Exclusion or Inclusion? Disability and Community in Late Medieval France

I recently had the opportunity to leave my comfort zone a bit and attend a history of science lecture. Typically, the lectures that I attend are focused on current international events, so it was an exciting change of pace to attend an event focused more on history.

The talk I attended was given by Dr. Sasha Pfau, an associate professor from Hendrix College. I was not sure what exactly to expect from such a lecture, but I found myself quickly fascinated with Dr. Pfau’s research. Her study’s goal was to investigate the treatment of disability in Medieval France. Whenever I think about disability in the Middle Ages, I, like many people think of people locked away from society in mental institutions or shunned in leper colonies. During this talk, I was surprised to learn that this was often not the case.

Dr. Pfau found her evidence by pouring through thousands of pardon letters. These letters were written to the king of France by either convicted criminals or their families or friends requesting pardon. The king granted these pardons as a show of power; he was above the law, and excused people’s crimes in an attempt to flaunt it. Those seeking pardon worked with court scribes and paid a fee to write the letters, and if the king granted the pardon, they could pay extra to have it transcribed in the official books. These approved, transcribed pardons are all that survive, so today, we have no way of knowing how many pardons were approved or what an unapproved pardon looked like, but the letters give modern historians insight into ordinary life at the time.

Each letter included the story of the crime with a justification. It is these stories that Dr. Pfau was interested in; though the stories may have been embellished, they reflected plausible, normal events at the time. Thus, any treatment of disability that came up in the letters was likely indicative of how disability was regularly treated in those days. Dr. Pfau said that most letters did not contain any mention of disability; she had to read hundreds of letters to find what she was looking for. However, the letters she did come up with painted a picture of disability treatment that looks very different from my assumptions. From these letters, it is apparent that those living in late Medieval France included disabled people as members of society and practiced a great deal of familial care. Rather than casting the disabled out, they were brought into the fold and included as much as possible.

Her case studies varied from a disabled man who participated with his friends in a bar fight to a blind man who was killed by his wife for intentionally sabotaging her work. In each case, the disability was never the focus of the letter, but the reader could see that it was often treated very differently to what many have previously imagined. When the disabled were mistreated, it was due to their own negative actions, rather than their disabilities. Their families felt and upheld the responsibility to care for their disabled family members, and the disabled were as integrated into society as possible.

I was impressed with Dr. Pfau’s ability to make such a strong case for something so surprising to me, as well as her method of obtaining it. Before this talk, I had never heard of pardon letters, nor had I given much thought to the treatment of disability throughout history. The lecture was a fascinating reminder that often, dominant historical narratives are not accurate; they are shaped by biased historians choosing the version of history that they want to pass down. I learned some interesting things about Medieval France and had some of my preconceived notions of history shattered. It was a nice reminder that, while studying current events is immensely important, studying historical events can be equally so.

Mole & Chilis Poblanos

I figured I should make a post about the food in Puebla, since it’s such an important part of their culture. Pueblans take pride in how spicy their cuisine is—during our orientation, we were warned to always ask how spicy food is before we eat it. If it contains no chili pepper at all, it’s safe. If we’re told that it has chili but isn’t spicy, that means it’s pretty spicy. If they claim it’s just a little bit spicy, we can assume it’s very spicy. And if a native of Puebla considers it very spicy, we should stay far away from it. So far, I haven’t had trouble with the spicy food, but I always ask before I order.

Pueblans really are very proud of their peppers. The poblano chili pepper originated here, and it’s used it so many dishes. To be honest, I’m not sure what makes it different from other peppers; but I wouldn’t say that to anyone from Puebla! One of the most popular forms of poblano is chile rellenos. I’ve actually had chile rellenos in the US, but I haven’t yet tried the poblano twist on it. Chile rellenos consists of a pepper stuffed with just about anything (usually cheese and meat), fried, and covered in sauce. You can find it at just about any restaurant around here!

Puebla also claims (controversially) to be the origin of mole sauce, a dark brown sauce with variations all over Mexico. I had to do a bit of research to figure out what actually goes into mole, and from what I can tell the answer is anything and everything. The base is always chilis, but otherwise it seems like everyone has their own recipe. People add nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, spices, seeds, and even bread. The unique ingredient in mole poblano is chocolate, which apparently gives it a sweet/salty/spicy taste. I’ve been too scared to try it so far, but I know I have to at least taste it before I leave!

