30 November

Mawulidis’s Moment: The Selfishness Of Giving

by Jon Katz
Mawulidi’s Moment

I took this photograph nearly two months ago, it was the moment I gave Mawulidi’s the first of the carving tools needed to start his wood carving again. I have to say, there are fewer feelings in my life that are greater than seeing a profoundly creative person like this find their creative spark once again, and live the life they were meant to life.

Mawulidi was both disbelieving and grateful, but watching him near tears – he very rarely smiles – I was reminded of the selfishness of giving.

Last Light

I am fully aware of the fact that when I do good for someone else, it is a selfish thing, because for some reason it makes me feel good about myself.

When I first was introduced to Mawulidi, I wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t asking for anything, didn’t seem to want anything. I think Francis Sengabo, the RISSE official who introduced us, simply wanted me to hear, Mawulidi’s remarkable story of tragedy and survival.

When I heard he lost his tools, something shifted inside of me, in my heart. To be honest, I didn’t have a sense of how talented Mawulidi was, when he talked about carving wood, I thought of small pieces of wood with designs and symbols whittled in.

When Mawulidi showed me of pigeons, I was startled by the simplicity and beauty of it, I see he was just scratching the surface then.

I am very happy about this, he just lifted my heart right up into the sky. In the morning, I will put up a photo of each carving and they will go on sale. It is already abundantly clear these will all be sold in seconds.

When I do good, I always know it is for me as much as them. It just feels better than almost anything else. I am sad for those who can’t feel it or won’t.

This is the beginning of something, not the end. Also in the morning I will launch a new campaign,my choice for the next task of me and the Army Of Good: our RISSE Winter Clothing campaign.

The Risse students and their families  – young and old – are in urgent need of winter clothing. The thing about refugees is that they come here with little more than the clothing on their backs, immigrants come not because they have to but because they want to. They usually bring some things with them.

I know some of the soccer kids own only flip-flops and sneakers. They and their families are facing a severe upstate New York winter, the first exposure of many of them to bitter cold, snow and ice. Many have no sweaters or jackets.

So I am planning to launch a clothing campaign for them here on the blog.  You’ve done if for the refuge warehouse, for the Mansion residents, this need is great. I’m going to be asking for us to do it again, for the refugees and immigrants. The government is cutting almost all of the aid the refugees have traditionally received. I am seeing and  hearing that it is going to be a hard winter for them..

They need smallish jackets, sweaters, winter boots, snowpants for children, warm socks, scarves, mittens and gloves. The children need everything, the adults tend to be smaller and slender – medium sizes.

You can send new clothing or used clothing if it is in good condition. These winter clothes will go to RISSE directly: RISSE Winter Clothing, 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208. I will be writing about this all winter, it is a program of the Army Of Good.

I’ll launch it officially in the morning, this is just an alert, thanks for thinking about it. There are more than 100 young students at RISSE, and many more adults in the education programs. I spent some time today asking them what they need for winter in terms of clothing – everything, they said.

I’ll write more about it in the morning.

30 November

The Beautiful Work Of Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa: On Sale

by Jon Katz
Mawulidi’s Carvings

I am very proud and excited to offer the first of Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa’s carvings for sale, they astonished me with their grace and beauty.

Mawulidi fled the Congo during the awful civil war there, his entire family except for his brother was killed during the conflict, his brother died in the same refugee camp where Mawulidi lived for more than 20 years ( I said yesterday it was 10 years, I was wrong) until he got a visa to come to America  a year ago.

In the Congo, he was a wood-carver, he was taught by his grandfather, who left him his carving tools when he died. When Mawulidi tried to take them with him on the plane to America, he was told to discard them, they couldn’t come on the plane.

It seemed as if he was throwing his life away. He came to Albany and signed up for classes and assistance with RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center there. Francis Sengabo, the Operations Director of RISSE, asked me to meet with him, he sensed his talent.

Meeting this wonderful and simple man, I knew I had to help him. Getting carving tools was not a big task.

I asked the Army Of Good for help in replacing his tools, and we raised hundreds of dollars to replace all of the equipment that he lost. He was dumbfounded that strangers would help him. He came here to Bedlam Farm to choose wood, and also to Pompanuck Farm, where he filled an SUV with chunks of wood.

Today, I went to Albany to see his first four carvings – he couldn’t be present, he had to get to his job baking bread, we must missed each other. But he left the carvings behind and asked me to sell them for him.

He said he wanted to give 25 percent of any profits to RISSE (I declined to take any money).

He said he had no idea what to charge, he asked if I could set a price for him. I was honored to be trusted to do that, but I said I ought to consult with my wife, who sells are all of the time.

