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Photo: WGRZ
The owner of Sakina Halal Grill, Kazi Mannan, knows what it’s like to be hungry. Thanks to his paying customers in DC, he can give meals to the homeless for free.

Don’t you love successful people who remember how painful poverty and daily anxiety about food can be — and who decide to help others? Tim Ebner reports at the Eater in Washington, DC, about a restaurateur who did just that.

“Come 2 p.m. in many Washington, D.C., restaurants, the lunch rush is all but over. … But for Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill, the lunch rush is just getting started.

“On a late-Friday afternoon, the door to his Pakistani-Nepalese-Indian restaurant keeps swinging open. A homeless man who is deaf walks through the door. He carries a note. Mannan reads it, then attempts to sign with the man.

“Mannan asks if he wants something to eat while gesturing toward his mouth. The man holds up two fingers and pulls out $2, but Mannan shakes his head no.

“ ‘No money,’ ” he says. ‘You eat for free.’

“That’s Mannan’s policy for every homeless person who walks through the door. At Sakina Halal Grill, the poor, homeless, and hungry eat for free — Mannan calculates he gave away 6,000 meals in 2016 — and the waiters serve them in the dining room, as if they’re full paying customers.

“The buffet-style, halal restaurant, which is undergoing a name change from Mayur Kabab House to Sakina Halal Grill — ‘It’s a tribute to all the mothers around the world,’ Mannan, who lost his mother Sakina, 26 years ago, says of the switch. …

” ‘I’m the little guy on this block,’ Mannan said. ‘And, I love it. …

‘I want to say, “Hey listen, corporate people and people in politics! Listen to me!” I want to show them what love can do, and I want to spread a wave of love that touches the lives of millions.’

“Mannan says he’s living the immigrant dream, in a place where people are likely to take notice. Keeping his door open — which he did Thursday during the #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike — is more than just good business, it’s an expression of his faith. …

” ‘Kazi Mannan: The restaurant has been here for decades. I took it over in 2013 and this really was my dream. I came from a village in Pakistan that didn’t have electricity or plumbing. Our school was completely outdoors. It was always my dream to overcome poverty and own a restaurant. …

” ‘I started working at a gas station off Benning Road in Northeast. At the time, it was a very dangerous neighborhood. I worked there for a few years, and eventually, I saved enough money to start a limousine service; someone told me that I could make my own money as a driver. The funny thing is — that’s where you meet all of the stars of D.C. I still own the company, and I’m very proud that I can provide jobs to people like me, immigrants. Because seriously for me, this is not about the money. …

” ‘My mother taught me to be generous and give with my time. Because remember, we were broke. But, if we had a guest visit, she would make tea and welcome them into our home. She gave everything of herself. …

” ‘I’m a Muslim-American. And I like to believe that when I’m giving to the poor and hungry, God sees that. Just the act of giving a smile to someone can be a blessing. Just think about what food has the power to do. …

‘ ‘The chefs work together … and not only do they make delicious food, but they represent places, which are typically at odds with each other. They come together in this kitchen and use pure love and food. …

” ‘I am proud to be Muslim-American. I am proud to be a citizen of this country. And as a Muslim, I want to show others the true essence of Islam — and that is to love.”

More at the Eater, here. Manna’s initiative seems to be going strong (click here for a 2019 update), which is reassuring as the Eater article is from 2017. I was sorry to see that when Panera tried something similar, a pay-what-you-want model, it didn’t last. (See Bloomberg.) As philanthropic people keep trying to find ways to feed the hungry while running a business, a model that works long-term will emerge. Meanwhile, one kind individual can make a huge difference in many lives.

Easter at Our House

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Whatever you did today, I hope it was nice. We had an egg hunt at our house (this year’s whacky egg-coloring technique worked well), and then we played in the park.

Above, you see the baskets ready for the four grandchildren. The painting on the wall is by my oldest grandson, who is not quite 9.

Below, looking pensive, is our youngest grandchild.

I used a branch of an early rhododenron to hang Easter ornaments.

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Photo: The Book Catapult
When a co-owner of the Book Catapult fell ill at the same time as the only full-time employee, rival bookstores in San Diego kept the shop open. (Pictured: The Book Catapult co-owners Seth Marko and Jennifer Powell, Marko’s wife.)

Never give up on humanity. In a February story at Publisher’s Weekly [PW], Claire Kirch reported on the selflessness of some booksellers in San Diego. Of course, we know that book people are remarkable folks, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that most people show kindness at some point in their lives.

Here’s what happened when a bookshop owner had emergency heart surgery while his only full-time employee was suffering from bird flu.

“The bad news coming out of the Book Catapult in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood,” wrote Kirch, “is that co-owner Seth Marko underwent emergency surgery immediately following his return home from Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, after suffering chest pains while there. Plus, the two-year-old store’s only full-time employee, Vanessa Diaz, came home from WI14 with a case of bird flu, or as she called it, ‘the Albuquerque swine flu.’

