We were deeply moved when we saw our former host family, work partners and others on the screen, showing off the projects we pursued together. Most emotional was seeing our beloved Bunica, or Moldovan grandmother, talking to us from her bed.
Even if you don’t speak a word of Romanian, you should have no trouble following along. We think the producers did a great job and hope you enjoy the story, too. “Mulțumim frumos!” to everyone who made it happen.
As we give thanks this week, I want to salute the great work being done in Durham by the West End Community Foundation, Inc., which I’ve been fortunate to volunteer with over the past year.
Dosali Reed-Bandele, the foundation’s executive director, and I worked together to produce an updated website, an e-newsletter, new brochures, a texting service and other communications tools to serve the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park, which the foundation administers. The center is located in a historic building that was previously a school for African American students in Durham’s segregated system.
Dosali took the lead on this work along with her colleagues. As she says in a new article by Jeannine Sato, the year-long project “helped our center tell its story more authentically, about both our history and how we now interact with the community.” She and I are still working together on some remaining tasks.
Horse farms. Bourbon. Bluegrass. The Appalachians.
That wasn’t all we saw while driving recently through Kentucky and Tennessee.
There were also the three older white couples eating breakfast near us one morning, discussing local politics. One laughed and said, “They’re spending so much, you’d think they were Democrats!”
They didn’t wear masks inside our hotel. Neither did most people in the other indoor spaces we visited, even in some government facilities with “masks required” signs.
In Nashville, at the Hermitage home of President Andrew Jackson, we visited replica houses of enslaved people who picked his cotton and built his fortune. In Gatlinburg, a restaurant owner wearing a cowboy hat vented to us about Joe Biden. As we drove across Knoxville, Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, and the Great Smoky Mountains before heading home to Durham, our radio dial was filled with country music and Christian preachers.
As always happens when we travel, we experienced a world beyond our Blue Bubble. We were visiting Red America but also encountering a diversity more complex than simple labels. America surprises you when you explore it, as we’d seen in West Virginia a few weeks earlier. A young man there told us in a thick accent about the nearby mountain holler where he grew up, not far from where he met his husband.
At dinner on our first night in Tennessee, we were seated next to a group of young professionals holding a Bible study group, discussing Jesus while drinking beers. In Louisville, a couple from Bowling Green told us about the Corvette auto plant where he works. The next day we visited Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Mammoth Cave and a quirky “Kentucky Stonehenge” in a family’s yard. In Nashville, we chatted with young women dressed up for Dia de los Muertos and ate hot chicken while listening to a band playing country hits on Lower Broadway.
We saw sites ranging from Fort Boonesborough in Kentucky to the Parthenon in Nashville. We visited craft stores, ate barbecue, strolled atop the Ohio River and hiked through forests ablaze with autumn reds, yellows and greens. We won some money at the Kenneland racetrack in Lexington but lost about ten dollars more, then visited the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs in Louisville. We met wonderful people.
It was time well spent as we slowly emerge from our long pandemic lockdown, eager to travel again but still cautious about going abroad. Kentucky and Tennessee reminded us how many places we have yet to explore — and learn from — much closer to home.