his lawyer did more to prove my moral turpitude than to defend his client. Was I a virgin, he asked? How many men had I slept with. Why was I crying when the airplane left Lalibela and who were the two men who had brought me to the plane? Had I slept with one of them? I answered truthfully that yes, I had. Had I slept with both of them? No, I had not. Why was I traveling alone he asked, and did I sleep with many men as I traveled. No, I did not. Had I not propositioned this man and asked to meet his family? When he came, had he presented me with a gift? Yes, I answered. In accepting this gift, was I not expressing an interest in this young man, and did I feel it was proper to accept a gift from a man who was a stranger. It was a cheap shamma that could be purchased in the marked for the equivalent of $3 American, I answered, and I felt it would be rude to refuse. In return, I had given him a hat I had bought that had cost much more. Was I aware that in Ethiopia an exchange of gifts like this could indicate an intention to wed, he asked? No, I answered. And was I aware that abduction of a bride was still a behavior often practiced there?
“And is saying you are going to kill your bride after raping her also an established tradition? “ I asked.

At the end of my three hours of testimony, in which his lawyer did everything to discredit me and to prove my moral unworthiness, Solomon Kidane was arrested and ordered to stand trial. The judges then released me from obligation to the court.

One very interesting twist to the story is that I was in sympathy with the E.L.F. cause and felt it justified, and so I never did reveal to police, my attorney, the embassy or the judges that these men were all E.L.F. members. If Solomon Kidane was to go to jail, I wanted it to be for his personal actions, not his political ones. I believe to this day that the men didn’t realize that I could understand their political ravings as they got drunker and by the time the night was over, they had given away a secret that I was wise not to reveal I understood.

The day after my court testimony finished, I was preparing to depart for Khartoum to join Deirdre when a letter was delivered to me via Poste Restante. It was from Andy, who stated that he had heard what “that man” had done to me. “He is just devil!” he stated in his usual colorful English, and he went on to say that sending me away was the biggest mistake of his life, and that I should come back to Lalibela to live with him until they were forced by the upcoming rainy season to journey out over the mountains via Land Rover to go back to Addis. “After that, we will travel to Kenya, and then we will marry,” he said.

Two days later, I was soaring low over a familiar grass landing field. Andy and Tessie met me with arms full of flowers. How did they know I was coming? I asked. It was Tessie who answered that they had met every plane since Andy had written the letter telling me to come back. When we went to the Seven Olives that night for a welcome back celebration, I noticed that the flower garden was completely shorn of flowers. “Every day, they granted us permission to cut flowers for your arrival,” admitted Andu Alem. “By the time you finally came, we had had cut every flower.” That night, lay singers in the Tej house once again sang the song of my coming back, and staying with Andy, and opening up “The Judy and Andy Souvenir Shop.” They had predicted it, they insisted. As it turns out, the ending to our story did not turn out as foretold, but in this way I nonetheless entered into the lore of this mountain village so far removed from civilization.

(Even though the name he used with me was fictional, I have changed the false name he used to “Solomon Kidane.” Ironic that I would change a real false name to a false false name, isn’t it?)

 

 

 

Rings of Saturn: Daily Post, the Final Day of 2017

Rings of Saturn

I had taken off my wedding ring years before. How typical of me that I would finally put it on again after he died. I don’t know why I do these things. Perhaps it was easier to be married to a dead man, or perhaps I felt he had finally atoned for his bad behavior, but suddenly that symbol had more significance than it had come to have in life. That sainthood of departure? I’d seen it happen again and again, but I had never been one to run with the pack and so it surprised me so much when I looked down one day and saw his ring on my finger again that I took it off and it has resided in my jewelry box ever since—that hinged red leather lips-shaped jewelry box that opens in a kiss to reveal a  little slit-compartment for rings. A next-door-neighbor of my childhood  had brought it as a hostess gift when she came to Mexico to visit me during that long year after his death when everyone came out of the woodwork to come visit.

Draw a ring around the old. Ring in the new in multiples. Duplication has become such a science—the craftsman thrown out of the ring. With the new three-dimensional copier, what cannot be duplicated, if plastic is your creation material of choice? A plastic gun—complete down to the bullet in its chamber. A perfect functioning model of anything with moving parts. Can each grain of gunpowder be duplicated? One ringie dingie, two ringie dingies. Floating away on the surface of the lake of forget. Is that giving up? Ringing the final buzzer? Burning the evidence in a ring of fire? Burning bridges? A phone rings and rings in the distance. It has that ring of authenticity, but that does not mean it is real.