“The good news is that six booksellers from four other San Diego-area bookstores — The Library Shop, Warwick’s Bookshop, the University of California-San Diego’s bookstore, and Adventures by the Book — have volunteered their time for more than a week to keep the Book Catapult open during its regular hours, while Marko’s spouse, store co-owner Jennifer Powell, tends to him. (Marko left the hospital Wednesday). Another pair of booksellers, John Evans and Alison Reid, the two co-owners of Diesel: A Bookstore in Los Angeles, have committed to volunteering at the Book Catapult this weekend. [Ingram Publisher Services personnel pitched in later.]

 ‘It’s a story of redemption and hope,’ joked Library Shop manager Scott Ehrig-Burgess, who coordinated the volunteers and, he says, trained them on the store’s [Point of Sale] system. …

“ ‘I’ve had to turn away volunteers, from former booksellers to people who know nothing about books but want to help out,’ Ehrig-Burgess said. ‘We’re a close-knit community.’

“As for Evans, he says that he and Reid are driving down from L.A. to help out because Marko and Powell ‘are great people, fellow booksellers, [who] created a wonderful bookstore in their neighborhood and this health crisis just came out of nowhere. They are much-loved in the book community in Southern California, with Seth having various roles over the years in keeping the book culture vital, fun, and interesting.’

“Andrea Vuleta, the head of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, told PW, ‘I am so pleased to see such warmth, community, and fellowship among our bookseller membership. I think it is one of best things about indies, the mutual support. Definitely something to be thankful for these days.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Katie Leigh

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Photo: Laure Joliet
Important shows are proliferating for 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado. “Luchita Hurtado. Dark Years” — was on view at New York’s Hauser & Wirth gallery earlier this year, and more exhibits are scheduled around the world.

In my after-kids career, I had jobs in which my colleagues were nearly always decades younger than me. I didn’t want to tell anyone my age. If the workplace celebrated birthdays, I didn’t want anyone to know when mine was. On Facebook, my date of birth is still visible only to me (and Facebook, alas).

So I loved what this artist who’s getting big shows at 98 had to say about revealing her age.

‘The older I get, the more I want to tell you how old I am,’ the 98-year-old artist Luchita Hurtado says, gesturing toward the paintings in her Los Angeles studio. ‘I’m showing off. Sometimes I feel that I’m really overdoing it.’

Maybe if I get to 98 with all my marbles, I will feel the same.

Anna Furman writes at the New York Times, “On a cloudless afternoon in October, I meet the artist Luchita Hurtado, 98, in her Santa Monica home studio — a sand-colored three-story building a 20-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean. Inside, her riotously colorful paintings — in which genderless figures transform into trees — animate the walls of her compact 145-square-foot studio, interspersed with dried leaves and a framed rare butterfly. …

“She recounts searching for Olmec colossal heads from a two-seater plane above San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán; camping at the Lascaux Cave in southern France before the site closed permanently to the public in 1963; posing for Man Ray, and forging friendships with Frida Kahlo, Isamu Noguchi and Leonora Carrington. …

“Hurtado has recently experienced a rise to fame that has been thrilling to witness — albeit maddening in its lateness. … In her expansive oil paintings, ink-based drawings, fabric collages and patterned garments, Hurtado explores what she sees as the interconnectedness of all beings. Her paintings from the ’70s [represent] women as sacred beings, powerful subjects of their own lives. …

“Born in the seaside town of Maiquetía, Venezuela, in 1920, Hurtado migrated to New York at age 8. At the then-all-girls high school Washington Irving, she studied fine art and developed a keen interest in anti-fascist political movements. [At one point], she supported herself by creating imaginative installations for Lord & Taylor and fashion illustrations for Vogue — at night, she created totemic figure drawings with watercolor and crayon. …

“ ‘Luchita has always had this very fluid identity, which makes her art so 21st century,’ says the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is organizing her retrospective in London. ‘We have to contextualize her clearly with the historic avant-garde, because she is a contemporary of Frida Kahlo, she knew Diego Rivera and was married to Wolfgang Paalen, a key figure of surrealism — and she is a key figure of spiritual surrealism, with a connection to pre-Columbian art, but we cannot lock her in that.’…

“Hurtado possesses the grace of someone who has not spent her life promoting her art, but quietly and diligently producing it — at her kitchen table, in backyards and closets and, at one point, in a stand-alone studio in the Santa Monica Canyon. …

‘I never stopped drawing, looking, living,’ she tells me. ‘It’s all the same thing, all solving your own life. …

” ‘I remember my childhood more and more,’ Hurtado tells me, tucking a tortoiseshell comb into her hair, which she had cut short herself the day before. She shares memories from Venezuela — hiding under fan-shaped leaves, watching crabs scuttle across the beach, devouring mangoes in a cool stream.

