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Two Books: An Introduction Part VIII

The email came.  Its title read, "What has Passover meant to you this year?"  I clicked to reveal more questions inside, "What bonds are you hoping to shed? What changes are you inspired to make in the coming year?"


All previous blog posts in this series consisted of exactly what the title stated, Two Books: An Introduction.  I had stood in a bookstore holding multiple books in my hands.  The covers were sleek and unscarred, but the messages were not.  It should not have surprised me, because Passover is the holiday where I hold the most cognitive dissonance about my own identity and the identities with which I ally.  Passover is the holiday when I linger most in my community’s experience of persecution and my role in a system designed to do just that.  These books were my words and not.  They were my story and not yet.  They were my language and the language I wanted.  I couldn’t choose only two.


Book Four: “This book is the story of my very own Artivist journey. . . They say I’m an artist.  I love to help my community.  To seed goodness in the world.  They say I’m an activist.”


Book One: My name is Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail.  What is yours?


Book Two: I’m so excited to hear The Artivist by Nikkolas Smith.  My name is Sankofa: A Culinary Story of Resilience and Belonging.  Nice to meet you.


Book One: Nice to meet you.  I’m excited to listen to him speak.  Where are you from?


Book Two: A place I have never been to.  I know “about Ghana from the stories” and “Ghana seemed like a very different place than the city.”  A city like this city.  And you?


Book One: Passover.  The night “different from all other nights.”  We can experience time in a circular way, be in a time as if it was a place.  Sometimes this is easier because we know how the story ends and that the world doesn’t.


Book Four: “But sometimes the world that I see is not the world that I wish to see.  And the problems seem larger than life.  I want to scream.  I want to help.  I want to act.”


Book One: What brings you here? 


Book Two: “. . . our annual potluck lunch. . . a dish that best represents. . . culture. . . food. . .”  Mine are “. . .so different from all the dishes the other kids were bringing in. . .”  I . . . “feel even more like an outcast.”



Book Four: “All I can think to do is paint the problems and the solutions people can work on together.  I think it’s time to combine both parts of who I am:  to take ACTION with my ART.  It’s time to become an ARTIVIST.”


Book One: His words are true.  Art can bridge lack of understanding.  But how do we understand each other enough to work together?  What languages do you speak?


Book Two: Food.  Nanabarima is teaching me to “let the ingredients speak to us. . . each spice mix. . . each spice has its own story to tell. . . through food there is more that connects us than separates us.”


Book One:  Food is memory; I understand that from the Seder, meal that tells the story of Exodus.  Tell me more about your food language.


Book Two: Think of a market.  The “vendors spoke quickly to each other and to customers.  Some spoke in Twi.  Some in English.  Some in languages (I) had never heard before. . . Those are the sounds of our people. . . We pride ourselves on being resourceful with our food, even when there wasn’t enough to go round.  To make the limited food as delicious as possible, we learned to use spices.  Curry is a mix of different spices. Each spice is important on its own, but when blended together, they tell an even more wonderful story.”


Book One: I understand about being resourceful.  “Fearful that the pharaoh would change his mind, the Israelites fled in such a hurry that they did not even wait for their bread to rise.  That is why during the eight days of Passover, Jewish families do not eat any bread or other foods made with leavening.  Instead, we eat matzo (unleavened bread).”


Book Two: Yes, this is the story of rice.


Book One: What do you mean?


Book Two: Carolina Gold rice. . . it’s some of the best rice in the whole world.  And it’s grown in America.  But it wasn’t always here. . . In the 1600s, our people were captured. . . before they were captured, some of the enslaved people braided rice into their hair, hoping to have something familiar to grow and eat when they arrived in the new land.”


Book Three:  Did someone say seeds?  I Imagine a Garden.


Book One: That’s beautiful. 


Book Three:  Our speaker’s artwork is beautiful.


Book Four: “I will sketch and draw and scribble and paint the broken bones I see and the healing I hope for.  Until, hopefully, I open a few eyes to the things that aren’t working right.”


Book Two: What brings you here?


Book Three:  Seven Stories of Courage Changing the World.  “. . . a mother, a dancer, a teacher, a coach, a teenager, an artist and a restaurant owner. . .”


Book Four: “Or many, many eyes.”


Book One: On Passover, “I especially loved to open the door for Elijah.  I stood on the doorstep, feeling the cool night air on my face and gazing out into the darkness.  I never caught a glimpse of Elijah, yet each year when I returned to the table, his cup was no longer full.  Had Elijah actually come or had one of the grown-ups taken a few sips from his cup?  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we all do what we can to help bring about a time of peace.”  With you here, we have invited not one but seven voices inside who will not stay strangers.


Book Three: “Even our smallest actions can be world changing.”  Not all seeds become plants.  Some gardens grow people and ideas and memory.  Grenade canasters become flowerpots.  Girls are taught to dream.  Someone’s unfulfilled dream means someone else’s dream comes true.  We celebrate our culture and recognize our rights no matter where we live.


Book Two: “In our language, Twi, we have a saying: ‘Sankofa w’onkyir.’ It means that we must look back into the past for traditions and stories that have been left behind. . . otherwise, our culture will vanish.”  


Book One: You can be hungry for anything, food, connection, history.


Book Two:  I agree.  It is the same hunger.  “The story of food is also the story of who we are.  And you should be proud of who you are. . .”  We should be able to say this out loud without being afraid. 


Book Four: “The Artivist is a memory keeper, painting Justice for all.  Especially all those who no longer have a voice. . . We bring awareness to what can be changed for the better so that everyone can take action.”


 Book One: “Let us now open the door to welcome the prophet Elijah who will one day bring peace to the world.” Come to dinner with me and meet my cat, Elijah. He is a tale with a tail.

Book Four: The Artivist by Nikkolas Smith

**Special Thank you to A Room of One's Own Books for giving me the moment of holding these four books at once.


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