Variations on my America (Excuse the Stereotypes, Please)

My partner Sara and I visited Southern Georgia last week—a town called Americus–a place that’s stereotypically small town America–America  in miniature–a place that, for me, is about  friendship, service, and fabulous feasting!

For many years Sara’s belonged to a group of female friends who call themselves the Breakfast Club—an assortment of bright and talented women who at one time or another worked in the world of international NGOs but originally met for breakfast on Saturday mornings at a place in Americus, Georgia called Kings Restaurant.

When Sara and I got together 5 years ago, I was inducted into this group of omeletpancakebacon-eating women, whether I wanted to be or not.  And, I must admit, I’ve never laughed harder or louder than I have with these funny and fun-loving female friends.

Though I’d gathered with members of the Breakfast Club in a number semi-exotic locations, before last week I’d never visited Americus, the group’s original home—something Sara and I refused to tolerate any longer.

But Americus, Georgia’s bigger claim to fame is Habitat for Humanity—an international NGO founded 35  years ago by Millard Fuller, an organization that builds decent, affordable homes in close to 100 countries around the world—an organization I’ve worked with closely: having my university students help build houses locally in Lexington; volunteering personally with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in the Mekong; taking another group of writers to the slums of New Delhi where we worked with Habitat for Humanity India.

Habitat is an organization I’ve worked with around the globe, but one whose US home I’d also never seen—until last week.

(But I don’t want you to miss Americus either.)

So, today I offer a pictorial tour of Americus as I experienced it—a sleepy, Southern town of 17,000 near Plains, Georgia, still the home of former US president Jimmy Carter— in many ways a tour of stereotypical America in miniature.

First, the charming Victorian hotel, the 53 room Windsor, where we stayed, an image of Main Street, USA:

The Breakfast Club’s Saturday morning meal is now eaten at Granny’s Kitchen:

There a group of strong American women gather around one big table:

Later that evening we had dinner at Donna’s, a small ranch home common in American suburbs–something my non-American readers may never have visited.  Notice the mailbox:

We had a ball:

I also got to hug the famous peanut in Plains.  Remember, Jimmy Carter, who still lives there came from a family of peanut famers:

I discovered that one of the many buildings in Americus that houses Habitat for Humanity, the Rylander, used to be a car dealership.  Is there anything more stereotypically American than baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet?

I also learned that Habitat for Humanity industriously and ecomically prints all of its own publications—a massive work ethic in operation at the Sheffield Center:

We extended out stay in Southern Georgia by visiting Savannah and the seashore on Tybee Island:

But the best part of visiting Georgia remains returning to Kentucky.

So–as Sara’s sabbatical at home will soon be ending and we will soon be moving on to another (yet unknown) international location, I’m reminded that the best part about being away always involves returning home.

Though I know my America is not the America of many, for me, home remains American— as narrow as that America may be.

So, please excuse the stereotypes; I’m just enjoying home.

Home Again, Home Again: a Georgia Jiggity Jig

Sara and I are home again after nearly a week away, jigging in the exotic Outback that is southern Georgia.

Drawing by Julie Barclay (

Though wonderful to travel internationally, we especially enjoyed the opportunity to visit locations a little closer to home, places in Georgia such as Americus, where NGO Habitat for Humanity International was founded; Plains, home of the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter; Savannah, a southern city draped in Cyprus; and Tybee Island, where walked the beach, enjoying sea and sand.

More details soon.  Just wanted to let you know we made it “to market” and back,.  I plan to resume regular posting, as well as reading the blogs I love as soon as possible.

This little piggy has missed her blogging buddies!

Jiggity jig!

Blogging with Conscience: How Your Voice Can Make a Difference

I have a confession to make—

I’m at a loss—

A complete, honest-to-goodness, in-a-good-kind-of-way loss—cause I have no idea—no earthly idea (in a world where sometimes bad things happen to good people) how to thank those of you who reached out and supported Haiti yesterday.  Whether you yourself posted about the earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince a year ago, commented on my blog, or simply read any other Haiti post, whether you’re reading for the first time today or for the twenty-seventh, I thank you.

Whoever you are, where ever you are, if you are reading this, you are, at least indirectly, supporting the recovery effort in Haiti.  And, good God, please know how grateful I am for that—so truly thankful for your caring, your sharing, your giving voice to the voiceless!

I’m one of those people who believe writing has the ability to make a difference in the world.  In fact, I created a program called “Writers without Borders” that took a group of university writing students to India, where we completed a service learning project with Habitat for Humanity.  We spent two weeks in the slums of New Delhi this past May, interviewing families and creating promotional material that Habitat India could use on its website.  We wrote feature articles, photo essays, even created an audio slide show.  It was a profound experience for all of us, but more importantly it was an opportunity to realize how writing, in very practical ways, can make the world a better place.  It was an opportunity to be that difference.

Mother and child in New Delhi slum (photo by Kathryn Reid)

As someone who teaches composition, I believe it’s important to emphasize to students (and by extension to all of us who write), that good writing amounts to more than style, that quality writing can also be a matter of conscience, that we, as writers, are obligated to use our gifts wisely and sometimes that means using words to benefit others, to speak for those who are otherwise silent.

Given this, I’d remind those of you who blogged for Haiti yesterday, and all of you who write for any reason, that words have power—power to change the world—power to make Port-au-Prince a better place—power to make a difference in your home town, on the street where you live.

I don’t know exactly what we as bloggers can do for Haiti, how concretely we could organize to make the world a better place, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Do any of you have ideas, dreams, strategies?

Alone, I am only one voice, but together we’re a chorus capable of greatness.