Monday, May 16, 2011

I am not colorblind

Many people with perfectly adequate eyesight and good intentions claim to not see colors. To which I mentally respond "Yeah right!" I know. I’m a snide little lady who enjoys being contrary. The point they are trying to make is that their perception of a person is not dictated by skin tone and I agree that is undeniably a wonderful sentiment. Contrary to what some people believe, racism is far from dead, so I can certainly appreciate those who choose to regard each person as an individual as opposed to a racial stereotype. However, I think that in an effort to be politically correct we tiptoe around any terms that highlight physical differences, the obvious being skin color.

I remember back when I was an undergrad, a friend of mine was telling me about another student. I wasn't sure if I knew the student and the description my friend provided was vague, so I asked her to be more specific. Short with brown hair and brown eyes could describe most of the girls on campus. She hesitated. I waited. "Well...she's...she's a-" A what? "She's a b...a b-b-b." I was slightly amused but mostly impatient. "Just say it!" I demanded. Her words tumbled out as if speaking quickly would soften the blow."She's a black girl ok? Or, I mean, African American. Ok, she's black!"

Uh-huh. I matter-of-factly explained to her that I don't take offense to the term “black.” Why should I? In describing someone else, I don't hesitate to say he is a tall white guy with curly dark hair, or she is a thin Hispanic woman with gray hair and glasses. Once, I was on my way to meet a friend and she arrived at the restaurant before I did. She told the hostess to be on the lookout for a short black girl with a pretty smile (I was flattered), and apparently the hostess looked a bit bewildered. A white girl who dared to refer to her black friend as, well, black? We had a good laugh about it. "How else could I have described you?" she asked, "There are plenty of petite girls who might have walked through the door!" Good point. Supposedly "African American" is the polite term, but I think it's a bit silly. Not every black person in America came from Africa. Ok, technically, everyone in the world can trace their genetic ancestry back to the Mitochondrial Eve who resided in East Africa, but nowadays, most people in North America have quite a convoluted ethnic history. Consequently, the term African American doesn't quite fit, unless one really is from a nation in Africa and also an American.

My youngest siblings decided a while ago that labels like "African American" are often too limiting. If someone is Asian, they say so. If someone is Indian, they say so, but they rarely stop there. According to the children, people are coffee-with-cream, or chocolate brown, or peach, or pink, or tan. I love it. Humans come in quite an array of colors and I have no desire to overlook the fact. Your skin is part of the package. I do take offense when people go beyond just noticing color and begin making judgements about personality, preferences, and beliefs based on the color of some one's skin. Compared to my sisters, I have dark skin and for some reason, many people felt the need to highlight the fact. I like my coppery-brown skin and although I think all of my sisters are beautiful, I have never envied their fairer tones. A few years ago, while on a lunch break at an old job, I vented my frustration. I was sick and tired of being made to feel that I was some sort of ugly duckling. “What’s the big deal?” I asked, “I have darker skin, so what? Why keep making comparisons?” The teenage boys who were sitting with me calmly stated “Oh, don’t worry, light isn’t really the thing right now. Dark will be in soon. It changes, you know.” You have got to be kidding. I glanced down at my arms. “That’s ridiculous. It’s skin. Skin is not a trend.” Well, apparently it is. Consider the U.S. In the not too distant past, fine ladies made ivory skin a top priority. Fast forward  and the cancer chambers know as tanning beds are all the rage. Insert weary sigh here.

In nursing school, we were taught that we would encounter patients from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. The concept of being culturally appropriate was hammered into our heads. To that end, we were given basic descriptions and guidelines concerning different populations—but with these guidelines came a caveat: Don’t jump to conclusions. We shouldn't assume that because a patient is black, that they love fried chicken .That may be true, but it may not. Every person of Asian descent isn't a Buddhist, every Hispanic family did not move here from Mexico. Don’t fret, there's nothing wrong with having a mental ethnic reference in our heads. We can't help it--our brains are literally built to categorize. However, these wonderful brains are also designed to adapt and adjust to new input. We'll never know everything about everyone, but it's much more fun to learn instead of shying away from questions and conversations.