Ring of thieves. One by one, the days steal my life away. Time is that one thing no one has control over—even Einstein or Hawking, who perhaps understood it more than anyone. Estee Lauder, Timex, Time Incorporated—all profit by time but none have conquered it. We are all in the ring with it whether we know it or not. Others may suffer the black eyes or sound the buzzer, but we are all really fighting the same fight. The smoothest face still wrinkles and the most beautiful voice cracks with age or disappears. Buzzers finally go silent and the arms holding up the signs go saggy. Ring around the rosie. Ring around the rosie. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

 

This is a rewite of an essay originally written three years ago. The prompt today was finally.

Thanksgiving Reflections: Waiting to Be Fed

IMG_5805Waiting to be fed.

When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to sing a song in the mess hall as we sat waiting for our food to be served.  It went, “Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness. Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, waiting to be fed.”  It never failed to amuse us.  For seven years as a camper and two as a counselor, I joined in the refrain and sure enough, the food always eventually came through.

Now, at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, 2017, the strains of that line of music keep weaving their way through my thoughts.  By some strange series of misunderstood communications, I actually have two dates for a turkey meal—both at the same restaurant, but with different groups of friends and at different times––one at 3, the other at 6:30.  I could relate the weird facts of how this came to be, but suffice it to say it wasn’t my fault and that yes, I’ve cancelled one of them.  Sort of. At any rate, I’m saving myself for that meal and although I went grocery shopping this morning, mainly for the cats and dogs, I had unusual restraint in not buying any junk food, no matter how healthy it presented itself to be.  The naughtiest items I purchased were whole wheat bread, low fat thin rice cakes and apples. I splurged on Fancy Feast for Annie, who has been staging a hunger strike since I got home, and got 60 packets of kitten food which should last the other cats a few days and I will probably feed them the Fancy Feast as well, after Annie turns her nose up at it.  I, for one, am fasting until tonight’s meal, doing penance before the act.  Tomorrow I start my new diet.

IMG_2825Also waiting to be fed.

In case you missed it, HERE is my Thanksgiving post from a few days ago of images of Thanksgivings present and past.

 

 

A Roadtrip Through Five States (Cee’s Share Your World Prompt)

Click on any photo to enlarge all:

Today I’ve been a lazy passenger as Forgottenman has driven us from Alabama through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. In one 45-minute period, we crossed 4 rivers: the Cumberland, the Tennessee, the Ohio and the Mississippi and saw two huge dams––the Kentucky and Barclay—both TVA projects I had studied about in the sixth grade. We have gone from 77 degrees in Huntsville to 53 degrees and rain. We’ve seen 13 dead deer along the interstate and over a dozen stalled cars as well as countless huge tire strips from semis—more than I’ve ever seen in a day of travel before, although Forgottenman thinks that is about par for the course.

The trees of every size, shape and variety as well as every hue of green, gold, yellow, red and brown have been spellbinding in their beauty. I don’t know that I’ve ever taken a ride through an autumn landscape this varied and extensive. Would that skies had been sunny and clear, but nonetheless, it has been a wonderful ride. In a little over an hour, we’ll be home and I can share photos of my day. Until then, I’m gritting my teeth on this rain-slickened two-lane road with no shoulders and fairly heavy traffic. Forgottenman is a good driver and “Mother,” our GPS, has not led us astray so far, although I must admit she has in the past.

Now that it is nearly dark, the traffic has thinned and the puddles on the road deepened. I can hear the water splashing against the undercarriage, as though we are driving through a car wash. Bug splashes on the front window that I’ve been trying to shoot photos around all day have been abolished by heavy rain and windshield wipers, but too late, too late. A stiff neck slowly Improved over the past two days again starts to seize up in the tension over oncoming car lights, unceasing rain and deepening puddles.

I’m glad I’m not driving and glad a good driver is, although I am wishing he was not using the cruise control. We’ve had this discussion before with me maintaining that it should not be used in rainy weather, he insisting this is an old wives tale. Since I am neither a wife nor old (in some eyes, namely mine) I reject once more his statement. But he is driving and so I surrender the argument in his favor, not because he is right but because he is driving.

Forgottenman is anxious to get home so he can look at a map to try to understand why Mother has directed us off Highway 62 onto this hilly, winding tiny two-lane road. More of a technophobe, I never go anywhere without a map along, but he is more trusting of the powers of technology to steer him aright, in spite of a number of experiences in which she hasn’t. In less than an hour, all mysteries will be revealed. In the meantime, I’m going to close my eyes and pretend I’m anywhere other than where I am.

Ha!! Finally home seven hours after we started out from Huntsville. We unloaded the car in a light drizzle, thankful for the fact that it isn’t the heavy rainfall of the past few hours. Cold wet grass made us grateful for a dry carpet and relatively warm house inside, as well as Wifi and electricity so I can post this message. We had a wonderful time with old friends but there is no place like home.