Another very popular food is chilaquiles—tortilla chips covered in salsa, cheese, cream, and meat or eggs. This is one of my favorites, and it’s offered just about everywhere. Most people eat it as a breakfast food, but it’s pretty versatile. The salsa can be very spicy, so it’s important to ask before you eat!

On just about every corner in Puebla, you can find tacos. They’re often sold as street food, but there are also plenty of restaurants that specialize in different varieties. I thought I was familiar with tacos, but Puebla proved me very wrong. It took me awhile to learn all the different types of tacos that are popular here, and I still get confused sometimes. First, Pueblans love tacos arabes. These are simply roasted pork served on pita bread—pretty simple. Tacos al pastor are very similar. The meat is pork, but it’s usually marinated with chilis and served on a tortilla. I also see a lot of tacos gringas. These are made with carne al pastor (like tacos al pastor), but also include cheese, pineapple, and salsa. I have trouble keeping them all straight, but according to the locals there’s a huge difference.

I have yet to try all of the Pueblan staples, which is partially because we were told during orientation to avoid street food or risk getting sick. Still, I’m a bit ashamed to have been in Puebla for two months without even tasting the famous mole poblano. I know I’ll get there—I’ve been slowly but surely stepping out of my comfort zone. The other day I even tried chapulines! They weren’t too bad for toasted grasshoppers.


Learning Mexican Spanish

This month I’ve found a few ways to finally practice my Spanish! A friend and I have started going to a coffee shop to do homework, and it turns out to be a great way to meet people. The manager found out that we were exchange students trying to learn Spanish, and now every time we’re there he comes over and practices with us. He tries to teach us colloquial words and phrases, which is a big help. For me, one of the most challenging parts of understanding Mexican Spanish is the slang. I thought that my vocabulary was alright before I came here, but I quickly realized that “classroom Spanish” isn’t very useful day-to-day. I find that I can communicate perfectly well in my classes, but outside of school I’m at a loss.

The coffee shop manager, who introduced himself as Sammy, sometimes even sits down with us for our “lessons.” It can be hard to keep up, but I try to write things down so I can look them up later. Here’s a few interesting Mexican vocab words:


  • Fresa: Fresa directly translates to strawberry, but that’s rarely what it actually means! It refers to someone who is wealthy and a bit stuck-up. In the US, a fresa would be considered “preppy.”


  • Mande: This one is important! Before Sammy told me about manda, I had always asked people to repeat themselves by asking “Cómo?” In Mexico, to ask someone what they just said, it is common to say “Mande?” Some Americans make the mistake of using “qué” because it directly translates to “what,” but this is actually considered demanding and rude!


  • A poco: “¡A poco!” means “No way!” I heard this one a few times before I asked Sammy about it. A similar word is “neta,” which pretty much means “really?”


Sammy also informed us that the owner of the coffee shop runs a gym down the street. I had been looking for a gym in Puebla—I love to jog, but during the day it’s too hot and at night it can be dangerous. We joined the gym (appropriately called “Workout”) and found that it’s another great place to practice Spanish! The man who works at the front desk is really considerate of my limitations in Spanish—he speaks especially slowly and clearly so that I can understand. And he gives a discount to UPAEP students! I usually go at night (after getting some homework done at the coffee shop), and always see the same people at the gym. I’ve talked to a few of them, but I’d like to get better at starting conversations. I just get so nervous that no one will understand me! Hopefully I’ll get over that in the next few months. It’s hard to believe that the program is already halfway through—it feels like I just got here!


Thank You, Langton Hughes

Over the winter break, I picked up a dusty book from my bookshelf that contained poems from American poets. I was a try hard when it came to trying to like poetry.

But, I just couldn’t find poetry that made my heart leap, and my soul weep.

Then, Langston Hughes with his jazz poetry came along. Call me a fish, but I was hooked. *ba-dum-tshh*

I used to regard poems as confusing and downright alien. But, I couldn’t be more wrong. Poems are open to interpretation, and some are full of riddles. But, the most unique poems possess an unspoken communication that strikes the mind.