For about 7 years, my family lived in an old neighborhood in Connecticut. Our neighbors were fair Italians with straight hair, golden Italians with black curls, light brown Hispanics with long ponytails, dark brown West Indians with splendid accents, a Brazilian couple with a pretty peaches and cream baby, our cheerful hippie-ish young landlord, a white man with shoulder length hair. Even amongst my family, there’s quite a range of skin tones. At my grandparent’s 50th anniversary celebration, my brothers and sisters and I looked around the room at our relatives and laughed. A stranger walking in wouldn't even know we were related.

Okay, the point is, as important as it is to be respectful and appropriate, the world is a lovely, colorful place and we are doing ourselves a great disservice by trying to keep our eyes metaphorically shut. Why be ashamed of acknowledging the fact that people actually look different. Avoiding something only makes it seem taboo. Take a deep breath. Relax. Taste the rainbow. Oh wait, that's for Skittles :)

Friday, March 25, 2011

You want one, don't you?

Newborn babies are contagious. That is a scientific fact, trust me. I've been around enough pregnant women to know. I've already mentioned that I am the second of nine kids and although I was not one to play with Barbies and dolls very often, whenever I got a hankering to play with the dollhouse with my sisters, the scenario ran as follows: The mommy Barbie already has 2 or 3 kids (depending on how many dolls we could find) and then suddenly, she begins acting...strange. Craving pickles and peanut butter, unpredictable mood swings, forgetfulness, the works. At first the kids wonder, but soon they catch on--mommy must be pregnant, again.

I am not a mother, but out of necessity, I became sort of an expert in baby care at a very early age. I could fix a perfect bottle by age 7 and I knew just how to check the temp on my little wrist. All of my siblings were baby food connoisseurs--we had so many jars of it around, sometimes we would eat the good ones for snack. Smashed peaches and bananas are actually quite tasty. And the diapers. Cloth diapers. Cloth diapers fastened with diaper pins. Picture an elementary school kid folding and pinning a diaper on a squirming baby. And I don't recall ever poking any of my little siblings. Of course cloth diapers must be rinsed and soaked before (thankfully) sent off to diaper service for the final sterilization. I was volunteering in the church nursery and babysitting other people's infants and toddlers by the time I was 10. Singing babies to sleep? Check. Settling crying babies in the middle of the night? Check. Feeding, dressing, packing a baby bag just right? Check. When I was a teen, one of my little sisters would scream at the top of her lungs whenever we took her to nursery so those of us older kids would alternate bringing her to Sunday School with us. You can imagine the looks I got from strangers as I sat there burping a baby. It was the same in college with my baby brother. And the same just after I graduated from college with my baby sister.

Do I resent any of my child care experience? Not at all! I love children. But, I do know just how much work a child can be. While my high school friends gushed over wanting 12 kids I couldn't help but shake my head. Girls, you know not what you ask for. I volunteer in my church nursery and whenever diaper changing time rolls around, whomever happens to be volunteering with me says "Well, you're getting some good experience!" I have to laugh. Recently, as everyone stands around admiring the latest newborn, the question inevitably pops up. Some variation of "Doesn't this make you want one?" No, no it doesn't. People always look a bit surprised at my reply, probably because it comes with no hesitation or blushing smile. Please don't think me strange or abnormal or somehow less of a woman.

Someday, I would like to have children of my own. However, I am in no particular hurry. You see, I need time to be me. I went off to school at 17, graduated four years later, came home to a house with small children, work part-time, moved out with two of my sisters and went back to school. I just bought my first car two weeks ago. I have never made more than $800 dollars a month. I don't know what it's like to be truly independent. Please people, let me get a job as a nurse, live where I want to, learn to kickbox because I want to, go to art galleries, and plays and concerts, travel around, make new friends, sleep in on Saturdays, pierce my ears a third time and update my tattoo, meet a great guy, fall in love, get married, and enjoy couplehood. Then I'll have the baby others are so eager to wish upon me.

