Jed Dietz, founder of the Maryland Film Festival, and Ramona S. Diaz, director of "Motherland" documentary playing at the 2017 Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore, Maryland, in the Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

I spent 94 minutes as a fly on the wall in the middle of constant chaos as I watched Ramona S. Diaz’s “Motherland,” a documentary about women in Manila’s National Maternity Hospital, one of the busiest maternity hospitals in the world. The maternity unit at this Jose Fabella Hospital boasts as many as 100 births a day, keeping the medical staff running and beds more than full.

Amidst crying babies and the scurrying staff of a hospital at capacity, Diaz brings me into a world unlike my maternity experience at Baltimore's Sinai Hospital  where I had a private and quiet room to myself and did not have to worry about bills I could not pay. Oddly, the constant background noise contrasts with the strangely silent women as they give birth. Perhaps they recognize on some level that the surrounding sounds can take care of the noise while leaving the women to call on the silent strength they need to live their lives.

In this film, the focus is on Kangaroo Mother Care, a ward specializing in premature babies and complicated births. One woman is asked where her "tube" is that she should have brought with her to the hospital a tube top she needs to wear to cover her baby snuggly against her breast,like a kangaroo. Because the hospital lacks incubators, mothers are told keep their newborns next to their body nearly 24/7. 

Not only does the audio impact the feeling in this film, but the visuals are powerful as the camera moves through the extremely crowded ward, stops to show yet another baby being born, takes in the huge room with staff moving like a constant stream and reveals beds filled with two women, head to toe and toe to head, sharing the same bed.  Even in the delivery room, women are crowded together two to a bed to birth their babies. 

As a fly on the wall, I admired the sisterhood of these women, strangers sharing a bed and a common experience. These are poor women who share what little they have. There is no bickering or cattiness many might expect when so many women are crowded together in a stressful situation.  They share advice, blankets, laughter, even their own milk when another’s baby needs it. 

Watching these women who are so poor that their husbands cannot afford transportation to the hospital and who give birth to more children than they can take care of, it is difficult for me to understand their reluctance to accept birth control.  The hospital staff, however, does its best to convince the women that their lives would be easier and better if they used birth control.

We observe close up conversations and feel the struggles and doubts of these women intimately.  It takes someone with the empathy and skill of Diaz to succeed in finding quiet stories in chaos and to make us care about the women living these narratives. 

And it takes someone with the vision, passion and devotion of Jed Dietz, founder/director of the Maryland Film Festival, to bring compelling works like this to Baltimore. 

I am told that Point of View on public television will air this documentary sometime in October, but if you want to see it this weekend, it is playing again at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7,  in the newly renovated, historic Parkway Theater on North Avenue.


More about this film and the Maryland Film Festival:

Kids' Poetry

I just ran across some student poetry from when I was an enrichment teacher in the 90's at George Fox Middle School. Some were displayed at Walter Reed Hospital in the pediatric ward for critically or terminally ill children and teenagers. The first one won a special recognition award. As an enrichment teacher, I worked with students from all levels of ability, including special education and gifted and talented. There is a mix of diverse students in these examples below. Over the years, I discovered that my students helped me get in touch with forgotten parts of my heart. I post their poems for you to hear the hearts of middle school students:

Ransom Poetry

It's strange how something that was done more than 20 years ago can take on new layers of meaning today. A creative exercise I did with middle school students has caught my eye while cleaning out my file drawers. We called it cut up poetry. Another name is ransom poetry. I gave students scissors and a pile of magazines and newspapers. They then looked for ways to put together words and phrases they had cut out. These are some of the results:

Patrick Cook, George Fox Middle School, 1995?

George Fox Middle School, 1995?

Jennifer Long, George Fox Middle School, 1995?

Katie Huffman, George Fox Middle School, 1995?

Megan Burrall, George Fox Middle School, 1995?

Sarah Dillard, George Fox Middle School, 1995? 

Learning Life Lessons Through Reading

In a political climate when the arts are called into question and funding is threatened, I am reminded of my days teaching my 12-year-old  7th graders. Many of these students had never read a book on their own but once they did, not only did they become better readers, but they became wiser human beings.