“Lately, when she wakes, she sees a vision of a pink ceiling floating above her. I imagine the series of paintings she created in 1975 in which bright-white squares are framed by mesmerizing planes of blue, goldenrod and fiery red — intended to draw moths to an illusory light, they give off a sense of ascension and expansion.

‘I’ve concluded that I’m going somewhere,’ she tells me. ‘It’s not death; it’s a border that we cross. I don’t think I’ll be able to come back and tell you, but if I can, I’ll find a way. If you suddenly see a pink ceiling, that’s me.’

Read her reasons for promoting different husbands’ work, never her own, at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Men in need of a suit for a funeral, say, or a job interview can get one fitted to perfection at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man in Baltimore and Los Angeles.

When my daughter-in-law’s parents were doing spring cleaning one year, they donated boxes of clothes in excellent condition to one of the Providence agencies where I’m an ESL volunteer. Dorcas International has many services besides English classes, and one of them is a secondhand shop that provides household goods and clothes for refugees (if you are used to Africa, you definitely need a warm coat for Rhode Island winters) and for needy residents referred by other agencies.

I was glad to learn that there are similar services in other cities.

David Karas writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “On a frigid December afternoon, Tyler Freburger is standing in front of a set of mirrors wearing a suit picked out for him by a tailor. He sorely needs the attire for a funeral later in the week.

“A homeless veteran living in Baltimore, Mr. Freburger would usually have difficulty securing such an outfit, especially one selected for him personally. But in this instance, he was referred to the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man.

“Since 2011, the organization has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. …

“ ‘It’s a blessing that they are here,’ says Freburger, who notes that the organization has treated him well and has been working to supply what he needs – something he is not accustomed to in his daily life. …

The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse. …

“[Some years ago,] When Schafer was delivering some custom suits to a client, he was handed two bags of gently worn suits in return.

“ ‘He said I spoiled him with how I made his custom suits fit, and he couldn’t wear his old suits anymore,’ Schafer says. ‘They were still very nice, and he didn’t know where to take them.’

“Schafer found a nonprofit that would accept the suits and put them to good use, but as time went on, more of his clients did the same thing. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to launch his own nonprofit, Sharp Dressed Man. …

” ‘Since those two bags of clothes, I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,’ Schafer says. .. ‘If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity. … It is really powerful when you see guys when they are suited up and they are kind of glowing,’ he says. …

” ‘I had a battle with drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and if I wouldn’t have changed my life, I either would have been dead or I would have been in line asking for free soup,’ he says. … ‘That’s why I do it.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Teenage sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bali have received many honors for their efforts to ban plastic bags. Here they’re seen accepting the 2017 “Award for Our Earth” from Germany’s Bambi Awards.

An impressive phenomenon that’s emerging as climate change threatens communities and plastic waste clogs waterways is the emergence of children and teens as leaders — in particular, young people from developing nations.

Consider this story from National Public Radio [NPR].

“Five years ago, two young women decided they were going to do something about the plastic problem on their island of Bali. And Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

“How young?” asks NPR reporter Michael Sullivan. “So young one of them couldn’t make it to our midweek interview. ‘She’s at school,’ explained 18-year-old Melati Wijsen, talking about her 16-year-old sister Isabel. ‘She’s just halfway through grade 11 and she’s putting her focus more into graduating high school.’

“Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. And when ocean currents carry that plastic to the tourist island of Bali, it’s a public relations nightmare. This video taken by British diver Rich Horner last year pretty much sums up the scale of the problem as he tries to navigate through a sea of plastic just below the water’s surface.

“The two sisters got the idea for Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 after a lesson at school about influential world leaders — change-makers — including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

” ‘My sister and I went home that day thinking, “Well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali?” ‘ Melati Wijsen says. … The answer was right in front of them. Literally. On the beach in front of their home. …

” ‘It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,’ Wijsen says. …

“They went online and discovered that over 40 countries had already banned or taxed plastic bags.

” ‘We thought, “Well, if they can do it, c’mon, Bali! C’mon, Indonesia! We can do it, too!” ‘ Wijsen says. …

“They got some friends together, went online to start a petition and got 6,000 signatures in less than a day, Wijsen says. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. They organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. Especially when they decided to up the ante optics-wise.

” ‘I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike,’ Wijsen says, inspired, she says, by one of the tools used by Gandhi. ‘He also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals, of getting attention, So that was a huge inspiration for us.’

“[The governor did] what any savvy politician would do when faced with two teenage girls threatening a hunger strike. He invited them to come see him. ‘Within 24 hours, we had a phone call and then the next day we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor,’ Wijsen says.