 

Cee’s questions for the week:

Would you rather take a 2 week vacation with an organized tour or take a cruise of your choice? I’d rather take an unorganized tour–going where I wished to.

Did you like swinging as a child? Do you still get excited when you see a swing? I lived across from the playground for my entire growing up years.  I loved swinging and hearing the sounds of the swings across the street when I was at home lying in bed or in the grass.

What is the most important thing that you ever learned ? (I bet it’s not something you learned in school) It is wise not to say everything you think and to think about everything you say.

What inspired you or what did you appreciate this past week?  Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination. See above!! And, there will be more tomorrow.

 

For Cee’s Share Your World prompt.

 

When is Enough, Enough?

 

  When Is Enough Enough?

To want all or to want nothing are both dangerous. Those who want all are the conquerors and exploiters and power lords who have brought the world to the state it is in today. They will exploit the poor and the weak but get their feelings of the most power from exploiting those equal to them in power. The world is a game to these people and we are all pawns.

But to want nothing may lead to despair. True, in a few holy men, it has been the path to enlightenment; but for those living within the world and not to the side of it, to want nothing can lead to apathy and powerlessness.

I think the true enlightenment lies in wanting enough and then wanting enough for others as well. This doesn’t have to be done by charity. It can be done by the way we vote, the way we treat our neighbors, the way we invest our money and the way we conduct our own businesses. It can be done by the way we bargain for a trinket on the beach or handle wrong change.

Sylvia Plath was probably correct in her statement, “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” When the richest woman in the world commits suicide or the richest men in the world exploit those living hand-to-mouth, one has to wonder what great lack they are trying to fill and whether in fact they have ever discovered the secret of what the world is really about.

 

This is a rewrite of an essay written three years ago. The prompt today was enlighten. 

 

 

True Grit

                       Getty images photo


True Grit

I’d like my blog to be Grit magazine, Ann Landers and the funny papers—all rolled in to one. I’d like it to be the first love comic grabbed off the shelf, the thing everyone wants to read, hot off the presses. I want it to be true, uplifting and fun to read. Entertaining. A collection of words that make people feel better after reading. I want it to be the thing you go to after reading of the last cuts to social services for the poor, the latest fool elected to public office, the last school massacre or child who mistakenly shot an adult with a gun provided to him by an adult. The thing you read when you’ve had enough of police brutality, plane wrecks, financial crashes, reverse Robin Hoods, pit bulls attacking humans, humans abusing dogs, cartels, corporations, slanted news agencies, corrupt rulers, crimes against women, drought, Ebola, HIV and dengue.

Yes, all of these ills exist and we need to know about them, but do we need to know about them ad nauseam, day and night, hour after hour? Do we need them served with our morning coffee, our evening meal, our drive to work? Need we dream them, fill our thoughts with them every hour of the day? And need those thoughts be hopeless and without remedy?

It is not that I want to avoid reality, but rather that I’d like to give that reality my twist and I’d like one major strand in that twist to be optimistic, another to be humorous, another to gentle the cruel realities, another, if it is of any influence at all, to be a catalyst to understanding and a feeling that something may be done in this world.

If you don’t remember the Grit magazine mentioned earlier in this piece, Google it. You will learn that it was formerly a weekly newspaper popular in the rural US during much of the 20thcentury. It carried the subtitle “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.” It was full of human interest stories, usually with an uplifting slant. I can’t remember whether it came in the mail or whether we purchased it in the grocery story or in Mowell’s Drug, but I do remember grabbing it out of Mom’s brown paper bag when she got home from a trip down town and making off with it to my room or a grassy place in the shade of an elm tree to be the first to read it.

Perhaps you will label me as superficial if I admit that the first things I read in The Mitchell Republic—that “real” newspaper actually delivered to our front door—were Ann Landers, the comics (We called them “the funny papers”) and the crossword puzzle. I guess I wanted to be entertained, but I also wanted that assurance that something could be done about the bad things in life. Dick Tracy could solve the crimes. Mary Worth could be of worth in helping out. Ann Landers could find a solution to the ache of love and every puzzle could be eventually solved with hard work and perhaps a peek at the dictionary.

Now Google makes puzzle-solving a snap, so long as one is not shy about cheating and using that larger universal brain to solve the Sunday Cryptic Crossword, but in revealing so much, Google causes bigger problems—mainly, what to do with all of this knowledge of the world. For me, what I do with it is to write about it and within the world of my creation, to try to alter it enough to put a bit of hope into the world—to tinge it with a sense of humor or a sense of creation or a stab at a solution—however fanciful or impossible or romantic or homespun or illogical it may be.