In case you're wondering, I don't want nine kids. I know myself and three is a good number. I'd love for one of my future children to be a little boy or girl I adopt. The decision to bring another human being into this world is huge and I don't want to approach the idea with rose colored lenses. Too many people have children and cannot--or will not--care for them properly. Babies are not toys or accessories or pets or worthless objects. They are helpless people who rely on responsible adults to provide them with love and care. At 25, I feel like my life as a real adult is just beginning. I am doing the kids I will someday have a big favor by getting my act together first.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Drat those Opportunists noun: A person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by principles or plans.

"Baby Doc" is back in Haiti--that poor little country that always seems to get the short end of the stick.
It's all over the news: Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the horrible former Haitian "life-long president" (read: evil dictator), decided to make his way out of exile in France and head back home. For a guy with a moniker like a bad rapper, Mr. Duvalier has impeccable timing. The November elections in 2010 were a mess and inconclusive, the cholera outbreak has killed thousands and one can only assume will kill many more because the water supply isn't exactly getting any cleaner, those who survived the devastating earthquake are living in more squalorous squalor then before, and Haiti today looks much like Haiti 12 months ago--a wreck. Enter Baby Doc. What are you doing in Haiti, Jean-Claude? Attempting to seize power, maybe? Pardon, me? Oooh, you said, ""I'm not here for politics, I'm here for the reconstruction of Haiti." Duh. Duvalier fled to France in 1986 after 15 years of following in daddy's footsteps, terrorizing any opposition, authorizing the murder of thousands, and shoveling government and aid funds into his personal accounts as fast as he could. I guess he was saving up so he could do the exile thing in style. The scary part is, in the midst of all of the chaos in Haiti, Duvalier will be welcome to some who see his return as a chance for much-needed stability. It should be noted that, unfortunately, a huge portion of Haiti's population was not yet born when Duvalier was in power, so to them, he is nothing more than a legend. When times are bad, many people who were formerly oppressed begin to see their lives under the rule of a cruel dictator as "the good ol' days" because then, at least we had...To read more about what those good ol' days were like, check out the 1989 article on Duvalier in the Library of Congress Country Studies

Speaking of opportunists, I was curious to know about the current state of affairs in Central Asia. Last year, I wrote about the political unrest in Kyrgyzstan, during which Bakiyev, the former President of Kyrgyzstan, was deposed and the government was overthrown. There were questions swirling about of whether the interim government would be able to control the escalating ethnic tension in the region. Well, apparently the answer to those questions is "no." In June of last year. Kyrgyzstan's government requested that Russia send in troops to handle the situation. Russia basically said, "Not my problem" and sent some humanitarian aid instead. Of course, Russia dove right into the Georgia/South Ossetia conflict but that's a whole different story. So who's to blame for the violent clash between the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz? Well, according to an article by Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)"local Uzbek leaders, relatives of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, drug dealers, religious extremists, and "outside forces" shared responsibility." An official probe in 2011 determined that "various forces, including ethnic Uzbek leaders, wanted to take advantage of the moment when the authorities were helpless and rose in order to pursue their own interests [.]That caused the anger of the Kyrgyz population and became the tipping point for a response from the Kyrgyz side. The report also says that the conflict could have been prevented by government officials because they had information concerning a potentially violent situation. That's an understatement. It's common knowledge that the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks aren't bosom buddies.Well, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure--or in this case, 400 lives.

On to Tunisia. If you read the CIA World Factbook dated from Jan. 12, Tunisia is a stable nation making progress in many areas and much more liberal than most other Arabic countries Okay, so the president magically seemed to win election after election since 1987 and the ruling party doesn't tolerate much opposition, but all things considered, Tunisia was doing quite well. Fast forward a few days: President Ali is ousted and a new "unity government" comprised of both Ali's allies and some of the opposition (in lesser positions) has been hastily set up to tide the country over until elections. Surprise! The people were increasingly unhappy about their lack of political freedom and unemployment rates. Last month, an unemployed college grad named Bouazizi protested by setting himself on fire in front of a government building (an act called self-immolation).
This extreme protest led to extreme results. 1.) Bouazizi becomes a symbol for all young, unemployed Tunisians 2.)  President Ali and his family skedaddle  3.) Other countries may follow suit. In case you're wondering, Bouazizi died on Jan. 4, only 10 days before the end of Ali's presidency. Opportunism alert. Yikes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Funny the way it is...