I told him Maria and I would discuss it and set a price. We would sell them off of our blogs. If this is successful, we will eventually (his English is still poor, he’s never touched a computer) help him start a blog of his own.

But that will take some time. In the meantime, we will be proud to sell his work. Maria and I were both dazzled by the quality of this work. All the pieces are carved from a single piece of wood, all come from Bedlam or Pompanuck Farms, where he wants to get all of his wood, in honor of my support of him.

Maria will handle the sales, she says will take no commission or any money from the sales.

These carvings will go on sale Friday morning, here on my blog and also heres. We think we are underselling these works, they are authentic folk art, but Mawulidi is very humble and would rather start out low than high, he said. So we will honor that.

The larger items – the crane and the Guinea Hen – will be $150 plus shipping. The two birds will be $100 each plus shipping. (Warning, the price may change a bit in the morning, as we think and talk about it.) People who are interested should e-mail Maria at maria@fullmoonfiberart.com. Please don’t e-mail me, I have no say in who buys these works.

We want to photograph each of these works separately in good light and post them tomorrowt so people can see exactly what they are buying.  There should be enough time to ship these carvings for Christmas, if that matters. We will need to find sturdy and safe packaging.

We are very honored to be helping with this.

It is gratifying and exciting to see Mawiludi, a quiet, proud artist has suffered enough for a dozen lifetimes, get his tools back and return to his artistry.

He never complaints or laments his suffering. Twenty years is an almost unimaginable time in a refugee camp.

I think he can go as far as he wants with his carving, and I told him we would support as much as we can. He says he has a wife and four children to care for, he is not sure people will pay for his work.

I made no promises to him, but I imagine they will. If that white crane hangs around, it will end up on my desk.

Thanks once more to the Army Of Good. For roughly $500 we have transformed a life and saved the soul of an artist. It is better to do good than argue about what good is.


Note, an earlier version of this post said the two smaller pigeon carvings would cost $50, that was my error. They will be $100. As of this writing, all of the carvings are sold.

30 November

Good News. Tafsela Got A Job! She Belongs In America.

by Jon Katz
Tafsela Got A Job

Great news, I met with Tafsela Thursday at RiSSE, the refugee and immigrant support center in Albany, and she came up to me right away and said she got a job the day after we posted about her looking for employment two weeks ago.

With RISSE’s help, she has filled out scores, if not hundreds of applications.

I can’t say for sure if the posting did it or not, I don’t know and she doesn’t either. She’s going to work at the Albany Medical Center working in the Food Service there.

Tafsela is impressive, she is from Afghanistan, has come to America recently.

I did hear from someone who wishes to remain nameless that the Army Of Good had a finger in this.

Tafsela’s family chose a husband for her when she was 14.

I am not free to say why she left Afghanistan, she says she wanted to be free, she has wanted to be free her whole life. And she is brave and strong.

She is a single mother, here with a small child.

Her life is hard and challenging, she is very happy to be here. She told me you have to live in Afghanistan  as a  young woman to understand how much freedom can mean.

I am drawn to strong women in many ways, I love the way they look right into the camera and almost dare me to take a photo.

She was working at a hotel cleaning rooms but was laid off at the end of the summer, the end of the tourist season in most of upstate New York. The hotel manager thought enough of her to write a letter to potential employers explaining that the season was the only reason she was let go, they valued her highly.

I copied it and sent it out to about a dozen employers. I didn’t send one to Albany Med.

I am much impressed with Tafsela, she is pleased to be working for the giant Medical Center there (where I had my open heart surgery), she plans to work her way up the ladder – she is 22 – and when she says that, she looked me  right in the eyes, I can tell you I absolutely believe that she will do it.

I asked  her if she needed any kind of support, financial or otherwise, and she said no, thanks, she would make it on her own. I have no doubt she will.

If one of you angels helped her get this job, thanks. A small act of great kindness, another victory for the Army Of Good.

I am touched and feel intensely patriotic when I meet people like Tafsela, she reminds me what it means to be an American.

Tafsela is a young woman, very much alone in America with a small child and a government that will not help her in any way. America is a beacon to her, despite her hardships, she would rather be here than anywhere else.

She will get there. I will stay in touch with her.

30 November

Man And His Dignity. “Do I Despite Myself Today?”

by Jon Katz


Red: Man And His Dignity

“Have patience awhile; slanders are not long-lived. Truth is the child of time; erelong she shall appear to vindicate thee.” – Immanuel Kant

One of the reasons I love dogs is their dignity. Because they cannot lie or be false to their nature, they have dignity. As we are all earning, every time a man lies or uses his power to injure or dominate or abuse, he loses some of his dignity. He might get what he wants for a moment, but he will destroy his soul in the process.