I highly recommend reading some of Hughes poetry because of both the vibrancy of his style and the truth in his words. I enjoyed how his poems have a light rhythm, but heavy undertones to address rather impassioned subject matters. Here are a few lines from some of my favorite poems of his:

“So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.”

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

“My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack.
I wonder where I’m gonna die,
Being neither white nor black?”

“I wonder what makes
A funeral so high?
A poor man ain’t got
No business to die.”

Take A Deep Breath

“The most dangerous risk of all– the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” -Randy Komisar

“Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity. What’s the point of being realistic? It’s unrealistic to walk into a room, flip a switch, and have light come on, but fortunately, Edison didn’t think so.” -Will Smith

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” -Robert Schuller

If there was just one thing I could pose to someone in doubt or going through failure… it’s this: What is your purpose?
Now define that purpose and go out and get it. The meter is running.

ASEAN Night (GEF International Event)

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

From comedic bits to a fashion show to informative trivia and cultural dance/song performances, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations aka ASEAN put on a wonderful performance on February 8th, 2018. 

I got to sit back and watch fellow OU students share their culture with the audience. I also got to see some of my friends perform! Sarah participated in Thailand’s water festival dance and Don danced to represent Burmese culture!

The different dance performances were unique in their own way and filled the auditorium with energy. There were different costumes, dance styles, and music that set each dance group a part. The international events on campus, especially those showcasing students cultures are the most fun to go to!

If I Owned My Own Radio Station….

To be honest, I do not listen to the radio too often anymore. I am ALWAYS listening to Spotify… an app that allows you to create playlists with different genres and music. But, I occasionally catch myself listening to radio stations that talk about current international events– and that is about it.

If I could own my own radio station, I would then obviously have it be about current events and basically all of the things going on in the world. Truly, I do not know much about current events and I feel like this would be such an amazing way to keep up with things and be able to learn about the true issues that are in this world.

I believe that the radio would be a way to improve social and political discussions in the United States because there could be instances where you bring people from different life backgrounds, whether that be Democratic, Republican, a millionaire, a middle-class citizen, or even an extremely poor person, come onto the show and publicize their opinions on certain topics. When given different opinions, it is a strong way for listeners to be able to hear all kinds of opinions and beliefs, and then be able to make their decision after that. Radio discussions could also allow people to not judge based off of what they see in front of them, but instead, on reason.

And lastly, I would argue that broadcast radio is more favorable than Internet radio because broadcast radio can be reached by all people on a broad audience level, while internet radio appeals to people who choose to listen to that area. Broadcast keeps things open to all.

Hope is Here


Although my favorite YouTube isn’t exactly a series of episodes, it is by far my most listened to segment. It is basically church sermons that Hope City, a church from my hometown, Houston, Texas, puts online. I found this church when I was a junior in high school, and ironically, the church every Sunday is at my very own high school, Memorial High School.

The main reason that I listen and watch these sermons online is first because I was so engaged and obsessed with that church that I haven’t really found one here that is perfect for me. These sermons make me cry, every.single.time. The power that the pastor, Jeremy Foster, has in his words and the way that he explains things is truly captivating.

Although I am not sure if these specific sermons are on the YouTube, my favorites have been the “At the Movies” series. It is basically when Jeremy Foster finds current movies and somehow manages to relate them to Jesus and overall our relationship with our Father. It never makes sense to me how this man is able to do such a thing. But it is so cool, because usually it doesn’t seem like there is a way for us to connect to the times that Jesus lived because they were so long ago, but this is a way for us to understand things about Him as well as enjoy current movies!

I am so interested in the YouTube channel because it was something I was heavily involved in before I moved up here for college. I plan on listening to the sermons that Jeremy Foster puts on for as long as I can and cannot wait till I am back home for the summer and other times to be able to listen to more in person!