This year started off with a bang, didn't it? Devastating floods, tragic shootings, snow storms. One catastrophe after another. I was reading about the floods in Brisbane, Australia and the article told the story of a 13yr old boy named Jordan who told rescuers to save his little brother first--and as a result, Jordan died. How exceptionally brave and selfless. I sat there crying as I read it and I'm crying now as I write this. I have already admitted freely that I cry a lot--especially over anything involving children. And there have been plenty of reasons to shed tears over the past 12 days alone. I am blessed to have not yet lost a brother or sister or parent. I can't even imagine how awful that must be. One reader commented on the article, saying, "2011 is going to be a bad year. That 2012 prediction may be right!"

Well, for one thing, I don't believe 2012 will be the year of the apocalypse. National Geographic on End-of-the-World. I really don't think anyone can predict when the world will end and besides, getting all in a tizzy over an event no one can do anything about isn't worth it. There are more immediate concerns--extreme poverty, warfare and disease in third world nations, the unfortunate plight of the mentally ill in GA, bailouts of entire countries in Europe. As for 2011 being a bad year...It depends. It depends on quite a few factors. For those struggling to survive after the earthquakes in Indonesia or caught in the midst of the never ending violent tension between Israel and Palestine, or dying of cholera in Haiti, it may be a bad year. For those who have lost loved ones in snow storms, and car crashes, and floods, it may be a bad year. But then, I have a friend who is planning a wedding and a move to Hawaii. It seems so strange to me, how one persons life can take a turn for the better while another life plummets downhill.When I was in Nassau on a missions trip, we walked past tiny, lopsided shacks with children wandering about barefoot and in rags on the ground strewn with broken glass. Just across the bridge loomed paradise, the grand resort Atlantis. It was unbelievable.

I'm reminded of a song by Dave Matthews, "Funny the Way It Is." Aside from being pretty great musically, the lyrics echo my own thoughts on the irony in living. My family has had a large serving of hard times over the years and on more than one occasion I've shouted "Enough already!" I told one of my co-workers that I realize that God has a plan and there are lessons to be learned in difficult situations, etc, but I really wish He would cut me some slack. She laughed with some surprise, probably hoping the lightning that was bound to strike me wouldn't bounce off and hit her too (okay, maybe that last part is an exaggeration). I know I'm not alone in wondering when, and if, things will get better. I was out Christmas shopping with my big brother and we were talking about our respective plans for the future. Soon, I'll be finished with nursing school and he's considering different job opportunities and as we're both young it seems like the sky's the limit. But we also both know all too well that plans don't always work out the way one hopes. He said, "Sometimes I think 'Wow, someday soon, I'll actually have a car that runs, and money saved up, and a job I love and life will be great!' But then I think 'What if nothing changes...I can picture myself, having to drive my wife to work an hour in the opposite direction because we only have one car that sort of works, and then that one breaks down and we have barely enough money to get by as it is....' I just wonder, will it always be like this?" I had to laugh because I feel the exact same way, hopeful, and at the same time a little panicked at the prospect of lifelong ickiness. And if that's how I feel, how must those living in misery in the Congo feel?

I read somewhere recently--I honestly can't remember where--that although those of us in the West pity the people in say, Afghanistan, they don't pity themselves. Life is what it is and they get by the best they can. Now, I cannot presume to speak for those people because I have never been in their shoes, but I can see how that might be true in a sense. Self-pity has no place when basic survival is at stake. And humans do survive. It's quite miraculous. Even when the world is falling apart, people still wake-up, find food, fall in love, have children. Think of the atomic bomb and it's after-effects on Hiroshima. And yet Hiroshima is a beautiful, thriving city today. Think of the Holocaust and the deplorable concentration camps. And yet there were many who did not succumb to the madness. I was in college when Hurricane Katrina hit and I went to Gautier, Miss. with a group to help out any way we could. One day, we were picking up the pieces of a family's life in a lot across the street from where their house used to stand. The elderly woman and her invalid husband were currently residing in a ramshackle building near their old house. I felt a bit guilty, gathering up socks, and trophies, and photographs, like I was invading their privacy. The woman said she would make us some banana pudding as a thank you gift. "No don't!" I thought, "You have nothing!" She made it and delivered it to the church where we were staying. All that was left of another house we went to was the foundation and the wooden frame. The owner worked tirelessly to repair it and we built scaffolding and hammered and nailed along with him. The question on everyone's mind was "why bother rebuilding when it would probably be easier to find a different home?" I guess he knew what we were thinking because one afternoon he said, "People wonder why I don't just leave. But my wife and I have lived here for 30 years. My children grew up here. This house has been torn apart before, more than once, and I rebuilt it then and I can rebuild it now."

