November, where did you go? Not only has this month absolutely flown by, but so has our time in Europe. Since November is Thanksgiving month, I’ve been reflecting often on thankfulness. It is also Native American History Month in America, which has meant I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on colonialism, systemic justice, and the intersections of history and present. I have so much to be thankful for this year and I am also more aware than ever that my life has been shaped by unjust systems that worked in my favor. Being away from America has helped me see my own country differently and forced me to sharpen my arguments because I can’t assume that everyone knows my history or necessarily agrees with me.
One day that particularly stands out for me this month was Thanksgiving Day. The morning began with a class session (since it isn’t a holiday here) where the Professor talked about the Protestant missionary-run Native American Boarding Schools in Alaska. He and I ended up getting into a very heated debate wherein I defended the Indigenous people whose lives had been torn apart by my spiritual, and possibly even biological, ancestors. It felt like such a fitting way to start Thanksgiving- standing on the side of Native Americans against a British man. Later that day, Keith and I hosted a Thanksgiving meal for our friends (more on that below) where we began by telling the story of Thanksgiving, and not just the false “Indians and Pilgrims sharing a happy meal” version. It felt like a full-circle moment, although my growth is nowhere near finished. It was also a day of deep joy with my friends here and was a vivid reminder of how much I am going to miss the community that I have come to love so dearly.
Indeed, in this season of gratitude I have so much to be thankful for.
What I'm Learning
Near the beginning of November, we had the chance to take a weekend seminar class on “Nationalism, Secularism, and Environmental Destruction.” For the class, we visited the town of Most, in the Northwest part of Czech Republic, whose history is deeply entwined with these forces. The town of Most was a beautiful Czech town until the 20th century when brown coal was discovered under the town. Under the Communist government, the entire city was destroyed (and rebuilt nearby with classically awful Communist artitechture) to get to the coal. All the city, that is, but a stunning Cathedral which they actually moved almost a kilometer, which holds the World Record for “largest building moved on wheels.” It’s a crazy story. Sadly, the story of Most is the story of a region destroyed in the financial gain. In the picture above, the foreground is gorgeous, but in the background (although its hard to see) is open coal pits. In person, it’s hideous. The region has been devastated in pursuit of one of the worst pollutants and now that it is nearly depleted, the question is “what’s next?”
What I'm Reading
My library in Decatur only lets me put 10 books on hold at a time, which might sound like a lot but the waitlists can literally take months, so it’s like feast or famine on my kindle. This month, I had a ton of holds come in at the same time and it got the best of me. I didn’t quite finish all of these, but I’d still highly recommend them.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones - All that I knew about this book was that it was on both Barack Obama and Oprah’s reading lists, which is all the recommendation I need. It’s a deeply emotional rendering of a marriage torn apart by injustice.
The War on Peace by Ronan Farrow - I’ve been waiting to read this for months and Ronan’s long-form writing is just as good as his Pulitzer prize winning New Yorker pieces. Ronan tells the modern history of the State Department and the way that the US has repeatedly chosen militarism over diplomacy. It’s so good it will make you want to join the Foreign Service!
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild - This book was recommended on one of my favorite podcasts, Keep It, and for good reason. The book is a history of the Belgian king’s colonization of the Congo, which I knew very little about. The writing is fantastic and is interesting without ever feeling like a textbook.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - This trilogy recently got adapted into a TV series starring Downton Abbey’s Matthew Goode. It already aired in the UK and I was able to watch it and loved it so I quickly read all three books. It’s basically Outlander meets Twilight for adults and I have no shame in loving it. After three intense books about criminal justice, war, and colonialism, I need some good and fluffy fiction in my life!
What I'm Eating
Keith and I were trying to figure out how we would have Thanksgiving dinner while in Prague since we only have small spaces with a hotplate to cook on. A few weeks ago, I realized we could just rent an Airbnb for the night so that we could cook and have room to host our friends, which is exactly what we did. Finding all the ingredients for a traditional American Thanksgiving feast was no easy feat, especially for the pumpkin pie. Our pie ended up with a puff pastry crust in a rectangular pan, but it tasted great! Getting to share our traditions with our Czech, German, Russian, and Mexican friends was such a special treat (and the whole meal tasted great!).
What I'm Watching
I always love to learn more about cooking, which makes Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat the perfect show for me. It’s only 4 episodes but each episode is full of beautiful images, wonderful story telling, and food that looks so delicious you’ll wish you were there. Samin Nosrat even has a website about her book/show and you can look up all the recipes from the show. If you haven’t watched this yet, do yourself a favor and add it to your queue.
What I'm Listening To
If your social media feeds are anything like mine, you have been inundated with Multilevel Marketing companies (“direct sales”) that your friends are a part of- YoungLiving, Rodan & Fields, Monat, LuLaRoe, Herbalife, Amway etc. Well, if you’ve ever been part of one or just plain skeptical of them, I cannot recommend this podcast enough.
The Dream looks into what exactly Direct Sales companies are and if they live up to the claims they make, not of their products but of the job opportunities they are providing. This is a sensitive issue to talk about because so many of my friends work for MLMs and present rosy views of it on Instagram and Facebook. But after listening to this podcast, I’m convinced that having to constantly say “we’re not a pyramid scheme” is a bit like having to constantly say “I’m not a racist!” If you have to defend yourself on the same charge over and over again, maybe you should take a good look inward.
If you’ve worked for, and lost money to, an MLM before, please listen to this podcast. Please tell your story because I’m tired of seeing so many people lose money by working for these companies. For every successful woman on instagram succeeding in selling her life changing skincare routine, there are countless women behind her loosing money. This is a very controversial opinion right now, but don’t just take my word for it. Listen to the whole podcast and tell me if I’m wrong.
What I'm Enjoying
After years of having the New York Times app on my phone and trying not to go over my limit of free monthly articles, I realized that there is a student & educator rate for only $6/month which includes access to the NYT Crosswords. The app always has a free mini-crossword, which I’m now obsessed with. I’m pretty bad at the regular crosswords and I’m slowly working my way through the Monday archives as I work on my skills. It’s a fun pastime and I’ve gotten absolutely hooked this month!
Where I've Been
The highlight of November was our wonderful long weekend in Budapest! It is truly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen and I already want to go back.