Nuclear War versus Diplomacy

Last week, a diverse group of OU students and faculty as well as members of the Norman community gathered for a lecture by Dr. Trita Parsi, one of America’s leading experts on the Middle East and particularly US-Iran relations. In an era increasingly defined by fake news and bigotry, Dr. Parsi brought a message of hope, describing how diplomacy had prevented a war and allowed two very different nations to reach a tentative peace. Having worked in Washington throughout this process, Dr. Parsi brought a behind-the-scenes view of this profound diplomatic victory. According to Dr. Parsi, the current political landscape in the Middle East, especially in regards to US-Arab relations, was not inevitable. Over the decades, there have been many opportunities for diplomacy to bridge gaps and forge strong and lasting connections between the Middle East and the West. However, these opportunities have been systematically misused or neglected, particularly by the United States. However, under President Obama, diplomacy won the day and nuclear war was averted. Dr. Parsi’s lecture aimed to explain how this unthinkable peaceful solution was attained.

After the Persian Gulf War ended, the Israelis and Iranians who had fought together against Iraqi power in the region turned against one another. Israel convinced the US to broaden its containment of Iraq to include Iran as well, devastating Iran. In attempts to be released from containment and recognized as a major power in the Middle East by the US, Iran began its nuclear program. After containment was broken by the US instigation of the Iraq War, Iran redoubled its efforts to gain recognition, while Israel took a hardline position against uranium enrichment in Iran. Knowing Iran could never accept such a deal, Israel hoped to force the US and Iran into armed conflict, which would shatter Iranian power and influence throughout the region. Meanwhile, the US had an impossible set of goals to achieve: prevent war, prevent nuclear development in Iran, prevent Israel from embroiling itself in war (which would require the US to also go to war), and prevent Iran from defining the new geopolitical order of the Middle East.

Presidents Bush and Obama originally pursued similar strategies of embargoes, sanctions, and cyberwarfare. President Obama even convinced the EU and other developed nations to partner with the US in the worst sanctions imposed on any country in history, causing Iranian GDP to contract by 25% in 3 years and devastating the national economy. In response, Iran did the only thing they could see to do—further expand the nuclear program until the US broke. US-Iranian relations had dissolved into a global game of chicken composed of nukes versus sanctions with the addition of the Israeli wildcard.

In early 2012, John Kerry approached President Obama to convince him that a secret negotiation channel was needed between the US and Iran to provide the possibility of a diplomatic solution, since the official channels were simply feelers to see if the other party was close to breaking. The country of Oman, long friends with both the US and Iran, volunteered to host these secret meetings, with the first taking place in July of 2012. After two years of tense negotiations, riddled with distrust on both sides, the Sultan of Oman carried the US deal to Tehran, where the Iranian government accepted the terms. Iran would be allowed to maintain a modest stockpile of low-enrichment uranium but would cease increased enrichment. In return, the US and its allies would lift the sanctions.

Unfortunately, this hopeful end has not been stable. President Trump has consistently threatened to break the deal with Iran and impose new sanctions. This uncertainty has prevented businesses from returning to Iran and stymied economic growth. At the same time, the President has offended many international allies, further eroding the US’s influence globally. Lastly, funding cuts to the state department have left many key embassies understaffed. South Korea, our main buffer against possible North Korean aggression, does not currently have a US ambassador. Such actions make future diplomatic negotiations by the US nearly impossible. The Iranian Nuclear Deal is precarious and ready to fall. Unfortunately it may only be a precursor to what is to come.

I really enjoyed Dr. Parsi’s lecture. His credentials working alongside both parties in the Iranian Nuclear Deal gave him a fascinating perspective. He also was able to flesh out the underlying motives of all parties involved. I had never really studied Iran and the nuclear deal before now, but I feel like I have a working understanding of the situation after the lecture. Yes, the US could have gotten a better deal. However, by the time the US was willing to engage with the Iranians, the nuclear program was much too far along for a better deal than what we got. Therefore, one of the key takeaways from this lecture was to start diplomacy early. If we had opened negotiations with Tehran when the Iranians first sought a diplomatic solution, Iran may not have had nuclear capabilities today. The second key takeaway is that America needs allies. The nuclear deal could not have been concluded without Oman, an Arab Muslim state that made an active effort to see diplomacy rule the day. We could not have negotiated on our own. Lastly, I think this situation serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy and perspective. Each party had its own needs and objectives. However, it is very possible that all three countries could have seen their objectives fulfilled years earlier if they had only been willing to honestly and transparently deal with one another. These three lessons are the most important in my opinion from the lecture and the US-Iran Nuclear Deal.