Yes, I do wonder if things will get better. And perhaps, it's the "if" that's the key. You see, "if" implies a chance. The idea that maybe not, but then again maybe. It's the unknown that gives me hope. Not to say that I don't anticipate running to God in tears as the year progresses. I'm that chronic over-analyzer who gets depressed and overwhelmed by all of the problems in the world. And I'm tempted to sit in a corner rocking back and forth with my head between my knees. The point is, although I cannot fix everything, I can do something. I can sit and listen, I can make someone laugh, I can kiss my little brothers and sisters goodnight, I can sing the songs that are in my heart. I can show compassion, I can encourage, I can love. I can meet people where they are and do my best to address their medical needs. I am definitely no Pollyanna and as much as I dislike sounding like a "little Susy cream cheese" I would like to make life better for whomever I can. Hopefully this year will hold many adventures and wonderful surprises. Just because something begins badly, doesn't mean it won't end well. Will 2011 be a bad year? For me? Well, I'm still living it. Ask me when it's over.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You catch more flies with honey...

...than you do with vinegar. My mother would always say this. Of course as a little girl I asked her what it meant, and of course she explained how it's much easier to get what you want when you are sweet and kind as opposed to bossy and rude. I remember pondering the all-important question, "Why would anyone want to catch flies?" I discussed this with my brothers and sisters and and we decided that there is no good reason to catch flies other than the fact that it proves you have some serious skills. When I was a child we caught all kinds of creepy-crawlies, most of which we kept in the basement. My mother was quite alright with our strange collection--she even assisted us in finding new creatures-- but she was less than thrilled with the tadpoles. She put her foot down when, upon venturing downstairs one morning, she discovered that the 50 tadpoles living in an old aquarium had sprouted legs and were leaping across the floor. My siblings and I were delighted and we happily (and without permission) dug a pond in our backyard, lined it with trash bags, and filled it with water. A lovely new home for our little froggy friends. I think my mom would have done well to remember another one of her sayings and let the incident "roll like water off a duck's back." :^)

Most of these colorful expressions were passed down from my granny, a native of Mississippi. As in Deep South, pluck your own chicken, slaughter the hog, dirt floor Mississippi. By the time my mother was born, number 10 out of 11 children, her family had moved up north to Wisconsin and my granny shed her southern accent. But behind that clipped Yankee voice was a clever Southern lady. The cooking nearly met a dead end with my mother. She never learned how to cut up a catfish or make fried chicken, or cook up chitlins, or a host of other southern dishes. Whole catfish are scary-looking, raw meat is not attractive and feels gross, and chitlins are, well, chitlins. I haven't shed any tears over our lack of chitlin cuisine. I've already mentioned the fact that I grew up with stir-fry, veggie burgers and soymilk. Somehow, though, collard greens and grits slipped through. And so did a long list of southern expressions, which I'm sure sound strange rolling off of my Yankee tongue.

I was born in Milwaukee, WI, the land of cheese and snow, and we moved to Connecticut when I was not yet two. Wisconsin + Connecticut + all of the Massachusetts side of the family left me with a very neutral, yet decidedly not Southern accent. People always ask me where I'm from--in part because they think I look foreign (Of course, my own mother thinks I look foreign. I'm not sure if people are really suggesting that I look odd. Hmm...) and in part because they cannot place my voice. Once, a woman asked me if I'm British. Ah, a dream come true! I so wish I had a British accent. But alas, I do not. And after all my years in the South (I've lived here for 16 years), I still say "DAL-ton" instead of "Dal'n." Contrary to popular belief, the Southern is in there somewhere and it pops out when I say someone is moving "slower than molasses in the winter time" or I hear of someone in trouble because they were hanging out with the wrong crowd and I can't help but shake my head and knowingly declare that "when you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas."
Then there are times when I question the veracity of a tale and I insist, "tell the truth and shame the devil!"