For a man like me to retain my dignity, I must not lie, or dominate, or abuse. I must like what I see in the mirror. I must respect myself, no matter what others think of me.

I must learn patience and empathy. A powerful man, it seems, is aroused in many different ways. Unchecked, he loses his dignity, and knows shame and fear, in one way or another,  he will always be exposed and disgraced, here or in some other world.

Yesterday, a new ritual of American life unfolded at the care where I was having lunch with my friend Scott at his Round House Cafe. He was waiting on a customer, I was checking my message, something I must do a number of times a day to manage my life.

I glanced over at the news, which I do more than I used to do, and saw the latest bulletin. “Scott,” I said, “this time it’s Garrison Keillor.”

Oh no, he shouted. We shook our heads.

Scott has listened to Garrison Keiilor every day of his adult life, his gentle humor and evocation of rural life was an integral part of daily life, he was a genius at what he did.

I liked him for the Writer’s Almanac he wrote every day, it is rare for anyone to remember writers and their lives any longer. I fantasized that one day he might refer to me. Now I know that will never happen.

Oh, no. And then, the new ritual, the new daily prayer.

The public outing, the non-denial denials, the apologies, the smooth-talking crisis manager,  the fake ritual of repentance, the new accusations, the self-shaming and embarrassment, the Stalinist  show trials, the purgings of a self, the censorship of a human.

C’mon, man, if you are so ashamed and embarrassed and remorseful, why did you pul your penis out in front of a young woman trying to live her life in this world? Why did you masturbate in front of someone and humiliate and degrade them? Are we really supposed to be that fickle and stupid?

It feels right that so many of these men are falling.  it seems wrong that they are tried and hung on Twitter. People love due process when they get in trouble, they abandon it quickly enough when their enemies are in the dock.

Stalin and Mao (and Trump) love Twitter Trials, anybody can say anything they want,  their loyal supporters are also the judges and juries, trials are over in minutes, there is nothing remotely like a defense, they cost nothing and are about any thing but justice.

We don’t storm towers with torches in this country, we use Facebook and Twitter.

The Puritans had this same idea about witches, if they are thrown into the water and float, they are witches, if they fall to the bottom and drown, they are witches.

Scenes cut out of movies, contracts canceled, work and archives purged without process, thought. We not only fire the accused, we destroy every vestige of his life. We think he’s guilty, but then again, how would we really know? If the context is different, the process is the same. They are treated just like the witches. It’s about time, they say. It’s a grotesque precedent, too.

The abusers and harassers of late have lots of money, they will be fine, this is America, they will repent and apologize, share their struggles to get  well, hire expensive lawyers and publicists, recast themselves.

We are learning every day that shame is dying in America, the vilest crimes and bigotry are simply proof of persecution and injustice. We are turned upside down. Our leaders no longer believe in suffering or sacrificing for morality, and many are losing any sense of what morality is.

The ever hypocritical and opportunist corporations, winking at abuse and brutality for generations, is suddenly righteous, outraged and unforgiving; “what? harassment? here?”  We are shocked, shocked. Accused at night, gone by morning. Wash your hands of him, he no longer exists.

The circus has risen, all of life is a reality show.

And so, these broken and immoral men vanish with their multi-million dollar contract settlements, off to see their therapists, debase themselves in their show trials, meet with their crisis managers, plot their return.

But do not ever fool yourself. They will return, perhaps more popular and powerful than before.   Those who don’t end up in jail will be back with fresh apologies, carefully chosen interviews, self-serving blogs and websites, images of charity work and redemption,  more declarations of shame.

Hannah Arendt was correct when she wrote that hypocrites are the lowest form of life. We have zoomed back to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which we used to condemn.

I ought to say I think this is good for men in many ways, so many of us are talking and thinking having conversations we didn’t have before, seeing things they never saw before.

I believe it will get better. Women have support now they never had before, and are awakening in new ways for the better of the world. My own wish is that this is a necessary process to get from here to there, not a new system of justice.

I am thinking about my morality and self-respect.

I notice that these men say they despite themselves. Good, if that is true, then there is hope for them.

Every time I have lied, or been cruel,  I have lost a piece of my dignity. But you can get it back. All you have to do is look in the mirror and ask the face you see if you like yourself today, if  you have done good, told the truth, and respect yourself.

This morning, I looked in the mirror. “Do I Despise You?,” I asked myself. No, I answered, not today.

If the answer is no, I am on the path, and you don’t need a crisis counselor to get there.

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