“[Governor] Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sisters to work toward eliminating plastic on the island. … Melati Wijsen says she learned a lot about dealing with politicians. …

” ‘Being 14 and skipping school on a Tuesday because I had to learn about draft regulations and suggestions really was an interesting learning curve for me,’ she says. Dancing with politicians, she says, is like three steps forward, two steps back and again, and again. ‘It’s almost like the cha-cha.’ …

“Just last month, the new governor of Bali announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019, thanks in part to the sisters’ efforts and those of like-minded NGOs. …

” ‘We literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. … This is my No. 1 focus right now,’ she says. ‘It consumes almost every thought in my body. I mean, it’s like a full-time job.’

“Is she obsessed or just focused? ‘A healthy chunk of both,’ she says, laughing, adding that her mother helps keep her balanced. ‘Some days, she’ll just be like, “Melati, take a day off, like go to the beach with your friends and just don’t pick up the plastic, just sit there.” ‘ ” More at NPR, here.

I have to give a shout-out to teachers like the ones who motivated these teens. Can anyone doubt that teachers are important?

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Photo: Delaware Agriculture
Mark VanGessel, Professor of Weed/Crop Management at the University of Delaware, with an invasive palmer amaranth plant.

Agribusiness presents all sorts of challenges these days. For one, weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup, the herbicide that has received so much attention for causing cancer. And having a huge number of acres makes it hard to find a paying crop to plant on alternative years, which can help improve the soil.

A report at Civil Eats, rebroadcast by Public Radio International, got me interested in Australia’s superweed problem. In it, Virginia Gewin explained how near-desperation was causing to farmers to get creative.

“In December, C. Douglas ‘Bubba’ Simmons III left his corn and soybean farm in northwest Mississippi to visit the dryland wheat fields in Western Australia, a region considered to be the herbicide resistance capital of the world. Plagued with unwelcome intruders such as annual ryegrass and wild radish that have evolved resistance to several herbicides, Australian farmers have been forced to develop new approaches to manage weeds — and their seeds. It hasn’t been easy. Farmers there are paying roughly 27 percent more per acre due to increased management and yield loss, according to Bayer.

“Simmons visited several farms in the southern half of the state of Western Australia with three other U.S. farmers and a weed scientist. … Simmons, eager to learn from growers who have faced similar weed concerns, was inspired by Aussie ingenuity. It remains to be seen whether their mechanical and cultural solutions will work in the U.S., given Australia’s much drier landscape. …

” ‘I think Mississippi might even be considered ground zero for the number of herbicide-resistant weeds we have,’ he says. ‘It’s a constant battle from mid-March to mid-November.’

“The long growing season and warmer climates in some parts of the South allow noxious weeds to thrive. But ‘superweeds’ that refuse to die when sprayed with herbicides have been taking over crop land across the U.S. farm belt and beyond. Globally, 255 different weeds have developed resistance to 163 different herbicides, but the most concerning are the 43 that have developed resistance to glyphosate (the main chemical in the widely used weed killer Roundup). These weeds compete with crops for space, water, and nutrients in the soil — and they’re beginning to impact many farmers’ yields. …

“Palmer amaranth, an aggressive pigweed that has devastated crops in the South and Midwest, is one of the worst. Each plant can produce at least 100,000 seeds, and, when left unchecked, they can grow to be taller than some people. …

“ ‘We really need to think about other methods,’ says [Christy Sprague, a Michigan State University professor and weed extension specialist who also traveled to Australia]. It won’t be easy. Farms have gotten larger and larger, so it’s unclear what physical approaches can be incorporated into current farming systems. Cover crops also show promise in suppressing weeds, for example, University of Arkansas weed scientist Jason Norsworthy found that a cereal rye cover crop suppressed roughly 83 percent of palmer amaranth. But their use among farmers is only growing slowly. …

“ ‘Our mantra—keep the weed seed bank as low as possible,’ says Lisa Mayer, manager of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative and WeedSmart at the University of Western Australia. In other words, control these seeds, and keep them from turning into new weeds. To that end, farmers have developed a number of approaches to catch and destroy the seeds. Some pile the wheat chaff into lines behind the combine, which can be collected or burned. They also use the Harrington Weed Seed Destructor, a device that pulverizes weed seeds as the grain is harvested.

“These methods have proven to kill 95-99 percent of the annual weed seed produced. In combination with some herbicides, weed populations have been reduced to around 1 plant per square meter, which lowers the potential for resistance. …

“Simmons says the big takeaway he learned from his Australian counterparts was the need for farmers to help develop new tools for the fight against weeds. Despite the often-intense pressure to continue buying herbicides, Simmons says growers can’t continue as if there’s only a single tool in the toolbox.” More here.

I can’t help thinking smaller farms are the answer, but can they feed a planet that already has too much hunger?

Photo: University of Delaware Carvel REC
The root structure of the invasive palmer amaranth weed makes it almost impossible to eradicate. And it produces a huge number of seeds.

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