Moving down South was like culture shock. For the first year or two I could barely understand what people were saying. And why does everyone move sooo sloooow...? And everyone we met wondered why we talked so fast. I still struggle sometimes if I happen to meet a true, deep South kind of person and I know they're probably wondering "What on earth is that little Yankee trying to say?" No worries, my Southern friends. We have common ground. I spend most of my days running around like a chicken with my head cut off and I know to fish or cut bait. You might find me sitting like a bump on a log or barking up the wrong tree. When two of my sisters were little they were like two peas in a pod. And I am often accused of getting too big for my britches. I wallow in self-pity for getting the short end of the stick even though I know better than to beat a dead horse One -up me with some bizarre news and I'll tell you .that takes the cake! Rush me and I'll tell you to hold your horses. I don't tolerate much carrying on and yes, I have put on some ugly clodhoppers when there's work to be done. Okay, so I've made a solemn vow to myself that I would never say something is so good it'll make you slap your mama (I just think that's weird) but hopefully that won't be held against me! And if it is, well, that's no skin off my nose. My goal is, by the time I'm old as dirt and have one foot in the grave, I'll have spread these lovely little sayings around the world :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

fall leaves

photo by Rob McKay

i gazed upon
a yellow leaf
twirling in the air
i couldn't help but wonder how it was


no branch to hold it up


from a tree

perhaps it hung on spider's silk
free and yet
not free

A word (maybe more) of complaint

I haven't updated this blog in over a month--far too long I think. Quite a bit has happened since then and if I were to write about it all at once you would be reading for an awful long time. Therefore, I shall cover the events and my thoughts of the past few weeks in more manageable bites.

October 13 was the day I dreaded. It was the day four classes were scheduled to begin. Not that I haven't had four classes in one semester before, back when I was in undergrad. However, I had yet to take four classes all at once while in nursing school. Research and Technology = yuck. I never had to take this course before because as a science major it was understood that I would have to use the Internet, write papers, make slide presentations, etc. But no, that does not count at my new school now so here I am, "learning" how to use Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint and search engines.

Then there's U.S. History. I apologize in advance to history lovers but this is not my cup of tea. I know that as an American citizen I should be well-informed about my nation's past and as a friend of mine said "you have to learn history so that you won't repeat it" and so on. It's not that I don't care about it in general. I love to read about about historical characters and events. This may seem morbid, but I am fascinated with the Holocaust and both World Wars in general--but I'll delve into that topic in another post sometime. I love learning abut my family's heritage (and the more I learn, the more I realize how strange it is). I love all these things and yet, the sad truth remains, I have absolutely no interest in presidents, and dates and this law and that speech. The very thought makes me cringe. I tried to recite the list of U.S. presidents a short while ago, just to test my knowledge. I think I was able to name 8. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Carter, Bush (times 2) and Clinton. And there was some debate over whether Grant was a president or a Confederate general. That's tragic.

Of course, I am the girl who couldn't remember if Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1462 or 1492. I've since resolved these perplexing history mysteries, but there are hundreds more which I will never figure out. And I won't lose any sleep over it. Now, literature is quite a different story. I wish I was taking another literature class so I could analyze poems and write stories and read Beowulf and Byron, Poe and Eliot, Hawthorne and Shaw, the Canterbury Tales...Not that I can't read them on my own, but if I must take a class I would much rather it be something I actually enjoy.

Perhaps it is not fair to say that all of the material is dull. I do my homework properly and turn it in on time and occasionally learn something :) One of the issues is that I am in school to become a nurse and uninteresting requirements outside of that take up too much valuable time and brain space. OK, the real issue is that after being in school year round, I am rather burnt out and some things lend themselves well to abuse.