Every year I struggled to survive another year of teaching while trying to give students the language arts skills they needed.  I discovered my students had learned some very important things from reading The Cay by Theodore Taylor, a novel included in the Struggle to Survive unit, part of 7th grade language arts. After students had read this book, I asked them the question, What did you learn from reading this book? 

The excerpts below are in the words of my students:

I learned…
  •  Not to prejudge people but to get to know them.
  • It helps to have a friend and that you should be cautious.
  • I shouldn’t take things for granted.
  • You learn things when you lose things after taking them for granted.
  • No matter how hard the world holds you down, you have to keep trying.
  • Even if you have a disability, you can still do most of the stuff normal people can do if you try. 
  •  Not to judge someone by their looks or how they talk.
  • You should always help others if they need your help.
  • You can change things about yourself by spending time with one person for a while.
  • Not to be racist.
  • It takes something like blindness to let you really see the world that surrounds you.
  • You should never give up because hard work pays off.
  • If you use what you have wisely, you can survive.
  • If you are not brave, strong and conservative, then you will definitely not survive.
  • No matter how hard the task is that is in front of you, you can always finish it.
  • It doesn’t matter who you meet or what you think about them, when you see them, it’s what’s inside that counts.
  • It’s important to always have confidence in yourself. Always believe you can do anything, no matter what.
  • It is important to stick together and have patience.
  • You have to be independent.
  • People are the same on the inside no matter what they look like on the outside.
  • No matter what happens or who you’re with, you must always have faith.
  • Blind people are just like us but just can’t see and that does not make them any less of a person.
  • Even if you don’t like someone, you can learn to live with them. 
  • There was more prejudice around the world, not just in North America.
  • You always have to be positive because if you just sit there and say you’re going to die, that’s not going to help you to survive.
  • If everybody works together, you have a better chance to survive.
  • You shouldn’t judge people by their tone of skin but by their wisdom, spirit and love. 
From the mouths of children...

I am wondering if our new President has read any books?


After a struggle, the quilt is finally inside the duvet cover.

Corners define shapes. They are guides when inserting one similar shape into another. Grabbing and holding on to matching adjacent and diagonal corners is most important in some tasks. 

Last week, after washing our quilt and duvet cover, David and I attempted once again to put the former inside the latter. The procedure involves a series of steps. First I turn the cover inside out so I can get a firm hold on the top two corners. While I hold tightly to the quilt corners through the cover, it is David’s job to slide the duvet top down to the bottom right-side out and over the quilt. Then the final step is for me to hold tightly to the top cover and quilt corners while David does the same at the bottom, at which point we both shake the quilt vigorously to help everything align correctly.

It shouldn’t be too difficult — unless I hold two diagonally-wrong corners, as I did this time. Because we have a small bedroom, I usually stand on the bed while we maneuver this feat together.
Since the last time we did our duvet dance, we had purchased memory foam for the top of our mattress. I discovered the new surface makes balance difficult when grabbing and shaking. In the confusion of mismatched corners and foam that remembered steps I didn’t want it to remember, I lost my balance and rolled around on the bed.

Instead of tossing out a few four-letter words, giggles erupted. And, since they are contagious, giggles reached out to David and tickled him, too. Help — hahaha — I've fallen on my bed —hahaha — and I can't — hahaha — get up! There we were with a confused mass of quilt and duvet cover, laughing our heads off.

Being adults, however, and recognizing that we had a chore to complete, we went about correcting our mistakes — with some extra giggles thrown in — and finally got the cover on. With a few shakes as we firmly held our correct corners, this time everything fell into place and I remained standing tall on the bed. 

Our mistakes leading to uncontrollable laughter felt so good. This was a simple release in an everyday moment, an example of making mistakes together, losing balance, losing control and then discovering everything works out okay, especially if some laughter is tossed into the recipe. 

David and I will soon celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary. During these years together, we’ve mixed up diagonals and lost balance but sometimes the tumbles are fun and ultimately laughter balances the equation.

Note: If you prefer a more tame experience, this video shows how one person can make this a boring chore without the comedy: