On the road with The Good Braider, I experienced an event this month of Thanksgiving that I will never forget. I’m giving thanks here to all the pIayers who not only imagined, but pulled off a Global Voices Coffee House in the small city of Dover, New Hampshire. The players begin with poet Maren Tirabassi; teacher and singer in an old-time music band, Carolyn Hutton; and Carolyn’s international ESL students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, the next town over. The students, many from China and Egypt, some from Latin America, had read The Good Braider and many of the poems in Maren’s anthology of poems and prayers, Gifts in Open Hands. With Carolyn, they read carefully. Later, some of the students told me The Good Braider was the first novel they had read in English. As they read, they wrote reflections in response to Viola, the main character’s, story and the plan was to read these at the coffee house, an event open to the community, then have an open mic.
Don Tirabassi wrote a press release, took our picture for the newspaper, and envisioned the event for us as theatre. We made a flyer, An Evening of Global Stories, St. Thomas Church Hall. Maren made a pumpkin cake, I made chocolate chip cookies. On the evening of the coffee house, Caroyln’s students boarded the Durham – Dover bus and she followed behind in her car so they would be sure to find Dos Amigos where they’d get some supper. At the church hall, Maren and I lit dozens of battery-powered candles for the round tables. Carolyn and her students arrived and Paul from Carolyn’s band, Drowned Valley, came with a clawhammer banjo. After them, we had no idea who would come.
Then Phil came with a ukulele. My friend, artist Tess Feltes from the Children’s Museum and friends came. The tables were filling.
The coffee house began. Drowned Valley sang “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
It set our theme, saying good-bye and leaving home.
Khalid from Egypt played drums. Melinda, from China, and I sat beside Khalid. The drums paused and I read a verse from The Good Braider, “Sahara,” in which Lokolumbe assures Viola she will again braid her hair. “Braids are from our culture,” he says. Melinda read, “Life is like a braid.” Jo Jo and Diana responded to the verse, “We do not do this in Africa” about the cultural expectations of African girls. Jo Jo read about parents in China who also would not allow their children the freedom of American girls. She read, “We do not do this in China.”
More people came. Some had papers folded in their pockets, others had instruments. Drowned Valley sang another song of leaving, “Oh Susannah” and Paul explained that the banjo he was playing is a style that was made in the Carolinas by slaves. He and Carolyn ripped into a song in honor of braids and hair, “Omie, let your bangs hang down. Omie let your bangs touch the ground.”
Maren’s turn: She read a poem she collected from Aoteaora, New Zealand, “Taking Leave.” Here are a few lines to give a taste of the solace in this poet’s good-bye:
I find in the bush that is wordless,
Where light is at ease with the dark,
A greening on paths that are endless
And earth that gives speech to the heart.
James, Luke, and Etimad read reflections on this and poems on peace and justice Maren read from Gifts In Open Hands.
But that’s not all. The open mic portion of the Global Voices Coffee House kept going on good-byes and leaving home. Phil Lessard, the man with the ukulele sang, “When the Sun Says Good-bye to the Mountains,” in French. Celeste told about her mother who left her homeland, a country at war – Great Britain – fifty years ago. Jo Jo and Melinda, who had read with me, found a song in Chinese on Melinda’s iphone. They went to the mic and sang with the music, “Where is the happiness that we spent together?” Later, Melinda sent me a link to the song. You can listen.说好的幸福呢 – 周杰伦
“And something as
imperceptible as stardust
fills you…” Maren read from Ray McGinnis’s Canadian poem.
It felt like stardust that November evening. People from corners of the world listened to each other’s stories of home including Viola’s from South Sudan.