This blog is like the biggest purse in my collection of very big purses indeed. In it lie jumbled together all my memories, dreams, hopes, heartaches, genius, stupidities, foibles, schemes, assurances, doubts, mistakes, successes, affections and affectations. The clasp I leave open for all to dip inside to see what they might find. One day, draw out a ditty, the next a tirade, the next a soggy handkerchief, soaked with my tears or an unused Kleenex to dry your own tears that were soaking your pillow when you woke up.

I want to be that thing you sneak off with before the rest of the family cottons on to its presence and take up to your bedroom to read with your back pressed up against the bolster on your bed or roll up and stick up your sleeve as you make off to the hammock or that shade in the grass beneath the tree.

And when you finish reading, it would be neither the hugest compliment nor the hugest insult you could give if you just thought, “That girl’s got grit!” I think a knowledge that she had prompted that statement would make the little girl or teenage girl who snatched that weekly magazine from the grocery sack very happy.

The prompt today is grit. Since I’d already written to this prompt a few years ago, I’m reprinting it today.

Cast in Potato Salad, Carved in Stone

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Cast in Potato Salad, Carved in Stone

The last thing I ever thought I would do would be to pose for a nude sculpture, but when I married a sculptor, I guess it was inevitable.  Since I never had children, this probably marked the longest period in my life that I ever lay nude being observed by a second party.  I remembered having no reservations about doing so, in spite of the fact that I am really rather modest–that is about revealing myself physically. Words are another matter all together.

My husband first sculpted me in plasticine clay. (No, not the ubiquitous Sculpey, but a very dense artist’s clay used to make the originals for bronze sculpting.) He then made a plaster mold followed by a rubber reverse mold that would enable him to make further plaster molds once he destroyed the plasticine original so he could reuse the plasticine.  After mastering the intricacies of wood carving, bronze casting, welding, clay, sandblasting, paper making and stone carving, he was in a difficult spot.  A tool junkie, he had already purchased or made every tool necessary for working in these media. How could he justify buying any more tools or building another studio addition to add to the seven studios he had already set up?

The answer came when our artist friend Diana moved to town.  Her medium was cast glass and Bob soon became fascinated with the process.  Of course, this necessitated the purchase of dozens of large jars of different colored glass casting pellets as well as books, chemicals and other supplies necessary for the process. Unfortunately, we already owned a large kiln, so he couldn’t justify buying a new pristine kiln to be used only for the melting of glass.  True, some molecules of clay might permeate the glass castings, but he decided at least for his first project, to use our existing kiln.

I can’t remember what his first few castings were, but after a few experiments, he decided that his first large glass project would be–ta da–a glass casting of his recumbent nude wife!

The thing was, this necessitated ordering a good deal more glass, and in the meantime, he had this wonderful rubber mold just sitting there unused!  He tried to busy himself with carving stone and wood, but meanwhile that mold beckoned!  Enter fate in the guise of the next show at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, where we were both members.  And the next show was–Edible Art!  In addition to food-centered art themes, there was to be a cookbook of artist’s favorite recipes and the piece de resistance was–an edible category, to be consumed at the reception!!!  Thus it was that I came to be cast in potato salad–first molded in “the” well-washed and disinfected rubber mold  and then fine-sculpted by Bob’s hands.

I must admit I felt some trepidation about first being viewed nude, then being consumed by my fellow artists and friends.  This smacked of the Donner party or some sort of sixties orgy, but how we suffer for our art.  I requested Bob not reveal who his model was and all went well.  Later, the judge told us that he would have won first place for edible art if I had not forgotten and used some of the water I used to boil the eggs to add moisture to the potato salad. I had forgotten that I always put a half cup of salt in the water to seal the eggs in case they cracked during the boiling process and that addition made the potato salad totally inedible.  The judges could do nothing but award his sculpture fourth place prize in place of first, right ahead of a jellybean mosaic in the Byzantine style, but behind my third place for my “Garden of Earthly delights!”

Yes, the glass grains did arrive and yes he cast the sculpture, but what happened during the further fiasco of my chain of nude effigies must be left to another time and post lest this one grow too long for certain (unnamed) friends to read.    Suffice it to say that once cast in potato salad, twice in glass, it seems only appropriate that my grave be marked by my magnificent if inedible body rendered into stone!!!  It will be the sensation of my little town, I can promise you.
daily life color084 (4) Version 2(photos and copy above taken from the Valley Press)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Immortalized in Stone.”Your personal sculptor is carving a person, thing or event from the last year of your life. What’s the statue of and what makes it so significant?