Back to School Week

Last week was back to school week.

Well actually it was about 7 weeks ago, but 3 classes has totally dominated my life.


Monday started with my first class: Pompeii. Wednesday was Pompeii again, then Forms of Nonfiction (graduate) and then Creative Nonfiction (previously the undergraduate Forms of Nonfiction class).

It is one real load, but let’s see how I go. (Now I know)


The classes are very different in demographic and presentation. Pompeii is pure lecture with a class of 40 mixed history and art history students. Forms of Nonfiction is only 8 students, most of whom are graduate English students. Creative Nonfiction is about 13 English undergrad students with a couple doing requirements for admission to the grad MFA program.


The first English class is very much seminar whereas the second is a mix of lecture and discussion.

There was only one writing assignment last week and that was for forms of nonfiction. It was called first memories, which appears to be a standard assignment. The writing follows.


Class project: Narrative about a traumatic event:

On the day that the image appeared on the TV, I was sitting watching TV with my mother. It was not the first time that we had seen such images.

A small girl is running towards the camera. She is naked and screaming in fear and pain. Behind her is a black cloud of napalm rising into the air. Her face shows the fear of what has happened.

He is standing in a plaza. A Vietnamese police officer has a pistol placed to his head. The man is identified as a member of the View Cong. His face shows the fear of what is to happen.

But now, as my mother and I watch TV, we see the image. I can’t remember if it is a photo or a movie of a Vietnamese mother cradling the body of a dead child. “I did not think they felt pain”, my mother said.

Vietnam had started as a war in a distant land against an unknown evil. But as time progressed, the image had changed. It had now become a war against terrified people who were just like those who were terrifying them. We now saw the terror of what we were doing to others.


Forms of Nonfiction will require one main term writing exercise. I may actually write on Pompeii. I will write this as a narrative of visiting Pompeii and add in the historical information that I have learnt. (That was a good idea. Pity I forgot about it, but the new idea is better).



For Creative Nonfiction, my term writing will be a review of the silver show at ISAW in New York. A lot will be written before the show with refinement after I see the show. There is also one extra short assignment to be done in a different style. I will do an experimental style writing and I will write a dual narrative with a forward narrative as the main theme, and a reverse narrative running through it. In the start will be the beginning of the primary narrative and the end of the reverse narrative. The essay will end with the opposite.


The official name of the Pompeii class is Design of Cities: Ancient Pompeii: A Window on Ancient Roman Art and Society. For the Pompeii class, we have 3 class exams and one project. The class project is to design a city. I will use overlay sheets to do a design of a city in an historical evolutionary manner. We have to work as teams, but for the submission, I may split off.

Last week a neighbor on next door asked for short essays on countries we had visited. I sent two that are also attached below.





My memory of Mali is of hard working and ingenious people working for little financial reward. Even though working against the odds, they possessed a sense of optimism about the future.


When I visited Mali in the early ‘90’s, the Malians had just completed their first democratic election. After French rule, the country had become virtually a dictatorship. This had just been toppled by the military who had sponsored and supported the election. Their fascination with democracy was so great that the nation’s top radio program in was the Clinton impeachment trial.


In Mopti, every morning I would sit on the wall outside the hotel and watch the Malians drive cars into the Niger River and wash them there. I suppose if you can’t get the water to the car, you just take the car to the water.


In Bamako, there is a market commonly called the recycling market. Scrap metal from car doors was imported from the Ivory Coast and shaped into trunks. Two types of trunks are produced here: ones from car doors, the others from old oil drums. One of the former type is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I returned home with such a trunk. My trunk was made by someone with 6 fingers on each hand who used gasoline to thin a twig which he used as a brush. As he worked, he licking the brush to provide a point.


In Djenne, I bought some model of cars and trucks made from soda cans. At the conclusion of the transaction, I asked why the boy was dividing the toys into two piles. The boy explained that some of the toys were made by his friend and he was working out how to split the money from the sale.


In Bandiagara, which is the region of the Dogon people, boys recycle worn out flip flops to make models of Dogon dancers which they sell to tourists by the side of the road.


The work ethic and honesty always staggered me.

I realized the real level of poverty when the only way to get change for a sales transaction was to ask a beggar.




New Guinea


When I was in New Guinea, I really wanted to see some rock paintings (pictographs) having seen many in Australia.


Because the business partner of the hotel manager was local to the Wahgi Valley area, he offered to serve as my guide and fellow explorer. The Wahgi Valley sits between the eastern and western New Guinea highlands.


After some travel, we actually located a set of paintings of figures on an exposed rock face beside the road. Unfortunately my guide did not know their meaning.


While there, a group of youths from a neighboring village (and another ethnic group) approached us and stated they knew where we could find more.  I should have been skeptical when the answer to every question about these as yet unseen paintings was a definitive yes.


With them, we left the road and walked for what seemed like for miles on end. When we finally rested, my guide overheard the youths say that they planned to rob us. We started back to the road in a rush.


As we rushed back to the car, my guide warned me that we were in real danger. I replied that we were now safe as they had what they wanted. They had ripped the wallet out of my back pocket. This was the last time I ever travelled with my wallet there.


When we got back to the car, my guide felt safe to tell me that they had planned to rob us, kill us and throw our bodies over a cliff.


I believe having a local guide was what saved my life. They knew full well that they could kill me with impunity, but that any violence towards him would have been met with swift retaliation from his family.


When I returned to the hotel, I was told that one of the village groups of the area, the mud men, had recently attacked the police station in retaliation for one of their members being wounded by a local police officer whom he had attacked.


In New Guinea, local law enforcement exists pure and simple as retaliation.




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